The eastern milksnake isn’t venomous, it just wants you to think it is
The beauty of the eastern milksnake is rarely seen due to the reptile’s habit of burrowing underground and hiding under rocks and logs, but even if you do see one, they can be particularly tricky to identify.
The critter is known for its display of brilliant red spots surrounded by black borders and off-white stripes, though the coloration of the snake can vary greatly depending on what region it’s living in.Their base color can range from cream to tan to a light grey and the large red spots can vary from a vivid, bright red to a darker copper color. Each snake displays its most intense colors when it hatches and will become darker as it grows. However, considering the wide variety of tones displayed by milksnakes, the color is not a significant indicator of age.
The variation in color is no mistake. Milksnakes exhibit what’s known as Batesian mimicry, which is when a harmless species evolves to look like a dangerous species to keep itself safe from predators. When the milksnake takes on a darker tan color it is commonly mistaken for the venomous copperhead snake. But unlike the copperhead, the milksnake has round pupils, the pattern on its back looks like spots rather than an hourglass shape and its belly has a checkerboard pattern as opposed to a solid cream color. The bright red of the milksnake can also cause people to confuse it with the venomous coral snake, but you can tell the two apart by the yellow band that lines a coral snake and not a milksnake. To remember, use the rhyme "Red on yellow kills a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack."
Beyond color variations, some misidentifications can be blamed on milksnake behavior, as it has been known to shake its tail to imitate a rattlesnake if it feels threatened. However, the milk snake is not venomous or poisonous, not matter how badly it wants to be.
Milksnakes prefer to live in forested areas but will also be happy in barns and agricultural areas. They eat a wide variety of prey including other snakes, amphibians, rodents, insects, fish and small birds. The name “milksnake” might have come from one of the places where they were most commonly spotted: in farmers’ barns. A myth developed that the snakes were attracted to the cow milk, but they were actually there to eat the rodents that were making homes in the barns. Many people developed a fear of milksnakes, not realizing that they provide natural pest control of agricultural areas.
If you’re lucky enough to see one of these snakes, use some of the identification tips listed above to differentiate it from some of our other resident snakes, but always remember to view wildlife from a respectful distance, whether they’re venomous or not.
Interested in learning more about Chesapeake wildlife? Check out our Field Guide for information on hundreds of local species.
Found one in the basement. I think it might have come in with the potted plants that had been outside all summer.
Found a 3' brown and tan one in my shed last year (2021). I heard it before I saw it when it startled me with its tail rattle and coiling up. It even snapped at me a few times!
It was impressive so I let it be and it must have gotten used to me because it stayed relaxed with my presence as the summer went along.
The spring of 2022 arrived and so did it but the shed needed to be replaced so I relocated it to a safe place where it could thrive.
Had found 4 milk snakes in my front yard. Haven't seen any in the 8 years I lived here. All 4 were. About 8 inches and a different color. Only got them after a real bad strom went through the night before. One is black and gray and he thinks he is a mean one till you put your foot down hard then he takes off.
But to me a snake is a snake scared of them all. Snake loves can keep there snakes. Your welcome to come and catch mine lol.
St. Marys Pa.
I live in the mountains of Shickshinny, Pa. ( near Wilkes-Barre ) I just found a baby eastern milk snake approx. 7 inches long. It was on the bare rock/dirt area of a new driveway construction. I'm glad I had gloves on until I identified it because it struck out about 10 - 15 times before I got it into a container. I'm now on my way to release it where found. I often find garters, ring necks, and green ribbon snakes. But my favorites are the black rat snakes. I usually only see the shed skins (6 - 7 feet long) of the really big ones. The other day I had the bejeezus scared outta me by an approximately 5 1/2 foot one.
I was putting my bird feeder out and didn't see the milksnake until I walked right past it and heard what sounded like hissing. Guess the hissing was really him shaking his tail. It was a couple of feet long.
Unfortunately, I found a little milk snake near my sidewalk, in central MA, but it was dead. It didn’t have a head. I’m guessing a hawk got it, then dropped it. The part that was left was about 5 or 6 inches long. It had beautiful markings.
Found one that was about 4.5-5 ft long yesterday!!!
Discovered a large milk snake in my garage warming itself on the furnace pipe. Was not happy when I removed him from his comfortable spot!
Saw a beautiful 2 1/2 ft. long Milk this morning--very dark brown and tan, no orange or red. It coiled up and shook its tail-tip at me, so I moved away and left him in peace. Western NY.
Walking the trails along the coastline of Rye,NH, my two toddler sons and I came across a beautiful milksnake! Very exciting for all of us, as we frequently see Garter snakes, it was nice to see anew species.
Saw one in East TN. It is living in our backyard.
Found a little one today under a pile of lumber on the job. I have never seen a baby snake so aggressive before it struck at me 100 times lol crazy thing
Was trying to send a picture but it wouldn’t take I think this was a milk snake in my garden he was kind of upset with me but he borrowed on the some rocks and cardboard
just found a baby one under a rock in greenhouse (ny)
Upstate NY north of Albany. Suburban area with patches of woods and fields. I regularly see (and welcome) garter snakes in my gardens, and several years ago I had found several milk snakes in my backyard. Today I saw a beauty, a small one sunning on my patio. Stunning! I keep an organic yard with lots of planted areas, and snakes are most welcome to eat pesky rodents and bugs, as I will not use pesticides. This is my first milk snake sighting this year. I hope I keep seeing this handsome guy around!
Found a snake in my bathroom, close the door so I could get help, but was gone when I got back, not sure what to do or how to find it and get rid of it
I just found one in my house. It left behind a pale yellow creamy substance…can anyone explain what this was? Breeding activity?
Just had one of the IN my house!!! Not sure how it got in but my cat found it and was playing with it!!! Medina OH
My Dog had one in the Living room today. I don`t know if He brought it in the house, or if it was already in the house.
Encountered a baby this afternoon here in Taunton out in my yard. I had my wife look up
I encounter a juvenile this afternoon in a boiler room at Otis ANGB Cape Cod
Quite intimidating, coiled up and shaking it’s tail. Thought it was a timber rattler at first!
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