What Is It Wednesday: Milksnake

Name: Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

This week is our grand finale of our blog series “What is it Wednesday”, which will be featuring the Milksnake. The Milksnake can be found in Southern Ontario and Quebec with a northern range to Sault Ste Marie. This long, slender snake can reach a length of about 90 cm, while its body is no wider than its head. Being tan with reddish-brown blotches gives it a similar appearance to the Northern Watersnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed snake and Eastern Massasauga. Its key identifying features are the bold black outline around the blotches on its back and the V or Y shaped mark on its head. Having a similar appearance to the eastern Massasauga rattle snake comes in handy, as the Milksnake is able to use mimicry as a defense mechanism. When threatened the Milksnake will shake its tail, which creates a buzzing sound similar to a rattle snake’s while vibrating against dry vegetation. This defense mechanism isn’t always effective as raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes will still prey on them. The life span of a Milksnake in the wild is about 7-10 years. This isn’t very long considering that it takes them about 4 years to reach sexual maturity. Living in captivity they are known to live up to 20 years.

Milksnakes are rather secretive, as they are mostly nocturnal. They thermoregulate (i.e. regulate their body temperature) by hiding under objects heated by the sun, allowing them to stay hidden throughout the day. They will often hide under flat rocks, logs, boards or a piece of sheet metal. They can be found in a variety of habitats such as open forest, fields, and wetlands, and are often found around farmhouses, barns, sheds, and woodpiles. If you happen to notice a Milksnake around your property, you should embrace them (not literally – they’re not much for hugging), as they may be helping you with a rodent problem. Their diet is made up of about 70% small mammals, such as mice, rats and voles.

When it comes time to hibernate, the Milksnake will find an abandoned mammal burrow, rock crevasse or house foundation. They will often hibernate in groups and will not emerge until the spring, where shortly after it is mating season. The male snakes find a mate by following a scent trail left by the females.

Like most reptiles in Ontario, the Milksnake faces many challenges such as habitat loss, road mortalities and persecution by humans. If you would like to take steps to helping reptiles and amphibians, Ontario Nature provides some good guidelines. Read more here. The habitat of the Eastern Milksnake is also protected under our Vision 20/20 Campaign. To learn more or donate, click here.

Fun fact: The name of this species is derived from the false belief that it takes the milk from cows in barns, a place it often inhabits. Milksnakes cannot drink milk, however, and are attracted to barns due to the abundance of mice, the primary prey of this species.