Red Milk Snake!

One morning this week, Jeanne and I walked down the driveway to my car so that I could head to work. 

On the gravel was a small snake frozen in place hoping we would not see him. He was absolutely beautiful- striped black, red and yellow. It was a Red Milk Snake or Lampropeltis triangulum syspila!

As soon as he realized he was seen, he tried to slither away quickly into the tall grass.

Too late!

I captured many snakes as a kid and even kept a few as pets. My parents were beyond understanding when it came to all the wild critters I brought into the house. I still remember fondly one of my favorites Clarissa a garter snake I had for a few years.  The first year I had her, I woke up one morning to discover she had 24 babies overnight! (Garter snakes are one of the few species that produce live young instead of eggs). Each was a minature replica of their mother and adorable!

Thus, even though it has been over 20 years, my experience and memory of numerous past snake captures took over. I lunged towards the milk snake instinctively. 

Once the snake realized that he couldn't get away, he curled into a little ball with his head underneath. When catching any snake the most important end is obviously the head. With the assistance of a small stick, I pinned his head between my thumb and forefinger and picked him up.

Within seconds, he relaxed. I sensed immediately that he would not bite and released his head. He curled around my hand. He tried to hide his head between my fingers where it was protected. I felt his tongue tickle my skin.

Poor little guy!

Milk snakes are nocturnal; he must have been a late getting back to cover. All small snakes are on the breakfast menu of many critters including large birds. I don't blame him at all for being frightened.

I ran upstairs and woke up my eight-year old. At first, he had sleepy eyes until he realized what I meant when I said I caught a snake and had it with me.

His eyes were wide open then!

After petting the snake and telling him how beautiful and cute he was, we took him back to the exact spot we had caught him. When he was released him to go on his way, he slithered slowly and carefully into the grass until out of sight.

I hope we get to see him again sometime. What a beautiful creature.

Milk snakes are harmless and non-venomous. They eat many things, but a favorite is rodents so they are considered a beneficial species. They get their name from the erroneous myth that they suck cow's udders to get milk. No one knows how that myth started.

Perhaps it is because they are often found in barns where they are hunting mice?

The bright coloration is mimicry of the poisonous coral snake to discourage predators.  Unfortunately, many milk snakes are killed by the ignorant who think they are deadly coral snakes. The nearest coral snake to western South Dakota is in Arizona 700 miles away, not counting those on display down the road at the tourist destination Reptile Gardens .

When looking at the transverse bands of color, a simple mnemonic can assist in distinguishing between the the poisonous coral snake and harmless milk snake:

  "Red touches yellow, kill a fellow.

  Red touches black, venom lack."

Milk snakes are favorites of the pet trade because of their bright colors and calm demeanor. Between that, habitat loss and the killing of an unknown number of innocent snakes every year by stupid ignorant people, this species is in decline in some areas.  

Run on- but tread lightly and watch for snakes and other critters! 

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4 responses

  1. Well you learn something every day! I was thinking when looking at the first picture that the snake looked reminiscent of some deadly snake, but you cleared it up perfectly with the fun facts about milk snakes (and the mnemonic is excellent – love those). So cool that you ran to show your son and spent a few extra minutes enjoying that time with your family and a little bit of nature!

    July 13, 2009 at 6:16 pm

  2. He (or she) was actually very cute. It took a while before he relaxed enough to show his head and let us take a picture with more than just his coils showing.
    Of course I had to show my son!
    Moments like this- Dad waking you up in the morning to show you a pretty colorful snake he caught- are once in a lifetime memories.

    July 13, 2009 at 9:48 pm

  3. [esto es genial]

    July 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

  4. He thought it was cool. In the last two days, I've also seen a common green grass snake and a western racer. Not seen a rattler yet, but I'm sure they must be around.
    I also picked up a boulder for use in one of our flower beds and saw one of the largest wolf spiders I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot). She was hiding in a burrow underneath it. It was like a mini-tarantula. So Ieft the boulder in place for her.

    July 19, 2009 at 9:29 am

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