What’s the Temperament of a Milk Snake?

The Temperament of a potential pet snake is important. Which snake has the best temperament? After some careful study, I’ve come to the conclusion that a milk snake is the way to go.

So what is the temperament of a milk snake? Quite simply, a milk snake will react no differently than any other snake when threatened. In other words, if you poke it too much, it’ll bite. However, milk snakes are quite docile and actually a really good pet to keep around.

There are several different species of milk snake, and they have become quite popular as house pets over the years. They require relatively little care, they are calm and gentle, and they live for decades.

Temperament of a Milk Snake

Milk snakes, especially when raised from birth, are the most peaceful, gentle snakes around. They are non-venomous, like water snakes, and thus make excellent pets. They adapt better than any other species of snake to live in captivity.

Milk snakes generally have more personality than other captive snakes, being more active and playful.

The more time you spend with your milk snake, the better your snake will behave. As a hatchling (that’s the super-educated terminology that reptile lovers like to use to describe a baby snake), milk snakes can be a little nippy.

Even as adults, especially the ones near the end of their lives, can get fussy.

This should be no worry though because this behavior is also mirrored in humans as well. Babies have way too much stimulus to take in and generally cry a lot more, and the elderly sometimes are in pain or easily frustrated.

Just adjust your care accordingly. Be more gentle with your pet. Handle the babies just a little more often so they learn to trust you, and handle the older adults just a little less often so that by the time they die, they still love you.

FUN FACT: Milk snakes got their name from a myth about groups of snakes that would sneak into barns late at night to suck the milk out of sleeping cows. Obviously, snakes are thoroughly incapable of doing this, seeing as they have no lips and are actually quite frightened by cows.

Black Milk snakes tend to be the most temperamental of the milk snakes. Their rebellious teenage years last a relatively short time, so you’ll be past the “don’t touch me, Mom,” and “death glare” stages before you know it. Black milk snakes also change colors as they age, so that’s an added reward for raising them.

are milk snakes a good pet 1 What's the Temperament of a Milk Snake?
Honduran milk snake

Your Milk Snake’s Enclosure can Play a Role in Their Mood

Milk snakes generally need a 20-gallon terrarium in order to be happy. To put this in perspective, pythons, and even water snakes typically need a tank that’s closer to 30 gallons. 

Have a little hide-away for the snake, like a box or several rocks stacked together to make a cave. All pet stores will carry accessories for snake terrariums, so if you’re at a loss, just make a stop. Milk snakes are nocturnal, so they’ll be using this little lair a lot during the day.

A small Rubbermaid container of water, or something similar, is important for snakes to bathe and play. Fancier snake pools are once again available at most pet stores, but I’m sure you have an old Kraft Heinz lunch meat container laying around somewhere.

For a liner, I’ve found it best to use just normal old news paper. It is essential to keep your snakes’ enclosure clean. Snakes eat and excrete just like the rest of us, but they, unfortunately, do not have the advantages of plumbing like we do.

A newspaper is simple to just slip out and replace. Gravel, wood chips, and sand may look better, but they are messy. So the next time your neighbor is complaining about how long it takes them to clean their snake’s tank, just smile knowingly and calmly collect that day’s paper from the driveway.

Heating their Enclosure to Keep Milk Snakes Happy

All snakes, regardless of species, need a heat source. Often-times, especially if the snake is smaller like a milk or water snake, just a regular 60 Watt light bulb directly over the take should suffice. You can also get a heat lamp, like the ones used for chickens. Just make sure that you keep a good distance between the terrarium and the heat source because even snakes don’t like sunburns.

In order to view your snake under the best lighting (which, strangely, is a concern people actually have), I would recommend a fluorescent light. Make sure to get one that emits low amounts of UVB rays.

Fluorescent lights have full spectrum lighting which means it has all the colors of the rainbow in the rays it emits, so your snake will positively be glowing. A ZooMedReptisun bulb is a very good option and has great reviews.

Full spectrum lighting will also help the snake with sleeping patterns as it mimics a natural 24 hour day and night cycle. This will encourage the snake to be out and about more often, which means you get to see it more in all it’s color vibrant glory.

Besides just a normal heat source, a snake needs a basking area to soak up the rays. A mid-range basking bulb in one corner of the tank is typically good enough.

The cage temperature should be around 80 degrees and the basking area should push almost 90 degrees. During the night, if you want to switch off some lighting and heating sources, make sure the temperature bottoms out at at least the mid 70 degree mark. We don’t want your snake getting the chills

If you want to keep a heat source on 24/7/365, try a red light or a heating pad. These can be left on indefinitely (or, at least until they burn out). However, if you do use this alternative, your snake will most likely be a little less active, and you won’t see its colors as well.

Diet of a Milk Snake

Most snakes need to eat about once every 10 to 14 days. As a hatchling (there’s that word again), they need to eat about once every five to seven days. Female snakes during breeding times (March to May for milk snakes) also need to be fed just a bit more often, about once a week.

Milk snakes eat primarily rodents. The best choice is a small pinkie mouse. Babies will need extra small pinkie mice.

Frozen mice will work quite well, as milk snakes aren’t picky. It also makes life easier for you too, because you can stock-pile mice in your freezer in case you forget to go shopping once or twice. Just don’t let your guests go snooping around. You can keep frozen mice for up to several months.

Milk snakes can live to up to 20 years in captivity, so you’d better be ready to commit. 

I would recommend sticking with pre-killed mice. Live prey might hurt your snake, especially if left uneaten.

It is important for your snake to have a good diet. Milk snakes eat a lot, so if your snake isn’t eating, take it to a veterinarian for a check-up. Mite infestations can also be a concern if the mouse was infected when introduced to the snake. Mites will look like little white, black, or red dots all along your snake. If left unattended, this can lead to death.

Milk Snake Identification

Like all non-venomous snakes, milk snakes have round pupils. Milk snakes are often mistaken for coral snakes, which is actually exactly what milk snakes are trying to accomplish as a defense mechanism.

Milk snakes have red, black, white, and yellow bands all along their body, just like coral snakes, but in a different pattern. A good way to remember is, “Red on yellow, you’re a dead fellow. Red on black, you’re okay Jack.”

Milk snakes range from 14 to 69 inches. In The United States and Canada, they typically don’t reach more than 51 inches. Milk snakes live anywhere from as north as Quebec to as south as Venezuela, except for the West Coast, but can we really blame them? 

Do Milk Snakes drink milk? Milk snakes should not and will not drink milk. Milk is drunk by mammals and milk snakes females do not have mammary glands, therefore they don’t produce it. 

Where can I buy pre-killed mice? Many pet stores carry frozen mice to fee your snake. However, if your local store is ill-equipped, just buy some on Amazon.com right here.

Can I hold my Milk Snake? Like all snakes, be gentle and sparing when it comes to handling them. If your snake has become agitated, it is likely they have been held too much and would very much like some time alone. But yes, it is safe to hold your snake. It is non-venomous and usually passive.