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Milk Snake

Read on to know more about the milk snake...
The milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) is a species belonging to the king snake. There are around 25 subspecies of the milk snake and can have strikingly different appearance, many of them having their own common name. As a matter of fact, milk snakes have a very uncanny resemble to the coral snake. This kind of mimicry is known as Batesian mimicry and it helps scare away potential predators. Although both the coral snake and the milk snake have transverse bands of red, black and yellow, there is a common mnemonic that can be used to distinguish between the coral snake and the milk snake. The mnemonic used is 'Red to Yellow, Kill a Fellow. Red to Black, Venom Lack'.

A common myth about milk snakes is that they can suck the cow udders for milk. I guess this is the reason that they are so named. However, this myth is false. The milk snake does not have physical abilities that can help them suck milk from a cow. Milk snakes are found very commonly in barns which are cool and dark can also easily access rodents for food. This close proximity to the barns probably gave rise to the myth.

General Appearance

Based on the sub-species, the milk snakes can be either heavy bodied or slim. Further, milk snakes are represented by the following three general patterns:
  • The first pattern is the tri-colored pattern wherein the snakes possesses bold rings of white (or yellow), black and red (or orange) which completely encircle the snake and may or may not extend onto the belly of the snake.
  • The other common pattern is that of a light tan, gray or a cream background color with red, russet or brown lateral or dorsal blotches.
  • The last pattern is only applicable to black milk snakes that are tri-colored as babies but turn completely into a patternless black color by two years of age.
Habitat

Milk snakes can be found in woods, marshes, fields, farmlands and suburbs. They normally stay out of sight and hide under logs, trash and garbage. Milk snakes are harmless to humans but when provoked they start vibrating, release musk from their tail and can also bite although their venom is not fatal.

During the spring and the fall, milk snakes are diurnal while they become nocturnal during the summer. On few occasions milk snakes can also be seen sunning in the open. Milk snakes can also endure extreme temperatures.

Diet

Milk snakes are constrictors and first kill their prey by suffocating it before feeding on it. They feed on a large number or small vertebrates like frogs, rodents, small snakes and lizards. Milk snakes that are domestically bred can be fed pre-killed mice. Remember that snakes should be started on small rodents before being sold at retail outlets and also they should not be fed anything that has been procured from the wild as they can transmit harmful internal parasites.

Baby milk snakes can be fed on pre-killed pink mice while the adult snakes can be fed pre-killed sub adult mice. A general rule that should be followed is that the food item should not be larger than one and half time the girth of the snake at its widest point.

Reproduction

The milk snakes generally reproduce during May and the females lay anywhere between 3 to 24 eggs between June and July. Once the female snakes begin to ovulate, they begin to use the glands on their skin to leave a pheromone trail behind them. The male snakes follow this trail until they find the female snake. The snakes then copulate, sometimes for hours at a time. The eggs are deposited under rocks, in rotting vegetation, stumps, logs and small mammal burrows. During the incubation period the snakes guard the eggs that is the maximum extent of the parental care. The eggs usually hatch in August or September. The hatchlings are about 10 inches long and have a very vibrant coloration.

Again, as they resemble the coral snakes so closely, unless you are very sure whether the snake is coral or milk, it is advisable to stay away from all types of snakes as coral snakes are highly venomous.
By Ranjan Shandilya
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