Eastern Milksnake

Eastern milksnake by Jeff LeClere of www.herpnet.net (by permission)

The eastern milksnake can be varied in its coloration. It has a whitish-gray body with red, brown, tan or black on its back. It can be mostly gray, mostly, brown or more reddish. It has a black and white checkerboard belly. It is a slender snake and its head is only slightly wider than its neck. It can be 19 to 40 inches long.

The range of the eastern ratsnake in the US is from southern Maine to northern New Jersey and in the Appalchian mountains through North Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Georgia and Alalbama. It extends westward to western Kentucky, southwestern Indiana, northeastern Iowa and south-central Minnesota. In Connecticut the eastern milksnake can be found all over.

Eastern milksnakes can occupy habitat that ranges from urban areas to forest. They do well in human-altered areas. They are usually under the cover of logs, stones, boards, or stone walls. They can be found in old barns.

Mating season is around late April to May in New England. Females will usually lay 6 to 18 eggs in June in sheltered spots that provide some warmth such as in soil, rotting vegetation, or decaying wood. Several females may lay eggs in the same spot. The mothers do not care for their eggs, but leave them to hatch on their own. The baby snakes use a special "egg tooth" to hatch out of their eggs in August or September. The 8 1/2 inch young are colorful with rusty-red blotches.

Eastern milksnakes are out during the daytime in spring and fall but become nocturnal during the warmest months. Snakes cannot regulate their body temperature internally. Eastern milksnakes usually warm themselves by soaking up heat from the underside of sun-warmed objects rather than basking in the sun. They hibernate in the winter and emerge in in April or May.

Eastern milksnakes eat small mammals, small birds, and smaller snakes. These snakes kill prey by constriction. They wrap an animal in their coils and squeeze until the animal suffocates. They then swallow their meal whole. Eastern milksnakes got their name because they were frequently seen in barns where cows lived. People started believing that they liked cow's milk and would suck on the cow's teats. This is not true, the snakes were after rodents that often live in barns with livestock.

Eastern milksnakes do not want to interact with humans and will try to avoid them. They will coil, hiss and strike, and bite if cornered. They may also vibrate their tails to produce a buzzing sound and release musk when threatened. They will bite if handled. Even though they used to be referred to as "checkered adders" by some, they are not venomous.

To avoid bites, don't bother or approach snakes, and watch where you step. If you see a dangerous snake, move away slowly. They want nothing more than to be left alone.

The eastern milksnake is often mistaken for a copperhead. They can be confused with young eastern ratsnakes, young northern racers and young northern watersnakes.