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If you have decided that you are interested in herpetology and keeping pet snakes, there are several good beginner species to choose from. One of the best of these is the milk snake, which is slightly less common as a pet in the UK than the ubiquitous corn snake, but nevertheless, easy to buy and care for.
The milk snake is a close relative of the king snake, and can reach up to six feet in length, although thirty inches long is usually the top end of the scale for all but the largest specimens! They are also highly visually appealing, with a distinctive pattern of red, white and black rings, making them appear rather exotic! They are a constricting snake, and not venomous. There are various different sub-species of the milk snake available to buy, such as the Pueblan milk snake and the Honduran milk snake, but as they are all relatively similar to each other and share similar care requirements, in this article we will group them all together.
The milk snake is a relatively shy snake that likes to burrow, and so they require a fairly deep substrate of either paper, leaves or dry mulch. It is essential to ensure that they have plenty of boltholes and hiding places within their enclosure, in order to make them feel secure. Placing a hide at both the cool end and the warmer end of the enclosure will give your milk snake plenty of options on where to curl up. There are a great many different types of tank ornamentation that suits the milk snake and provides them with hidey holes, and they will also create their own burrows too.
They also like to climb when they are feeling lively, so a relatively deep tank with some branches and other ornamentation that the snake can climb is essential to keep them happy as well.
It is worth bearing in mind that like many species of snake, the milk snake is a skilled and enterprising escape artist, and so keeping the lid of the tank secure and weighed down so that it cannot be pushed off is essential.
The different sub-species of milk snake have slightly differing requirements in terms of the temperature that suits them best, so it is important to research the precise sub-species you will own in order to get it right. It is also essential to keep the substrate of the tank dry, and clean them out promptly when they go to the toilet, as a damp substrate can interfere with your snake’s health, and potentially lead to skin blistering.
The milk snake should be housed alone without company, as they do have something of a tendency to turn cannibalistic when housed together!
Milk snakes in the wild will eat all of the usual snake prey, including birds and their eggs, small mammals such as rodents, and sometimes, other smaller reptiles. They do have something of a reputation for being fussy to feed in captivity, so once you have found something suitable for your milk snake to eat that they are happy with, it is wise to stick to the formula.
Juvenile snakes will usually readily accept defrosted pinkie mice, fed at the rate of one every few days. Adult milk snakes will usually manage to eat two full-sized mice per week, or several pinkies. You can tell if your milk snake is hungry and can benefit from more food if they come out of their hiding places regularly and begin patrolling the tank in search of food!
Even if your snake is towards the larger end of the size scale, it is important to choose their food carefully, to ensure that it is not too large for them to comfortably swallow, which can potentially cause an obstruction or damage internally. A good rule of thumb is not to feed anything that is larger than 1.5 times the width of the snake’s body.
After you have fed your snake, it is important to avoid handling them for a day or so, as snakes have a relatively slow digestive system, and handling may cause them to regurgitate their meal.
Providing that you do your research properly, there is no reason why a milk snake should not be a perfectly suitable snake for the first time reptile owner. They have a reputation for being quiet and docile, and relatively amenable to taming up to handling. They are rather shy snakes, however, and will spend a lot of time hiding, and should not be disturbed regularly.
They have something of a habit of pooping when handled if they are feeling nervous, but safe, gentle handling from the time that they are young should prevent this. They may also bite defensively if afraid, but their bite is not toxic.
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