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Louisiana Milk Snake
Lampropeltis triangulum amaura

Size:
  • Hatchling: 5 - 8 in.
  • Adult: 16 - 34 in.(normal)

Scalation:
  • Dorsal: 21 scale rows at midbody
    reducing to 19 or 17 at the vent.
  • Ventral: 171 - 201 in males
    178 - 204 in females
  • Sub caudal: 39 - 53 in males
    39 - 55 in females
  • Infra labial: 8 - 10 (usually 9)
  • Supra labial: 7 - 8 (usually 7)
  • Anal Plate: Single

Gallery Photo by Jeff Hardwick
click to enlarge
Written by Troy Hibbitts

Coloration:

Head:
The head is usually black except for white mottling on the supralabials, the internasals, and sometimes part of the frontals. Along the Mississippi River valley, genetic influence from syspila shows in the presence of red pigment on the heads of many specimens. In many places in central Texas, particularly near College Station, intergrades with annulata can be found that have mostly black snouts.

Dorsal:
From 13 to 21 triads of red, black and white; the average is 16. The white rings are usually about 2 scales wide, the black rings range from one and a half to 3 scales wide, and the red body rings usually are from 3 to 10 scales wide, with 5 the average.

Hatchlings tend to have white rings which are very bright and uncluttered with black flecking, while in most adults these bands darken considerably. In some specimens, the white is tinted with yellow or cream. The red, too, varies from individual to individual, as well as within populations. In some specimens, the red is a vivid "candy-apple" color, in others it can be fairly dull to nearly brown, while still other specimens have a very deep red color.

At least one anerythristic (lacking red) specimen has been collected, as well as a hypomelanistic specimen (reduced black). Anerythristic specimens are available commercially.

Ventral:
The ventral surfaces of most amaura are mostly white. The red rings are bordered near the edge of the ventrals by black pigment, leaving the center of the triad (on the ventrals) white. Near the intergrade zone with annulata, much black encroaches into this white area in many specimens.

Behavior:
Amaura can be found from February to late October or early November. It is usually only surface active at night, but probably hunts within hollow logs and under rocks during the day. Most amaura field collected are collected from Feb. through May. I have personally collected amaura under limestone rocks, boards, corrugated sheet metal, old carpets, railroad ties, and in rotted stumps (one was 7 feet above ground under bark). I have also found them crossing roads at night.

Amaura are usually fairly nervous and jumpy snakes. Many will not settle down in captivity and continually strike and buzz their tails. Some specimens will jerk spasmodically when held, smearing musk and feces about while biting their captors. Other specimens calm down quite nicely.

Breeding:
Amaura require a 3 month brumation period in order to stimulate breeding, much like other temperate species of kingsnakes. Breeding will usually commences shortly after the animals are warmed up. The male will usually bite the female behind the head while copulating, and copulation can occur for an extended period of time (several hours). A clutch of 2 to 9 eggs will be laid 30-40 days after fertilization. Egg size (and therefore neonate size) depends largely upon the size of the female. Incubation usually takes about 60 days at 82 degrees Farhenheit.

Range:
This subspecies is found from the west banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana west into eastern Texas to College Station and Waco. Its range extends north into the Red River valley region of southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas.

Habitat:
Amaura predominantly inhabits hardwood lowlands, but may also be found in pine flatwoods, oak-hickory hillsides, and, to the western edge of its range, in grassland areas interspersed with rocky, limestone outcrops. In hardwood river bottoms, amaura is generally difficult to field collect, as it is very secretive, and there are many hiding places. However, in one study of the herpetofauna of the Big Thicket, amaura was found to be the most common species of Lampropeltis collected (using drift fences and pitfall traps). In certain areas of the blackland prairies, amaura can be found fairly commonly under rocks in the spring. However, in most places, amaura can be found most easily by looking under boards and other human debris.

Prey:
Most wild amaura probably eat mostly lizards: Skinks (Scincella and Eumeces), Anoles (Anolis), Fence Lizards (Sceloporus), and racerunners (Cnemidophorus). Small snakes (Tantilla, Virginia, and Storeria) are probably also eaten, as are small mice (Peromyscus, Baiomys, Ochrotomys). In captivity, juveniles can usually be started easily on meals of ground skinks (Scincella), and can usually be switched to mice (persistence, persistence, persistence!). Wild caught adults typically feed readily on pre-killed lab mice (fuzzies or small weanlings).

Literature Cited:

Conant, R. and J.T. Collins. 1991. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America. Houghton Mifflin, Co., Boston.

Irwin, K. and T.J. Hibbitts. 1996. Pers. communication.

Williams, K.L. 1988. Systematics and natural history of the American milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), 2nd revised edition. Milwaukee Public Museum.
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