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New Mexico Milksnake
Big Bend Milksnake

Lampropeltis triangulum celaenops

  • Hatchling: 6 - 8 in.
  • Adult: 24 - 36 in.(normal)

  • Dorsal: 21 - 25 rows
  • Ventral: avg. of 202, 198 - 207
  • Sub caudal: 60
  • Infra labial:8 - 11
  • Supra labial: 7
  • Anal Plate: Single

Photo by Troy Hibbitts
click to enlarge

Written by Troy Hibbitts

Common Name:
Big Bend or New Mexico Milksnake

Scientific Name:
Lampropeltis triangulum celaenops

Hatchling: 6 - 10 inches
Adult: 16 - 36 inches

Dorsal: Usually 21 scale rows at the neck and midbody, reducing to 19 or 17 at the vent.
Ventral: 179 - 190 in males, 170 - 194 in females
Subcaudald: 40 - 53 in males, 41 - 42 in females (only 2 sampled)
infralabials: 7 - 9 (usually 9)
Supralabials: 6 - 7 (usually 7)
Anal Plate: Single


The head is usually black except for white mottling on the supralabials, the internasals, and sometimes part of the frontals. Some specimens have much more extensive white on their heads, especially on thier snouts, temporals and supralabials. On occasional individuals, there are scattered red flecks in the black area of the head; rarely, individualswill have large red patches or extensively red heads.

From 17 to 25 triads of red, black and white; the average is 21. The white rings are usually about one and a half to 3 scales wide, the black rings range from one and a half to 3 scales wide, and the red body rings usually are from 2 to 5 scales wide.

Many celaenops have white rings of intense "styrofoam white", unmarred by black flecking. In some specimens, the light rings are cream to yellow in color, while on some individuals the white rings are heavily invaded with black flecking, producing a grayish color. The red, too, varies from individual to individual, as well as between populations. In some specimens, the red is a vivid "candy-apple" or "fire-engine" color, in others it can be fairly dull to nearly brown, while still other specimens have a very deep red color.

Several anerythristic specimens have been collected, and these pattern variants are being bred commercially.

The white dorsal rings generally cross the ventral surfaces uninterrupted, while the red rings are bordered on the edges of the ventrals by black pigment producing a central light area, which in many specimens is invaded by black, although usually not as dark as in annulata.:


Celaenops can be found from April to late October or early November. It is usually only surface active at night. Only very few celaenops are field collected under rocks, usually from April through May. My wife Marla caught a gravid female under a rock near San Angelo in mid-May, and my dad and brother caught two males in the same area on April 1. All were collected under limestone rocks. The primary method of finding celaenops is to find them crossing roads at night or on road cuts.

Celaenops can be nervous and jumpy snakes, although most settle down in captivity quite nicely. One of my wild-caught females calmly accepted a pre-killed fuzzy mouse from my hands only days after capture.


Celaenops 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.


This subspecies is found from west-central Texas (Abeline/San Angelo areas) west through the Trans Pecos of Texas and throughout much of New Mexico, including the eastern plains of New Mexico and the Mesilla Valley. Scattered records exist for much of New Mexico, and the exact range of this subspecies is not well defined. Celaenops probably also extends into northern Mexico; however, no records for this subspecies exist for that country.

Specimens from San Angelo and Abeline have been considered by many authorities to be either annulata or annulata/gentilis intergrades. The ten specimens from this region that I have examined all appear to be much closer to celaenops than any other form. Celaenops intergrades with gentilis throughout the center of the Texas Panhandle. Records of celaenops from extreme northwestern New Mexico are considered to be taylori/celaenops intergrades. Recent specimens of milksnake collected in extreme southwestern New Mexico and southeaster Arizona are not identifiable to any subspecies; they may represent populations of celaenops or an entirely new subspecies.


Celaenops seems to prefer rocky grassland habitats throughout its range, although it ranges up into the pinyon/juniper region of Texas' and New Mexico's mountains, and down Chihuahuan thornscrub along the Rio Grande from Lozier Canyon to Presidio County, Texas. It is also common in sandy deserts of the northeastern Trans-Pecos of Texas and eastern New Mexico. In rocky areas, it is found primarily on limestone and igneous substrates.


Most wild celaenops probably eat mostly lizards: Skinks (Eumeces), Fence Lizards (Sceloporus, Uta, and Urosaurus), earless lizards (Cophosaurus, Holbrookia), and whiptails (Cnemidophorus). Small snakes (Tantilla, Sonora, and Leptotyphlops) are also eaten, as are small mice (Perognathus, Chaetodipus, and Peromyscus). In captivity, juveniles can usually be started easily on meals of lizard-scented pinks, and can usually be switched to unscented mice in short order. 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.

Deghenhart, W.G., C.W. Painter, and A.H. Price. 1996. Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

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

Photo by Troy Hibbitts
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Photo by Troy Hibbitts
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