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What Do Milk Snakes Eat in the Wild & as Pets?

Nicole Cosgrove

The milk snake is a member of the kingsnake species. This common constrictor is well-known for its vivid colors and beautiful markings. This species of snake, also known as the Lampropeltis Triangulum, can easily be found in many parts of the United States, Mexico, and even Canada.

Known as a carnivore, the milk snake prefers a particular diet in the wild such as common reptiles, birds, and rodents. But what do they eat while in captivity to ensure they thrive and stay healthy?

Read on below to learn more about the milk snake, their dietary needs, and the differences between what they eat in the wild vs captivity.

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The Milk Snake’s Diet in the Wild

Honduran Milk Snake
Image Credit: Nathan A Shepard, Shutterstock

Like most other snakes, the milk snake’s diet consists of mostly terrestrial vertebrae. Terrestrial vertebrates are considered small animals with a backbone. Their preference for these types of mammals is one of the main reasons you’ll find milk snakes living in marshes where they can feed on frogs and reptiles, or near farms where rodents are common.

Milk snakes are quite adaptable and can make the most of their environment. No matter the area, they can find small mammals to ensure they stay healthy.

When in wet areas, milk snakes will enjoy a feast of frogs, lizards, and even fish. Due to their natural ability to survive near the water, these snakes are known to thrive in these areas where other snakes may struggle to survive.

In dry areas, the milk snake will seek out small rodents. Mice, rats, and even voles make a great meal for a milk snake in the wild. In some instances, the milk snake may even decide to small eat birds or their eggs.

Young milk snakes, known as hatchlings, depend on mostly invertebrate animals to help them grow. Various types of insects, crickets, slugs, and even earthworms are among the favorites of young milk snakes. Keep in mind, a milk snake is considered a carnivore, therefore, it isn’t uncommon for hatchlings to eat other small snakes, even their own species.

The Hunting Techniques of the Milk Snake

In the wild, milk snakes are very capable hunters. Unlike most snakes who ambush their prey, the milk snake enjoys active hunts. When on the hunt, the milk snake will follow scents, then offer several strikes, ensuring their prey is bitten several times. Once injured, this constrictor will then wrap itself around the animal in question attempting to halt the flow of blood. When the heart stops, the milk snake then swallows their prey whole.

The Milk Snake’s Diet in Captivity

Mexican Milk snake
Image Credit: reptiles4all, Shutterstock

The milk snake is a popular pet among snake enthusiasts. Their bright coloring, easy care, and calm nature make them a great option for new pet owners or those with years of snake care under the belt.

When caring for a milk snake in captivity, you may find it easier to feed them what is available instead of what they would commonly eat in the wild. In most cases, this consists of frozen rats and mice. If not already on hand, these common meals can be ordered at your local pet store to ensure your snake gets the nutrition they need.

Feeding Your Milk Snake

The size of your milk snake’s meal depends on the size of your snake. If you are feeding an adult snake, large meals are good, but avoid going too large. When choosing the perfect meal, keep the largest size of your snake’s body in mind. If the prey offered is bigger than the largest part of your snake’s body, digestion issues may occur.

Digestion is a slow process for most snakes and oversized meals can only prolong things and make it uncomfortable for your pet.

Another important consideration to keep in mind when feeding a captive milk snake is age. Younger milk snakes should be fed once a week. This will help them get the needed requirements to grow properly.

When feeding a hatchling, go with a smaller, completely defrosted mouse. This will be an easily digested meal to keep your new pet happy. Closely monitor your hatchling, especially if you are new to the world of snake ownership.

Adult snakes can eat larger meals to sustain them longer. Choosing to feed an adult snake every two weeks is a great way to ensure they meet their dietary requirements. If you choose larger-sized rats, only offer those properly proportioned for your particular snake. Oversized meals, no matter a snake’s age, can cause regurgitation.

With the docile nature of the milk snake, bites during feeding aren’t something you should fear. To ensure your snake doesn’t bite simply follow the proper care techniques.

  • Wear gloves when feeding
  • Use another enclosure for feedings
  • Do not feed your snake immediately after bringing it home

Following these care techniques when feeding will help you avoid bites. It is also important that your milk snake does not associate seeing your hand with feeding time. To avoid this issue, partake in playtime with your snake. This helps avoid unwanted confusion when feeding time comes around.

Do Milk Snakes Make Good Pets?

Red Milk Snake
Image Credit: Matt Jeppson, Shutterstock

You may be asking yourself if the milk snake makes a great pet. The answer to that question is yes. The milk snake has a gentle disposition. This makes them a great pet to have in your home.

Many people have a fear of snakes and their bites. Luckily, when it comes to milk snakes, they are non-venomous. Although you should avoid getting bit by any snake, a bite from a milk snake does not require reaching out for anti-venom or special treatments. Often, you can survive a strike by simply cleaning the wound properly or visiting a doctor to have it done professionally.

The bright coloring of the milk snake is another reason people want to bring them into their homes. With its small size, beautiful markings, and gentle demeanor the milk snake is often considered a great starter snake for someone hoping to make one of these beautiful creatures their pet.

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Feeding Milk Snakes in the Wild vs Captivity

As you can see, there is quite a difference in the eating habits of captive milk snakes and those surviving in the wild. If you choose to have a milk snake as a pet, it is important to keep these differences in mind. Yes, your snake is a natural-born hunter, but life in an enclosure may make it more difficult to stalk and interact with their prey. Keep your snake fed properly, and on schedule, to help your milk snake prosper just as it would in its natural habitat.


Featured Image Credit: cubialpha, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.