Milksnake General Care Guide
Author: Scarlett Nightshade
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Lifespan: 15-20+ years
Size: Varies among species; typically between 3-6ft.
Habitat and Distribution: Varies among species, but native to North and South America; inhabiting fields, barns, rocky areas and forests
Milksnakes are one of the most vibrant snakes out there, often sporting bright red, orange and/or yellow colored bands along their entire body. They are relatively good beginner snakes, and while they are a bit more flighty than other snakes of similar species, they are quite hardy and have a great feeding response. They are known to musk quite a bit as juveniles, but typically grow out of this behavior by adulthood. They make wonderful companions for anyone looking for an active snake with brilliant coloration.
Tangerine Honduran Milksnake
Photo Credit: Scarlett Nightshade
This guide covers the care for the more commonly kept Milksnake species in captivity. This includes:
L. t. hondurensis, Honduran Milksnake
L. t. campbelli, Pueblan Milksnake
L. t. nelsoni, Nelson’s Milksnake
L. t. sinaloae, Sinaloan Milksnake
Milksnakes do well in all enclosure types, including tanks, tubs, racks, and PVC. They are terrestrial snakes, and can have an active and inquisitive nature, although many prefer to hide away burrowed under their substrate. The outline below lists various enclosure dimensions for each stage of your Milksnake’s life.
Hatchlings: 10gal. (10in. x 20in. x 12in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 20gal. (30in. x 12in. x 12in.)
Adults: 40gal.+ (36in. x 18in. x 12in.)
Hatchlings: 6qt. (14in. x 7in. x 4in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 32qt. (23in. x 16in. x 6in.)
Adults: 52qt.+ (35in. x 16in. X 6in.)
The following racks and dimensions are based off of Reptile Basics rack systems:
Hatchlings: I160 Hatchling tubs (12.75in. x 6.25in. x 1 15/16in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 23qt. VE-2 and VE-6 tubs (22.44in. x 14.76in. x 4.25in.)
Adults: 45qt. VE-Super70 tubs (33in. x 18in. x 5.28in.)
PVC enclosures are mostly recommended for sub-adults and adults due to their larger size. While you may have a smaller custom-built PVC enclosure made, most commercial sizes are more suitable for sub-adult and adult snakes. The recommended size dimensions for adult Milksnakes is at least 34in. x 18in. x 9in.
Please remember that there are numerous ways to keep any species of snake. These dimensions are for use as a general guide only. It is up to you as the keeper to decide which size is best suited for your snake.
Substrate and Humidity
Milksnakes require relatively low humidity, thriving between 50-55%, or 60% while in shed. Milksnakes love to burrow, so it is recommended to use a substrate that allows them to do so. Aspen shavings or aspen chips are an excellent choice of substrate, and can be easily located at just about any pet store that carries exotic animal supplies. You can also use cypress mulch if your humidity levels are below 45%. Substrate should be at least an inch deep, although 2-3 inches is better for adults so they are able to burrow. Substrate such as pine and cedar should be avoided as they can cause respiratory problems in the long-term.
You can use a variety of different heat sources for Milksnakes depending on your setup. They require a warm spot of about 85°F and a cool spot no cooler than 75°F. You can achieve this by using a UTH (under tank heater) beneath your tank or tub, heat tape, CHE (ceramic heat emitter), DHP (deep heat projector), or RHP (radiant heat panel). As with most snakes, it is not recommended to use any incandescent, infrared or "night time" bulbs as a source of heat. Whether you use an overhead or under tank heater is up to personal preference; neither is necessarily better than the other, when used correctly. Remember that ALL heating elements must be used in combination with a thermostat.
Hatchling and juvenile Milksnakes should be fed once every 5-7 days. Hatchlings will typically begin on small pinky mice. The size of the feeder can be easily gauged by simply examining the widest part of your snake’s body and feeding no larger than ½ in. than this size. For hatchlings and juveniles, you can alternatively feed 10% of your snake’s body weight, although this number is not as accurate for sub-adult and adult Milksnakes. Your snake should be able to ingest the feeder with relative ease. Adult Milksnakes typically eat one large mouse once every 10-14 days, but this may vary depending on the metabolic needs of your individual snake.
Milksnakes are relatively active and inquisitive snakes that do well with many forms of enrichment. Offering cork bark, rocks, and foliage are great for textural stimulation. Branches, PVC pipes, and ledges make for good climbing opportunities as long as they are placed relatively low to the ground to prevent your snake from hurting themselves. If you feed f/t, hiding the feeder to encourage hunting behavior is also recommended. They also benefit from time outdoors on a warm, cloudy afternoon. That said, while there are various ways to offer enrichment to your snake, remember to be safe in doing so. Any outdoor items being added to the enclosure should be properly disinfected before use. All rocks and other similar items should be large enough that your snake can not ingest it. Do not feed reptiles to your snake. Other reptiles, rather they are wild caught or captive bred, can carry deadly diseases that are not worth transferring to your snake. If you take your snake outside, be sure your lawn is not treated with any toxic chemicals and monitor them closely so they are not captured by a nearby predator.
Your Milksnake will greatly appreciate a water dish large enough for them to soak in when necessary. Often times Milksnakes prefer to soak in their water dish almost constantly while in shed, although others may avoid soaking altogether. You should also provide at least two hides for your Milksnake to take refuge in, with one on the warm side and one on the cool side so they can properly thermoregulate. Remember to monitor your husbandry with an appropriate thermometer, thermostat and hygrometer.
In summary, Milksnakes are wonderful snakes that are easy to care for, making them great for beginner and veteran keepers alike. They may be prone to musking more than your average snake, but once they familiarize with their keeper, they can become great life-long companions.