Life History of Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center’s Milk Snake
Carpenter Nature Center’s milk snake was adopted from a private owner in September of 2016. The snake’s age is unknown, but the previous owners had it for two years before we acquired it. Milk snakes live an average of 12-20 years in the wild, so CNC’s milk snake still has many years left to live. This milk snake is a wonderful ambassador, teaching thousands of visitors every year about our natural environment and the diversity of wildlife found outside our region. It will live a comfortable life with humans, as it is provided with all the food it needs and safety from predators.
CNC’s Milk Snake is a Pueblan Milk Snake. Many people consider Pueblan Milk Snakes and Eastern Milk Snakes, the type found in MN and WI, to be the same species, but different subspecies. However, some herpetologists think that the 24 subspecies of milk snake actually make up several unique species because there is significant variation in the snakes’ habitat, appearance, and diet throughout their range. This is an active area of research, so new studies should teach us more about this issue.
Pueblan milk snakes are found in areas of Mexico. They and many other milk snake variations have a pattern that closely resembles venomous coral snakes. This is a defensive adaption called Batesian mimicry that probably evolved because predators will mistake the harmless milk snake as a dangerous coral snake and not eat it. Milk snakes in the northern US, however, do not have this adaptation because coral snakes do not occur this far north. Many people use the rhyme “red on black friend of jack, red on yellow kill a fellow” to determine if a patterned snake is venomous or not. This rhyme should not be used because many nonvenomous and venomous snakes have patterns that do not match the rhyme.
Many milk snakes are threatened by habitat loss. If you are fortunate enough to find a milk snake in the wild, please leave it alone and enjoy the opportunity to watch a magnificent wild creature in its natural environment. Also, if you decide to purchase a pet snake, be sure that you can care for it its entire life. Never release a pet snake, native or non-native, into the wild.
12805 St. Croix Trail S.
Hastings, MN 55033
300 East Cove Road
Hudson, WI 54016