Tyrannosaurus Pets

Milk Snake Care Sheet

Lampropeltis triangulum ssp

Milk snakes are colourful snakes found throughout the US.  They are generally regarded as the ideal starter snake, as their small size, docile nature, and easy care make them a good choice for a first time reptile pet.  They are captive bred in large numbers and a wide range of weird and wonderful colours are now available.  

There are also numerous subspecies which have variable and often striking patterns and colours. 

Milk snakes are slender bodied often banded snakes of variable size. Most are around 3-4 feet long. They eat mostly mammals in the wild but some youngsters prefer lizards. This isn’t usually an issue in captivity and most captive bred animals available will eat readily. They are swift moving and often secretive snakes and hatchlings in particular are squirmy. They all usually calm down to be docile and easy to handle pets.

Setting up the starter tank

  • Baby snakes are best kept in small plastic enclosures such as the Exo-Terra large flat faunarium.  These tanks are designed for baby reptiles,  and are escape proof providing the lid has been secured correctly.  Don’t use the small door as the plastic lugs may snap.  The large door is very useful, and can be used for spot cleaning and changing the water.  This tank will last until the snake is between twelve, and eighteen months old.  It will then need to be moved into a 36” adult vivarium.

  • The easiest way to heat the small tank is to use a heat mat placed under the tank.  Unregulated heat mats can reach temperatures in excess of 40’c so it is essential that the heater is controlled by a thermostat.  Normally the sensor for a thermostat comes into the tank to monitor the temperature. However with baby snakes any hole large enough to admit the sensor is a potential escape route.  To prevent this attach the sensor from the thermostat to the heat mat using a good quality tape such as duck tape. The sensor needs to be attached to the black areas on the mat as these are the heat elements.

  • Set the thermostat to 32◦c, this is higher than the temperature that we require but there will be some heat loss through the base of the tank.  This estimate should get the temperatures in the tank close to the desired level.

  • Place a thin layer of substrate on the base of the tank, around 5mm is sufficient.  Put the thermometer on the floor of the tank above the heat mat. The heat mat will only warm the base of the tank not the air, so the thermometer must be on the floor.

  • Leave the tank for two hours.  After this time the temperature on the thermometer should be 28 ◦c - 30◦c, this is in the orange section of the dial. If the temperature on the floor of the tank is not in the desired range please adjust the thermostat.  Leave the tank for another two hours then recheck the temperature.  Keep checking and adjusting until the temperature is correct. If the thermostat is set to maximum and the floor is still not reaching 28◦c, then you may need to raise the mat to touch the base of the tank.  Placing some insulating material such as polystyrene under the mat will also help to raise the temperature.

Setting up the adult tank

  • Unscrew the light fitting from the roof of the vivarium.  Place the silver plate from the guard on the roof and re-attach the fitting.  The holes in the silver plate should match the screw holes for the light fitting.

  • Make a hole in the top corner of the vivarium at the same end as the light fitting.  Feed the thermostat sensor through this and let it hang down to 3” above the floor of the tank.  Place the spot bulb in the fitting and put the mesh part of the guard in place.  Plug the light fitting into the socket on the thermostat.  Plug the thermostat into the mains.

  • Set the dial of the thermostat to 28’c.  The thermostat will allow the bulb to heat the corner of the tank where the sensor is to 28’c.  At the basking spot (1) the temperature should be 28’c – 32’c.  At the cool end of the tank (2) the temperature should be 20’c to 24’c.  When checking the temperature put the thermometer where the snake will sit.  In the hot end this will be on top of the hide, and at the cool end measure the temperature on the floor of the tank.

  • When first setting up the tank leave it running for 2 hours before checking the temperatures.  If both ends of the tank are at the right temperature leave the tank for a further 2 hours to check the temperature is stable.

  • If the temperatures are not correct adjust the dial on the thermostat slightly. Leave the tank for 2 hours and recheck again.  Keep adjusting and checking until the tank temperatures are stable and at the right level.

General Care

  • The snake needs to have two hides, one in the warm end, and the other at the cool end.  When the snake is young, one hide stretching from the warm end to the cool end helps them to settle as they can move from warm to cool without exposing themselves.

  • Keep the water dish at the cool end, this keeps it fresher for longer.  The snake needs access to fresh water daily.  When changing the water have a look around the tank and remove any obvious mess.  If the spot cleaning is done regularly the tank only needs to be fully cleaned out once every four – six weeks, put the animal somewhere safe.  Remove the water dish and any décor.  Remove and throw away the old substrate.  Wipe the tank down with a clean wet cloth.  Dry the tank and put in fresh substrate.  Replace the water dish and décor.  The snake can then be returned to the tank.

  • Don’t use household detergents, and disinfectants as they can be toxic to reptiles.  If the tank needs to be cleaned properly then use a reptile safe pet disinfectant.

  • Baby snakes will shed their skin once every four – six weeks.  When the snake is in shed its colours will become muted, and the snake’s eyes will take on a blue grey sheen.  When the snake is like this they can feel vunerable so it is best to leave them alone.  They may not feed so leave them until next week.

  • After shedding, check the snake over to make sure that no skin is still stuck to them.  This will look like sellotape, or clingfilm wrapped around the animal. With corn snakes it is normally the tip of the tail that causes the problem.

  • When you get your snake home, set up the tank as detailed above.  Put the snake in the tank.  The animal now needs time to settle in.  Leave them alone for one week, then feed them. Leave them another week then feed them again.  Once the snake has fed twice they have settled in and may be handled following the usual rules for handling.

  • When you move your snake into the adult tank it can take them a week to settle in to the new environment.  To help them settle in to the new environment leave them alone for a week.  Once they have fed in their new home you can handle them as before.

  • The only time the snake can be handled in the first two weeks is if it sheds, when it will need to be checked over.

  • All the commonly sold snakes at Tyrannosaurus Pets eat a variety of dead mice and rats.  These are available frozen and must be defrosted before feeding to your snake.  The food must be defrosted steadily to room temperature.  Do not microwave the food, or put it into either hot or cold water.  It is easiest to simply wrap the food in some newspaper or kitchen towel and leave out to thaw.  Pinkies will defrost in around 45 minutes.  Larger prey items take longer.  Ensure that all food has thoroughly defrosted before use.

  • Always an appropriate size pair of feeding tongs to feed your snake, this will stop the snake from accidentally biting you instead of the food.  Hold the mouse in the tongs and wave it in front of the snake.  This should entice the snake to strike for the food.  If the snake has shown no interest in the food after 30 seconds, place the mouse on top of a hide and leave it in the tank over night.  If the snake does not eat in the dark, throw the food away and try again after a week.  Missing one or two weeks is not a problem for a snake, even as a baby, but any longer period may indicate that the animal is either unwell, or not happy with the tank set up.  It is a good idea to fill in a feeding record so you can see how well the snake is eating.

  • Most baby snakes start out eating one pinkie per week.  As your snake grows it needs to be fed larger meals.  If after its finished eating it spends twenty minutes roaming the tank and is active after twelve or twenty four hours, then it is ready to move on to the next stage.  Each stage of food size lasts for around eight weeks.  A much better guide is the snake’s behaviour as detailed above.  The stages are listed below.

  1. 1 pinkie

  2. 2 pinkies

  3. 3 pinkies

  4. 1 fuzzy

  5. 2 fuzzies

  6. 3 fuzzies

  7. 1 small mouse

  8. 2 small mice

  9. 1 adult mouse 

When you are feeding a milk snake you may need to go to four food items before moving to the next size due to their smaller head. This is not always necessary but it is best to stage the snakes slowly.  

Commonly available milksnakes

As mentioned above there are numerous species of milk snake. Most are small to medium sized snakes and all have similar care.

Sinaloan Milk snake:Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae:

These are a small specie, usually smaller than 4 feet. They have stiking red, black and white bands. They feed readily and because of their small size, they are ideal first snakes. They are quick moving as youngsters so may not always be the best choice for younger keepers.

Pueblan Milk snake:Lampropeltis triangulum campbelli:

These are a medium (3-4 feet) milk snake with an irregular banded/ blotched appearance. They are docile ad usually feed well. They are available in many colour morphs, such as apricot, albino and Halloween. They are one of the more common species.

Honduran Milk snake:Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis:

This is a large milk snake able to reach 6 feet in length. They are still slender bodies for their size and they have very docile natures. Again babies are quicker moving but they calm very quickly. They have the traditional red, black and white bands, but they have a black flecking over the top giving them a darker overall appearance. They are available in many attractive colour morphs, such as albino, hypo, vanishing pattern, anerythristic, ghost, tangerine and snow.

Pacific Central American:Lampropeltis triangulum oligozona:

A small species that only reaches 2.5-3.5 feet. They feed readily and make docile pets. They are not as common kept as the other species. They resemble Honduran milk snakes in colour but have slightly cleaner patterns. 

Black Milk snakes:Lampropeltis triangulum gaigeae:

A very large species, able to reach 6 feet in length. This unusual milk snake begins life as a stunning red, black and white banded snake but as they mature hey turn totally black. They feed well and are generally docile. They are not often available but are a very attractive milk snake and a great alternative to the more common Mexican Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigrita).

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