Species At Risk


(Lampropeltis triangulum)

Special Concern

Milksnake occurrences map


The slender Milksnake can grow to a length of one metre or more, although most are smaller. Its distinctive dorsal blotches are usually red with black borders. The belly has a black and white checkerboard pattern.

Like all snakes in Ontario, except for the Massasauga rattlesnake, the Milksnake is not venomous. It captures its prey, usually mice and small ground-nesting birds, with its mouth, and subdues them by constriction. It hunts for prey at night and remains hidden away in the daytime. If surprised or threatened, the Milksnake will take an aggressive posture by raising its head in the air and vibrating its tail. It may also attempt to bite in defence, but only if it is attacked or picked up.

The Milksnake breeds in the spring. Females lay from three to 24 eggs, often in rotting logs, stumps or the burrows of small mammals. The eggs hatch in seven to 10 weeks, and the snakes mature in three to four years.

Action we are taking:


The Milksnake range extends from Quebec and Maine south to Alabama and Georgia, and west to Minnesota and Iowa. In Ontario, it is widespread and locally common in southern Ontario, and can be found as far north as Lake Nipissing and Sault Ste. Marie.


The Milksnake can be found in a range of habitats including rocky outcrops, fields and forest edges. In southern Ontario, it is often found in old farm fields and farm buildings where there is an abundance of mice. The Milksnake hibernates underground, in rotting logs or in the foundations of old buildings.


Human persecution is a significant threat to the Milksnake. People often kill it on sight, mistaking it for a venomous Massasauga rattlesnake due to its colour and tendency to vibrate its tail when disturbed. Habitat loss due to urbanization, road construction and conversion of natural areas to agricultural uses are further threats to Milksnake populations in Ontario. Milksnake are also commonly killed on roads.


The Milksnake is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act. Although species of Special Concern do not receive legal protection under these acts, they receive protection from some agencies, such as provincial and national parks. The Provincial Policy Statement under the Ontario Planning Act affords some protection to “Significant Wildlife Habitat”, which includes the habitat of species of Special Concern. This species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Milksnake

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Milksnake. The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas collects observations of all Ontario reptiles and amphibians. Submit your observations to either of these databases at nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/species/species_report.cfm and www.ontarionature.org/atlas. Photographs are important to help confirm the identification of species and are always helpful.
  • Never buy snakes that have been caught in the wild and never buy a native species of any kind that’s being sold as a pet
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have an important role to play in species at risk recovery.You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Watch for snakes that may be crossing roads between May and October. Road mortality is a serious threat to snakes because they are slow moving, hard to see on the road and are sometimes intentionally run over. If it is safe to do so, help snakes across the road in the direction they were headed.
  • If you come across a snake, please don’t try to capture it, handle it or kill it. Snakes can be delicate and improper handling can cause serious injury. Also, certain species are protected under legislation, which makes it illegal to harass, harm or kill them. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Visit the Ontario reptile and Amphibian Atlas (www.ontarionature.org/atlas) or Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond website (www.torontozoo.com/Adoptapond) to learn more about Ontario’s rare snakes, their habitat and related conservation initiatives.

Did you know?

The Milksnake is the only snake in Ontario that has red blotches.

Did you know?

The lifespan of the Milksnake in the wild is unknown, but one snake caught as an adult lived for another 21 years in captivity.

Did you know?

The Milksnake got its name from the false belief that it takes milk from cows in barns, which it often inhabits. Milksnakes cannot drink milk, and are attracted to barns by the abundance of mice.

Did you know?

The Milksnakes’ defensive behaviour and blotchy patterning results in many false reports of Massasauga rattlesnakes every year in Ontario.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.