favourite moments # 7 – eastern milk snake

With the weather warming up here, this may be the last favourite moments from the past for awhile, as I should soon be back to reporting mainly live sightings.

The photos in this post are all of a juvenile Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) encountered near Mississagagon Lake, north of Kaladar, Ontario, on Sept. 11, 2003. We had just arrived at a small public boat launch area and were taking our canoe off of the van roof, when Don noticed this snake on the gravel just a few feet away. I shot several photos of the snake while it was on the move.

Juvenile snakes of this species are often quite brightly marked, with rich, reddish-brown blotches outlined in black on a pale background. The underside of the snake is pale with dark marks such as those in the photo on the left which I shot while gently turning the snake over with a twig. Milk snakes may be distinguished by the distinctive marking on the head, which is described as “Y” shaped, but which can vary quite a bit.

Although the snake in the above photo may look large, it was actually quite small — perhaps about 30 cm (12 inches) long. Adults of this species range from about 60 to 120 cm (24 – 48 inches) in length. The adults I’ve seen had markings that were more brown or drab than those of the junvenile in this photo.

The common name of this snake has to do with the mistaken idea that these snakes somehow drank milk from cattle. In fact, they hunt for small rodents and other small prey, often around barns, which may be how the myth came into being.

This snake moved with its head somewhat raised and body sliding along in a sinuous, undulating fashion as it made its way across the fine gravel of the parking area. When approached, it would sometimes draw its head back, raising it a little as though attempting to be menacing (see below). The adult Milk Snakes that I have encountered, have rattled their tails (a sort of rattle-less rattlesnake imitation), and raised their heads into what I would describe as a striking position. Apparently, they will bite if provoked – but then, who wants to provoke a snake?

My encounters with Milk Snakes have been by chance, usually around a road where one has been crossing. I’ve never gone out searching for them, but I’ve read comments on snake forums written by people who have reliably found these snakes beneath boards, shingles and such things in meadows and around old farmhouses or barns.

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