Discover the Largest Milk Snake Ever Recorded

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Published: June 14, 2022
Image Credit reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com
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Milk snakes are beautiful and brightly colored, with a look that is both exotic and dangerous. However, these snakes are not dangerous at all. In fact, they are nonvenomous and harmless to humans. Milk snakes are a species of kingsnake that live in Canada, the United States, and Central and South America. These snakes generally have banded or blotched patterns in some variation of red, black, and yellow or white. There are 24 subspecies of milk snake, and each has its own unique variation. Milk snakes also come in a wide range of different lengths and sizes. But just how big is the largest milk snake ever recorded? Keep reading to find out!

What Do Milk Snakes Look Like?

Milk snakes have a similar appearance to coral snakes

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Milk snakes have smooth, shiny scales with various patterns of red, black, and yellow or white. Many milk snakes have rings or crossbands, but a few species have blotches on their bodies instead. The colors and patterns of milk snakes make them look like the dangerous coral snake. However, milk snakes are nonvenomous and harmless. Their colors and patterns are a form of Batesian mimicry. This is when a harmless animal mimics the appearance of a dangerous animal in order to frighten potential predators.

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Unfortunately, although looking like a coral snake keeps them safe from other animals, milk snakes are often killed or harmed by humans who mistake them for dangerous, venomous snakes. In addition, many species of baby and juvenile milk snakes have bodies that are primarily red or have a reddish color. Humans often kill them because this reddish color makes them look similar to venomous copperhead snakes.

There is a lot of variation when it comes to the appearance of a milk snake. For example, the Eastern milk snake has a cream or beige colored body and red or reddish-brown blotches with black outlines. On the other hand, the Honduran milk snake has a bright red body, with black and yellow rings or crossbands. Some Honduran milk snakes may even have orange bands instead of yellow.

What is the Largest Milk Snake Ever Recorded?

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Milk snakes in the United States only grow to around 51 inches long.

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The 24 different types of milk snakes also have very wide range when it comes to size. Depending on the snake and species, a milk snake could be anywhere from only 14 inches long to 69 inches long! For example, the New Mexico milk snake typically grows between 14-24 inches in length, while Honduran milk snakes measure between 36-48 inches long. But what is the largest milk snake ever recorded? That title goes to the black milk snake. Black milk snakes typically grow between 3-6 feet, but the largest snake ever recorded was 7 feet long!

Black Milk Snakes: The Largest Milk Snakes Ever Recorded

The Mexican black kingsnake
Black milk snakes are born with red, black, and yellow or white colors. However, when they get older their bodies change and become completely black.

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The black milk snake is the largest species of milk snake ever recorded, growing up to 7 feet long! These snakes are also quite hefty, weighing between 3 – 3 ½ pounds. Black milk snakes are native to Panama and Costa Rica, where they live in wet, high mountain forests. When black milk snakes first hatch, they can be as large as 12-16 inches long, and are already big enough to easily eat small mice. As adults, black milk snakes are typically very hardy and can eat almost anything from mice and small mammals to reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, birds, and eggs.

One of the most unique characteristics of the black milk snake, in addition to its large and beefy body, is that this snake actually changes color! Black milk snakes are black, red, and white or yellow when they are born, just like many other types of milk snakes. As they get older, however, they begin to change color. When they are around 6-10 months old, black milk snakes begin transitioning into their namesake, iconic black coloring. No one really knows why these snakes do this. However, one of the main theories is that because black milk snakes live in the cold at high altitudes in the mountains, their black bodies help them to heat up quickly and then retain that heat.

Where Do Milk Snakes Live?

pueblan milk snake in pine straw
The Pueblan milk snake lives in Mexico. Milk snakes in Central and South America are typically bigger than those living in the United States.

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Milk snakes live in North, Central, and South America. Their preferred habitat varies greatly, depending on the species of milk snake. However, they commonly live in forested areas, as well as on rocky slopes, swamps, farmland, prairies, and along beaches and sand dunes. Some species of milk snake also migrate depending on the season, spending summers and winters in different habitats. Milk snakes brumate from October or November until the middle of April. Brumation is very similar to hibernation, except that these snakes do not go into a deep sleep for the entire winter. Instead, milk snakes go into an energy-saving mode, where they sleep most of the time, but wake up to drink water.

Are Milk Snakes Dangerous?

common red milksnake curled up
The common name “milk snake” originated from the false belief that these snakes milked cows.

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Although they may look like the venomous coral snake, milk snakes are not dangerous at all! Many people use a poem to help them remember which the difference between coral snakes and milk snakes. For example, “Red on yellow, kills a fellow; red on black, is a friend of Jack”. This works well for most snakes in the United States. Milk snakes in the U.S. have red bands next to black bands (“red on black”), while coral snakes have red bands next to yellow bands “red on yellow”). However, this saying does not always work for snakes outside of the United States. If you are unsure if a snake is venomous or not, the best thing to do is to give it a wide berth and leave the snake alone.

No matter the pattern, all 24 types of milk snakes are not venomous and are completely harmless to humans. These snakes are generally nocturnal, secretive, and move slowly. When threatened, a milk snake’s first choice is to flee. If it is cornered, however, a milk snake may vibrate its tail and strike at the threat quickly and repeatedly. These snakes have tiny teeth and are not venomous, so a bite will not do a great deal of harm. In general, most milk snakes are relatively docile, and some people even keep them as pets.

What Do Milk Snakes Eat?

Snakes That Look Like Copperheads-Eastern Milk Snake
Eastern milk snakes are very beneficial animals, especially for farmers, as they hunt down small rodents often found on farm buildings and barns.

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Milk snakes get their name from an old urban legend that they drink the milk from cow utters. This is completely untrue, not to mention it is physically impossible. The myth most likely originated because milk snakes are commonly found in barns or near farmland. Milk snakes enjoy these areas because they provide sheltered space for resting during the day, and because there are often many rodents nearby that provide a quick and easy meal.

In addition to rodents, milk snakes eat a wide variety of other animals as well. These snakes are opportunistic hunters, and eat small mammals, birds, frogs, snakes, fish, eggs, and lizards. Many milk snakes are particularly fond of skinks. Some milk snakes have even been known to go after their venomous look-a-like, the coral snake! Baby and juvenile milk snakes eat young mice, insects, earthworms, slugs, and sometimes lizards.

Milk Snakes as Pets

Milk Snake - Woman Holding Milk Snake
In captivity, milk snakes can live up to 20 years.

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Because of their vivid colors and generally hardy nature, milk snakes are becoming increasingly popular as pets. The most common pet milk snakes are the Honduran milk snake and the Eastern milk snake. The Honduran milk snake is native to Costa Rica, but today most pet snakes are bred in captivity. This snake acclimates and adapts fairly well and is considered a good snake for beginners. The Eastern milk snake, on the other hand, requires a more experienced pet owner. These snakes have a harder time adapting and acclimating to a new home, and they can be pretty touchy. When they feel threatened, eastern milk snakes flatten their heads and will repeatedly strike until the threat goes away.

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer and editor with passion and expertise in animal behavior and ecology. She has an MA in Comparative Studies and researches human-animal studies, ecocriticism, film, and Interdisciplinary Humanities. Kellianne is unashamed to be a total research nerd and enjoys making new connections across disciplines. She loves reading, movies, her cats, and exploring the natural world.

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