Milk snakes are part of a large family of snakes, with more than twenty recognized subspecies. Each has bright, colorful scales that are banded just like a coral snake. But unlike coral snakes, milk snakes are docile and non-venomous.
Milk snakes are easy to care for as a pet. They’re a small to medium-sized, non-venomous constrictor snake. They require an enclosure with heating and light, at a certain temperature and humidity dependent on the subspecies. They’re difficult to handle because they find humans threatening, but their bites don’t hurt.
If you’d like to own one, just be aware that they aren’t always a good beginner snake. They’re better suited to experienced owners who know exactly how to handle and calm a nervous snake.
- 1 What Does a Milk Snake Look Like?
- 2 What’s The Temperament of a Milk Snake?
- 3 Milk Snake Care Guide
- 4 What do Milk Snakes Eat?
- 5 How to Determine the Gender of a Milk Snake
- 6 Milk Snake Breeding Information
- 7 How to Handle Milk Snakes
- 8 What Are the Different Types of Milk Snakes?
- 8.1 Guatemalan Milk Snake
- 8.2 Louisiana Milk Snake
- 8.3 Andean Milk Snake
- 8.4 Mexican Milk Snake
- 8.5 Jalisco Milk Snake
- 8.6 Blanchard’s Milk Snake
- 8.7 Pueblan Milk Snake
- 8.8 New Mexico Milk Snake
- 8.9 Conant’s Milk Snake
- 8.10 Dixon’s Milk Snake
- 8.11 Black Milk Snake
- 8.12 Central Plains Milk Snake
- 8.13 Honduran Milk Snake
- 8.14 Ecuadoran Milk Snake
- 8.15 Pale Milk Snake
- 8.16 Nelson’s Milk Snake
- 8.17 Pacific Central American Milk Snake
- 8.18 Atlantic Central American Milk Snake
- 8.19 Sinaloan Milk Snake
- 8.20 Smith’s Milk Snake
- 8.21 Stuart’s Milk Snake
- 8.22 Red Milk Snake
- 8.23 Utah Milk Snake
- 8.24 Eastern Milk Snake
- 9 Facts About Milk Snakes
What Does a Milk Snake Look Like?
Milk snakes are tricolor snakes, which means that they have three colors appearing in bands all along their bodies. The width of the bands and exact colors varies between subspecies, but as a general rule, milk snakes all have similar patterns.
Exceptions do exist, like the black milk snake. However, when they first hatch, you’ll see that a black milk snake has similar markings to other species. They’ll gradually darken and lose their markings as they grow up.
How Long do Milk Snakes Live?
Milk snakes don’t live as long as other snakes. In captivity, their average lifespan of a milk snake is about 10-15 years. They can live up to 22 years. Of course, this is still a long time for a pet, but it isn’t as long as boa constrictors or ball pythons which can live up to thirty years in captivity.
How Much Does a Milk Snake Cost?
Milk snakes are a favorite pet snake, so you should be able to pick one up for quite cheap.
You could buy a basic morph for $50. The more interesting or rare the morph, the more the snake will cost, up to thousands of dollars or more. A tangerine morph, for example, can cost $750-1000. These snakes are a bright orange color that owners have created through selective breeding.
There are other costs of snake ownership. You also have to consider the tools and equipment that you need to keep a milk snake. Altogether, you’re likely to spend $200-$300 on everything that your snake needs. This includes an enclosure, heating/lighting system, substrate, some food, thermometers and hygrometers, and some decorations.
What’s The Temperament of a Milk Snake?
Milk snakes are generally well behaved, but there are some exceptions to the rule.
When they’re young, or just recently caught in the wild, they won’t enjoy being handled at all. It takes time to teach them that you aren’t a threat.
Some milk snakes can also be fussy with their food, and some won’t start eating. Always make sure before you buy a milk snake that they’ve eaten their first meal. Milk snakes are unlikely to bite. They can be tricky to handle, though, both because they’re nervous and very active.
Are Milk Snakes Venomous?
No, milk snakes aren’t poisonous or venomous. Milk snakes are harmless to humans because they’re small constrictors. This means that they don’t have venom that they can attack you with, nor are they big enough to wrap around you.
People might think they’re dangerous is that they look a little like coral snakes, with bands along their body. This leads to people killing them thinking that they’re a threat when they encounter one in the wild. But no matter which subspecies you come across, they’re completely harmless.
Do Milk Snakes Bite People?
They can if you mishandle them. If you bought a neonate (a hatchling), then they’re likely not to be used to handling at first.
They’re unlikely to bite when you first handle them. Instead, they’re more likely to do something called ‘musking.’ This is where they release a foul-smelling musk (fluid) from their anal glands. The point is to scare away any potential predators.
Your milk snake will do this because it’s interpreting you as a threat. If it’s the first time that they’ve been handled, they’ll have no idea that you aren’t a predator, so it’s to be expected that they’ll react as if you are one. Over time, they’ll gradually realize that you aren’t a threat.
Milk Snake Care Guide
The exact care requirements of your snake will depend on the subspecies. This is because as a group, milk snakes have one of the widest geographical ranges among snakes.
So, for example, you can find species:
- In forests
- In open prairies
- In rocky areas
- In farmland
You can find them almost everywhere east of the Rockies, which means that you can find them anywhere from California to western Canada. A subspecies that’s native to Canada would be more comfortable in cooler climates than one from California.
Milk Snake Enclosure
If you want to keep a milk snake as a pet, you need somewhere to put it. You might have heard the terms vivarium, enclosure, tank or cage before? These all refer to the thing you keep the snake in.
You have many options, each of which would be suitable for a milk snake:
- Glass enclosures. These look good, but can’t hold on to heat well. They’re also quite heavy, which can make them harder to set up.
- Plastic enclosures. These are the cheapest you can find, but don’t look very professional. They’re an excellent choice for a beginner tank, i.e., a tank to keep a hatchling in.
- Wooden enclosures. These look good, but you can’t see inside through the wooden sides. They usually have a sliding panel at the front to see through.
Because milk snakes become stressed quite easily, we recommend a wooden enclosure. With a glass or plastic enclosure, they can become nervous since they feel like they’re in a big, wide-open space.
Snakes like tiny snug spaces, which is why they need hides in their enclosure. A wooden enclosure makes them feel more secure because they can only see out of one side.
What Size Tank Does a Milk Snake Need?
In terms of size, the same problem applies. If the enclosure is too big, your pet will be nervous. If it’s too small, they’ll feel hemmed in and stressed.
As a rule, if your snake can stretch out to 2/3rds of their length, then the container is just big enough. Start a hatchling off in a small plastic container rather than an adult-sized container.
A 10-gallon tank is fine, make sure that there are plenty of decorations and two places to hide so that your hatchling doesn’t feel unsafe.
Once they grow up, upgrade them to an adult-sized tank. Based on your snake’s size, pick a tank from the list below.
- If your snake is between two and three feet, pick a 20-gallon tank.
- If your snake is between three and four feet, pick a 30-gallon tank.
- If your snake is bigger than four feet, pick a 40-gallon tank.
In particular, pay attention to the length of the aquarium from one end to the other. A typical 20-gallon tank is 30 inches from one end to the other, which is about two and a half feet long.
That means it’s fine for any snake between two and three feet. Milk snakes aren’t natural snakes, but will still appreciate things they can climb on, so height isn’t of primary importance.
Your snake tank needs decorations for your snake to feel happy and safe. First, you’ll need two hides. Hides are places for your snake to hide and are just big enough for them to fit in. Think of a coconut with a 2-inch chunk cut from the front—that’s what snakes prefer.
They feel safe in small, enclosed spaces. You need one for the cool side of their tank and one for the warm side of their tank. You should also get:
- Some cover, e.g. fake or real plants that are safe for snakes that let them move around without feeling overwhelmed by the space
- A water bowl for them to bathe in (snakes don’t normally drink standing water, they prefer to drink raindrops, or in captivity, water that’s sprayed in their tank)
- Something for them to climb, like a stick/branch
It’s important that your snake has somewhere to hide, even if they’re only in ‘temporary accommodation’. If you’re keeping them in a small enclosure for their first year, for example, you should still have the above decorations and furniture in there.
Milk Snake Heating
Milk snakes have a wide range of heat requirements. That’s because there are milk snakes that live in the Andes, which are used to colder weather, but there are also subspecies that are native to hotter parts of the world like Texas or Mexico. That’s why it’s vital that you figure out which subspecies you have before setting the temperature in their enclosure.
To help you figure out how warm their vivarium should be, use the following chart:
- Honduran milk snakes like a basking temperature of 86-90 and a regular temperature of 78-82 degrees. A small drop at night time to 72-75 is fine.
- Andean milk snakes like a basking temperature of 75-78 and a regular temperature of between 68-70. A small drop at night time to 63-65 is fine.
- Mexican milk snakes like a basking temperature of 83-85, and a regular temperature of 78-80 degrees. A small drop at night time to 72-75 is fine.
These three examples illustrate how varied milk snakes are. It might seem odd that two subspecies of the same kind of snake might have such different requirements.
But Andean milk snakes live in a very mountainous region, where the temperature averages about 68 degrees—quite cool, despite being close to the equator. So, they don’t like temperatures as hot as the others.
Honduran milk snakes live in subtropical areas which are naturally warmer, and Mexican milk snakes live in drier grassland habitats. These snakes, therefore, require more warmth generally, and even warmer basking zones. Learn more about your snake’s natural habitat and adjust their temperature accordingly.
You will have also noticed that milk snakes need two different temperature ‘extremes’ in their vivarium. That’s because they need a place to bask and warm up, and a place to hide and cool down. Snakes are ectotherms, so they can’t regulate their temperature. They need your help to do so. You can heat a vivarium using either a heat lamp, a heat mat, wire or heat tape.
Milk Snake Lighting
There is a subsection of snake owners who think that snakes need lighting in their enclosures, but that’s not necessarily the case. Specifically, people install UVB lighting in snake enclosures so that they can get more ‘natural sunlight’ than they otherwise would. This appeals to common sense, especially for snakes that live in wooden enclosures with opaque sides.
However, snakes don’t need UV lighting for vitamin D formation or otherwise. A study by the British Veterinary Association found that UV lighting didn’t result in higher concentrations of vitamin D for snakes exposed to it. So, in terms of their health, it wasn’t necessary.
If you would like to be able to see more of their tank, you should use a heat lamp. This provides both heat and light. If the heat lamp itself is inside the enclosure, make sure that it’s out of reach of the snake. If this isn’t possible, surround it with a protective wire mesh or similar.
Milk Snake Bedding (Substrate)
Aspen is the best bedding for most snakes. Aspen is made from shaved aspen tree bark. 2 inches of substrate is fine for a hatchling. This gives them enough room to burrow, but at the same time, you won’t be using too much. Try 3 inches for a fully-grown snake. Aspen is great for absorbing odors, and good quality stuff is dust free. It’s also nice to look at.
It’s not the cheapest substrate you can find, though. If you can’t afford aspen, you can choose from:
- Paper towels
- Orchid bark mix
- Coconut husk mix
Paper towels and newspaper are especially cheap, plus they’re easy to clean. However, we wouldn’t recommend getting any substrate or bedding that your milk snake can’t burrow into.
You might think that sand would make an excellent snake substrate, but it doesn’t. It can get underneath their scales, and they can even swallow it by accident. This is bad for their health. Plus, it’s a nightmare to clean.
What do Milk Snakes Eat?
Milk snakes have quite a varied diet, compared to other snakes. They’re opportunistic eaters, which means they’ll eat whatever they can find.
In the wild, they eat soft-bodied insects like worms and caterpillars, as well as slugs. They’ll also eat hard-bodied insects like crickets and grasshoppers. If they’re big enough when they grow up, they can eat small mammals, birds, and lizards too. According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, though, they mostly eat rodents.
In captivity, milk snakes are quite easy to feed. They’re quite a greedy snake, and will only rarely turn away food. Start them off on a diet of pinkies. When they’re old enough, you can feed them larger prey like fuzzies if necessary.
Here’s a basic diet for a milk snake that you can follow:
- For a neonate milk snake, you can start them off with earthworms if they’re unusually small. If they’re big enough, feed them one pinkie mouse every 5-7 days.
- For a yearling milk snake, feed them pinkies or fuzzies based on their size. Feed them once a week, as they’re still growing.
- For an adult milk snake, decrease the frequency of feeding, but up the amount of prey per feed. An adult mouse every 10-12 days would be appropriate.
Bear in mind, though, that diet is based on size and not on age. If your snake is very long and broad for a yearling, without being overweight, then you can feed them more often/in larger quantities.
If your snake is very short and broad, without being underweight, then they won’t be able to eat larger prey. Moreover, your snake might show no interest in food until a day after their scheduled feed. If so, adjust the schedule accordingly.
You might be initially surprised by the size of the prey that you can feed a snake. Anything up to one and a half times the width of their head is perfectly fine. Snakes, milk snakes included, can stretch their jaws wide to fit big prey. Even prey that’s bigger than they are!
Why Won’t My Milk Snake Eat?
If your milk snake doesn’t eat, it could be for one of four main reasons.
- It could be because they’re going into brumation. Brumation is similar to hibernation, where the snake enters a period of low activity. This is over the winter months, when a) the snake would get too cold if they were active and b) it would be much harder to find food. As such, their natural feeding instinct either lessens or disappears in late fall and early winter.
- Alternatively, it could be because your new milk snake has never lived on a captive diet before. Neonates can sometimes have trouble adjusting for no clear reason. Wild-caught adults aren’t used to being fed food that’s not body temperature, and which is already dead.
- Your snake could be just about to enter the blue phase, where they shed their skin. During this time, they don’t like to eat.
- Your snake could be stressed out, either because they don’t like you handling them or coming close to them, or because their enclosure is too small.
Whatever the reason, there are a few things you can do. Try warming up the food, not until it’s hot, but until it’s body temperature. Use a heat lamp or mat, not a microwave. You could also try braining the food, where you cut the pinkie’s head open and use the brain matter to entice the snake.
You could also try to feed them live prey, but if they don’t eat it, make sure to remove the prey item, or it could hurt your snake. Another idea is to try rubbing a rodent with a dead frog or lizard in a process known as ‘scenting.’ This gives the rodent the smell of a preferred prey item.
If these ideas don’t work, try them again, but put the snake into a small bag or tub with air holes that they can’t get out of. Put a pre-killed prey item in there with them. Then, leave them alone for many hours, completely undisturbed. If even this isn’t enough to entice them to eat, you should visit a vet. The problem could be an underlying illness.
How to Determine the Gender of a Milk Snake
There are two ways to determine the gender of a snake, milk snakes included. These are popping and probing.
Popping is the best way for an ‘amateur’ to figure out the gender of a snake. This is where you apply consistent pressure to the snake’s tail. Find the spot about 1 inch below your snake’s vent (cloaca) and apply gentle pressure to it. If nothing happens, move your thumb up towards the vent, very slowly, still applying consistent pressure.
If the snake is a male, then either one or both of their ‘hemipenes’ will pop out, hence the name. Hemipenes are a male snake’s sexual organs. If nothing pops out, then the snake is likely a female. This doesn’t hurt the snake, either male or female. However, this method doesn’t always work, especially if it’s your first time trying it.
The other method of determining a snake’s gender is called probing. This is where you insert a small, thin probe designed specifically for the purpose into a snake’s vent. The probe will go further into the snake’s tail if it’s a male than if it’s a female. You have to be very careful if you probe a snake because it can damage their tail, vent or hemipenes. That’s why it’s best carried out by a vet.
Milk Snake Breeding Information
If you’re interested in breeding milk snakes, they aren’t that different from other snakes, especially other colubrids. They’re egg-laying snakes (oviparous) as opposed to snakes that incubate eggs internally before they hatch internally too (ovoviviparous) or those that don’t create eggs at all and give birth to live young (viviparous). You should also make sure that the female is of breeding age before you attempt breeding. Milk snakes reach sexual maturity between 3 and 4 years old.
If you’d like to breed two milk snakes together, use the following guide:
- Like all colubrids, milk snakes breed after brumation. Brumation is a period of low activity during the winter. As such, when breeding snakes in captivity, you have to put them through a period of cooler temperatures. For two weeks, reduce the temperature of their enclosure to between 50 and 60 degrees, depending on the subspecies. During this time, their heart rate will slow to as little as 5% of usual.
- Keep them at this temperature throughout the winter. Late October to early November, all the way through to late January/February is about right.
- Over this time, your snakes won’t want to eat. This is because they don’t have a heat source (basking spot) that will help them digest their food. Don’t worry, though. This is all part of a snake’s normal life.
- At the end of January, gradually bring the temperature back up to usual levels. Start them off with small meals at first, before moving back to their regular diet.
- After brumation, the female starts producing pheromones. Introduce the male snake to the female snake’s enclosure at this time. They should then mate, with the male first crawling on top of the female, before wrapping around her. Mating can last anywhere up to a few hours.
Make sure that the female isn’t unhappy or upset. If she doesn’t want to mate, she may strike at the male, and the male may strike back. They could unintentionally cause severe injuries to one another. If they aren’t happy together, remove the male safely, either by hand or using a stick.
Incubating Milk Snake Eggs
Milk snakes will lay eggs at around a month after mating if the mating was successful. In the wild, this is in June or July. In captivity, it’s a month after you chose to mate them. The exact date doesn’t matter, but try and make sure it’s fairly early in Summer. Otherwise, the hatchlings would find it difficult to start eating, as their first meal would be just before winter.
Milk snakes lay a variable amount of eggs, anywhere between 2 and 20. You’re most likely to see around ten. Once the female lays the eggs, you should move them immediately to an incubator. Don’t worry, because the female doesn’t take any notice of the eggs once she’s laid them so that you won’t be upsetting her.
If you didn’t know, the purpose of an incubator is to keep the eggs at the right humidity and temperature. In the wild, milk snakes lay their eggs under logs or rocks, or just buried in the soil, so that there’s little temperature variation.
Take care not to jiggle or shake them. When you pick them up, don’t tilt them to either side, at all. The side that was facing up after the egg was laid, should be the side facing up inside the incubator. This increases the likelihood of the egg successfully hatching.
If you’d like, you can use a marker to place a dot on the side that should be facing up. This will help you keep them steady, and make sure they stay ‘upright’.
Incubation lasts for two months so that the eggs will hatch in August or September. On hatching, the babies will be about 7 inches long. For the first 7-10 days of their life, they won’t eat, because they’ll be going through their first shed. Feed them once they shed.
How to Handle Milk Snakes
Milk snakes are tricky customers and can be a challenge to beginner snake enthusiasts. That’s because they can be quite nervous around people.
Milk snakes aren’t very aggressive, but aren’t initially comfortable with handling. You have to teach them over time to accept that you aren’t a threat. So, let’s find out how to properly handle one.
Milk Snake Handling Guide
Milk snakes will only understand that you aren’t a threat if you handle them correctly. Follow the guidelines below so that both you and your snake can enjoy handling.
- Be calm when you’re handling a milk snake. Don’t jitter and flinch, because your snake will interpret these movements as threatening.
- Don’t move them around too quickly. Again, you’ll make them nervous.
- Don’t handle them while they’re hungry, or soon after they’ve eaten. When they’re hungry, they might try and eat you. If they’ve just eaten, their instinct is to regurgitate their food so that they can get away quicker.
- Keep two hands on them at all times. They’re very active, and can quickly get away from you if you’re not careful. One hand underneath for support and one hand on top as a hide may calm them down.
- Keep your handling sessions short. Because they’re nervous and easily stressed, prolonged handling isn’t good for a milk snake.
To get them used to you, start by standing near their enclosure, not reacting if they get defensive or even try to strike. Once they’re comfortable with you standing there, try putting your hand inside their enclosure.
Repeat the process, again, until they’re comfortable. Once they’re used to your hands, hold them at 1/3 and 2/3rds of the way along their body for maximum support and follow the guidelines above.
What Are the Different Types of Milk Snakes?
Milk snakes are a diverse range of snakes. They’re all Kingsnake subspecies. In total, there are 24 different kinds of milk snake. They’re all known by their scientific name of Lampropeltis triangulum, but with subspecies names too.
So, for example, Dixon’s milk snake is known as Lampropentis Triangulum Dixoni. The Honduran milk snake’s scientific name is Lampropentis Triangulum Hondurensis. But enough about their scientific names. Let’s take a brief look at what each subspecies is like in turn.
Guatemalan Milk Snake
Guatemalan milk snakes are from South America, specifically around Guatemala. They aren’t very common pets. They have the typical red, black and yellow banding that’s associated with milk snakes generally. They grow to be about five feet long.
Louisiana Milk Snake
Louisiana milk snakes are native to the U.S., particularly around Louisiana, Texas and the South. They have the same typical banded markings, like the Guatemalan milk snake above. However, the Louisiana milk snake is much shorter than normal. It clocks in at a tiny two feet long, which is short for a pet snake.
Andean Milk Snake
Andean milk snakes are from the Andes, around Colombia and Venezuela. They’re the same color as other milk snakes but have black speckles on each scale which gives them a mottled or dirty appearance. They can tolerate cold temperatures since they come from mountainous areas. They grow to five feet long, which is about average for a milk snake.
Mexican Milk Snake
These snakes are native across Mexico and have variable light bands. Their light bands are quite bright for a milk snake, although this can vary from specimen to specimen. They grow to just two and a half feet long. Contrary to what other milk snakes do, these snakes become less active during warm weather rather than during cold weather.
Jalisco Milk Snake
Jalisco milk snakes are from Mexico too. They have very thin white and black markings, evenly spaced along their body. Their markings are exceptionally clean looking, too, so they’re a beautiful snake overall. They grow to about three and a half feet long.
Blanchard’s Milk Snake
Blanchard’s milk snake is dark and dirty-looking, but still has shiny scales, which makes for an interesting-looking subspecies. They have quite long red sections between black and cream bands. You won’t find these in your average pet store. Again, they’re from Mexico. These snakes grow to four and a half feet long, too.
Pueblan Milk Snake
The Pueblan milk snake is from southern Puebla in Mexico. They’re also known as Campbell’s milk snakes, which is based on their scientific name. Just because they’re from Mexico, though, that doesn’t mean they need their enclosure to be super-hot in captivity.
They have bands all the way along their body of almost equal width. In some specimens, the white band is the longest! They only grow to three feet long, though.
New Mexico Milk Snake
As the name suggests, the New Mexico milk snake is native to the U.S. You can find it across the south, including in Texas. They like rocky grassland and the warmth of the area. They have quite wide white bands, with relatively thin black bands around them.
The bands are consistently spaced along the length of their body. They grow to between two and three feet long on average.
Conant’s Milk Snake
Conant’s milk snakes are a rare kind to find in a pet shop! They have thin black and yellow bands, with big red bands in between. Their scales are tipped with black, which gives them a dark overall appearance. They reach four foot on average.
Dixon’s Milk Snake
Dixon’s milk snake have equal sized red, black and yellow-cream bands all along their body. The black bands can create a saddle-like pattern by joining together over the red bands, which almost disappear. This is especially the case towards the tail, which can be almost entirely black and cream.
Black Milk Snake
The black milk snake is longer than most, reaching six feet in length. As hatchlings, you might wonder where their name comes from, because they can be born with a variety of colors. But when they grow up, they have iridescent, pure-black scales that in other species you’d have to buy an expensive morph to find.
Central Plains Milk Snake
These snakes are one of the tiniest of the bunch. They might only reach 24 inches as an adult, which is just two feet long. They have unevenly shaped bands, the most prominent of which are cream colored. The black bands are small and uneven, sometimes meeting in the middle over the red bands, and sometimes not.
Honduran Milk Snake
Honduran milk snakes are another snake that has black tipping on their scales. The amount can vary between snakes. They can grow to be five feet long or so, and come in several morphs, including tangerine, bi-color, and albino. Albino Honduran milk snakes retain their bright red, while the black stripe is turned to pale lavender.
Ecuadoran Milk Snake
Ecuadoran milk snakes are beautiful—not to put down the other subspecies, but they are special to look at and to own. First, they have fairly typical bands for a milk snake. But their scales, especially the scales that are normally white, at least half of each one is tinged with black.
Coupled with their shiny scales, this gives them a gorgeous iridescent appearance. Not only that, but they can grow to be six feet long, which is a good size for a milk snake.
Pale Milk Snake
The pale milk snake isn’t exactly ‘pale,’ at least not in the same way that a black milk snake is black! They do have quite thick white bands, though, which is where they get their name.
Other specimens have thinner white bands and look more like an average milk snake. They grow to just over two feet long.
Nelson’s Milk Snake
Nelson’s milk snakes have thick red bands, average sized black bands, and pinstripe white/cream stripes too. Even the white band around their head is quite narrow. They get to 42 inches long, or about four and a half feet. They’re named after Edward W Nelson, a U.S. naturalist, and biologist.
Pacific Central American Milk Snake
These are another snake that has a mottled, dirty appearance because their scales are black tipped. As the name suggests, you can find them in Central America, and they grow to three feet long.
Atlantic Central American Milk Snake
These snakes are a little more interesting than their Pacific cousins. They grow to six feet long, for a start. Their black and white bands are a little mixed and mottled, which gives them a unique appearance for a milk snake, too. They have black tips on their scales.
Sinaloan Milk Snake
The Sinaloan milk snake is one of the most common subspecies that people keep in captivity. It’s a predominantly blood red color, which is a warning to any predators—it’s pretending to be poisonous.
Smith’s Milk Snake
Some of these snakes have fairly equal black, white and cream bands all along their body. Sometimes, the black and white bands are thinner than the red—it depends on the specimen. They have a very slight black tip to their scales. They’ll grow to about 40 inches long on average and have quite long tail sections.
Stuart’s Milk Snake
Also known as the Costa Rican milk snake, because you can find them in Costa Rica. They have thick red bands, thin black bands, and thin cream-white bands. They have an ever so slight black tip to each scale. They’re about four feet long.
Red Milk Snake
Red milk snakes are primarily red but have very prominent white sections. The red bands form a saddle shape, with the red on top, the white on the bottom and black in between.
They grow to three feet long, and you can find them from Indiana to Mississippi, and in Alabama, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky too. According to a paper in Herpetologica, though, they’re secretive snakes and are difficult to spot in the wild!
Utah Milk Snake
Utah milk snakes grow to about three feet and have consistent black/white/cream bands all the way along their body, each band being about the same size. You can find them in and around Utah.
Eastern Milk Snake
According to COSEWIC, Eastern milk snakes have the same saddle pattern as red milk snakes. They grow to two or three foot long, and have all sorts of common names, like cow-sucker and chicken snake! They’re brightly colored for a milk snake, too.
Facts About Milk Snakes
We’ve included a brief section of interesting milk snake facts. These didn’t particularly fit in anywhere else but are worth knowing.
Milk Snakes are Kingsnakes
Milk snakes are a kind of Kingsnake. But that isn’t just a scientific definition—it means that they display a kind of behavior that all Kingsnakes are known for. They’re known to eat other snakes. Milk snakes do, too, although not as frequently as other snakes like California Kingsnakes.
Milk snakes have a very varied diet, as you know, so they don’t often resort to eating other snakes. But if they get into a fight with another snake (or if they’re just hungry) then they won’t hesitate to eat a snake that’s smaller than themselves.
That’s why it’s very important not to house two milk snakes together.
Milk Snakes Like to “Play Rattlesnake”
Milk snakes aren’t rattlesnakes. They’re not even the same family. Milk snakes are colubrids, whereas rattlesnakes are vipers. But because they share the same habitat, milk snakes have learned how to copy rattlesnakes to scare off predators.
So, milk snakes don’t have rattles. What they do instead is shake their tails as quick as they can, and ‘rattle’ it against foliage (or just the ground). Because they can shake their tails incredibly fast, this creates a surprisingly loud buzzing sound. This is often more than enough to scare away predators, even though milk snakes are only pretending… They’re not venomous at all!
Milk Snakes are Nocturnal
Milk snakes are similar to corn snakes, in that they’re more active during the night. Snakes are diverse in terms of the times of day that they’re active. Western hognose snakes, for example, are active during daylight hours. Garter snakes can be too.
But milk snakes tend to stay in their hides during the day, only coming out to hunt, mate or wander around during dusk. They’ll stay active throughout the night. If it’s unusually wet and cool, then they might choose to come out during the day anyway. They come out at night so that they can avoid the heat of daylight hours.
That’s about all there is to know about milk snakes. If you’d like more in-depth information about mating, snake behavior, brumation—or anything else—then check out some more of our guides.