There are many different types or species of milk snakes that are located throughout the world. In the US alone, there are a handful of different types that are kept as pets successfully. Unfortunately, many of the species of milk snakes in the US are mistaken for the venomous coral snake and are unnecessarily killed. Just remember the catch phrase – “Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on yellow, kills a fellow.” Meaning, “red touching the black” – this is a kingsnake or milk snake. But if the “red color is touching yellow” – this is the venomous coral snake. Of course this only works for US native coral snakes.
One of the more common milk snakes found in the US is the Eastern milk snake. However, this snake is one of the few milk snakes that are not vibrantly colored in shades of red and black. The color ranges from browns to gray and even reddish brown. Some people refer to these as corn snakes or rat snakes but those are completely different snakes.
The Eastern milk snake has a pattern on its body that is made up of three rows of brown colored spots. One row of these spots is noticeable down the top length of its body. The head typically has a unique pattern which can be confused with the corn snake. The head pattern is sometimes referred to as a “spearpoint” pattern.
At adult size, the Eastern milk snake can reach to about 4 feet in length. They have a slender body and the head is narrow. Although this type of milk snake is easy to care for, they are not as popular as their counterparts because of the lack of bright colors. However, this type of milk snake is a good species for beginners.
Louisiana Milk Snake
One of the smaller species of milk snakes is the Louisiana milk snake. The tiny babies are usually under 6 inches in length and only average 2 feet in length at adulthood. The pattern on the Louisiana milk snake is red, black, and white stripes that wrap around the snake’s body. The red stripe is very wide compared to the black and white stripes. The pattern goes red, black, white, black, and then red again. The white bands may have a yellow tint depending upon its region.
The Louisiana milk snake can be found in many states other than Louisiana including Mississippi and Arkansas. These are small, slender snakes with very small babies which make them not a good choice for beginning snake handlers. The babies and even some adults can be difficult to feed even pinkie mice.
New Mexico Milk Snake
For snake keepers looking for a very small milk snake, the New Mexico milk snake should fit the bill. At adulthood, this species averages less than 2 feet in length and they are very slender. But like the Louisiana milk snake, the slender species tend to be more difficult to care for at feeding time especially hatchlings.
This species’ pattern is much like the Louisiana milk snake – red, black, white, black, and then red stripes that wrap around the body. The head is almost completely black. The white area will be a clean white color. The New Mexico milk snake’s range is almost all of New Mexico but they can also be found in some parts of Arizona and Texas. This species prefers to be underground and will come above ground during cooler periods of the day.
Red Milk Snake
Perhaps one of the most common milk snakes in the wild and kept as a pet is the red milk snake. While this subspecies may look like many of its counterparts, it does have some unique characteristics. Instead of the head being black, the head is mostly red. The red milk snake has a pattern like the others (red, black, white, black, and red again) but the white is more of an off-white or yellowish/dirty white. Also, instead of the stripes wrapping around the body, the red markings appear to be outlined in black which makes the red areas look like spots rather than stripes.
Common red milk snakes are readily available and one of the more commonly subspecies sold by pet stores and breeders. They can reach about 3 feet in length at adulthood and are generally good feeders even when they are young.
Mexican Milk Snake
There are laws in place that either prohibit or restrict the trade of certain species of wild milk snakes from Mexico. A lot of the Mexican milk snakes sold in the US today are either captive bred within the US or are found in areas of Texas. The Mexican milk snake is a vibrant reptile of red, black, and yellow. The head is almost all black then goes into that beautiful shade of yellow.
At adulthood, Mexican milk snakes reach about 2 feet length, sometimes a few inches longer. Their young though, are generally over 6 inches in length. This subspecies makes a good beginner snake because they are generally hardy and do not have problems at feeding time.
Milk snakes are referred to as a type of kingsnake – they are non-venomous and are good for the environment. They help keep the populations of wild animals in check including other venomous snakes. Wild milk snakes will feed on rodents, lizards, and even other snakes. If you find a milk snake in the wild, it’s best to leave it alone and not try to keep it as a pet. If you are interested in keeping a milk snake as a pet, it’s best to find a breeder and purchase one that has been born in captivity.