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