Nelson Milk Snake

Nelson Milk Snake: All About The Extraordinary Milk Snake Of Mexico!

The forests and mountains of Mexico are a cradle to a large number of plants and animals. Lizards, snakes, rodents and birds of all kinds have found their sweet home within the dense vegetation and the semi-arid weather conditions. One such animal that thrives there is the Nelson milk snake. They find an ideal habitat in the terrains and water bodies of Mexico.

Nelson milk snakes look a lot like the classic milk snakes, yet are quite different. They are gentle and lovely in their demeanor and make an excellent choice for pet lovers who do not have any previous experience with snakes but are eager to get one. Read along to find out what is so different about them, what they eat, where they live, and how they behave!

Nelson Milk Snake: Looks, Lifestyle, Habitat, And Much More!

Nelson milk snakes look very different from the other milk snake subspecies, and there is an interesting reason behind it. Discover more about these secretive critters as you read further.

Why Is Nelson Milk Snake Named So?

Nelson milk snakes are a subspecies of milk snakes with the insightful scientific name “Lampropeltis triangulum nelsoni”. You might be wondering why they are called Nelson milk snakes? The snake has been named after the late Chief of US Biological Survey, Edward W. Nelson. Nelson had collected and studied a large number of specimens of flora and fauna.

Other than that, the first and the middle names of these wonderful critters, when unraveled and decoded, disclose a lot of information about them. Lampropeltis is a Greek word, where the word “lampros” means “bright”, and ‘pelte” means “shield”. This name rightfully describes the Nelson milk snake in the sense that they have bright and beautiful scales along the whole length of their elongated shape. The scales truly act as a protective shield for the snake.

What about the middle name “Triangulum”? It has derived from the structure of the simple geometrical shape that we have learnt about in our childhood math lessons– the triangle. The triangle has three sides and three angles, referring to the tri-colored crossbands that are present on the body of milk snakes. But are these crossbands always the classic red, black and white? Let’s find out in the upcoming segments, because in the case of Nelsons, it is a bit tricky.

What Does Nelson Milk Snake Look Like?

Nelson milk snakes are ravishing to look at and they look a lot different than other milk snakes because of their physical appearance. Nelson milk snakes have a genetic condition called albinism that causes their body to have a decreased production of a pigment called melanin.

Nelson Milk Snake Crossbands

Source: @syndi_saurus

Crossbands: Melanin is present in all animals and is responsible for the dark coloration of certain parts of their body, like skin, hair and eyes, for instance. Absence of melanin will lead to a complete or partial absence of black or dark pigmentation in that animal, in this case a snake’s body. Albino animals are rare but this condition occurs more commonly in birds, reptiles and amphibians. It occurs in humans as well.

So how does albinism affect Nelson milk snakes? If you look closely you will notice that Nelson milk snakes have no black pigment present in their body. While other milk snakes subspecies have black or dark-maroon crossbands, an albino milk snake possesses no black cross bands, longitudinal stripes or even blotches or spots. They are mostly milk white in appearance.

Are Nelson milk snakes completely white then? No, that’s not the case. Besides being white, they have light orange or salmon pink crossbands running all over their body. The pink or orange crossbands are wider than the white ones. Also, in place of black crossbands, there are what appears to be pale yellow outlines that may or may not have pink or orange spots on them.

Head And Tail

Source: @weltenschlangen

Head And Tail: The head of a Nelson milk snake is glossy white mostly, with faint yellow markings, accompanied by dull salmon pink dots or splotches, that are almost invisible at a glance. The tails have a similar appearance. An incomplete band formed with the presence of mere salmon pink dots is present near the tip of the tail. The tip is milky white with or without faintly visible yellow outlines and pink dots.

Length: Adult Nelson milk snake size could be near about 42 inches or between 3 and 4 feet long. Albinism or reduced production of melanin, may make Nelson milk snakes more vulnerable to eye and skin issues especially when exposed to long hours of sunlight. While taking care of them, remember not to expose them to UV light for prolonged periods of time.

Nelson Milk Snake habitat

Source: @tat2highway

Where Can Nelson Milk Snake Be Found?

Nelson milk snake habitats are distributed from southern Guanajuato to central Jalisco, Mexico. The Tres Marias island and the northwestern parts of Michoacan also see the dwelling places of these beautiful wriggling critters. In the summers, it rains in these areas with an average temperature between 15 and 20℃. Winters may reach below freezing point at certain places.

Coniferous and deciduous forests, wetlands and grasslands are strewn all across Guanajuato. In the dry forests of Jalisco, plants like fig, mahogany, glasswood, and guanandi thrive, among other types of vegetation. Mexico’s biggest mountain range, the Sierra Madre and a volcanic range, mark these beautiful places, decorated with the sparkling waters of rivers and waterfalls.

Guanajuato to central Jalisco, Mexico Map- Living Place of Nelson Milk Snake

Within the dense bushes and trees of these forests, grasslands and moisture-laden lands are the home of the lovely Nelson milk snakes. Places that have been utilized for irrigation and agriculture are frequented by these snakes. Also proximity to freshwater sources seem to dictate their choice of habitat. During the winters, they prefer to move to drier and more elevated lands for hibernation, while in the summer their choice transfers to more moist areas.

Nelson Milk Snake's Diet

Source: @bowiechan82

What Are Nelson Milk Snake’s Diet And Hunting Tactics?

Nelson milk snake rodents mainly, but will also eat amphibians and other reptiles, including other snakes. Milk snakes, in general, can climb trees and swim in the glistening waters of rivers and streams that help them a lot to find water lizards and amphibians to prey on. As they are semi-arboreal, they climb trees to swallow down whole bird eggs or small song birds.

Like all other milk snakes, Nelson milk snakes pursue an ophiophagous diet because they prefer to gulp down entire snakes, be they venomous or not. They can even consume the flesh of the venomous rattlesnakes and coral snakes. Milk snakes are related to kingsnakes, and this large family of colubrids have long been known to be immune to the venom of poisonous snakes. This is something they are born with and stay with them via natural selection.

Swallowing down prey larger than their own size is not a problem for Nelson milk snakes at all. All snakes have retractable jaws that are held by elastic ligaments and can open outwards to make a monstrous gape larger than the snake’s own head. Additionally, snakes have movable ribs, not attached to the breastbone as they are in mammals, allowing the ribs to open up while the prey is being pushed down the gut system. A snake’s skeletal system is truly a marvel.

How Does Mexican Milk Snake Produce Offspring?

Nelson milk snakes mate between late spring and early summer seasons. The trees and bushy growths of the Mexican forests, together with the moist surroundings, are an ideal breeding ground for Nelson milk snakes. Impregnated mother snakes search for a damp, leaf covered place to lay her eggs. The eggs are white and elongated, and about 15 in number per clutch.

Baby milk snakes of these subspecies look a lot like their parents. They do not possess any black crossbands, and have the same white and pink crossbands, with glowing white heads. They are quite active and curious right after hatching from their eggs, and are ready to swallow down prey at the very sight of them. They are usually between 7 and 8 inches in length.

Nelson Milk Snake: Can You Keep Them In Your House?

Can You Keep Them In Your House

Source: @sugar.spice.n.everything.repti

Nelson milk snakes are lovely to look at. Like all other milk snakes, they are docile and gentle,  and rarely ever bite. They are opportunistic feeders and can thrive in a large range of habitats. These are some of the reasons why Nelson milk snakes are so popular to animal lovers. People cannot resist adopting one once they lay their eyes upon these little darlings.

A glass terrarium for Nelson milk snakes would be the best option. Make sure the enclosure has a screen-lid so that the snakes cannot escape because they do tend to climb up. If they escape, it might be quite difficult for you to find them since they are so tiny. And let’s not forget, they do tend to eat other snakes! Screen-lids also allow sufficient ventilation since they are perforated.

A 10 gallon terrarium for baby milk snakes, and a 20 gallon enclosure for adult ones would be suitable enough. Temperature requirements are between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and a night-time temperature drop of 10 degrees must also be maintained. As they are mostly nocturnal, getting UVB lighting installations is completely up to your choice.

40 to 60% of humidity needs to be controlled within the artificial habitat of the snakes. Do not forget to place a large water bowl on or underneath the substrate. For substrate, orchid bark, coconut or corn-cob fibers, scrunched up old newspaper sheets, anything would suffice. Milk snakes are curious animals so you might want to get them some plants and caves too.

Is There Any Other Milk Snake That Looks Like Nelson Milk Snake?

Sinaloan milk snakes is another subspecies of milk snakes that look a lot like Nelson milk snakes. However, it is not the classic Sinaloan milk snake that looks like the one in question, but one of their albino morphs that do.

The classic ones have blood-red bands, along with white and black ones. But they have a morph called the T-Minus Albino that lacks the black crossbands. This albino milk snake has a white head too. They look super adorable and when placed side-by-side, are indistinguishable.


If you have spotted a Nelson milk snake in distress and want to rescue it but are not sure if it is some venomous look-alike, like a coral snake, the following FAQs will help you.

Q: Is Nelson milk snake a type of kingsnake?

Ans: Yes, milk snakes are a species of kingsnakes, and they both share the same genus by the name Lampropeltis. Almost all king snakes have glistening black, yellow, white or red bands running along the width of their elongated form. The overall background color could be black, tan, reddish-brown, or any other shade of those colors.

However, not all kingsnakes have colorful crossbands. Exceptions include the Mexican black kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae nigra) which are a rich chocolaty brown from head to tail tip! On the other hand, all milk snakes have colorful crossbands. Some morphs may have vertical bands that run longitudinally than the usual horizontal or ring-like ones.

Q: Do Nelson milk snakes have fangs?

Ans: Nelson milk snakes, like all other snakes, have aglyphous teeth in their mouth that are similar in shape and size. They are very tiny and almost invisible when the snake opens its mouth. However, venomous snakes have fangs besides having aglyphous teeth. Fangs are large and pointed, located at the front or at the back of the mouth, with grooves to channel venom.

Do not worry, Nelson milk snakes  are non-venomous and therefore have only aglyphous teeth, and do not have fangs. Their teeth are mainly used to grasp at prey and hold them tightly so that the snake can coil around the prey’s body. The tight coiling action suffocates the prey to fatality. The prey is then swallowed whole.

Q: Is Nelson milk snake an albino milk snake?

Ans: Yes, Nelson milk snakes have white heads and exceptionally white crossbands because of a condition called albinism. Albinism is due to the absence or reduced production of melanin that is responsible for pigmentation or dark coloration in certain body parts. Due to the absence of melanin in Nelson milk snakes, they have no black cross bands.


Nelson milk snakes are found in the forests and near the streams and rivers of certain parts of Mexico. They look quite different from other milk snakes because they have albinism. They have very less melanin in their body, the reason why they lack the characteristic black bands of milk snakes. They also have a white head that sets them apart from others.

They are docile by nature, and also quite secretive. During the daytime they like to stay hidden within rock crevices and under vegetation. They are nocturnal hunters and forage for rodents, other snakes, amphibians and lizards in the darkness of the night. They cannot expose themselves to the sun that much because they have less melanin, but they are truly adorable!

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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