Black Milk Snake

Black Milk Snake: Meet The Serpent That Can Metamorph!

Most milk snakes have a gorgeous tri-colored, banded look that wins the hearts of animal enthusiasts and pet lovers. Their docile nature, shy behavior, and their tendency to run for cover at every little thing, brings a smile to one’s face. A black milk snake is no exception.

Wait, what? A black milk snake? Milk snakes usually have a red-white-black banded appearance– is there a fully black milk snake? You would be amazed to know how they metamorph throughout their little serpentine life! Keep reading to discover more!

Black Milk Snake: All That You Wanted To Know About Them!

Milk snakes are a species of the large Kingsnake group that belongs to the Lampropeltis genus. There is a myriad of commonalities between kingsnakes and milk snakes in the sense that most of them have colorful crossbands on their body, usually of the colors red, black and white. They are all non-venomous colubrids, although a few faintly venomous species could be found here.

Milk snakes have the scientific name Lampropeltis triangulum. The name itself discloses a lot of information about how milk snakes look like. In the word Lampropeltis, “lampros” means “bright”, and “pelte” means “shield”. The word “triangulum” is inspired by the three sided triangle shape. All these words refer to the tri-colored red, black and white bands on the snake’s body that are superbly bright and act as a shield to protect them from extremes of weather conditions.

How To Identify Black Milk Snakes?

Black milk snakes are a subspecies of the Lampropeltis genus with the scientific name Lampropeltis triangulum gaigeae. Since we have just learnt that milk snakes have a tri-banded appearance, how come the snake in question is named “black” milk snake? Does it look black in appearance? Well, you would be amazed to know that they indeed look quite different.

Black Milk Snake Hatch From Their Eggs

Source: @temporalis_enterprises

They Are Sneaky Chameleons!

When black milk snakes hatch from their eggs, they look amazing with a stunning banded appearance with the ever-so-familiar black, red and white crossbands playing all over their body and shining under the sun. The three colors are in the pattern red-black-white-black-red, with the heads and the tails mostly black with white markings. They resemble other milk snakes.

However, when they are between 6 and 10 months old, they start to look a bit different from their ancestors and close relatives. More black pigments start to appear on their body with each molt, and by the time they reach adulthood, they are completely black! The black scales also appear to be iridescent. These gorgeous black milk snakes resemble chameleons in that respect!

Black Milk Snake Color Change

Source: @crosstown_exotics

Why Do Black Milk Snakes Undergo A Color Change?

They indeed undergo a massive color change– from a tr-branded appearance in their childhood to being completely black. Certain specimens however, were seen to have retained some brown colored scales under their chin, but apart from that the rest of the body was all black. But why?

There could be numerous reasons behind this phenomenon, one of the reasons being the habitat they choose to live in. When black milk snakes are little babies, they need a defense mechanism to protect themselves from countless predators. The tri-banded look of milk snakes make them closely resemble the venomous coral snake. Many predators are scared of the coral snake and will scuttle or slither away from the milk snakes!

However, when the black milk snakes grow a little older, they turn black, and quite large and bulky. They are more confident of themselves now and have other protective mechanisms. They are snakes of higher altitudes where the temperature drops, affecting the movement of these cold-blooded reptiles. That’s where their black scales come in– black helps in retaining heat!

Black is a color that absorbs heat, a feature which helps these slender reptiles plentifully. They need this heat to function properly– to molt, to eat, to digest food, and carry out all other metabolic processes. Black milk snakes are ectothermic creatures that depend on the external fluctuations of temperature to regulate their own body temperature. Their black body color therefore is crucial for them to survive in temperatures below 10℃.

Black Milk Snakes Length

Source: @rockytopexotics

How Long Are Black Milk Snakes?

Their body length is another marvel. Normally, milk snakes are between 4 and 6 feet long, and on average, so are black milk snakes. However, black milk snakes can grow even longer, up to 7 feet maximum! The only subspecies that can compete with them in length are the Honduran milk snake, the Guatemalan milk snake, and the Andean milk snake!

They can reach this fantastic length within the first 4 to 5 years of their life. Also, these beautiful black snakes can grow as bulky as 3.5 pounds. Normally, milk snakes are between 1 and 3 pounds wriggly, squirmy snakes.

How Do Black Milk Snakes Molt?

Snakes of all kinds shed their skin in one continuous piece by a process called “ecdysis”. This shedding or molting process can occur 4 to 12 times every single year. This process is mainly done for two reasons. Firstly, to create new skin for the longer and larger body of the maturing snake, and secondly to remove parasites that were present in the older skin.

During the molting process, the skin of a black milk snake turns bluish or purplish, and the eyes of the snake turns opaque (milky or cloudy) because the molt covers the eyes. This opaque layer on the eyes is called an eye cap. This hinders their vision, the reason why it is usually advised not to handle snakes, even pet snakes, during molting because they are usually slightly temperamental during this time due to heightened vulnerability.

If you have a pet black milk snake, you may find it rubbing its skin against something rough or abrasive, like a rock, to tear open the remaining molt off its new skin. Within a period of a couple of weeks, the process will be completed, and once the eye-cap and the molt around the face of the black milk snake has loosened, you will find the snake crawling out of the old skin molt.

After the snake has completely come out of the molt, you will find a discarded white-skin template that looks exactly like your reptile. It is crucial that they shed all of their old skin, because its and bits left may cause blindness and skin infection. Providing them a bowl of water during this time will help them to soak their skin to loosen up certain parts of the molt.

Where Can Black Milk Snakes Be Found?

These gorgeous and rare milk snakes are native to Costa Rica and Panama, Central America. The moderately dry, tropical climate, with intense showers between May and January, have given rise to the growth of different types of vegetation like coconut palms, kapok trees, maize and other flowering plants. There are over 10000 species of plants in Panama alone.

The evergreen and deciduous forests of Panama, and the tropical rainforests and riparian forests of Costa Rica, with swamps and mangroves strewn all across, are home to a large population of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, and not to mention thousands of invertebrates. The mountains and volcanoes of these areas are another attraction.

Such a rich habitat is a loving home to different types of milk snakes too. Black milk snakes, in particular, love to thrive here. They are mostly found in the montane forests in elevations higher than 7000 feet in Costa Rica, and 6000 feet in Panama! It is safe to assume they prefer cooler areas to hotter ones, and their black-hued exterior really helps them in retaining body heat here.

What Does The Diet Of Black Milk Snakes Consist Of?

Many think that milk snakes are named so because they drink cow milk. That’s absolutely not true and they are fully carnivorous, feeding on the flesh of other animals. In the montane forests of Panama and Costa Rica, black milk snakes basically hunt down mice and other rodents, lizards and small amphibians. They are semi-arboreal so aim for birds and bird eggs also.

A large part of their diet also consists of other snakes, even venomous ones. When a snake’s diet includes eating other snakes, the snake in question is termed as ophiophagous or cannibalistic. Black milk snakes are non-venomous and do not have fangs. They have small but sharp aglyphous teeth. They grasp their prey and subdue them by constriction and suffocation.

Black Milk Snake Eggs

Source: @bluetonguelizards

How Do Black Milk Snakes Make Babies?

The time between April and September sees the breeding season of the black milk snakes. Mating starts during spring or early summer. Females leave a pheromone trail behind that males pick up and pursue the female. Courtship rituals by the male include tongue flicking and jerking movements. They usually breed once every year, but at times double breeding may occur.

Females lay about 10 eggs and incubate them for 30 to 40 days. The babies make their way out of the eggs in the fall season and are ready to gulp down mice, fully equipped with teeth and robust skulls. The juveniles of black milk snakes do not look like adult milk snakes at all. Hatchings have tri-colored bands and are each 12 to 16 inches long.

Black Milk Snake: Can They Be Kept As Pets?

Black milk snakes are large snakes, unlike most other milk snakes. They can grow up to 7 feet long, and weigh about 3 lbs! Obviously you would need to keep them in large cages. Normally, they are highly docile and usually stay in a coiled position to retain body heat. Rearing or breeding black milk snakes is not that difficult at all. A 20-30 gallon tank should do the trick.

Black milk snakes have come from the montane forests of Costa Rica and Panama where the temperature is generally lower. The tank or terrarium temperature must be maintained within 70 and 75℉. A warm basking spot near about 80°F could be given as well, though not absolutely necessary. Temperature above 85°F should be avoided. Humidity level should be 40 to 60%.

Cypress mulch is one of the best choices for substrate because it resists mold growth. Alternatives include shredded aspen or crumpled up newspapers. A moist box could be provided for the molting season. A plastic box covered in sphagnum moss would help. Feeding them is easy. Thawed pinky and fuzzy would be perfect. Hatchlings should be fed once a week while adult black milk snakes could be fed every 7 to 10 days.

Are There Other Snakes That Look Like Black Milk Snake?

Ever seen the Mexican black kingsnake? It looks like the spitting image of adult black milk snakes! They have the same glossy black exterior as the milk snakes in question. Mexican milk snakes grow between 3 and 4 feet, and they share the same genus as the milk snakes, that is, the Lampropeltis genus. They are abundant in Mexico.

Snakes Look Like Black Milk Snake

Source: @mthongvanh

Eastern indigo snakes are another wriggly doppelganger of black milk snakes. They are non-venomous colubrids but of a different genus by the name Drymarchon. The southeastern parts of the United States see the breeding grounds of this snake. They have a matt black scaly exterior making them almost indistinguishable from the snake in question.


Black milk snakes are a rebel! It is as if they want to break out of the norm and leave an individual mark in the milk snake world. They do look the classic red-black-white when they are little, but as they grow they metamorph into a giant, intimidating, tar-black snake.

They are simply awesome, and though they look different from the other milk snakes, their nature stays the same. They are gentle and lovely creatures, just like their relatives. Not only are they beautiful but also quite easy to rear and breed, making them quite popular as pets.

Hello snake lovers! I’m David Mifsud and Snake Insider is my latest project with a vision of spreading reptile awareness to every single netizen. I’ll be introducing some of the most unexplored territories in the world of snakes to broaden the horizon of knowledge for the readers. My personal motto is to get as close to the snakes in nature without disrupting the balance and gather information as well as habitation patterns. It can be later on utilized in order to build a safe and healthy environment for every species of snakes. So stick around with us and I’m sure we won’t disappoint you!

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