As a snake lover, you have numerous options to consider for pets. Snakes are a family of animals that showcase extreme diversity in terms of size, color, behavior, lifestyle, and pretty much any other metric you can imagine. In this article, though, we will discuss a special category of snakes, one which you may not be familiar with. I’m talking about milk snakes, looking to shed light on what makes them so popular in the reptile trade. I have 10 of them for you to consider for your terrarium, so let’s get to it!
Honduran Milk Snake
The Honduran snake is brightly colored, displaying a red or orange body with black and yellow bands. Almost all specimens have a black band covering the face, with the exception of the albino. Albino Honduran snakes come with a color mix of orange and white and have a lightly-colored head with red eyes.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum hondurensis
- Origin – Honduran milk snakes are endemic to Central America, being widespread in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and several other regions.
- Habitat – Honduran snakes inhabit a variety of environments, from grasslands to forests, and prefer heavily planted ecosystems. The lush surrounding vegetation protects the snake from predators and provides ample hunting opportunities.
- Lifespan – This species can reach 15-20 years in captivity in good conditions. Not all specimens can reach this lifespan, depending on the snake’s diet, housing conditions, overall care, and even genetic makeup.
- Venom and bite – Honduran milk snakes are non-venomous and, thus, harmless to humans. They’re also rather small and unable to hurt anything other than their prey.
- Adult size – This snake usually reaches up to 50 inches in the wild and up to 5 feet in captivity. However, most specimens will only grow up to 2-3 feet, even in good conditions. Genetics plays a critical role in the snake’s growth rate and maximum size.
- Temperament – This is one of the friendliest and most docile snakes you can get. Honduran milk snakes are easily tamable and curious by nature. Expect them to be quite active during their active hours.
Pueblan Milk Snake
Pueblan milk snakes also showcase red, black, and yellow as their main colors, but the patterns are slightly different. This species comes with thicker black bands and often displays 3-color variations like yellow, black, and red or white, black, and red, among others.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum campbelli
- Origin – The Pueblan milk snake is, you guessed it, endemic to Puebla region in Mexico. Specimens can be found throughout the country, though, but you’re more likely to stumble across one in Puebla. Which explains why the region found its way into the snake’s name.
- Habitat – As a terrestrial species, this snake inhabits several types of ecosystems, including grasslands, rocky environments, forests, and so on. The snake can even stroll through human settlements in search of food, especially around barns and greeneries, for the extra chance of hunting a rodent.
- Lifespan – The typical lifespan for a Pueblan milk snake is around 15 to 20 years in captivity. The animal’s lifespan and life quality naturally depend on the quality of care, housing conditions, diet, and genetic programming. You can’t do anything about the latter, but the other factors are in your control.
- Venom and bite – This snake is a constrictor, so it relies on its constricting power to subdue the prey. The lack of venom makes this species harmless to humans.
- Adult size – The adult Pueblan milk snake can go up to 2-3 feet in length, although most specimens stay smaller than that. It’s worth noting that these reptiles are more likely to grow larger in captivity due to the abundance of food, a stable feeding schedule, and optimized environmental parameters. The snake’s genetic makeup also influences its maximum adult size, so keep that in mind as well. Also, females get larger than males; just to throw that out there.
- Temperament – This is a very docile and friendly snake, so you shouldn’t have any problems with it. The only times when the reptile may exhibit aggressive or irritable behavior would be when starving, sick, stressed, mishandled, or kept in poor conditions. Fortunately, you can control all of these parameters to keep your pet reptile from getting there.
Sinaloan Milk Snake
The typical Sinaloan milk snake comes with a ton of red, orange, and in-between variations. The same color pattern is present here as it is in the previous species. Sinaloan milk snakes have a dominant background color (typically red or orange of varying intensities) and black and white bands. The distance between the bands is larger than in other milk snakes, which can help you distinguish this species more accurately. As a plus, all Sinaloan snakes have black heads with white neck bands.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum sinaloae
- Origin – Isn’t it nice that most milk snakes have their native geographical area in their name? The same goes for this one as well. It comes as no surprise that the Sinaloan milk snake originates from Sinaloa, Mexico, where it inhabits a variety of ecosystems.
- Habitat – This species is terrestrial, so it roams through ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, rocky areas, etc. Barnyards and greeneries, as well as other human settlements and constructions, aren’t out of the question either. So long as they provide the snake with a fair share of hunting opportunities.
- Lifespan – Expect your Sinaloan specimen to reach up to 20 years in captivity. This species usually doesn’t get past 15 years in the wild due to a combination of natural predation, unfortunate human encounters, sickness, and so on. Many of these problems are no longer present in captivity. Although truth be told, you can always mess things up by growing lazy with your snake’s care routine. Don’t grow lazy!
- Venom and bite – This milk snake is not venomous. However, it does have sharp teeth, which come in handy when hunting various life forms, many of which aren’t fond of the experience. This being said, we’re talking about a large set of rather small teeth that are incapable of delivering any meaningful damage to the human skin. So, you shouldn’t be worried about your snake potentially biting you.
- Adult size – The standard Sinaloan milk snake can only grow up to 3 feet. Some specimens may jump up to 3.5 feet, but that’s rather rare. Needless to say, milk snakes can grow larger in captivity than in the wild, which should come as no surprise. After all, they’re being well-fed and benefit from stable and optimized (preferably) housing conditions.
- Temperament – Sinaloan snakes are docile, easygoing, and great for beginners. They are quite inquisitive, so they’re likely to be very active during their…active hours. But they won’t bite unless frightened and with nowhere to run.
Black Milk Snake
This is one of the few species of milk snakes that diverge from the standard banded color pattern. Black milk snakes are usually completely black with no other distinguishing pattern, but others can come with some pattern variation. These include subtle banded distinctions or even different color intensities. Some snakes are grey with a metallic look, while others are even red with black bands.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum gaigeae
- Origin – This species is endemic to Central America in regions like Honduras, Costa Rica, or Nicaragua. The species’ spread speaks about its adaptability and resilience.
- Habitat – These snakes like to stay close to humans due to the extra hunting and feeding opportunities. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few black milk snakes around your barn or shed to handle the rodent populations, which snakes are always happy to do. Other wild habitats include woodlands, forests, and rocky terrain that provide them with sufficient hiding areas.
- Lifespan – With proper care, a personalized diet, and ideal housing conditions, black milk snakes can reach 20 years in captivity. Wild specimens live shorter and more dangerous lives, which explains their lower average lifespan.
- Venom and bite – These snakes are non-venomous. All milk snakes rank as constrictors, designed to use their body to strangle and suffocate the prey. They also possess small teeth, which they use to prevent the prey from escaping. But they’re not dangerous to humans.
- Adult size – Expect your black milk snake to reach 3 feet at most, although some specimens can grow slightly larger. In this case, it’s the snake’s genetic makeup that makes the difference, something which you can’t control.
- Temperament – Black milk snakes rank as great beginner reptiles due to their docile temperament and adaptable behavior. They’re docile and friendly and won’t exhibit aggression unless they feel threatened or scared. If you notice your black snake showcasing signs of stress, give it space to cool off.
Nelson’s Milk Snake
Nelson’s milk snake is a cute and colorful variant with colors like red, orange, white, brown, and black. This species also showcases the trademark banded pattern and black heads, except for the albino versions, which have white heads.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum nelson
- Origin – This species is pretty much widespread throughout the US and Mexico.
- Habitat – Nelson’s milk snakes inhabit areas like grasslands, desertic regions, and woodlands, although they prefer open areas with rocks and many hiding spots. This is due to them being more active and agile when not having to deal with lush vegetation that could restrict their movement.
- Lifespan – Nelson’s milk snakes can reach 20 years in captivity. Good care, a natural-looking setup, and a personalized diet are necessary to maximize the snake’s life quality and lifespan.
- Venom and bite – There’s no venom to discuss here because these are constricting snakes. You can already see the pattern, I assume. Nelson’s snakes rely on their squeeze power to subdue their prey and secure their meals. Due to their petite size and lack of venom glands, they pose no danger to humans and make for great pets.
- Adult size – These are medium-size snakes, only growing up to 40-45 inches, even in ideal living conditions. Wild Nelson’s snakes are typically smaller due to them having to traverse more terrain in search of food and flee to avoid predation. More calorie expenditure always translates to a lower body size.
- Temperament – Nelson’s snakes are docile, friendly, and adaptable, making them great for the pet trade. They’re also awesome as beginner reptile keepers, thanks to their easygoing temperament.
Mexican Milk Snake
Mexican milk snakes are true to the color and pattern standard set by the species. This one exhibits fiery nuances of red and orange, with the typical black and white bands covering the entire body. That being said, there are some variations within the species that are rarer and, therefore, pricier. One such example is the ultra-granite Mexican milk snake. This one comes with a mosaic-like color pattern with colors like white, red, orange, and black, giving the snake a granite-like appearance. Hence, the name.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum annulata
- Origin – This snake prefers regions located in Central America and Mexico. Of course that Mexico is one of the species’ native lands.
- Habitat – The snake’s natural habitat is true to its species’ preferences. Rocky regions, grasslands, deserts, and forests are all viable environments for this one. As with any genuine milk snake, the Mexican version also likes to stay close to human settlements for all the reasons we’ve just discussed.
- Lifespan – 15-20 years in captivity, less in the wild. The average lifespan in the wild is actually considerably lower than in captive snakes. Most specimens won’t get past their 8th birthday in the wild for a number of reasons. These include disease, predation, human interactions, infections, etc.
- Venom and bite – In true milk snake fashion, this species is not venomous. The Mexican milk snake is not dangerous to humans, even if it has teeth and can bite. The snake is simply too small and harmless to cause any damage.
- Adult size – Mexican milk snakes grow between 2,5 and 3,5 feet in the wild. Males are slightly larger, but this can vary between the different specimens.
- Temperament – Docile and easy to handle, which qualifies the snake as the perfect reptile pet. Mexican milk snakes are easy to keep and exhibit a friendly temperament, so they should also be easy to handle. Just don’t take your snake’s behavior for granted, and don’t stress it out. All snakes can bite when stressed, scared, or angry.
Louisiana Milk Snake
Louisiana milk snakes look exactly like you imagine them: red with black and white bands. This is the typical milk snake appearance and the Louisiana variation stays true to it. That being said, these snakes can vary slightly from the norm due to their thicker and more compact bodies.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum amaura
- Origin – I’ll probably not blow your mind if I mention Louisiana as the snake’s native region. This being said, you can encounter this milk snake variation in other areas as well, especially around Southeast US.
- Habitat – This species is fonder of wetlands, swamps, and, generally, habitats close to various water sources. They require slightly higher humidity values and have adapted to hunting semiaquatic and land animals that also roam the same areas.
- Lifespan – Most milk snakes live up to 20 years in captivity, and the Louisiana one is no exception.
- Venom and bite – This snake is a constrictor, so it doesn’t possess venomous glands. It has teeth, like all adult milk snakes, but its bite isn’t dangerous to humans. The teeth are too small and are unlikely to pierce the human skin.
- Adult size – Expect sizes of up to 2,5-3,5 feet, depending on the specimen. As is natural, these snakes grow larger in captivity thanks to the more nutritious diet, stable feeding schedule, and optimized parameters and housing conditions.
- Temperament – The Louisiana milk snake is best described with 4 words: docile, adaptable, hardy, and fun. The fun part comes from the snake’s high energy levels, as this one prefers to explore and move around its habitat quite frequently. Milk snakes don’t bite unless very stressed or threatened, so keep them out of such situations.
Red Milk Snake
The red milk snake is the only milk snake variation that comes with an unfitting name. That’s because the typical red milk snake is indistinguishable from the standard milk snake with its red/orange body and banded pattern. The only noticeable difference is in the snake’s color variation, as most specimens remain in the red range.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum syspila
- Origin – The red milk snake is endemic to the US and covers geographical areas like Florida, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and everything in between,
- Habitat – The snake’s natural habitat is always situated near different body waters and encompasses wetlands, swamps, prairies, and woodlands. But milk snakes are more notorious for their proximity to human settlements, including urban areas, where they can find easy access to rodents and other types of prey.
- Lifespan – Red milk snakes live up to 15-20 years in captivity and less than that in the wild.
- Venom and bite – Red milk snakes are not venomous and don’t usually bite humans. They reserve their biting efforts for their prey, which they have far more chances of subduing. They also exhibit constricting behavior, which allows them to immobilize and kill their prey more effectively. This snake can bite if stressed or scared, but it can’t inflict any meaningful damage.
- Adult size – This species can achieve sizes of 2-4 feet, depending on the situation. Captive-bred snakes typically grow larger and faster due to having access to better diets and more nutritious foods.
- Temperament – These snakes are docile and shy and are generally friendly towards humans. They make for great beginner pets, so long as you provide them with optimized care and personalized housing conditions.
Andean Milk Snake
Andean milk snakes also follow the standard milk snake coloring and pattern but with a twist. These reptiles also showcase prominent black scales, unlike any other species of milk snakes. This causes the snake’s body to exhibit an unusual texture, contrasting with the classic milk snake skin smoothness.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum andesiana
- Origin – The snake’s origin includes vast mountainous areas around Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and several other regions.
- Habitat – This is one of the most adaptable milk snake species, occupying geographical regions like mountainous forests, rainforests, and even arid regions. This species prefers to rely on more lush ecosystems to hunt and find shelter from predators, including humans. This is one of the reasons why Andean milk snakes are rarely seen near human settlements.
- Lifespan – Typically varying between 15 and 20 years, depending on the specimen, housing conditions, care level, diet, and genetics. Very little is known about the snake’s lifespan in the wild, though.
- Venom and bite – Andean milk snakes are not venomous but do possess small and sharp teeth. These are useful when hunting live prey that doesn’t appreciate being eaten, but not that effective at hurting people.
- Adult size – Andean milk snakes can grow up to 4 feet in the wild and close to 6 feet in captivity. This is among the larger milk snake species, but the snake’s size depends on other factors as well, aside from pure genetics. These include quality of care, nutritional intake, housing conditions, parameters, etc.
- Temperament – While Andean milk snakes are docile and shy, they’re also rather nervous. You should provide the reptile with personalized care and handle it as little as possible. If the snake appears stressed or doesn’t like being touched, give it space and wait for when it to be in a better mood.
Jalisco Milk Snake
Jalisco milk snakes are very similar to the Andean species in terms of appearance especially. You already know what to expect in terms of color and pattern, as this species follows the same pattern as most milk snakes. The difference is in the stockier body with protruding scales and a shiny and oily look.
- Scientific name – Lampropeltis Triangulum arcifera
- Origin – Look for it in the Pacific slopes of Mexico and the surrounding areas that meet the snake’s environmental requirements.
- Habitat – This is one of the most adaptable species of milk snakes, covering various habitats like canyons, forests, and rocky hillsides. These snakes can also thrive at elevations of up to 1,500 feet, as well as at sea level.
- Lifespan – Expect your Jalisco milk snake to live up to 10-15 years in captivity. Some specimens can go beyond that with proper care and a personalized and nutritious diet.
- Venom and bite – Non-venomous and non-aggressive, so it doesn’t pose any danger to humans.
- Adult size – The typical Jalisco milk snake can grow up to 4 feet in captivity and around 2-3 feet in the wild.
- Temperament – This is another docile species with a friendly but shy temperament. Jalisco milk snakes make for quite peaceful and hardy pets, but you shouldn’t handle them too often to prevent stress.
Now that we’ve completed our today’s list, I want to dispel a type of confusion that milk snakes are partly responsible for. I’m talking about the similarities between milk snakes and the notorious coral snake, which is also widespread throughout the US, especially in North America. Coral snakes are venomous, as they belong to the Elapidae family, the same one that contains cobras and mambas. These snakes are quite dangerous, which forces you to learn the difference between them and the harmless coral snakes. While these species are similar, they also possess visible differences, which are quite obvious to the trained eye. Coral snakes have black and yellow bands, while milk snakes only have black and white bands. If you see yellow, simply run.
Milk snakes are quite notorious in the pet trade for their docile temperament, hardiness, and active personalities. As you can see, there are numerous species to choose from, many of which are widespread throughout the US.