Species at Risk Profile – Eastern Milksnake

by Megan Miller

The Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) is a long, thin-bodied snake with smooth scales. They have large red to red-brown blotches outlined in black along its back, with one to two rows of smaller blotches running along each side of its body. In younger snakes, these blotches can be bright red in colour, but will fade as it ages. 

Eastern Milksnakes (Photo: Peter Fuller)

On the back of the head and neck the Eastern Milksnake has a light-coloured ‘Y’ or ‘V’ shaped pattern and their heads are rounded instead of pointy, when viewed from above. They are often confused with copperheads and coral snakes because they all have bright, blotchy coloration. Nonvenomous milk snakes evolved to look like these venomous species to scare predators. It can be an effective defensive strategy but has caused milk snakes other problems. Humans often kill harmless milk snakes, thinking they're dangerous, when really, they just want to be left alone.

Eastern Milksnake (Photo: Hazel Galloway)

Eastern Milksnakes offer natural pest control services! They are generalists (meaning they a variety of foods), but small rodents make up the main parts of their diet. They have also been known to eat frogs, worms, snakes smaller than them, and fish.

Their habitat varies but tend to use open habitats such as rocky outcrops, fields, and the edges of forests. In rural areas t,his snake may be common, especially near barns where they thrive on the mice that typically inhabit this area. The Eastern Milksnake hibernates underground in rock crevices, mammal burrows or in the foundations of man-made buildings.

This Species at Risk is listed as Special Concern federally, with an estimated 10,000 individuals left in Canada. Threats to this species include habitat loss due to urbanization and road construction and the loss of natural areas to agricultural uses. In the summer, it’s not unusual to find this species deceased on the side of the roads in the areas they inhabit. They also face persecution by people, who confuse them with other snake species because of their colouring and because their tail rattles when they feel threatened.

Published in The South Shoreliner, 20th edition.