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Canadian Herpetological Society





Société d'herpétologie du Canada



Lampropeltis triangulum
Milksnake / Couleuvre Tachetée


Milksnake

Description
The Milksnake is a boldly blotched snake that varies considerably across its range. In Canada, it is gray or tan with brown to reddish-brown, black bordered patches down its back. It always has a Y- or V-shaped patch on the back of its neck. The Milksnake can grow to over a meter in length, in Canada, although most individuals are much smaller than this.

Confusing Species
There are a number of other boldly blotched snakes in eastern Canada, notably the Northern Water Snake, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake and the Foxsnake. Only the Water Snake also has blotches ringed with black. The Water Snake is generally not as boldly coloured as the Milksnake.

Distribution
The Milksnake has one of the widest ranges of any snake in North America. In Canada it is limited to southern Québec and Ontario south of Lake Superior. It is found across the eastern half of the USA and as far south as Ecuador.

Habitat
The Milksnake lives in a variety of habitats. In Canada they are often found around forest edges and agricultural areas.

Reproduction
Mating occurs in the spring. Females lay 3-24 elliptical eggs, often in rotting logs or the burrows of small mammals. The eggs hatch in 7-10 weeks. Individuals take 3-4 years to mature.

Natural History
The Milksnake gets its name from its association with barns. It was believed that it sucked milk from cows. In fact, the Milksnake is a constrictor -- it seizes prey in its mouths and coils about the prey until it is suffocated. It mainly eats small mammals and that is one reason it is often seen near barns. It will also eat birds and other snakes. Predators include raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes. When disturbed, it will vibrate its tail, which can sound like a rattlesnake. The Milksnake hibernates underground, in rotting logs, or even in the foundations of old buildings. It is unclear how long the Milksnake can live in the wild, but one snake caught as an adult lived another 21 years in captivity.

Conservation Concerns
The Milksnake is often a victim of traffic mortality. The Milksnake is commonly killed by people because of its size and its resemblance to a rattlesnake. It has been designated Special Concern by COSEWIC