Eastern Milksnake Lampropeltis triangulum

Adult from Ripley County

Identification

This relatively common and widespread species is easily mistaken for the many other blotched snakes that occur in Indiana. Most Indiana Eastern Milksnakes are gray to light brown with darker brown or red blotches/bands. Eastern Milksnakes in southwestern Indiana are more typically white-gray with brilliant red blotches and extensive red coloration on the head. Most juvenile Eastern Milksnakes have brighter red colors that fade to brown as they age. Eastern Milksnakes are medium-sized snakes with most individuals growing to two to three feet (60 - 90 cm) long, and some reaching lengths of nearly four feet (1.2 m) long.

Adult from Jefferson County
Juvenile from Harrison County
Nest from Brown County

In western Indiana, Prairie Kingsnakes can be difficult to differentiate from this species, but they tend to be more robust with less vibrant/distinct coloration. In northwestern Indiana, Eastern Foxsnakes are similar, but have slightly keeled scales and a more distinct head/neck. Northern Watersnakes are superficially similar, but have strongly keeled scales and lack patterning on their head.

Ecology and Conservation

Distribution

Eastern Milksnakes are found throughout Indiana but are only locally abundant. They are most common where prey populations (primarily rodents and lizards) are abundant and are commonly found under boards, sheet metal, and other debris around farms, junkyards, and in old fields. They may be found in dense forests and in open grasslands, but prefer edge habitat.

Old field in Marion County
Mesic forest in Jefferson County

Taxonomy

Indiana's milksnakes were once recognized as one of two subspecies--the Red Milksnake (L. t. syspila) or the Eastern Milksnake (L. t. triangulum) of the more widespread L. triangulum. However, Ruane et al. (2014) reorganized the taxonomy of this group and described several new species, recognizing all of Indiana's milksnakes as Eastern Milksnakes (L. triangulum) without a subspecific designation. These snakes are members of the family Colubridae, which is represented by a total of 28 species in Indiana.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Ruane, S., R.W. Bryson, Jr., R. A. Pyron, and F. T. Burbrink. 2014. Coalescent species delimitation in milksnakes (genus Lampropeltis) and impacts on phylogenetic comparative analyses. Systematic Biology 63:231-250.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)
Photographs