Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis - Care, Pictures and Tips on Housing these Snakes
Devoted to Milksnakes; Another page that belongs to our latest "exotic pets" category which does focus on different pets than aquarium fish. You're welcome to share your experiences and tips at the bottom of this page!
Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis is commonly called a Honduran Milksnake and is one of the largest of this family, reaching lengths of up to 5 feet. They are non-venomous, evolving to become constrictors and are very popular as they can become very tame once they have spent some time with their keepers.
Their natural habitat are the mid slopes of Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua where they dwell in the rain forests making them well camouflaged from would be predators and humans alike. They can be found in slight variations of colours dependant on their locality, the two main wild colourations being tricoloured or the tangerine species.
The banding on the tricoloured are black, reddy orange with white or yellow borders, the tangerine specimens have bands that are coloured black and reddy orange. Home bred specimens have a more diverse range of colourations but they all originate from these two colourations.
They are very good beginner snakes and soon settle into their new surroundings with very small demands.
Always house these snakes as single specimens, other snakes are included in their natural diet, including their own kind.
Housing the Honduran Milksnake
The vivarium needs to be large enough to give your snake room, allow at least one square foot for each foot that your snake measures in length, you will need a tight fitting lid to prevent escape but you can have the choice of using a glass aquarium or even a plastic containers with holes drilled in the lid to allow air exchange. If the lid on your vivarium does feel a little loose, it can be simply weighted down but remember that these snakes are quite strong and can lift a moderately weighted lid.
When choosing the substrate, remember that the vivarium needs to be kept clean to prevent bacterial infections, newspaper is often a popular choice as it can be replaced on a daily basis without too many problems, aspen or beech chippings can also be used but they cannot be cleaned and re-used, if soiled they also need to be replaced which needs to be taken into account with your housekeeping budget for the milksnake.
Old pieces of carpeting can also be used, it is handy to have one piece in place inside the vivarium while a second piece is reserved to act as a replacement after cleaning. The soiled carpet can be cleaned but take care not to use solutions that contain bleach or ammonia as these can irritate or even burn the snake if concentrated and not rinsed out properly.
A hiding place must be provided, the snake needs to know that it can hide away when it wants to, the hiding place should be just large enough for the snake to fit inside. These can be improvised by using plant pots, old boxes or similar, there are commercial hides available for purchase if you wish your vivarium to have a professional and tidy look. These will need to be removable as they will also require regular cleaning the same as the vivarium to prevent disease or infections.
Milksnakes love to climb, add some branches or similar into the vivarium, climbing keeps these snakes alert and also provides them with exercise, they may also use the branches to rub against when shedding their skin. Climbing equipment can also be made from artificial bits and bobs such as dowelling or plastic rods, be artistic and make the climbing frame interesting.
One very important aspect when caring for the milksnake is to always provide a source of fresh water, add a water bowl in the vivarium, ensure that the bowl is heavy enough to prevent tipping over and refresh the water on a daily basis just incase the water has been fouled etc., drinking fouled water can introduce infections to the snake. The amount of humidity that the water in the vivarium will create is ample for the milksnake so misting should not be required.
The Honduran Milksnake regulates its own body heat from external surroundings, they are a cold blooded creature so external heat is the only way they can maintain their body temperature. In the vivarium they require a warm area but also require a cooler area as well, this may sound complicated but is actually very easy to set up. Heat mats can be placed underneath the vivarium but only partially so that they only heat up a certain amount of floor space, these are thermostatically controlled to give you the ideal temperature which should be set in a range of 27-33°C (81-91°F), when the milksnake has warmed sufficiently it will move to the cooler area. There are other options that you can use such as heat from a light bulb placed inside the vivarium, this replicates the heat from the sun in the wild and can also be controlled by a dimmer switch to set the correct temperature, whichever method you choose make regular checks on the heat emitted to make sure that it is within the acceptable range. Remember also that if you are using a light bulb inside the vivarium it is possible for the snake to burn itself without realising so the use of a guard or some form of mesh over the bulb is definitely recommended.
The light bulb should also be set on a timer so that daylight and night-time hours can be replicated, the temperature may drop a few degrees in the night, this should not be a problem but if the drop is too sharp then it may be necessary to run the light bulb in the daytime and then set the heat mat to click in during the night.
Feeding the Honduran Milksnake
In the wild the Milksnake eat a variety of foods including lizards, rodents, frogs, even other snakes. They are capable of constricting and swallowing quite large meals, this diet can be easily replicated in the vivarium. Frozen rodents are the best choice i.e. mice or rats and allow these to defrost thoroughly before feeding. These serve better than live mice or rats as there is no chance of the potential food actually harming the snake if a fight does develop, the size of the meal should be in comparison to the size of the snake that you are feeding, younger specimens require smaller meals and are often fed “pinkies” which are young mice that have not developed any fur, the snake should be capable of swallowing the meal but the abdomen of the snake should show the meal passing through. Juvenile Milksnake will need feeding twice a week on smaller meals whereas adult specimens will only require feeding once a week but require larger meals.
Breeding the Milksnake may seem complicated at first but with a little experience it can come as second nature and a lot of keepers do have success with this project, the young snakes can be sold off as well which is always a bonus.
Although there are several species of Milksnake available if you follow the same steps below for each species then you should see results whichever species that you have.
Allowing your breeding snakes to undergo the hibernation will produce better results and this is undertaken by following calendar months every year to form a routine.
The process begins in October, at the beginning of the month reduce the feeding of both the male and female snake keeping them apart in separate vivariums. By the middle of the month the feeding needs to be finalised but keep the vivariums heated to the same temperature as for the rest of the year, the hibernation needs to be brought about at a slow pace, this cannot be rushed.
At the beginning of November the heating needs to be switched off as does any artificial lighting, allow the temperature to drop down to 10-13 deg C (50-55 deg F), this is easy in cooler climates but if you live in a warmer climate you may need to fan the vivarium or even use a cooler set to these temperatures. The temperature drop will not happen overnight so allow a couple of weeks to reach the desired level, snakes will still drink and move about slightly, this is normal during hibernation , they do not shut down the same as hibernating mammals.
Keep checking on your snake(s) during this period and supply them with a fresh supply of water as they will still drink this, also make sure that their vivarium is still kept clean.
By March the hibernation needs to be ended, heating and lights can go back on and the snakes will become more active again, do not feed them straight away but allow a few days for their metabolism to resume to its normal levels and then feed as normal. After hibernation the snakes will shed their skins, the female does this a few days before she is ready to breed and often the skin gives off a scent that attracts the male to her.
Introduce the male and female for short periods but keep a close watch on them, they may not breed straight away so you may have to separate them a few times before breeding actually takes place. The female will develop eggs and these can be felt along her body so always check for these, if present place her back with the male as breeding will be imminent. The breeding process can appear to be a bit violent as the male may grasp the female around the head but there should be no damage done, the snakes will intertwine and the breeding can taker a matter of minutes or even hours dependant on the individual specimen.
The female will require a hideaway for laying the eggs, the normal hiding place in the vivarium is fine but add damp moss to the bottom, remove the water bowl incase she decides to lay her eggs in that instead and make sure that she is on her own in the vivarium. The eggs should be laid up to a week to ten days later, always make sure that there are no eggs left in the female before removing her and now for the fun part.
For the eggs to hatch they will need to be placed into an incubator, this should be set between 25 - 31°C (78 - 88°F) and each egg will need placing into its own container that is half filled with vermiculite, also add some extra containers half filled with water and holes in the top to provide the correct humidity.
If the female lays a small group of eggs that are bunched together, do not attempt to separate them as you risk damaging the eggs, better to take the risk of them hatching out and separating the young before they make a meal of each other.
Keep checking the eggs and any that appear off or smell, remove as these will go rotten and this could infect the good eggs. The young should slice their way out when ready with their egg tooth but there may be some that need a helping hand, this can be done very carefully with some scissors.
The juveniles should be offered the same diet as their parents but in a smaller quantity and on a more regular basis, most should have a voracious appetite but you will find that odd ones may be a bit hesitant to eat, pinkies rubbed with lizard scent normally persuades them that the meal offered is irresistible to them.
As with all pets, the keepers love to handle their new arrivals, try not to handle the snake until it has had a few days to settle into its new home, initially handling periods should be restricted until the snake becomes comfortable with you and learns to trust you, it is capable of emitting nasty smells from its anal glands if stressed, unpleasant but a warning that it wants to be left alone. Gradually increase the handling periods until the snake is perfectly relaxed with you and settles on your arm with no signs of agitation!
The living conditions for your snake must be kept clean or diseases and infections can arise, if you do suspect any problems with your snake do not hesitate to consult a qualified veterinary practitioner who can offer you advice and if required the correct treatment.
Milksnakes can live for over 30 years, they are a big commitment so unless you are prepared to look after these reptiles properly, please leave them for someone who has the facilities to do so!
Always wash your hands after handling your snake, reptiles can carry diseases that are detrimental to humans!