Milk Snakes: Facts, Bite Information, and Pictures

While I was researching snakes that make great pets, I found myself drawn to milk snakes. These snakes are amazing and interesting, and I would love to share what I found out about them with you.

So what exactly is a milk snake and are they dangerous? Milk Snakes are a breed of kingsnake that is non-venomous and has a calm temperament. They are usually black, red, and yellow with bands around their body. They are usually 3 – 5 feet in length. Because of their docile ways and beautiful color, they are commonly kept as pets.

Don’t let the appearance of these snakes fool you: they may look deadly, but these cold-blooded creatures are most likely less dangerous than your cat.

Are Milk Snakes Good Pets?

Milk snakes are great pets, especially for beginners, because they are calm and don’t need too much attention. Unlike other animals, milk snakes don’t need constant care. As long as the snake has a nice enclosure and is kept well-fed, it should be happy.

They also make great pets because they are quite shockingly beautiful. The traditional milk snake has alternating bands of black-red-yellow while there are subspecies that may vary in the shades and patterns found. Most commonly, however, the milk snakes available are tri-colored and banded.

Milk snakes are also one of the shinier breeds of snakes. The light reflects on their scales in a way that makes them look smooth like glass. 

Milk snakes are great pets, but they do prefer to live alone. If these little guys are kept in an enclosure with another snake, they will probably prey on or be preyed upon by the other snake. Being in an enclosure alone will ensure its safety and happiness.

After they have grown comfortable, milk snakes can be held by their owners. Sometimes this might make them nervous, enough that the snake might leave excrement on the owner’s hand. This waste is not toxic, just remember to wash your hands after handling your pet (which was likely your thought anyway) and try not to stress the snake out.

Milk snakes are creatures who like to hide and burrow. If you are planning on getting a milk snake, make sure that there is enough dry mulch or paper for them to dig into. They like to climb, so to make your snake happy, put a branch for them to dangle from in there as well. 

hey are pretty shy snakes, so they won’t like constant handling. Milk snakes are also nocturnal and will be more active during the night, so try not to disturb your slumbering snake during its daytime resting hours.

A word of caution: Make sure the enclosure you are getting for your snake is inescapable. Ensuring there are no holes or anything your snake can wiggle out of is essential to the safety of your snake.

These and other snakes are known to be escape artists of sorts and quickly take advantage of any little openings or cracks left unchecked.)

Milk snakes are considered to be in the smaller to mid-range size for snakes, which means they won’t take up too much room in your house. However, they are still big enough to appeal to reptile lovers. They require a 20-gallon terrarium to live in when they are fully grown.

When they are hatchlings, it might be a good idea to get a larger tank for them to grow into, so they can be acclimated to their tank throughout their life. Also, that way you won’t have to buy two tanks in the end.

Are Milk Snakes Dangerous?

Milk snakes are considered to be one of the least dangerous species of snakes out there. Because they are descended from kingsnakes, they are considered constricting snakes. This means that they are non-venomous.

Non-venomous snakes- who are not equipped with venom- will wrap themselves around their prey and squeeze until the prey can no longer breathe, and then they can eat them.

Some people wonder if being a constrictor makes them dangerous to people.  These snakes are usually only three feet in length, though there are some that can grow up to five feet long. They are powerful little snakes, yes, but are way too small to try to strangle or consume a person, so there would be no reason to hurt them or for them to hurt you.

If you are unsure about a specific milk snake pet, keep young children away until the snake is more acquainted with people and its surroundings. The only reason a milk snake would attack a person is if it felt like it was in danger.

In the wild, it is best to just leave a milk snake alone. They aren’t doing any harm, and might actually be keeping rodents (who carry diseases and destroy crops) away from you. 

Mistaken Identity

It can actually be difficult to identify these snakes because the milk snake can resemble a very dangerous, venomous snake called a coral snake. There are a couple of sayings out there to help people to be able to differentiate, such as these:

“Red on yellow [bands] kill a fellow. Red on black, venom lack”

“Red on black is a friend of Jack. “

Scientists think this might have been an adaption the milk snakes have made over time, to look more like the venomous coral snake so they could scare off predators.

There are different subspecies of milk snakes that may not follow along with this mnemonic which leads to the accidental death of the species. 

Some subspecies can be mistaken for other snakes as well because the appearance of a milk snake can so greatly vary. Hatchlings may also be mistaken for copperhead snakes because the color of their skin is much brighter as a baby than it is when they are a beautifully red-and-black striped adult snake.

Despite the misconception, milk snakes are definitely not a dangerous snake. They really are a friendly yet shy bunch. They just want you to think otherwise, so know your snakes and their colors.

Are Milk Snakes Aggressive?

Milk snakes are not an aggressive species of snake. They would much rather dig into the dirt and curl up in a cute little ball than attack anything intimidating to them. They are reclusive and docile, especially as pets.

Milk snakes only seem to act aggressively when they feel that they are in some sort of danger. They are more likely to hiss or “rattle” their tails than they are to bite. However, if they feel threatened enough, bites can happen.

Young snakes might bite more than the adults. Babies are more easily frightened and less acquainted with people and their owners. Pet hatchlings might nip at fingers when they are scared. This is similar to many pets which bite when they are younger but grow out of it, such as puppies or even kittens.

Because they lack venom, this bite is not lethal at all. If anything, the bite will shake a person up a bit because of the startling speed with which snakes strike at people. Most bites are not even going to break the skin.

Milk snakes have teeth that point inwards so they can better clamp down on and swallow their food after they strangle it with their coils. Their prey is already dead when it is eaten, so the bites will not hurt like it would from another snake. Their teeth are not for killing and will cause minor scratches.

It still would be a good idea to get a bite checked out if you were bitten by a wild snake. This is just to minimize the risk of infection; milk snakes do like to hide in the dirt and rotting stumps, after all.

It might also be a good idea to get a bite from a wild snake checked out as, once again, these snakes are particularly easy to get mixed up with other species of snake. If it is a venomous snake, you’ll know and you definitely need to get to the hospital, but occasionally poisonous snakes give “dry bites” (which don’t excrete venom) which need to be checked out just in case. 

If your snake acts aggressively, it is uncomfortable or threatened. It needs space, so you should place it back in its tank and give it some. Make sure the terrarium is closed up tightly with the snake inside before going to wash off the bite. If it did puncture the skin, it is advisable to pour some benzoyl peroxide or rubbing alcohol over it to prevent infection.

The Lifespan of a Milk Snake

If the milk snake in question lives in the wild, it can live for about ten years, which isn’t a bad length of time for a wild, small and non-venomous snake.

A healthy pet milk snake can live up to twenty-one years in a safe enclosure and optimal conditions. A pet snake does not have to face the same risks as one the wild does. It sure isn’t going to end up being someone else’s meal.

The environmental factors are favorable for pet snakes, especially if they have a healthy diet and perfect temperatures and humidity. The best ways to make sure that your pet milk snake leads a long and healthy life are these:

  • Feed it enough – this depends on the size. A snake needs to eat about once every 7 – 9 days. Some bigger, adult-sized milk snakes will eat 2 full sized mice in a week.
  • Don’t overfeed – snakes can get obese and suffer from weight-related illnesses too. As a general rule, don’t feed a snake a mouse bigger than the widest part of its body. Milk snakes aren’t super thick, so smaller mice and other prey are recommendable.
  • Keep the enclosure clean – by cleaning it regularly, changing the mulch or paper, and getting rid of the snake’s waste, you are making sure your pet has minimal opportunities to get sick in your care. In addition to these, change out the water every time you clean the tank.
  • Give him or her 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness – this will help him with his nocturnal nature and will also help him feel like he is in a more natural environment instead of just a cage.
  • The humidity levels are just right – Keep humidity levels between 40-60%. When your pet snake is shedding, turn up the humidity to 60%, as this will help the snake shed faster and make the experience more comfortable for it.
  • The temperature levels are just right- The enclosure for a milk snake should be between 84 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit but this is could be different for a particular subspecies. 
  • Make sure the mice are pre-killed – Live mice can cause harm to your snake during feedings and can also make the snake’s behavior more aggressive in general, so its best to have thawed, pre-killed small mice ready for supper for your pet. If your snake is young and hasn’t taken to eating yet, you may need to puncture the mouse in a couple of places to make it more enticing to them.

There is no way to guarantee how long a pet snake will live, but keeping them happy and healthy with these tips is a really great place to start.

Eating Habits of a Milk Snake

Milk snakes found in their natural environment will eat a wide variety of rodents, birds, and some other reptiles. It really just depends on what is within reach. Small frogs or even sometimes fish have become the prey of the milk snake. Abandoned eggs of other species are also eaten by them.

Sweet vengeance: Those look-alike snakes that milk snakes most often get mistaken for? You know, the coral snakes? Milk snakes have been known to hunt and eat them. They are impervious to the coral snakes’ venom. 

If you didn’t read the earlier note I wrote about this, milk snakes can also turn into cannibals, which is why they should be housed alone. Maybe this is the real reason they are solitary creatures. Milk snakes don’t really like having coral snakes around, plus they’re pretty tasty.

Hatchlings also will eat insects to fill their stomachs. However, they will have to eat much more frequently. Some of the things these little babies will eat are worms or crickets. Some even eat slugs. When you’re hungry, you’re hungry, right? 

Snakes of all kinds are known to have a slow digestive system, and milk snakes are no exception. They will take days to fully process the food they have eaten. Babies are able to digest faster because their bodies are smaller and the food they are eating is smaller, too.

With pet snakes, it’s best to keep in mind this slow digestion process because it will not eat as frequently as some other common pets do. Feed the snake once every week or so. If your milk snake, who usually likes to stay hidden, comes out after 4 pm or so, it may be exhibiting signs of being hungry.

Mice are usually fed to milk snakes and should be the staple of their diet. However, to mix things up for a picky pet, a baby chick (pre-killed) can be alright every now and again. If you have a bigger snake, small rats are okay for food, as well.

Young snakes should be fed pinky mice (a.k.a. newborn mice) until they are big enough to eat full-grown mice. Giving them too big of prey to consume can make your little pet very sick, or they might just not eat it and then starve.

It’s advisable to not handle your snake after feeding them until a day or two of giving them time to digest. If you try handling them or make them nervous during their digestion period, it could lead to regurgitation, which won’t be much good to either party.

The Habitat of a Milk Snake

Milk snakes are found throughout the North American continent, usually ranging from Quebec, Canada, throughout the United States, and down into Mexico. As you can imagine, this makes it hard to pinpoint just what type of landscape it is which this species prefers. They can thrive nearly anywhere in the wild.

Milk snakes like areas where they can burrow, and they are climbers of trees when they feel active (often at night). If you’re looking to find one out in nature, a good place to look would be near the edge of a forest, under a rock in a grassland, or near farmland.

Milk snakes got their name because they are so frequently found near barns or pastures where cows live. People thought that milk snakes would latch onto a cow’s udder and drink milk. It was a myth that has long been proven impossible. It’s still kind of funny to picture, though.

Milk snakes live near their food source, so anywhere a mouse could live, it’s likely a milk snake can live there too. They don’t often find a way into homes though, they prefer the outdoors.

When making a terrarium for your pet milk snake, it’s best to know the environment you need to recreate. Their home should feel as familiar as possible to reduce stress on the snake.

Make it the right temperature, the right humidity levels, and give them a little hiding house and mulch to burrow in, and they’ll be happy and healthy. Just make sure the substrates and other burrowing material you are choosing for them are not treated with chemicals or going to irritate your snake.

The Reproduction Process of Milk Snakes

Milk snakes are oviparous, which means they lay eggs. The mating season for this snake occurs usually in Spring, from March through May. This is after their brumation period, which is essentially hibernation, even though they wake up occasionally to drink water.

The male and female may copulate for a few hours, to make sure no other males will approach the female. The female will lay, on average, 10 eggs (2 -17) at one time.

The eggs are laid in a warm, humid place, like the inside of a log or in the earth itself to incubate. The mother will leave after the eggs are laid. The eggs are left on their own for 27 – 40 days until they hatch.

The hatchlings are left to fend for themselves. Only six inches or so when they hatch, these babies will hunt on their own and avoid all predators. They are more vibrantly colored at birth. They will slowly fade and darken as they grow.

The circle of life may seem cruel for these young milk snakes, but most manage to very well under the circumstances. Many survive to adulthood. In fact, if they survive, the will be able to reproduce at three years of age.

Milk snakes are also capable of reproducing every year, which is not always typical for snakes. This explains why they are literally everywhere.

Popular Subspecies of Milk Snakes

There are twenty-four known subspecies of the milk snake. These are a few that are commonly kept as pets:

  • Eastern Milk Snake – growing to 2 – 4 feet in length, this snake is grey, red and white. The patterns look more like spots or saddle markings than milk snake stripes. Eastern Milk Snakes are found often in nature too. They are mistaken for the copperhead snake frequently. 
  • Black Milk Snake – these are born looking like the average species but as it grows up, the black pigmentation takes over the majority of its body. There is usually no patterns spotted on the snake. Some members of this subspecies look more brown instead of black. 
  • Honduran Milk Snake – Thicker than the usual milk snake, these guys are known for being bigger in general. They have thick black and yellow bands around a red body. These bands don’t have borders. Sometimes the yellow bands are even more orange. They are common pets because of this distinct thicker look and contrasting colors.
  • Nelson’s Milksnake – Originally from Mexico, these guys are one of the most popular milk snakes on the snake market. They are thinner and come in many different morphs. They can have yellow and red rings or white with red. They are the most diverse subspecies. 

Most of the available milk snakes and subspecies on the market are bred in captivity. This is done to ensure that the biggest, coolest, and healthiest snakes are the ones going to an owner. Through breeding, new morphs are created within the subspecies.

The price of a milk snake can be anywhere from $10 to $300. It all depends on the size, subspecies and morph, as well as the demand and the breeder. Some breeders oversaturate the market, which means their snakes can be found rather easily. Just remember to invest in a healthy pet and do your research on the breeder and the morph you are looking at.

For a beginner breeder, they might face a challenge because the female might be ovulating and she might eat the other snake. If you are looking at starting out as a milk snake breeder or you are just curious about the process so you can find the best snake for you, you can find more information on the breeding of milk snakes here.

In the end, milk snakes are awesome pets and fascinating creatures, and you would do well to have one as a little reptile friend.

Related Questions

Can you milk a snake? When you milk a snake, it means you extract the venom from the fangs. This has to be done to a venomous snake with great caution and is done by professionals to produce anti-venom and other cures for those who have been bitten by venomous snakes. “Milking” a snake is not to be confused with a milk snake.

Can snakes produce milk? No, they do not produce milk. Snakes lack mammary glands that are needed to produce milk. Milk snakes do not stay with their hatchlings to nurse them, so producing milk would be superfluous. Also, reptiles don’t drink milk.

Are milk snakes endangered? Milk snakes are not on the endangered list of snake species nor are they at risk. They reproduce more than a lot of other snake species and are not overly hunted by their natural predators. This species is usually killed on accident, not for its skin.