Nelson’s Milk Snake Care Sheet

Nelson's Milk Snake

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Nelson’s Milk Snake
Scientific Name:Lampropeltis triangulum nelsoni
Life Span:12 to 20 years in captivity
Size:14 to 69 inches long as adults
Habitat:Woodlands and rocky areas
Country of Origin:Mexico and Central America

Physical Description

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The Nelson’s Milk Snake is one of the most iconic snakes in the world, especially for reptile pet owners and those who prefer exotic pets. What makes these snakes so popular is how diverse they really are when it comes to their appearance. Their size varies depending on the subspecies of Nelson’s Milk Snake you have. Meanwhile, their color as well as the ones that their bands have also varies from one snake to another depending on where they came from.

Some of Nelson’s Milk Snakes have bodies that are predominantly red with white bands inside bigger bands of black. There are also some subspecies of this snake that have orange, black, or white bodies that have alternating bands of red, yellow, white, or orange. There are even Nelson’s Milk Snakes that have Y or V-shaped patterns on their necks.

Nelson’s Milk Snakes vary so much that there are also different subspecies that are a lot larger than others. The averaged size of these snakes is about 40 inches, but there are some that can grow as long as over 60 inches while there are some that are so small that they rarely grow a few inches longer than a foot. The longer ones are from Central and South America. Meanwhile, the smaller ones can usually be found in North America.

Unlike other types of snakes, Nelson’s Milk Snakes are of the same size regardless of their sex. There are some types of reptiles that have males or females that are larger than the other, but these snakes are unique in the sense that it is difficult to tell them apart if you are merely basing their sex on their size alone.

Another cool fact about Nelson’s Milk Snake appearance is that you may mistake them for venomous snakes such as the coral snake or the copperhead. The way they appear is actually how they adapted to become defensively diverse in the wild. Potential predators will be wary of going near them thinking that they are venomous. Nelson’s Milk Snakes actually have blotches that are rounder and thicker compared to copperheads. Meanwhile, Coral Snakes usually have red and yellow bands together while Nelson’s Milk Snakes have bands that are alternating between red and black.


Other than because they are very diversely colorful reptiles, Nelson’s Milk Snakes are very popular for many exotic pet owners is that they are not venomous. They only look venomous like the coral snakes as a defense mechanism against potential predators. In many ways, these snakes are almost harmless.


The Nelson’s Milk Snake is a very hardy snake that can have a lifespan of 12 to 20 years. However, when taken care of properly, these snakes will usually live for more than 15 years regardless of their size and subspecies. Those found in the wild often have a shorter lifespan compared to those who are captive-bred.

Eating Habits

Not unusual for snakes, Nelson’s Milk Snakes are carnivorous reptiles that will feed on many different types of animals as long as they are small enough to fit the mouth of these snakes. It is not uncommon for the Nelson Milk Snake to be feeding on fellow reptiles or even other venomous snakes in the wild. However, their regular diet consists mainly of small mammals or rodents, birds, and lizards when they are left in the wild.

In captivity, it is better to feed your Nelson’s Milk Snake with live mice to make them work for their prey. However, thawed mice that were kept frozen are also very good for your snake if you happen to prefer not keeping any live mice around. In fact, a lot of breeders and pet owners preferred thawed mice for their Nelson’s Milk Snakes.

Sleeping Habits

The Nelson’s Milk Snake is primarily nocturnal and would rather spend the day sleeping and then stay up during the evenings to hunt. However, it has been shown that some of Nelson’s Milk Snakes would sometimes go out during the day when the conditions are quite wet and cool and not as hot as some normal days usually are. Other than that, these snakes would rather hide under rocks or in burrows during the day to keep themselves away from the hot sun while they are sleeping. So, when keeping one in captivity, make sure they have somewhere to hide under when they are sleeping.


Nelson’s Milk Snakes need regular freshwater because they not only like to drink a lot of water to keep themselves hydrated, but they also love soaking their bodies in the water to stay cool. As such, keep a water dish or bowl that is big enough for your snake to soak into. You may want to make sure you regularly replace the water with a fresh batch while also cleaning it from time to time to keep bacteria from possibly building up.


Breeding Nelson’s Milk Snakes is not very difficult. You can simply introduce a male to a female and have them live together in the same enclosure for breeding to happen. Most of the time, you do not have to do anything for breeding to happen so long as both the male and the female are sexually mature. Reproduction in these snakes usually happens around March to May, depending on what type of Nelson’s Milk Snake you have. When copulation happens, this may take for hours.

The Nelson’s Milk Snake may reach sexual maturity by the time they are about three years of age. Their size at sexual maturity varies since different subspecies of Nelson’s Milk Snakes can have different lengths.

Common Health Problems

Nelson’s Milk Snakes are considered resilient reptiles. However, they still do have common health problems that usually occur whenever you do not know the proper type of environment that is suitable for these snakes.

Respiratory illness

Respiratory illnesses are common in many reptile species. They often suffer from such a disease whenever you house them in an environment that is too cold and/or too damp for them. Symptoms of this illness include fatigue, lethargy, heavy breathing, and wheezing.


Parasites are usually the result of poor living conditions. External parasites in your Nelson’s Milk Snake usually comes in the form of mites and ticks. Mites are very difficult to spot because they look like small black dots that may be hiding near the darker scales of your snake while sucking out blood. Tics are not very common in Nelson’s Milk Snakes but are still very much a threat.

Internal parasites are much more common in Nelson’s Milk Snakes that were captured in the wild, but these snakes are usually equipped to handle parasites. However, because of the stress that is induced by transport and the adjustment to a new environment, the wild-caught snake’s immune system might weaken, and the internal parasites might be able to cause considerable damage.

Preventing Illness

The best way to prevent illnesses in Nelson’s Milk Snake is to educate yourself about the usual types of health problems they face. And, most of the time, these illnesses are the cause of improper care. When housing them, give them an environment that is suitable for them in terms of temperature and humidity. Of course, keeping the place clean and tidy is essential whenever you want to avoid external parasites such as mites. 


Nelson’s Milk Snakes usually undergo a period of hibernation during the colder seasons of Fall and Winter. This may last from October up to February but usually lasts for a period of 3 to 4 months. During this time, you will notice a drastic change in activity in your snake, but they will usually start to become more active again when the season gets warmer around February. At times, these reptiles wake up during winter to drink water but would go back to a hibernated state. You may want to keep the temperatures in their enclosure consistent during this period so as to avoid making the environment too cold for them during winter.


The Nelson’s Milk Snake is a pretty solitary reptile that does not do much. It likes spending time on its own and does not do well when housed together with another one of its kind unless it is for breeding purposes. They tend to be active at night because of their nocturnal nature. But when the day is pretty cold and humid, they may try to stay active even when the sun is up.

These snakes love to spend time hiding under rocks and burrows. They are not active diggers but use pre-made burrows dug up by other animals. They do this to avoid the heat of the sun during the day, but they actually go out of these burrows during the night to hunt for food.

These snakes tend to be a bit more skittish than other snakes. However, Nelson’s Milk Snake is much easier to handle because they are not venomous and are not as aggressive as most other species of snakes. They may be shy at first when they are still young, but they will grow in confidence later on as they grow older. The Nelson’s Milk Snake also is very reluctant to bite its attackers. Instead, these snakes would rather spray musk to anything that threatens them.

Nelson’s Milk Snakes are quite active and may try to get away from you if you are handling them. However, at first, you may want to give them some time to adjust to the environment and to their new owner before you try to handle them so as to minimize the risk of them trying to escape. And when you handle them, it is better that they have already eaten and defecated.


Nelson’s Milk Snakes shed from time to time to make way for new skin to grow. This happens much more frequently during their juvenile years when they are still growing rapidly. However, shedding slows down when they get older. To allow them to shed faster and easier, always keep an eye on the humidity levels in their enclosure as keeping them hydrated makes shedding easier for them.


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There are a lot of options you can use for your Nelson’s Milk Snake’s enclosure. There are those who prefer making their own wooden vivarium made out of plywood that does not necessarily need to be thick because these snakes are not strong enough to break an enclosure. Meanwhile, there are those who prefer to use old aquariums that were fixed to make them fit for the Milk Snake to live in. 

If you want to make your own enclosure, you can do so with wood and make sure that it is at least 3 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2 feet tall. If the subspecies you have tends to be long, you may make your vivarium a bigger than usual. Put vents that are large enough to allow for airflow, but do not make the holes too wide that your snake can easily get through them. The air vents are essential in improving the humidity in the enclosure. 

Putting a see-through glass door is also a good idea so that you can easily observe your Nelson’s Milk Snake’s activities. It is preferred that you put up a front opening than a top opening, but the latter is also a good choice. Make sure that the opening and the vents are sturdy so as to prevent them from escaping.

These snakes tend to hide a lot during the day. You should put up decorations such as large rocks to provide a hiding spot for them. A good substrate that is quite loose so that it is easy for them to burrow may also be good in providing them with a way to shelter themselves from the light during the daytime.

The Nelson’s Milk Snake, which is a subspecies of kingsnakes, is a snake eater. What that means is that it is better to house them solitarily as there is a danger that they will eat their fellow snake regardless of the species.

Lighting and Humidity

Nelson’s Milk Snakes are nocturnal animals that spend the majority of their time sleeping during the day except for whenever it tends to be humid and not as sunny as usual in the wild. But, if you are keeping them in their own enclosures, they will most likely spend the day sleeping. In that case, it is not essential to provide a lighting source that is there to solely provide light. You may, however, use the light source as a way to heat the enclosure. Alternatively, a heating pad may be a better choice.

Unlike other reptiles, an ultraviolet B lamp is not essential because these snakes are not prone to metabolic bone disease. However, you may still put up a  UVB light in their enclosure to provide them with vitamin D3.

In terms of humidity, make sure that the enclosure is quite humid and should have humidity levels that are somewhere between 30 to 50% . A good way of keeping humidity levels consistent is to make sure that airflow is good. You can also regularly mist the enclosure to moisten the substrate. Also, a large water dish is essential for improving humidity levels as well as for providing a good way for Nelson’s Milk Snake to moisten its body.


Since Nelson’s Milk Snake is used to the warm environments of Central and South America, it is important to provide them with an enclosure that is quite warm. Since they are nocturnal animals, it might not be a good idea to keep a strong heat lamp. Instead, you may want to use a heating pad or a heat mat kept under the tank or the enclosure. It should be able to cover at least half of the entire floor space of the enclosure.

Keep temperatures above the heating pad 84 degrees Fahrenheit but not over 90. The air temperature in the enclosure should be about 70 to 82 degrees and can safely drop to about 65 during the evening. Always keep an eye on the temperature of the heating pad as it should never drop below 84 degrees even at night.


If the setup of your enclosure was not meant for bioactive recycling of the fecal matter, always keep an eye for feces and make sure to clean the enclosure whenever you see some. Use a reptile disinfectant to make sure the entire enclosure is clean and spotless to minimize the risk of bacterial and parasitic infections. Also, the water dish should be cleaned regularly, especially if it has fecal matter. Always disinfect the entire dish to minimize bacterial growth.

Natural Environment – Substrate

As much as possible, make sure that the substrate is natural so as to allow your Nelson’s Milk Snake the chance to make burrows. A sand and soil mix may be a good idea, but you can also go for other substrates such as mulch and coconut husk. Make sure that the substrate does not dry out because this is an indication of low humidity levels in the enclosure.


While they are used to living in dry environments, Nelson’s Milk Snakes still need to drink a lot of water because that is the best way for them to stay hydrated in a hot and dry environment. Their water dish should be large enough for their entire bodies and should be regularly replaced with fresh and lean water to avoid contamination and bacteria from building up.

Availability – Where to Get One?

Nelson’s Milk Snakes are very common pets for prospective reptile owners and are bred all over the country because of how in-demand these exotic pets are. You can get them in many exotic pet shops depending on the subspecies you prefer. Most of them are sold a bit over $50 but rarely more expensive than $100. Try as much as possible to go for local breeders to avoid putting the snake in a stressful situation when it gets shipped or transported from a place that is quite far away. They are almost always available in reputable reptile pet stores both locally and online.

How to Care for Nelson’s Milk Snake?

Here are some tips on how to care for Nelson’s Milk Snake:

  • They are snake eaters. Always house them solitarily to avoid any incident of them attacking their fellow snakes.
  • Nelson’s Milk Snakes are shy at first but will eventually become more confident as they age.
  • Since they are nocturnal reptiles, it is not essential for you to use a lighting source for their enclosure.
  • They may not be venomous, but they may still bite you if they are not yet acclimated to getting handled.

FAQ Section

Are Nelson’s Milk Snakes venomous?

Nelson’s Milk Snakes should not be mistaken for the venomous Coral Snakes, which look a lot like them, because they are not venomous. It is believed that they look like venomous snakes to discourage potential predators.

Are Nelson’s Milk Snakes good for beginner owners?

Nelson’s Milk Snakes are popular for beginner owners because they are not venomous and are quite receptive to getting handled.

Are Nelson’s Milk Snakes aggressive?

Nelson’s Milk Snake is docile and will rarely attack people by biting them.

How often should you feed your Nelson’s Milk Snake?

Nelson’s Milk Snakes should be fed regularly when they are still young (maybe once every 2 to 3 days), but feedings should be trimmed down to once every 5 to 7 days as they get older.

Whys is my snake always in its water dish?

If your Nelson’s Milk Snake is always in its water dish, it might be because the enclosure is not humid enough for it.

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