Eastern Milk Snake

The Eastern Milk Snake is a sub-species of Milk Snake that is native to parts of the United States. They are closely related to other Milk Snakes and Kingsnakes.

While those species are brightly colored and looks like a venomous snake, they do not contain any venom and are completely harmless to humans.

Eastern Milk Snake
Eastern Milk Snake – Peter Paplanus, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Eastern Milk Snake Taxonomy

In the Animal Kingdom, Taxonomy is used as the science and practice of classifying different species and sub-species based on their biological and genetic makeup.


The Eastern Milk Snake belongs to the Colubridae or Colubrid family of snakes. This is the largest family of Snakes in the world consisting of many popular species such as Corn Snakes and Pine Snakes.

With around 250 different genera of Colubrids, these snakes can be found on every continent except Antarctica which also makes them the most widely distributed family of snake in the world.

The vast majority of Colubrid snakes are non-venomous, or at least contain a venom that isn’t considered to be medically significant to humans.

However, there are a number of species of Colubrid snakes that contain venom capable of killing humans. This includes species from the Boiga and Rhabdophis genera as well as other snakes such as the Boomslang.


The Eastern Milk Snake belongs to the Lampropeltis genus. This genus contains the New World Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes. 

The scientific name ‘Lampropeltis’ comes from the Greek words ‘lampro’ and ‘pelte’ which loosely translates to ‘shiny shield’. This is a reference to these snake’s smooth, enamel-like dorsal scales.


The Eastern Milk Snake is a sub-species of Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum). There are currently 24 recognised sub-species of Milk Snake. 

The Scarlet Kingsnake was also recognised as a sub-species of Milk Snake until recently, before it was upgraded to full species level.

Many experts argue that many of the Milk Snake species should be reclassified to full species status. If this happens, the Milk Snake ‘species’ might get upgraded to genera level with the sub-species reclassified as full species.

The scientific name for the Eastern Milk Snake is Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum. 

Some of the other common species of Milk Snake include the Black Milk Snake, Honduran Milk Snake, Mexican Milk Snake, Nelson’s Milk Snake and Pueblan Milk Snake.

Eastern Milk Snake Description

The Eastern Milk Snake is a relatively small species of snake that typically only grows to around 2-3 feet in length although larger specimens are possible.

These snakes have a rusty brown coloration. They typically have a lighter brown or grey colored pattern running along their body. This is edged with a thin black outline.

In the Southern portion of their range, the Eastern Milk Snake is typically redder in color. The patterning is often whiter in color also as opposed to light brown or grey.

They usually have a light-coloured pattern on the back of the head and neck that is typically shaped like a ‘V’ or ‘Y’.

The belly of the snake is typically black in color but they have irregular white checker patterning.

Natural Habitat and Distribution

The Eastern Milk Snake has a very large geographical distribution which covers much of the Eastern United States.

They can also be found in parts of Southern Canada in and around places like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

In the West of their range, they can be found in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. Their range extends Eastwards to the coast.

Their range does not extend to the Southern most regions of the United States. As a result, they are not found in Florida, Georgia, Southern Alabama, Southern Mississippi or Louisiana.

In total, this snake can be found in 26 different states, making it one of the most widely dispersed species in the United States. 

As expected from its large geographical range, these snakes thrive in a wide variety of different habitats. They can be found in both natural and man-made ‘habitats’.

Some of the habitats that these snakes live in include prairies, meadows, pastures, hayfields, rocky outcrops, rocky hillsides and forests.

They are often found near humans in places such as rural areas around buildings such as barns, sheds and houses, and can sometimes be found in suburban parks and gardens.

Eastern Milk Snake Behaviour

The Eastern Milk Snake is a secretive snake that will try to avoid humans by seeking refuge when approached. If they feel threatened, they will try to defend themselves.

Their first line of defence is to vibrate their tail against the ground. This is intended to confuse and scare off a potential threat.

These snakes will also hiss to try an intimidate a threat and if this doesn’t work, they will often bite. However, they are not aggressive, this is simply a defensive behaviour.