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Red Milk Snake
Lampropeltis triangulum syspila

Size:
  • Hatchling: 6 - 8.5 in.
  • Adult: 18 - 28 in.(normal) 42 in.(record)

Scalation:
  • Dorsal: 21 rows
  • Ventral: 170 - 212
  • Sub caudal: 37 - 51
  • Infra labial:8 - 10
  • Supra labial: 7
  • Anal Plate: Single

Photo courtesy Troy Hibbitts
click to enlarge

Written by Matt Ingrasci

Coloration
A richly colored tri-colored Milksnake with wide red rings borderd in black on a whitish background.

Head:
Head pattern varies greatly; in most animals the head is marked by a large red blotch--edged in black. The snout, labials, and chin are cream colored with black at the sutures. A pair of supraocular light spots infringe on the red dorsally; sometimes the spots connect to form a narrow, light-colored crossband which transects the red.

Dorsal:
The body pattern also varies; typically display from 19-30 crimson, red-brown, or rust colored dorsal saddles margined with black. The ground color varies between white, gray, cream, and tan. Dorsal blotches extend ventrally to the second or first scale rows, occasionally reaching the sides of the ventrals. A row of lateral spots occurs ventrolaterally; this row may be prominent on some specimens while almost absent on others. The black spots usually contain red centers, but not always. On the tail, the dorsal blotches extend onto the venter, becoming rings that number 4 to 8. The young exhibit the adult pattern but often display brighter colors.

Ventral:
The ventral scales are marked white with a varying amount of black checkerboard. Red is absent in most specimens.

Range:
Eastern Kansas through Missouri, so. Illinois, sw. Indiana, Kentucky and w. Tennessee. From so. Iowa south into n. Arkansas.

Habitat:
Red milks have been taken in a variety of situations. Bluffs, timbered ledges, and south-facing rocky hillsides seem to produce these snakes in numbers; cedar glades have proven especially productive as well. These snakes can often be taken under tin or other miscellaneous rubbish in outlying areas as the snakes move away from hibernacula in search of food. Frequently, red milks live in association with ringnecks and worm snakes.

Prey:
In the wild, red milks feed on skinks (Eumeces, Scincella), fence lizards (Sceloporus), worm snakes (Carphophis), earth snakes (Virginia), and various rodents. Prey is killed by constriction. Lizards appear to make up the major part of the diet along with rodents; snakes seem to be taken less frequently. In captivity, red milks will usually accept a diet of mice though an occasional specimen will insist on eating only lizards. Various techniques, such as scenting, should persuade any problem feeders to take more readily available prey items. .

Behavior:
The activity period for red milks begins in early to mid-April and tapers off in October with most activity occurring in April, May, and September. Red milks have seldom been taken during the hottest part of the season. Breeding occurs in spring; gravid females lay from 1-12 eggs in June and July. Hatching takes place mid-August through September. For the most part, red milks lead a subterranean lifestyle and have rarely been found out in the open. Especially in rocky areas, the snakes utilize an underground network of cracks, crevices, and animal burrows; they come to the surface to feed and thermoregulate under sun-baked rocks.

Breeding:
Red milks should be kept like other temperate triangulum and have no special requirements. Due to their secretive nature, providing a means of security (hide box) is encouraged. Specimens do well in captivity; wild caught adults acclimate fairly easily, though some never become consistent feeders even when treated for parasites. The notoriously small hatchlings have a reputation for being difficult to feed. A pinkie pump or similar tube-feeding device becomes an indispensable tool (along with patience) as often the smaller snakes cannot take even a newborn mouse. For this reason these beautiful snakes have been neglected in mainstream herpetoculture--where their larger, more hardy cousins predominate. Captive breeding presents no challenges over other triangulum; successful propagation requires a brumation period of approximately three and a half months.

Literature Cited:
Stebbins,Robert C. 1985 second editition revised. A field guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company


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Photo by Kirk Setser
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Jefferson County, Missouri
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