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King Snakes and Milk Snakes

Choosing a Snake


milk snake photo

Milk Snake

Lianne McLeod
King snakes and milk snakes are beautiful, quite docile snakes. Milk and king snakes are closely related, both belonging to the genus Lamproletis, and there are several subspecies of both king snakes and milk snakes. Colors and patterns vary between the subspecies, but there are many striking and beautiful patterns to be found among these snakes.

Some subspecies utilize a natural defense of mimicking the appearance of the venomous coral snakes, with bands of red, black and yellow. (Coral snakes have yellow bands touching the red bands, while the king and milk snakes have black touching the red bands.) Milk and king snakes can be found from southern parts of Canada, throughout the US, and in Central and parts of South America.

These snakes do reach fairly large sizes, with some specimens reaching 6-7 feet in length. They are also pretty long lived, with ages of 15-20 years reached. They are constrictors, suffocating their prey before eating. In the wild they will eat other snakes, lizards, amphibians, rodents and birds. Snakes are a common food item, and they have the ability to eat larger snakes with some eating even rattlesnakes as a staple in their diet. Both king and milk snakes will try to eat cage mates, so should be housed on their own.

The basic care for king snakes and milk snakes however, is the same for most species and subspecies. For breeding these snakes, more attention needs to be paid to duplicating the conditions (including hibernating) that the snakes would find in their natural habitat.

Choosing a Snake

Milk and king snakes breed quite readily in captivity, so it should be relatively easy to find a captive bred specimen.

Things to look for in a healthy snake (any kind of snake):

  • firm rounded body
  • clear eyes (may be a little cloudy if about to shed), no discharge from eyes
  • no signs of mites (check especially around head/eyes, look for dusty specks on body, check hands after handling snake)
  • no open mouth breathing or gasping for breath
  • inside of mouth uniformly pink (reddened areas or cheesy looking matter may indicate mouth rot)
  • shiny smooth skin with no scabs or sores
  • clean vent with no swelling in area
  • should move smoothly with no tremors

A new snake may not be all that tame, but should settle down fairly well with gentle handling. A snake that is distressed will wave its body in the air trying to escape. Most king and milk snakes will settle down after a bit and wrap itself gently around your hands.

It is also wise to make sure that the snake is readily feeding on pre killed mice. If you have doubts, ask for a demonstration of the snake feeding.

New snakes should have a fecal check for parasites done, and treated as necessary. A check up with a veterinarian is a good idea as well.

Next: Caring for King Snakes and Milk Snakes

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