No status in Minnesota.
A medium sized Minnesota snake that is 24 to 52 inches in length, but quite often maintains a slender build. It is nonvenomous. Although this snake's blotched pattern remains consistent, its general coloration is quite variable. Some specimens can be beautifully light colored, having a light gray or brown ground color and bright to rusty red body blotches. Others can look a lot like fox snakes, Elaphe vulpina, having a general brown coloration. Still others can be a dark gray with little or no difference in color between the ground color and blotches, only the black borders (which are always present) indicate the presence of blotches. There is an alternating row (sometimes two) of lateral spots on the sides. These vary in size, but are never as big as the dorsal blotches. The belly is white with clusters of black checkers scattered randomly about the venter. Often there is a pink or peach wash to the general ventral coloration. There is a light V or Y marking at the back of the head, but this is sometimes replaced by a light spot. The snout is usually white. The scales are smooth and the anal plate is single.
The eastern milk snake, Lamptopeltis triangulum triangulum, is the only subspecies of milk snake in Minnesota. Speculation of the possible occurrence of the red milk snake L. t. syspila in Minnesota has yet to be thoroughly investigated. Counties in the south central and southwestern portion of the state border this snakes' northern range, according to some authors. The red milk snake also intergrades with the eastern milk snake in Iowa; this plane of intergradation does not involve Minnesota. Even if it did, the occurrence of pure L. t. syspila in southeastern Minnesota is very slight.
In Minnesota, this snake follows the Mississippi, Minnesota, and a small portion of the St. Croix Rivers as the present records surround these systems.
Rocky hillsides provide the favored habitat in Minnesota. Farmlands, grasslands bordering woodland and rock outcroppings, especially near waterways, are used.
Milk snakes are diurnal in the spring and fall becoming largely nocturnal in summer. They are very secretive and are rarely found in the open. They spend much of their time hiding beneath logs, rocks, boards, bark, and other debris. Occasionally they may climb in search of food or to escape severe flooding. They endure many temperature extremes hiding under tin or rocks in hot weather when other species of snakes are underground, or hiding beneath rocks or boards with water or mud under them. Wild caught milk snakes can look extremely worn, having many scars, skin lesions, (especially before a shed) or stub tails.
This snake is active from April to September. Most milk snakes move away from their rocky outcropping or mammal burrow hibernaculums to farms and grasslands with suitable food and cover during the summer. A few remain nearby their overwintering spots, however. Mating takes place in spring or early summer. The female lays about 10 eggs in an area selected for its high humidity and warmth. Gestation is from 28 to 39 days. In the fall the young milk snakes hatch from their eggs. They are 5 to 10 inches at hatching and are at their most spectacular coloration they will ever have. They are bright white or gray with rich pure red blotches. Milk snakes are usually apt to coil, strike and bite when captured. Even after they are picked up, they may turn and chew on fingers or the arm of the person holding it. They also vibrate their tails and musk. They strike with a short, forced hiss and try to quickly slither away and under cover when they get the chance.
Milk snakes feed on a wide variety of animals including mice, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, reptile eggs, birds and birds' eggs. They are a type of kingsnake and will consume venomous snakes when they chance upon them. They are at least partially immune to the venom of the venomous snakes in their range and many venomous serpents will use defensive tactics other than biting to protect themselves from kingsnakes. Young snakes comprise a large portion of a baby milk snakes' diet, but they are not found to be the most significant food item for adults. Milk snakes are constrictors and kill their food by suffocation.