Nelson’s Milk Snake

The Nelson’s Milk Snake is a sub-species of Milk Snake that is native to parts of Mexico. This is a relatively popular species in the pet trade.

This is an average sized Milk Snake that typically grows to between 3 and 4 feet in length. 

Nelson's Milk Snake
Nelson’s Milk Snake – John, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Nelson’s 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 Nelson’s 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 Nelson’s 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 Nelson’s Milk Snake is a sub-species of Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum). There are currently 24 recognised sub-species of Milk Snake. 

Many experts argue that many of the Milk Snake sub-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 this species is Lampropeltis triangulum nelsoni. This species is named after Edward W. Nelson, an American naturalist  who lived from 1855-1934.

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

Nelson’s Milk Snake Description

The Nelson’s Milk Snake is a medium sized Milk Snake that typically grows to around 3 to 4 feet in length. The length can vary depending on locale and genetic factors.

These snakes have a typical ‘Milk Snake’ appearance with their red, black and white crossband patterns.

The red band on this snake is generally much wider than the other bands. The narrow white bands are surrounded by two black bands.

The white bands can be off color and can appear more cream or yellow. An albino Nelson’s Milk Snake lacks black pigment so the black band is replaced with white. The original white band then appears more yellow.

Natural Habitat and Distribution

The Nelson’s Milk Snake can be found in parts of Central Mexico with their range extending towards the Pacific Coast. 

They can be found North of Mexico City in provinces such as Guanajuarto, Jalisco and Michoacan. They can also be found on Tres Marias Island.

They live in a variety of different habitats such as woodlands, tropical forests, coastal bush and rocky areas. 

They will spend most of their time hiding underneath fallen logs or debris. They will also escape the heat of the day in underground burrows or rock crevices.

Nelson’s Milk Snake Diet

In the wild, the Nelson’s Milk Snake will feed on a variety of different animals. They will eat small mammals, rodents, birds, lizards and amphibians.

Like the other snakes in the Lampropeltis genus, they will even eat other smaller snakes of a different species.


The Nelson’s Milk Snake is primarily a nocturnal species meaning they are mainly active during the night when they come out to search for food.

They typically retreat to burrows, rock crevices or underneath logs during the day to sleep. This allows them to escape the intense heat of the day.

On cooler wet days they will often venture out during the day. The heat isn’t as intense so they don’t need to wait for the temperatures to drop.