General Description: The Milksnake is a medium-sized snake, with adults ranging from 24–36 inches (61.0–91.4 cm) in length. The coloration of this species is variable across its broad range. In South Dakota, background coloration is typically white, with large red bands rings in black running the length of the body. These large dorsal blotches can extend onto the belly or the belly can be white and unmarked. Juvenile coloration is similar to adults. Scales on this species are smooth (not keeled) and the anal scale is not divided. These are the only species of snake in South Dakota with large red bands and should not be confused with any other species.
Behavior: Milksnakes are active from April to October, then return to overwintering locations which are typically mammal burrows or rocky crevices. Milksnakes consume a wide range of prey items, including mammals, lizards, and other snakes. Large prey items will often be constricted, but smaller prey often is not. The flashy coloration of Milksnakes is a form of mimicry designed to mimic venomous Coralsnakes. However, their venomous mimics do not occur in South Dakota.
Reproduction: Mating often takes place in spring and early summer. Females then will lay 8–12 eggs in decomposing organic material. Eggs typically hatch two months later to juveniles that are 6–10 inches (15.2–25.4 cm) in length.
Habitat: Given the large distribution of Milksnakes, individuals can be found in a variety of habitats, including prairies and deciduous forests. In the Great Plains, Milksnakes are primarily found in grasslands with rocky outcrops or rocky cover.
Species Range: This species can be found across much of the eastern and central United States, north into southern Canada and south through Central America and into South America. Scattered, isolated populations exist along the western border of this species in the Rocky Mountains and the southwestern United States.
South Dakota Range: Milksnakes can be found across much of South Dakota west of the Missouri River and along the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota.
South Dakota Status: This species is not listed or monitored by the South Dakota Natural Heritage Program.
Account written by Drew R. Davis