Milk Snakes

a Milk Snake all coiled up

Are you looking for a unique pet that is both beautiful and easy to care for? If so, then the Milk Snake may be the perfect fit for you!

Milk Snakes are a species of non-venomous colubrid snakes native to North and Central America. They are usually found in woodlands and grasslands, or near rural buildings that are home to mice and rats. They are nonvenomous, but can still bite if provoked.

They’re part of the Lampropeltis genus, which includes some of the most popular pet snakes in the world. Milk Snakes are known for their vibrant colors and patterns, which can range from bright reds and oranges to deep blacks and browns.

These snakes are nocturnal and like to spend a lot of their time hiding in the dark. They don’t get very large, making them great pets for first-time snake owners. Because they are so small, they don’t require a lot of space to live comfortably.

Milk Snakes are very docile, and will rarely bite unless they feel threatened. They are also very inquisitive, and will enjoy investigating things around them. They are very intelligent.

Milk Snakes have bright and shiny skin. They can have several different colors and patterns. These are known as the subspecies of Milk Snakes and have their own common names. Some popular examples are Black Milk Snake, Red Milk Snake, Pale Milk Snake, and Eastern Milk Snake. Currently, there are 24 recognized subspecies of the Milk Snakes.

Milk Snakes can be purchased from pet stores, and will cost anywhere between $80 to $200. There are some rare subspecies that can cost as much as $1000!

Milk Snakes are generally docile and can be handled with care. However, they should not be handled too often because this can cause stress. It’s also important to note that Milk Snakes can become aggressive if they feel threatened, so it’s best to handle them with caution.

Overall, Milk Snakes make great family pets for those looking for a unique and beautiful snake that is relatively easy to care for. They are active and curious, and can provide hours of entertainment. If you are looking for a pet that is both beautiful and easy to care for, then the Milk Snake may be the perfect fit for you!

Milk Snakes Information

  • Average Length: 3 to 5 feet
  • Average Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Snake Type: King Snake
  • Skin Appearance: Multi-color that can be tricolor, saddled, or patched
  • Skin Colors: Black, red, yellow
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: 2 to 3 times a year
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No, they need a warm/hot environment.
  • Good Pet: They are calm and generally do not strike, so yes!
  • Safe with Children: They are harmless for kids, so yes!
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: Yes
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory infections like colds and pneumonia, mouth rot, or mites
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 20 to 30 years in captivity

Physical Appearance of Milk Snakes

a red, black and white Milk Snake partially coiled up next to what looks like its snake hide

Milk Snakes can come in many patterns, colors, and sizes. Some like the Black Milk Snake can grow up to 6 feet while others like Central Plains Milksnake are just under 2 feet long. The difference is mostly in the color and pattern of their skin.

Their shiny and smooth skin has bright colors with visible and contrasting patterns or patches of different shades. The most common Milk Snake skin pattern is tricolor but patched and saddled patterns are also fairly common.

Tricolor snakes usually have a red color with alternating rings of white and black. Other common color combos are red and orange; yellow and white; and black. There are a few less common color combinations that Milk Snakes can have but the combos listed make up the majority of snakes

Temperament of Milk Snakes

Milk Snakes are docile and friendly pets. They rarely attack and if they do it is usually because they have confused someone’s finger for food. When adult snakes feel threatened they will try to get away from you. In rare cases when they can’t get away, they may bite. Milk Snakes are non-poisonous and their bites are harmless to people, even if they can be a bit scary.

Milk Snakes look for ways to break out of their enclosure. It’s important to keep the enclosure’s lid tightly closed at all times.

These snakes are nocturnal creatures and should not be handled at night.

When you bring them home for the first time they should be left alone for 5 to 7 days. After they have settled in, they should be much more receptive to being handled for a few minutes every day. Be careful while handling young hatchings because young snakes can sometimes bite.

The Milk Snakes are constrictors and may occasionally wrap themselves around your arm or wrist. Them wrapping themselves around you is harmless. If you decide that you don’t like it you can easily unwrap them with your hands.

a Milk Snake coiled up

Their Compatibility with Children

Milk Snakes are safe to be handled by children but kids need to be taught how they should interact with them. Teach them to have one hand near the head and the other to support the body. The entire body of the snakes need to be supported or they will become stressed or hurt by being held incorrectly.

Gently supporting their whole body will help the Milk Snake to feel comfortable with kids. Children should handle the snakes only a few times a day when there is an adult with them.

Anyone handling your Milk Snake should wash their hands immediately after they are done. Most snakes are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent anyone that touched the snake from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases.

Living Space for Milk Snakes

The living space of Milk Snakes should be large enough to allow them to move around and not be coiled to fit. They are quite active and need a lot of room to stretch. Young hatchlings can be kept in a 10-gallon tank. Adult snakes who grow to around 4 feet will need a 50 to 60-gallon tank.

The size of the tank will also depend upon the subspecies of Milk Snake you get as a pet. The smaller New Mexico snakes can comfortably live in a 10-gallon tank.

The lid of the tank should be tightly secured. There should not be any gaps or holes on the top. Milk Snakes can escape from the smallest openings. The lid should also provide proper ventilation or your snakes may develop respiratory problems.

The enclosure should be divided into two areas – one hot and the other warm. Milk Snakes love to hide and there should be some hiding spots inside the tank for them. The hiding spots should be in both the warm and hot sides of the tank.

a red, black and white Milk Snake partially coiled up

Rock hides, branches, flower pots, or a number of other similar things all are great for creating a snake hide. To create a more natural environment you can use dry leaves and branches for the snake hides. Anything taken from the outside should be sterilized before being placed inside the tank.

The substrate or the lining of the tank should be loose so your snake can burrow. Paper towels or newspapers can be used short term but they are not as good as other options are. A popular choice for many tanks is Astroturf. Astroturf is an artificial layer of grass that sits on the substrate. Astroturf can be washed and reused quickly. Another good thing about astroturf is that it’s inexpensive if it needs to be replaced.

Best Climate for Milk Snakes

Snakes are cold-blooded and need to regulate their body temperature with external heat sources. They are able to regulate their temperature by moving between warm and hot areas in their enclosure. The day temperature on the hot side should be between 80 to 85 degrees. On the warm side, the temperature should be kept between 70 to 75 degrees.

To heat the enclosure you can use under-tank heaters. When you are setting up the tank it’s a good idea to check the temperature before you put a snake in the enclosure. If the temperature of the substrate is too high it could burn your snake.

Another option is to install a ceramic heat emitter inside the tank. Because these snakes are nocturnal you don’t need to install a light source inside the tank. As long as the enclosure gets natural daylight, the light in your room should be enough.

You’ll want a thermometer on both sides of the tank so that you know the warm and hot temperatures are correct.

The humidity level inside the tank should be between 30 to 50 percent. The humidity level should be slightly increased during shedding season. You can maintain the humidity by misting the tank or by using a humidity box.

a coiled Milk Snake

A simple humidity box can be created by using a plastic container and lining it with moistened sphagnum moss.

The Attention a Milk Snake Needs

Most pet snakes, including Milk Snakes, don’t require a lot of attention. Handling them for a few minutes once a day can be enough. If you only wanted a Milk Snake to look at it in its enclosure you don’t actually need to handle it. If you don’t handle it, they will be happy to be left alone, but will be uncomfortable if you decide to handle them in the future.

No snakes should be handled when they are going to shed or the first few hours after they have eaten. When they are about to shed they can’t see clearly and can mistake you for an attacking animal. After they have just eaten it can be uncomfortable for them to be handled.

When taking them out of their enclosure, don’t handle them if they are acting defensively. Give them a few hours to calm down and try handling them later.

The only things that they need is having their enclosure or tank kept clean and the temperature and humidity levels kept at the right levels. The temperature and humidity levels can be monitored with a thermometer and hygrometer inside their tank.

Health Issues

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are not that uncommon in snakes and reptiles. Especially ones that are kept in enclosures not kept at the correct conditions. Respiratory infections are very contagious, and even if your pet is kept in the best conditions, the infection can be passed to another reptile through touch. That’s why it’s important to wash up between handling reptiles to prevent cross contamination.

Symptoms of a respiratory infection in snakes:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loud breathing
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Mucus in their mouth
  • Nasal discharge

You’ll want to take your snake into your vet if you see any of the problems related to their breathing or their mouth. A respiratory infection can be serious and can take a long time to get over without treatment.

Treatment for a respiratory infection is typically antibiotics for 10-14 days. It’s very important to administer the medication at the same time each day, and for the full length of the treatment. Not completing the full dose means that your pet could relapse with a more severe infection that’s harder to treat.

To prevent future respiratory infections it’s important to make sure that their enclosure is kept at the best conditions for their health. You’ll also want to make sure to wash up after handling one reptile before handling another to prevent cross contamination.


Snakes that develop pneumonia usually get it because another problem they had has weakened their immune system. Typically a respiratory illness, mouth or sinus infection went untreated or mites will be a primary cause.

Symptoms of pneumonia in snakes are:

  • Open mouth breathing
  • Bubbles around their mouth
  • Nasal discharge

If your snake has any of the above symptoms they should be taken to your vet immediately. Pneumonia is a very serious problem and can be life threatening. Your vet will be able to show you how to use the medication that they prescribe. One thing that is often suggested is to raise your pets enclosure so that the warm side is at the high end of their preferred heat.

It’s best to keep them away from any other pets to avoid them also catching pneumonia.


Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off your snake’s blood, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times your new snake will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another snake at the pet store.

Symptoms that your snake has mites:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your snake or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your snake

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets so that you don’t spread mites from pet to pet.


Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is an infection in a snake’s mouth. Mouth rot is very serious and can cause your snake a great deal of pain, and can eventually lead to their death. Mouth rot is typically caused by an injury to your snake’s mouth, or their enclosure not being kept at the correct conditions.

Symptoms of mouth rot in your snake are:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Blood in your pets mouth or their water bowl
  • Swollen areas in their mouth
  • Weight loss

The first step to fixing the problem is finding out if they injured their mouth on something, or if their enclosure’s conditions are not right. If their mouth is injured you should get them to a vet to have them look at your pets mouth. If the problem is environmental then fix the problems in their enclosure.

No matter what the cause of your snakes’s mouth rot, you’ll still need to take them to your vet because their treatment requires prescription antibiotics. Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the mouth rot. Because this infection kills tissues in your pet’s mouth, areas may need to be removed, including teeth. It’s better to prevent this problem before it happens by keeping your pets’ enclosure at the conditions they need to be happy and healthy.

a colorful Milk Snake coiled up

Grooming and Care

It’s a good idea to clean up minor messes within the tank as you see them. The tank should be completely cleaned once every month. Take your snake out and place them inside a secure and comfortable container while you clean their tank.

A bleaching solution should be used to clean the walls and floors of the tank. Clean or replace the materials inside the tank and replace the substrate. Let everything thoroughly dry in the tank before placing your snake back inside the tank.

Their water bowl needs to be cleaned every day and replaced with fresh water. The poop of the snake should also be removed from the tank as soon as you notice it.

When your snake is shedding, the humidity inside their tank should be increased. Another thing that helps with shedding is adding a large bowl of water inside their tank. Your snake will be able to soak parts of their skin to help loosen it and make it easier to shed. If your snake has problems shedding a few branches can be added to their tank. The branches will give them something to rub against and remove their skin.

Feeding A Milk Snake

Milk Snakes need to be fed rodents like rats or mice. Many snake owners feed them pre-killed mice which can be bought from a pet store. The mice should be defrosted before giving them to your snake. If you give them live mice, watch your snake until they have eaten the mice. Live mice can injure or in extreme cases kill your pet.

Milk Snakes love to eat mice and other small rodents

Adult snakes should be fed once every 1 to 2 weeks, and hatchlings should be fed twice a week. They may eat less during the fall and winter seasons or when they are shedding their skin. Young snakes can be fed pinky mice or newborn mice. Once they get bigger, you can feed them larger mice. Do not overfeed them because they can gain weight which can cause unwanted health problems.

Snakes have a slow digestive system and it can take several days for them to digest their food. Baby snakes or hatchlings can digest their food faster because they have smaller bodies. Smaller snakes need to be fed more often than adult snakes because they digest food faster, and because they’re growing.

Related Questions

Why are They called Milk Snakes?

There was a myth that Milk Snakes would drink milk from a cow’s udders. The myth likely got started as a way to explain why some cows were not producing enough milk. They were usually found in barns at many farms which reinforced the myth. Mice love barns because it protects them from the elements, and the Milk Snakes were in the barns because that’s where their food was.

Are Milk Snakes Venomous?

No, Milk Snakes are not venomous. They are often confused with copperheads and coral snakes, both of which are venomous snakes. All three of them have similar looking patterns and coloration. Many people kill Milk Snakes confusing them for a venomous snake.

Can I keep Two Milk Snakes in the Same Tank?

The short answer is that you can. The longer answer is that we highly recommend that you don’t. There can be problems that can lead to them fighting, or just not eating while in the same tank. Milk Snakes are not social snakes and the only time they should ever share a tank is for breeding.

Author Profile
A woman with curly hair holding a cat.
Contributing Author & Social Media Expert

Maryna is an animal expert that has had dozens of animals in her life over the years. She has never found an animal that she didn't love immediately. It seems like every year she finds kittens that have been abandoned by their mom and she nurses them to health and finds homes for them. She contributes her vast knowledge about animals and family pets to our website and we're forever grateful to have her working with us. She's also an amazing graphics designer and has designed all of the social media images that we use across all platforms.