Milksnake

(Lampropeltis triangulum ssp.)

Native Range:

The Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum ssp.) is found virtually throughout the eastern United States to just west of the Rocky Mountains. They are also found throughout Mexico, Central America and into extreme northwestern South America. Because of this large range and numerous habitat types, many subspecies are recognized, the status of these is the source of much debate amongst herpetologists. The great variation among different subspecies may necessitate differing care requirements. Size of adults, size of hatchlings, cage size, temperature, breeding, incubation temperatures, hibernation, and even size and type of meals, are all quite variable. Be sure to ask about the particular subspecies you are interested in. Currently recognized subspecies include:

Size:

Highly variable. Typically from two to three feet in the northern portions of the range (including most U.S. forms) up to six feet in the southern portions of the range. Typically, the larger subspecies produce larger hatchlings.

Handling:

Most Milksnakes rarely attempt to bite, although they may do so if restrained. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing, allowing the snake to move through your fingers. Do not allow the snake to dangle unsupported. Certain subspecies (usually the Central American forms) are known for being jumpy and nervous.

Caging:

Any ‘typical’ snake cage can be used, with a fifteen-gallon aquarium being adequate for an adult of all but the largest forms. Hatchlings are sensitive to dehydration and do best in small ‘Critter Keeper’ cages or plastic shoe boxes.

Substrate:

A variety of substrates can be used. Aspen bedding, newspaper, and Care Fresh are popular with many keepers. Paper towels may be used for lining baby cages. Keep the substrate clean and dry at all times. As with all reptiles, do NOT use cedar or pine shavings. These items are toxic to reptiles.

Food:

Most Milksnakes will be fed a diet of mice throughout their lives. Hatchlings usually feed readily on newborn ‘pinkie’ mice, and should be fed about every five to seven days. Increase the size of the meal as the snake grows. One or two adult mice are sufficient every ten or fourteen days to maintain even the largest adult. An occasional stubborn hatchling will require a pinkie scented with lizard smell (Sceloporus sp. are best) before accepting it. More rarely, it will refuse anything but the lizard itself. After a few lizards, it will usually begin to feed on ‘scented’ pinkies, and then on to plain ones. Be patient. Often, hatchling Milksnakes feel ‘lost’ or insecure when placed in a large cage. These animals will often feed readily if left overnight in a small deli cup with a pinkie and a folded paper towel to hide under.

Humidity & Water:

Provide clean water in a small dish. Humidity should be kept low, or respiratory problems can result. Due to the variance in cages and home environments, some snakes may experience shedding problems, particularly the tail tip. If this is noticed, provide a small plastic container with lid (cut an access hole in the side) filled with damp sphagnum moss. This will allow the animal to shed properly. Stuck sheds may harden and constrict the blood flow to the tail, causing loss of the tail tip. Many shedding problems can be rectified if noticed quickly simply by placing the snake in a small deli cup overnight with a wet paper towel. Place the cup in a suitable location in the cage.

Heating & Lighting:

Provide a thermal gradient by placing a heat pad under one end of the cage. This should allow the snake to choose from higher temperatures (about 85-90F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 70-75F) at the cooler end. Provide suitable hiding areas at both warm and cool areas, so the snake can feel secure at any temperature. Temperatures below 75F should be avoided. No special lighting is required for these nocturnal animals.

Reproduction:

Although examining the shape of the tail can sometimes determine sex, many adult snakes can only be accurately sexed by ‘probing’. Hatchlings can be sexed by manually everting the hemipenes (a process known as ‘popping’). Probing or popping should only be performed by an experienced individual, as improper technique may result in severe damage or even death. Most specimens will require brumation (hibernation) to breed, but some Milksnakes will reproduce under normal conditions. Typical clutches consist of five to fifteen eggs, although clutches of over twenty are recorded. Incubation takes from 55 to 60 days, at an average temperature of 81F.

Color and Pattern Phases:

It is common for the white or yellow pigments in Milksnakes to be intensified into orange or even red. These animals are referred to as ‘Apricot’ or ‘Tangerine’ phase. Hypomelanistic, amelanistic and anerythristic specimens are known from a few subspecies. Amelanistic albinos are attractively patterned in bright red, pink, and white or yellow. Anerythristic specimens (Sometimes sold as ‘White Albinos’) are clad in black, white and pink.

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