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What Is an Eastern Milk Snake?

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  • Written By: Emily Pate
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2014
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The Eastern milk snake, also known as Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum, is a beneficial, non-venomous snake and one of 25 subspecies of milk snakes. Eastern milk snakes, like all milk snakes, are a king snake species. Their common name derives from an old myth that the snakes drink cow's milk. This subspecies is often mistaken for other venomous snakes and killed, though experts stress the Eastern milk snake is beneficial to humans because it kills smaller venomous snakes and a variety of rodents.

An Eastern milk snake has smooth scales and a thin body that grows 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2 m) long with a base color ranging from tan to gray and red to brown blotches along the back and sides, which grow in size from the sides to the back. The belly has a white background with black squares. Eastern milk snakes are sometimes confused for venomous Northern copperhead snakes, which have dark bands rather than blotches crossing their backs from one side to the other. The massasauga rattler, like the Eastern milk snake, also has a tan to gray background with blotches, but the blotches typically range from brown to black. The massasauga also has a rattler, ovoid eyes and three additional rows of blotches on its sides.

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Fields, woods, marshes, riverbeds and rocky spots give the Eastern milk snake its natural habitat. It also can be found in rural areas and cities. The reptile is distributed in the northeast United States, from Maine to Iowa and down to Appalachia. Milk snakes prefer hiding under rocks or debris on the ground, and they prefer to come out at night.

This snake consumes a variety of small rodents, venomous snakes and reptiles. The term "milk snake" might have originated from the fact that farmers would find milk snakes in their barns, where the serpents were searching for rodents to eat. A barn's low temperature and lack of light also make it an attractive habitat for the Eastern milk snake. The serpent is a constrictor, killing its prey by slowly coiling around it to prevent breathing, then eating the prey whole after it dies.

Eastern milk snakes reproduce by laying two to 17 eggs, although this number changes depending on the region. During the summer months, the snake looks for areas to lay eggs, typically under rocks, logs or other debris. The eggs sit for about eight weeks before hatching a 5.5- to 11-inch (about 14- to 28-cm) hatchling. The average life span for an Eastern milk snake is about 20 years.

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