Milksnake, Lampropeltis triangulum
Three subspecies of this brightly colored and strongly patterned snake occur in Tennessee: Eastern Milksnake (L. t. triangulum) occurs in upper East Tennessee, Red Milksnake (L. t. syspila) is distributed across most of West Tennessee, and Scarlet Kingsnake (L. t. elapsoides) extends from southern Land Between the Lakes southward along the Tennessee River to the Mississippi/Alabama border. The ranges for all 3 subspecies overlap in Middle and lower East Tennessee.
Description: A slender, medium-sized, shiny snake (24.0 to 36.0 inches in length for Eastern; 21.0 to 28.0 for Red; 14.0 to 20.0 for Scarlet Kingsnake) with bright colors or strong patterns. Eastern Milksnake has a gray or tan body with irregular brownish or reddish-brown, black-bordered blotches down the back; sometimes has a pale "Y" or "V" shaped mark on the back of the head.
Smaller, similar blotches also extend along the lower sides. Red Milksnake has a white or yellow body with red, reddish-brown, or orange-red, black-bordered blotches on the back. Small, black markings occur along the sides.
Scarlet Kingsnake has a red snout and alternating bands of red, black, and yellow the length of the body in which red touches black but not yellow. Belly is marked with black and white checkerboard pattern, except dorsal pattern on Scarlet Kingsnake continues onto belly.
Similar Species: Scarletsnake has a plain white belly. Prairie Kingsnake has brown blotches on the back and belly is brown or yellowish-brown. Red Cornsnake has a spearpoint pattern between the eyes and underside of tail is striped. Dark markings on back of Mole Kingsnake are well separated. North American Racers and Gray Ratsnakes have divided anal scales. Copperhead has a copper-colored, unmarked head and triangular shapes on side of body. Watersnakes have keeled scales and divided anal scales.
Habitat: Milksnakes are found in a variety of habitats, but generally prefer pine or hardwood forests with rock outcroppings. They also live under rocks or logs in other habitats including fields, savannahs, agricultural, suburban, wetlands, and forest edges.
Diet: Prefers mice, shrews, and voles; but also eats lizards, snakes, birds, and eggs.
Breeding information: Adults breed in the spring. Females choose nest sites under rocks, logs, or rotten stumps that are warm and humid. Females lay a clutch of 2-17 elliptical eggs about 30-40 days after breeding. Eggs typically hatch in late summer.
Status in Tennessee: Milksnakes are secretive, but widespread across the state. Populations are not protected in Tennessee.
• Name comes from the old wives tale, which incorrectly thought that these snakes could milk cows.
• Scarlet Kingsnakes are the most strikingly colored snake in our region.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Pine or hardwood forests at Land Between the Lakes or in Unaka Mountains.
Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.
Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.
Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.