Sinaloan milk snake - Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloe - Care, Feeding and Breeding
This page is a part of our "exotic pets series", not dedicated to fish, but to Sinaloan milk snake's instead! You're more than welcome to share your experiences at the bottom of this page!
Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloe are more commonly known as the Sinaloan milk snake are one of the most popular species of milk snake kept by many keepers. Their popularity is mainly due to their placid nature, they can easily be handled and grow tame, recognising their owner after a period of time. They are a non-venomous species and belong to the family of Colubridae which contains over two thirds of all snake species that are found on our planet.
They are to be found in the arid regions of Central America, especially around Mexico and they can be found in or around developed areas, resting in out buildings, away from the urban areas they can be found under rock-piles during the day to escape the intense heat after warming their bodies in the mornings.
They have very distinct body markings, their main colouration is a deep red which is split by black banding that either has a yellow centre or a creamy white. The head is predominantly black but this is separated from the body colouration by a black band that starts just behind the eyes and this too will have a creamy white or yellow centre finished with another black edging. Their belly colouration is also a yellow or creamy white. Adult sizes can reach up to 4 feet in length and if cared for properly, they can live for many years in fact captive specimens will often live longer than wild specimens due to the lack of natural predators and ideal living conditions being provided.
Milk snakes are a close relative of King snakes but tend to be slightly smaller and much easier to keep long term.
If handled incorrectly they may give out a small bite but this is usually very rare but they do have a strange habit of emitting a pungent, musky odour on many occasions, this may be due to the handling period being longer than the snake wishes so it is best to return your snake to the enclosure when this happens. They are however a god species for beginners to snake keeping as they are tolerant of a wider range of conditions than other delicate species of snakes and their docile nature means that they are also suitable for younger keepers to gain experience from this species.
Setting up an enclosure for the Sinaloan milk snake can prove to be slightly expensive to start with but once the enclosure is up and running the cost of keeping your snake is quite cheap on a long term basis.
Housing your Sinaloan milk snake
Firstly it should be noted that milk snakes have been known to make a meal of other snakes so unless you are breeding the snake, only keep one specimen in each enclosure.
Planning the enclosure for your Sinaloan milk snake begins with selecting the correct container. The ideal size should be at least the length of your snake and at least 12-18 inches in height, as you can see, the size of the enclosure corresponds to the age of your snake, younger specimens require a smaller enclosure but this will need to be upgraded to a larger enclosure as the snake grows. Many keepers use an aquarium or a suitably sized commercial terrarium. This must have a lid fitted that is secure, these snakes are quite strong and can easily lift a loose lid, they are also great escape artists and will always look for a route to leave the enclosure if possible.
There are many choices of substrate that you can use but remember that you will need to undergo a regular cleaning programme so the easier the substrate is to remove the easier the maintenance will be. There are commercial reptile sands that can be bought as well as sphagnum moss or similar, some keepers prefer to use wood shavings but be very selective with these. Aspen shavings can be used, or a very similar material is reptile bark, for ease of cleaning it is usually easier to use a substrate that can be removed and replaced in one piece. Old carpeting, paper towels, old newspaper, even astroturf can be used and new pieces can be added while the old flooring is being cleaned, the soiled substrate can be washed in a washing machine or by hand but be careful not to use any harmful detergents whilst doing this.
Every now and again your Sinaloan milk snake will need to retreat away from everyone so a suitable hide must be added to its enclosure, milk snakes can become stressed if the hides are not provided. There are commercial hides available but often you can compromise with a simple cardboard box or similar to make your own. The important thing to remember is that your snake has ample access to enter the hide when it wishes to and that the hide is not too large, it should just give enough room for your snake to curl up inside and feel safe, if the hide is too large then the snake will not feel so secure and may not settle too well.
Milk snakes are climbers so branches or dowelling can be added to provide this luxury, climbing will also aid in exercising your milk snake and often the branches are rubbed against while your snake is moulting. They will need to be fixed securely and be able to take the weight of your snake so try them out by pressing lightly on them to make sure that there is no chance of your snake toppling over and falling off the branches.
A water bowl is a must, the Sinaloan milk snake does not just use this for drinking but will also bathe in the water. Due to this habit the water bowl needs to be shallow or there is also the risk of the milk snake toppling the water bowl over or even drowning if the water is too deep. The water needs to be replaced at least every other day with fresh clean water as the faeces of the snake can also be deposited into the water bowl and this can quickly deteriorate and foul the water.
The Sinaloan milk snake likes a level of humidity in the enclosure but this does not need to be as high as with other reptiles, the atmosphere must never be allowed to dry, the addition of the water bowl will aid with this but the occasional spray misting will also help, it is not crucial to add a humidity meter but if it gives you piece of mind then feel free to do so.
What is crucial is the temperature that you keep the enclosure at. Milk snakes are cold blooded and cannot produce their own body temperature, they have to soak in the heat from their surroundings to become active so the keeper has to provide this. It is not ideal to heat the whole of the enclosure, they also need to cool down when they get too warm so a warm area needs to be provided as well as a cooler area allowing your snake to choose which area it wishes to be in at any one moment. There are a couple of methods that have proven to be popular and these include heat mats or a light bulb added to the enclosure to provide the heat.
If using a heat mat then this should be placed no further than halfway underneath the enclosure, a third is preferable and it must be controlled by a thermostat to always emit the correct temperature. The milk snakes are comfortable with a temperature range between 27-33°C (81-91°F), lowering the temperature below this will make your snake sluggish and long term it will affect the general health.
Using a light bulb that is controlled by a thermostat is just as effective but the bulb needs to be situated inside the enclosure so a suitable guard must be fitted to make sure that there is no chance of the snake injuring itself by climbing onto the bulb and getting burnt. Light bulbs are a cheap alternative but you are after replicating daylight and night time lighting patterns, to do this with the light bulb it may also be necessary to connect the bulb to a dimmer switch so that the lighting is reduced through the night without losing too much of the temperature.
Add a small, reliable thermometer to the enclosure so that you are sure that the correct temperature levels are always being maintained and with a quick glance you will also get piece of mind.
Once the enclosure is set up the key word to remember is cleanliness, poor living conditions can lead to infections and other problems, it has already been mentioned about changing the water on a regular basis, cleaning out the enclosure as well is very important, as well as cleaning the chosen substrate you must also clean the hide and periodically clean the enclosure sides and lid to prevent any build up of bacteria.
Feeding your Sinaloan milk snake
Feeding these snakes is not a difficult task as long as you follow several guidelines. Only offer food that your snake can swallow comfortably, younger specimens require smaller feeds, while mature specimens are capable of eating whole rodents.
In the wild they are natural predators of rodents, small reptiles and amphibians so replicating this is quite straightforward by offering them mice or small rats, do not offer live rodents as these could put up a fight against the snake and the risk of injury can be quite high, only feed your snake with dead or frozen feeds that have been thawed out thoroughly and do not overfeed as this can make your snake obese and ill.
Juvenile snakes only require a “pinkie” (newborn mouse or rat), once every few days while older specimens feed on adult mice or rats but only require feeding once a week at the most. Unless you are breeding the rodents yourself, do not be tempted to offer your snake wild food as this can harbour any manner of parasites or diseases.
Another word of warning, we are always told not to pick up human babies straight after a feed or they are bound to be sick on us, the same applies to your milk snake, handling them straight after a feed can lead to them regurgitating the food, allow a couple of hours for the food to pass through before attempting to lift your snake.
If your snake is regurgitating its meal on a regular basis then you should seek advice from a qualified veterinary surgeon as there maybe a digestive problem, if the regurgitation occurs very rarely then it could be a case that it has had difficult swallowing the meal that you have offered it and should not be fed again until the following week. Digestive problems can also be spotted by a sudden weight loss or the snake acting in a strange manner, this is why it is important to get to know your snake and observe its usual habits so that you can soon spot anything out of the ordinary.
Breeding the Sinaloan milk snake
Obviously to breed these snakes you will require a male and female for the mating but sexing the snakes can be a bit tricky unless you are an experienced keeper, often new breeders will take their snakes to a vet for confirmation of the sex and this is usually the most reliable method. It is said that the males tend to have slightly longer and thicker tails compared to the females but the most effective sexing method is to probe their anal vents. The depth that the probe can enter will determine the sex but this is not a task that should be attempted unless you know exactly what you are doing.
Preparing for breeding starts months before the event when the snakes are induced into a semi-hibernation which is commonly known as “brumation”, the snakes never fully hibernate and will still be active but feeding less. They may still shed their skins during this period (shedding will be covered in more detail in the next section), regular maintenance and water changes still need to be carried out.
Starting off the brumation period is basically a case of lowering the temperature of the enclosure by a few degrees and stopping the feeds for a few months, this will slow down the metabolism of your snake and make it become less active. In March you may raise the temperature back to its original levels and start to supply the normal feeding regime a week after raising the temperature bring your milk snake back to full activity.
The female milk snake will send out an odour to attract the male and the two sexes should now be introduced together. The actual mating times can vary between individual specimens from a few minutes up to a few hours but after a few attempts you will start to spot a regular pattern. To make sure that fertilisation does take place many keepers will keep the two snakes together until they have mated several times.
If successful, the female will bloat with the eggs that she is carrying and the gestation period is usually up to a few weeks. During this time you can prepare a site for the female to lay her eggs, this can comprise of a plastic container that is large enough for the female to enter but place damp sphagnum moss inside, the female should shed her skin a week before she decides to lay the eggs.
Once laid, the eggs can be moved to a suitable incubator, the temperature should be set to 28°C (82°F) and the humidity levels need to be high. This is achieved by adding damp sphagnum moss or similar but make sure that there is a decent air flow around the incubator.
It will take several weeks for the eggs to hatch but they will in time, as the hatchlings cut their way out of the egg shell do not try to speed this up by intervening unless it is obvious that the hatchling is having problems.
The hatchlings will need to be separated as they can be cannibalistic, they can be kept in smaller containers and fed the same diet as the parents but the meals need to be more regular and in smaller portions as mentioned above. They will not require food when they first hatch as their yolk sac will provide all required nutrients until it has been completely consumed. As the hatchlings grow, their enclosure will need to grow with them so only keep the number of hatchlings that you require in the future, the remaining ones can be sold on to other keepers.
A major part of the snake’s life is to shed its skin, this occurs a few times every year, with the juveniles faster growth rate the shedding will occur at a much more regular period. There are signs prior to the snake shedding which include clouding of the eyes, loss of appetite, inactivity to name a few. In time you will spot these signs and realise that the shedding process is imminent. This period is known as the “blue“ period and during this time the handling should be reduced as your snake can become stressed. Normally the shedding will take place with no problems especially if you have added branches to the enclosure which your snake can rub against, extra misting will help with the shedding as the humidity is raised and the shedding always starts at the snake’s head, it will rub it’s head against the branches or any other décor and once the head is free the snake should be able to crawl out of the old skin.
If it does appear to be struggling you can bathe your snake to aid with the shedding and this should solve the problem. Do not try to peel the snake forcibly unless any areas of skin are visually hanging, these can be removed safely with either bathing or by carefully using a pair of tweezers.
Trying to force the shedding can lead to infections and can also stress your snake.
If the above pointers are followed you should not have any major problems with caring for your Sinaloan milk snake, there are some problems that are reported through poor enclosure maintenance or by viruses being passed to the snake. These include respiratory problems and problems with your snake swallowing its food without regurgitating.
Most respiratory problems can be caused by uncleanliness or too much humidity in the enclosure, many of these will pass of their own accord, if the condition persists and your snake starts to wheeze seek advice from a veterinary surgeon straight away and he should prescribe a safe course of antibiotics for your snake.
Other problems to watch out for are mites, these are also a common problem sadly and can be visually seen under the scales of your snake or near the eyes and mouth. There are treatments available for parasites that are available from pet stores and these should clear the problem up but finding the source of the mites is also important. Replace the substrate and clean the enclosure thoroughly while treating your snake as the mites can deposit their eggs anywhere and can cause a repeat infection.
It also pays to check your snake on a regular basis for signs of sores on the body or swellings around the anal area. The mouth and eyes should also be checked, the eyes will be clear unless they are clouding for the shedding and the mouth should be free from any sores or excess mucus.
Keeping a regular check will prevent any problems from becoming untreatable and if you act quickly they can be dealt with before they cause long term damage to your snake.
It is also wise to wash your hands before and after handling to prevent any cross contamination to yourself or your pet.