This is one of Missouri’s most beautifully colored snakes. The general body color is white, yellow, or light tan, with red or orange blotches bordered with black. The belly is white and strongly checked with black.
Similar species: The red milksnake often is misidentified as a coralsnake, which is not found in Missouri. Coralsnakes have red bands bordered by yellow.
Length: 21 to 28 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
The red milksnake is secretive and seldom seen in the open. It shelters under rocks and logs or in rodent burrows. In hot weather, it moves underground into animal burrows or under large rocks. It is found on rocky, south-facing hillsides, especially on glades. It may also live among rocks and logs along forest edges. In winter, it lives in rodent burrows or in dens on rocky hillsides.
The eastern milksnake, like other kingsnakes, feeds on lizards, small snakes, and small mice, killing its prey by constriction.
Red milksnakes are normally active April until late October. Courtship and mating occur in the spring. Eggs are laid under larger rocks, in leaf litter, or in a rotten stump. Studies have indicated that clutches in Missouri are produced in June or July, with an average of 5 eggs in a clutch. Eggs hatch from mid-August to early September.The hatchlings have vivid red blotches and average about 8 inches in length.
The milksnakes were so named for the myth that they had the ability to nurse milk from cows. People often have strong emotions about snakes, so there have been many stories and myths associated with them. Many snakes do enter barns — in search of mice — but milk is not a natural food for any reptile.
As predators, red milksnakes control populations of the animals they consume. As with many other predatory species, they can be preyed upon themselves by larger animals, including mammals and predatory birds. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.