Everything You Need to Know About Milk Snakes as Pets


Everything You Need to Know About Milk Snakes as Pets

Snakes often get a bad rep, and it’s not often that a venturing pet owner will decide to settle on tackling a snake for a pet. One look at a Milk Snake can instantly sway or dispel these fears, as their popularity attests to theirs being a wonderful choice for a reptilian friend as well as serving as a talking point at home.

While the cost as well as the initial house-warming may take time to getting used to, new and experienced snake owners alike would not regret their purchase of a Milk Snake due to its enrapturing beauty, which can provide years of viewing pleasure.

Before making the decision to purchase and commit to your multi-colored reptilian friend, you may find the following information about its habits, temperament and diet helpful in determining if Milk Snakes are the pet you’re looking for.

Do Milk Snakes Make Good Pets?

Many newcomers interested in owning snakes may be intimidated by the concept of handling them due to their stigma and alien different-ness in comparison to a traditional furried mammalian member.

Since Milk Snakes are not too big in size, being non-venomous and relatively easy for beginners to take care of, these factors make them a great choice for a snake pet.

What accounts for their ease of maintenance involves their slow metabolism while feeding, since snakes, being cold-blooded reptiles, in general require little supervision as pets, and hardly give their owners reasons for concern beyond the glasses of their cage.

Not to mention, their stunning tri-colored (or bi-colored for some species) appearance means that they don’t need to be doing much to appear eye-catchingly fascinating to their owners or other observers. They achieve beauty by merely resting!

This, compounded by a myriad of other quirks and traits such as their friendly and mild personality as snakes account for their popularity as contenders for favorite species of snake as a choice pet.

How Much Do Milk Snakes Cost?

Milk Snakes are not a cheap pet to raise, as the initial purchasing price as well as the setting up of the tank can scare dabbling investors away.

The initial purchasing price of a Milk Snake may be anything from 50 USD up to ridiculous prices ranging in the thousands for those specially bred for rare colors and markings.

As is advised with most pets, you can avoid this cost by adopting a Milk Snake from your local animal shelter, as well as saving the life of an abandoned snake in the process of doing so.

Checking your local craigslist or other retailer can reveal neighbors willing to give away their Milk Snake for free or something as little as 20 USD, for example.

The tank, or vivarium, must be of good quality that insulates heat (preferably wooden), complete with basking lights and heating mats, which can total above the hundred-dollar range. Then, buying monthly stocked frozen food for the snake can be accomplished for cheap on many online stores.

How Long Does a Milk Snake Live?

Milk Snakes live on average from 10 years to 12, although they have been recorded to live up to 22 years in captivity. Interestingly, their lifespans are yet to be found out and recorded in the wild.

While this is considered a relatively lower lifespan than larger species such as Boas or Pythons, it is a number that rivals those of the most popular furried pets such as rodents or some dog breeds, during which a lasting relationship can be cultivated between human and reptile.

How Big Can Milk Snakes Get?

Milk Snakes take 3 to 4 years to grow to maturity, from which they can grow up to lengths between 14 to 69 inches (35 to 175 centimeters), which will fluctuate based on the species, genetics as well as diet. Most pet Milk Snakes reach around 32 inches, however.

How Often Do Milk Snakes Shed?

Young Milk Snakes can shed up to 12 times per year, whereas adult Milk Snakes lessen this number to every 2 or 3 months.

The shedding process can take up to two weeks, during which your snake may exhibit behavior such as not wanting to eat, as well as external characteristics such as opaque, milky eyes.

The time when a snake is shedding is the one time you may allow humidity to build up in the tank in order to assist in the shedding process.

What is the Primary Color of a Milk Snake?

This is an interesting question for which an answer will depend on the species and native terrain of the individual snake. Eastern milk snakes, for example, primarily are noted for their tan coloring, whereas the more common and popular snake seen in pet stores is mostly red.

There also exists a species called the Black Milk Snake, which gradually darken and lose their markings over time.

Something that is common among all the subspecies is the banded markings which may confuse other animals into thinking it is dangerous.

The Milk Snake is an interesting creature because it achieves the appearance of venomous snakes through batesian mimicry, which is mimicking the patterns and colors of actually venomous and therefore dangerous species to ward off predators.

In the wild, a Milk Snake has no means to paralyze or fend off attackers with the threat of a rattle or poisonous bite. However, it may shake its tail in imitation of its rattle-tailed counterparts when threatened and cornered.

Are Milk Snakes Aggressive?

Milk Snakes are not an aggressive species of snake at all and are not particularly dangerous to humans as they rarely bite (and when they do, their teeth are small and non-venomous).

One problem that is consistent with most snake owners is the concept of tank aggression, or the concern that a snake will learn to exhibit aggressive, attacking behavior reminiscent of a wild and hostile environment from repeatedly feeding it live prey.

This is why it is always advised to feed your Milk Snake dead, thawed out mice; insects or chick beforehand. Not only does it curb potential fears for a feral snake, but it also minimizes risks from a snake having to deal with prey that fights back.

They pose minimal risk to humans, and in the wild their frequent devouring of rodents and other vermin make them a healthy addition to the ecosystem.

How Fast Do Milk Snakes Grow?

Milk Snakes typically reach maturity at 3 to 4 years of age.

If you had purchased and decided to raise a baby Milk Snake, it may take at most two years for it to grow to maturity, during which your feeding schedules will lesson over time as the snake’s digestive system develops (See below).

Are Milk Snakes Arboreal?

Milk Snakes are not an arboreal species, despite what picture books of their more venomous lookalikes depict them to be thriving in. However, they do enjoy climbing objects in order to get a higher surveying of their surroundings, so you can provide rocks and foliage (real or plastic) to achieve that natural in-the-trees aesthetic within its tank.

What Size Tank Do You Need for a Milk Snake?

A Milk Snake’s tank should be at least 34 inches in length, or about 86 centimeters. The reasons for the relatively large tank sizeis to accommodate the length of the Milk Snake, which ought to be proportional to its expected growth size, as well as the placement of the temperature gradient.

The tank must be big enough to include a hot, warm end for basking as well as a cool end, and this can only be achieved through making the tank having a respectable distance. For more on suitable temperatures for Milk Snakes, read below.

As stated above, a snake’s tank or vivarium should be big enough to include decorations that induce play and mimic its native habitat.

The material for its tank can be anything from plastic to wooden, although the latter is best as it insulates heat. Glass unfortunately is terribly efficient at cooling and releasing heat. However, if the enclosing is secure and provides suitable temperatures for the reptile, then it would suffice.

The tank only needs to be cleaned out once every four to five months, during which before the bedding is completely changed the snake’s excretions can be scooped out using chemicals or specifically designed pet scoopers available for purchase.

Are Milk Snakes Easy to Care For?

Regardless of whether we are answering this question through the paradigm of one who’s never owned a reptile before or a herpetologist, Milk Snakes are really easy to care for, as the most tedious and required activity in your pet’s schedule may be its bi-weekly feeding time (See below).

The majority of caring for a Milk Snake would consist of monitoring and adjusting the tank temperature to suit daytime/nighttime temperatures and feeding your pet once every two weeks.

Because the stool of the Milk Snake is semi-fluid, and not large or imposing either in look or smell, cleaning the cage need only occur once every four to five months- almost once a season or half a year!

What Do Milk Snakes Eat?

The myth that Milk Snakes drink milk from cow udders have been earlier dismissed, although there is a very relevant reason they hang out in barns. Not only do they find the dark, damp corners ideal for shelter, they provide most of the tasty mice they enjoy devouring.

Young Milk Snakes can eat insects and arthropods such as slugs, arachnids, crickets, and earthworms. Upon reaching maturity, however, a milk snake’s diet expands to larger morsels such as small reptiles and mammals. Their main diet then shifts mostly upon vermin such as rodents.

In addition, Milk Snakes also feast upon the eggs of other reptiles, amphibians and birds. These are all possible options of a Milk Snake’s palette in the wild, but as pets, they may feast solely on mice or baby mice, which depend upon the size of the snake.

It is recommended to feed your Milk Snake mostly thawed mice, with the occasional chick or insect to vary its diet. Pre-killed, frozen bait is best, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is cheap and easy to store in bulk.

They can sustain on a mammal-only diet, but not a bird-only one. Therefore, baby chick and dead quail should be an occasional treat, and shouldn’t replace the bi-weekly meal of mice.

How Much Does a Milk Snake Eat?

While Milk Snakes don’t require extensive care, supervision or maintenance, knowing ahead of time their eating habits as well as capabilities may save you trouble ahead of time.

Because Milk Snakes are opportunistic eaters in the wild, and having no venom, Milk Snakes will eat anything they can fit into their mouth after constricting it (ergo, mice). However, they have a tendency to literally bite more than they can swallow, so take care not to overfeed your pet which can lead it to get sick (see below for “rule of thumb”).

Baby Milk Snakes, however, should be fed around five times per week, to mimic their primary diet of small insects in the wild and to accommodate their developing digestive systems. The frequency as well as quantity of meals will decrease over a span of two years, during which the Milk Snake will grow to maturity soon and fast.

If a Milk Snake isn’t eating, it may be due to several reasons:

  • Snakes often don’t feel like eating during the time it is close to shed.
  • If it is a female and has had recent contact with a male snake then this could mean that it is gravid, or carrying her eggs. During this period the female will be noticeably more aggressive and refrain from feeding.
  • In regions where it gets cold in Winter the Milk Snake’s hibernation period may kick in, resulting in three months of not wanting to eat. This means less work for you, during which a quarter of a year may pass without you needing to do your bi-weekly feeding!
  • The most dreaded reason may be that your pet snake is sick, for which a visit to the veterinarian may be required.

How Often Should a Milk Snake be Fed?

While Milk Snakes may feed once every 12 to 16 days, although Milk Snakes can be fed rodents almost once per week. The older the snake, the less often it needs to be fed.

The size and portion of their meal should be measured in correspondence with the size and length of the snake itself. The general rule of thumb is as follows: never feed the snake a morsel longer than the thickest part of its body.

After feeding, it is recommended to only hold your pet at least 48 hours after ingestion, as the snake may still regurgitate its food after a whole day. Snakes have infamously slow metabolisms, after all.

Because Milk Snakes are nocturnal, you can try covering the tank to simulate darkness if your pet doesn’t bite. If it’s not touching it’s food, it can be either either bored with its food or due to some other reason listed above.

Can Milk Snakes Eat Fish?

Milk Snakes can eat small fish as well as the meat of larger fish cut into chunks.

Can Milk Snakes Eat Crickets?

Yes, since Milk Snakes can feast upon insects this certainly appertains to eating crickets.

Do Milk Snakes Eat Other Snakes?

Milk Snakes, being carnivorous, can certainly eat the flesh of other snakes.

However, as with feeding your pet dead mice, it is imperative that you feed the Milk Snake a snake that is already dead or pre-killed. There’s no sense in making sport or having your snake work for its food as a pet, and you certainly wouldn’t want to risk injury to it either.

Do Milk Snakes Eat Worms?

As mentioned previously, Milk Snakes can eat worms of many species from earth worms to meal worms, although this occurs mostly when they are young and unable to obtain larger prey.

If you are still feeding your adult Milk Snake worms, it is time to move on to bigger meals such as thawed out mice from the freezer which can be purchased in bulk.

Do Milk Snakes Eat Rattlesnakes?

Milk Snakes can eat rattlesnakes, as well as other venomous snakes such as their venomous lookalike cousins the coral snake.

It should go without saying, but please, do not under any circumstances feed a live rattlesnake to your Milk Snake.

However, being carnivores, a Milk Snake won’t turn down a meal of another fellow snake, even of its own species. Therefore, you must never house two Milk Snakes, as the species can get cannibalistic.

Do Milk Snakes Eat Mealworms?

Yes, Milk Snakes do indeed, eat mealworms.

Do Milk Snakes Need UV Light?

Milk Snakes, like all snakes, do not need UV light. On the contrary, this could be detrimental to your pet’s health. Avoid pet store advertisements that claim their UV lights are suitable for your pet, as they are trying to profit from ignorance.

A basking light is all your snake needs, and if you want to include additional lighting make sure the temperatures remain consistently under 90 degrees Fahrenheit and do not exceed this range.

What Temperature Should a Milk Snake Be Kept At?

Milk Snakes should be kept in a tank where there is always a 90 degree Fahrenheit basking bulb (i.e. a 40 W bulb within a three feet enclosure). Always keep a thermometer within your snake’s tank to monitor the temperature.

At night time this light needs to be turned off, and the tank’s surroundings completely immersed in darkness to create a colder environment. The night time temperature should be maintained at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is accomplished through a heat mat that doesn’t radiate light.

The atmosphere of the tank should be kept at substrate dry, and efforts should be taken to prevent humidity from building up in the tank.

Do Milk Snake Bites Hurt?

While Milk Snakes are not venomous and have small teeth, their bites can hurt small children who mishandle or agitate the pet. These bits rarely penetrate the skin, although immediate disinfection of the wound should follow if such an incident were to occur.

Keep in mind that baby snakes are more prone to nipping and biting than adults, who mellow out as they grow into maturity.

Do Milk Snakes Like to Be Handled?

Milk Snakes are an active breed of snake and generally are described to possess a nervous outlook of humans, whom they consider as threats. The younger or wilder the snake (if freshly caught), the less it would enjoy being handled by us bipeds.

Rather than bite in protest, the animal may do something called “musking” instead, which is releasing a foul-smelling fluid through its anal glands to scare away potential predators. This behavior will cease once the snake no longer views you as a threat.

Milk Snakes are a friendly breed of snake and can form an attachment to their owners and eventually come to enjoy being picked up and handled gently by human hands.

As mentioned before, it is not advisable to handle or pick up a snake after it has freshly fed, as this will disturb the slow digestive process.

How Many Eggs Does a Milk Snake Lay?

Milk Snakes can lay eggs varying anywhere from 2 to 17 eggs in a damp nest of leaves or rotting logs, which will take about a month to hatch.

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