Milk Snakes are closely related to King Snakes although slightly less common, and as such, many aspects of their care and husbandry is similar. They are so named because of their powerful constricting ability and the corresponding myth about milking cows. Most adults are 25-30 inches in length, although a few may reach 2 metres, and these are some of the most beautiful snakes, their bodies covered by ornate patterns of rings in black, white and red. Milk snakes will inhabit a variety of habitats and are often found around farm sheds and barns. In captivity, they can live to 20 years.
Size and appearance is fairly similar between species and some popular species for captivity include the Honduran milk snake, the Sinoloan milk snake, the Mexican milk snake and the Pueblan milk snake. The latter is a particularly attractive species to own.
Keeping Milk Snakes
Overall, the setup for king snakes and corn snakes will also be suitable for milk snakes. This snake is a burrower so provide safe substrate such as shredded newspaper, paper towels, dry leaves or dry mulch. Remove and replace these whenever the snake defecates or eliminates and clean out the entire tank regularly. Make sure, though, that any new substrate is not damp as otherwise, the milk snake may develop blister disease.
Milk snakes are shy, secretive creatures so providing lots of small, right hiding spaces to curl up in is essential to their sense of security. Make sure that they have hides at both the warm end and cool end of the enclosure. You can furnish the tank with commercial reptile caves or just use cork bark and other similar items. Check that anything in the tank cannot topple over and accidentally injure your snake.
They like climbing too so provide some branches for interest (make sure they are thoroughly sterilised). Like all snakes, they will require an artificial thermal gradient, with the temperature range determined by species. The Pueblan Milk Snake, for example, hails from Mexico and requires a warmer environment, with a temperature of 77-85F for basking and between 65-75F on the cool end. A humidity retreat placed at the cool end is a good idea.
Again, like many snakes, milk snakes are brilliant escape artists and will constantly test their enclosure for signs of weakness and gaps that they can squeeze through.
Feeding Milk Snakes
In the wild, they prey on small mammals, birds, eggs and other reptiles. In captivity, they can be fussy eaters so once you have found something they like, it is best not to vary it too much. Young snakes will do well on pre-killed pinkie mice, fed every 4-5 days, while adults will usually have one or two good-sized mice each week. If your snake starts emerging from its hiding spots and prowling in search of food, this is a good sign that it is hungry. Even for adults, make sure that the mice are not bigger than one and a half times the width of widest part of body, as otherwise internal damage might occur. Be careful also of handling them too soon after they eat as this will cause them to regurgitate their food. In fact, it is better not to lift snakes at all for a few days after they have eaten.
Good for beginners…
Overall, these are great starter snakes, being docile and easy to tame, especially with regular, gentle handling. However, one annoying habit these snakes have is the tendency to defecate when being handled, especially when frightened. Young snakes may be more nervous and flighty and might strike and bite if provoked (especially compared to other species) but most will calm down with responsible handling.
Remember, these snakes can be cannibalistic so they should always be housed separately.