Eastern Milk Snake
Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
The eastern milksnake or eastern milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) is a subspecies of milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), these nonvenomous, colubrid snakes are indigenous to eastern and central North America.
Their range in the USA extends in the north from Maine to Ontario and in the south from North Carolina to Alabama. The eastern milksnake is the northernmost milk snake subspecies and the only one that occurs in Canada.
They are able to live in a wide variety of both natural or human-modified habitats, like prairies, pastures, meadows, hayfields, forests, rocky outcrops or rocky hillsides. They need to find suitable locations with proper cover for egg-laying, thermoregulation, and hibernation.
They are known by many common names including the checkered adder, highland adder or simply adder, cow-sucker, milk sucker, chin snake, chicken snake, house moccasin, leopard-spotted snake, sand-king, sachem snake, thunder-and-lightning snake.
Although the eastern milksnake is sometimes referred to as "adder", they are not venomous and not related to adders like the Australian and highly venomous death adder or the African puff adder.
They hibernate in the winter season and will emerge in April or May to mate. These are very secretive snakes and are often found beneath rocks, stones, logs or stumps, they are also burrowers and spend much of their life underground.
Over a gray or tan ground color, they have large red to reddish-brown oval blotches outlined in black along the back, and one or two rows of smaller blotches along the sides of the body.
The belly has a pattern of black and white checks. Their skin is smooth with shiny scales. The eastern milk snake is sometimes confused with the corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus).
The eastern milksnake generally grows to a length of 24 to 36 inches (60 to 91 cm), but extremely large specimens can grow to 52 inches (132 cm). Females tend to be shorter than male snakes. These are slender snakes with the head being only slightly wider than their neck.
The milk snakes got their common name from the fact that they were commonly found in barns with cows. So people believed that these snakes sucked the milk of the cows, but they weren't after milk but instead were after the abundant rodents living in barns with livestock.
If cornered or threatened they will coil, hiss and strike, sometimes they vibrate their tails producing a buzzing sound and release musk and will bite if handled. The species potential predators include opossums, raccoons, skunks, bullfrogs (Rana Catesbeiana) and mad brown thrashers (Toxostoma rufum).
Like most milk snakes the Eastern milk snake is often bred in captivity for the exotic pet trade, they are considered docile and rarely attempt to bite. They can live up to 21 years.
Taxonomy / Etymology
The species was first described in 1789 by the French naturalist and active freemason Bernard Germain de Lacépède.
The Genus name Lampropeltis is derived from 2 Greek words lampros meaning "radiant" and pelta which means "small shields". While the species-specific name triangulum is derived from the Latin word triangulus meaning "having three angles".
Diet / Feeding
The eastern milksnake eats mostly small mammals like mice, small birds, and smaller non-venomous snakes like the eastern gartersnake (see video) but they even feed on venomous ones. Younger snakes will also eat insects, earthworms and small frogs.
They kill their prey by constriction by wrapping it in their coils and squeezing until the animal suffocates and dies. Eastern milk snakes are very beneficial animals, especially for farmers, has they hunt down small rodents often found on farm buildings and barns.
The eastern milksnake reaches sexual maturity at approximately 3 or 4 years of age. These snakes are oviparous or egg laying snakes, and their mating season occurs in spring, around late April to May.
The female lays between 4 to 18 eggs in June or July in a sheltered location like rotting or decaying vegetation and wood, and may even be buried several inches deep in the soil. The clutch size, the number, and size of eggs are dependent on the female's size.
Sometimes several females may lay their eggs in the same location, they don't take care of their eggs, leaving them to hatch on their own. In August or September the 4 to 8 inches long, colorful hatchlings use a special "egg tooth" to hatch out of the eggs. The juvenile snakes are similar to adults but their blotches are much redder.
Conservation / Threats
The species hasn't been evaluated by the IUCN for their Red list of threatened species.
Habitat loss or degradation is the major threat to the eastern milksnake, but they are also affected by road mortality and persecution by humans because they are mistaken for other venomous snakes like the Massasauga rattlesnake or the copperhead.
The snake fungal disease is known to affect the species and the exotic pet trade is also responsible for the decline in the eastern milksnake population.
Did You Know?
Australia's inland taipan bite contains venom enough to kill up to 100 full grown men.