King and Milk Snakes: Species Profiles

Milk and king snakes are native to southern Canada, throughout the United States, and Central and South America. These snakes are beautiful, docile and non-venomous. The milk snake is a subspecies of 45 king snakes; the milk snake alone has 25 subspecies. These snakes are easy to keep and make a great beginner snake. They vary widely in size, color and pattern. Many subspecies have strikingly beautiful patterns, including some with natural defenses that mimic the red, black, and yellow bands of venomous coral snakes. A key difference is that the non-venomous king and milk have black bands touching red, while coral snakes have yellow bands touching red.

Species Overview

Common name: king snake, milk snake

Scientific name: Mole crickets Genus

Adult size: 36 to 48 inches long (regular adult)

Life expectancy: 20 to 30 years

Behavior and Temperament of King and Milk Snakes

All kinds of king snakes are easy to use after getting used to them. They are low maintenance and require minimal care throughout the week.

This snake rarely attacks; usually, if it does, it confuses its fingers with its prey. King or milk snake bites are not painful. When it feels threatened, it will try to stay away from you. It also emits musky odors (smelly but not harmful) or rattles from the anal glands, like a rattlesnake warning.

After bringing a new snake home and letting it settle for a few days, you can start working on your snake. Be gentle and persistent, starting with short daily meetings to build trust. Snakes shouldn’t take too long to get used to handling. Do not deal with snakes immediately after eating; this may cause them to regurgitate their meal.

These snakes are retractors. They may try to wrap themselves around your arm, but they won’t hurt you. To open them, start at the tail, as their heads tend to be stronger.

Accommodate your king or milk snake

A safe cage is essential. King snakes are notorious for testing their enclosures and escaping the smallest spaces. The case will need a securely locked top. These snakes can slip through gaps that seem too small. Do not leave any possible gaps, holes or thin slits in the top of the cage.

King and milk snakes should be kept separately. King snakes may eat other caged mates.

Juvenile or smaller New Mexico milk snakes can live in a 10-gallon aquarium. However, a medium-sized (36″) adult snake will need a 20-gallon tank, while larger adults (60″) will thrive in a larger enclosure, such as a 60-gallon tank. Kings and Milk Snakes are very active and need space. Snakes with room to stretch may also reduce the incidence of respiratory infections.

Several hiding spots should be provided: half-round bark, commercial rock bark, flipped planter, half a coconut husk, or even a cardboard box. To give the cage a naturalistic feel, you can add rocks and branches to the cage.

You will need to thoroughly clean the cage at least every 6 months. Between these overhauls, clean or scoop out the stool daily and clean the water bowl.


Reptiles are cold-blooded and need to self-regulate their body temperature by moving between warm and cool locations in their habitat. Offers a temperature gradient or range of 70 to 85 F (21 to 28 C) during the day, with a nighttime dip of 10 to 15°F (2 to 5°C). There should be hidden points at each end of the gradient.

Most car owners prefer an under-tank heater (placed under half of the tank) to provide heat. Never use heating stones; they can cause burns. Radiant heat sources such as ceramic heat emitters are more suitable for nocturnal animals than incandescent bulbs if overhead heating is used.


Primarily nocturnal, they don’t need lighting as long as your room has enough light to indicate the switch between day and night. Most nocturnal animals do not need UV light, although UVB (5.0) fluorescent lights help to absorb calcium from food.


King and milk snakes do not need high humidity – 40 to 60 percent is sufficient. A hygrometer or hygrometer will help you check the moisture level. In most cases, a dish of shallow water in the cage will suffice. During shedding, they may benefit from increased humidity. If you notice your snake is entering the molting stage (the skin becomes filmy and the eyes turn milky blue), lightly spray the cage or provide a humidity box. You can make a simple humidity box out of a plastic container with a lid, cut a hole in the lid big enough for a snake to crawl in, and line it with moist sphagnum moss.


The substrate is the litter or lining at the bottom of the pet cage. For new snakes, paper towels or butchery paper are ideal for easy cleaning and monitoring of droppings.

Various substrates that can be used include reptile carpet, artificial turf, reptile bark, mulch, or aspen shavings (do not use cedar, redwood, or pine). If shavings are used, make sure they are not ingested with the snake’s food.

Reptile rugs or Astroturf are the easiest, safest and most economical options. It is washable and reusable. You can feed the snakes on this surface without worrying that the snakes will eat the substrate, and you can have a few pieces ready for the cage when it gets dirty.

food and water

Kings and milk snakes feed mice or little mice. As a general rule, feed a snake the size of a rat roughly equal to the width of the snake at its widest point (excluding the head). Feed larvae and juveniles (sub-adults) twice a week. Adults can feed adult mice (or weaned rats) once a week. If the snake is too thin (the body is not round and the ribs or spine can be seen), feed it twice a week. Many king and milk snakes tend to eat less in the fall and winter.

As with other pet snakes, feed pre-killed mice (usually frozen from a pet supply source) to ensure that prey does not harm the snake. Thaw frozen mice to room temperature and house them in individual rearing cages (without substrate) or cages (if it has a safety floor).

Since snakes often defecate in water, clear dishes daily and refresh with fresh filtered water.

common health problems

The biggest threat to pet king or milk snakes is respiratory infection. These snakes can catch a cold or pneumonia, which is usually caused by temperature problems in the cage. Symptoms may include bubbling or gurgling in the mouth, gasping, or mucus around the nose.

If you notice food regurgitation in the cage, it may be caused by handling the snake too early after feeding. It is not necessarily a sign of disease, although it may be. Other causes of food reflux: The food served is too large, or the crust is too cold. If reflux occurs again, take the snake to an outside veterinarian.

Choose Your King Snake or Milk Snake

Milk and king snakes are easily bred in captivity, so finding captive-bred specimens should be relatively easy. You can find reputable local breeders at reptile fairs or through referrals from other snake owners or exotic animal veterinarians. Make sure your snake is already a good eater of pre-killed mice. If you are in doubt, ask for a demonstration of your snake feeding.

You can pay between $30 and $200, depending on the shape (color), rarity and age of the breed. Juveniles are generally less costly because adults have been shown to be eaters and thrive.

Signs of a healthy snake include a solid, rounded body; no discharge from the nose; no dusty spots (mites) on the snake; no open mouth to breathe or pant; the inside of the mouth looks pink (not red or tacky); shiny , smooth skin (no sores or scabs), clean bowel movements (exhaust openings), and tremor-free movement.

A new snake may not be tamed, but should settle down fairly well with gentle handling. A distressed snake will wave its body in the air in an attempt to escape. Most king and milk snakes will settle down after a while, wrapping lightly around your hand.

Species similar to king and milk snakes

If you are interested in king or milk snakes, you may want to research related species:

Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that could be your new pets.

King and Milk Snakes: Species Profiles
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