Milksnake

Lampropeltis triangulum

SUBFAMILY

Colubrinae

TAXONOMY

Coluber triangulum Lacépede, 1788, America. Twenty-five subspecies are recognized, and it is likely that this species ultimately will be divided into several separate species.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Scarlet kingsnake (for subspecies L. t. elapsoides); French: Couleuvre tachetée; Spanish: Culebra-real coralillo.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This snake varies greatly in size and appearance across its broad geographic range, as reflected in the large number of subspecies recognized. Adult length varies from about 20-60 in (50-152 cm), depending upon the population. The usual color pattern is one of alternating bands of red-black-yellow/white-black-red. However, some populations have red blotches rather than bands, and one subspecies is melanistic (virtually all black). The scales are smooth and shiny.

DISTRIBUTION

This species has a wide range, from southeastern Canada to western Ecuador and northern Venezuela.

HABITAT

Habitat varies across the wide range of this species. It generally occupies forested environments, but in some regions it can also be found in open prairies. In various parts of its range this species frequently occupies rocky slopes.

BEHAVIOR

The milksnake is essentially terrestrial (although L. t. elapsoides sometimes takes shelter beneath the bark of standing dead pine trees), and activity is largely nocturnal.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The diet varies by region but often includes lizards (especially skinks), snakes, and small mammals.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Milksnakes are oviparous, laying an average of about 10 eggs per clutch, although that number may vary geographically.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN, although in some regions there may be substantial pressure from collection for the pet trade.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The common name of the species derives from an early myth that the species sucks milk from cows. That erroneous idea presumably derived from the discovery of milksnakes near barns, where they may have been feeding on mice. This species is highly valued in the pet trade, and many subspecies are now being bred in captivity for sale. ♦

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