What Happens When a Milk Snake Bites?

Milk snakes are usually docile and are usually pets but they can bite you if the circumstances are correct. Milk snakes are a very common species of kingsnakes and have one of the largest ranges of any species of snake in the world ranging from Canada to Ecuador. However, even these gentle snakes can be snappy so it is good to know what to do in case you are bitten.

What happens when a milk snake bites you? The easy-going milk snake will inflict little to no injury and is not venomous. If someone was to be bitten, they should clean and sanitize the wounded area but no medical attention is required. Most of the bites from a milk snake aren’t enough to even break the skin.

Milk snakes, like other nonvenomous snakes, will typically bite a person for one of three reasons: if they are hungry and mistake your hand for food, they feel threatened, or they are shedding. There is other information that I found quite interesting that I want to share.

Are Milk Snakes Venomous?

It is crucial to know if the bite comes from a milk snake or a similar looking, yet venomous, snake. The coral snake, which can be mistaken for the milk snake is quite venomous and bites from these snakes should be treated with antivenom as soon as possible.

The milk snake, although similar in appearance to the poisonous copperhead snake, coral snake, is not venomous and rather quite harmless. Milk snakes purposely have color patterns similar to the coral snake to disguise itself as a dangerous snake. This tactic is known as Batesian mimicry and works well in scaring off potential predators.

There exist twenty-four subspecies of the milk snake, with subtle differences between each one. The scarlet kingsnake, another non-venomous snake, is often confused with the milk snake and for good reason, the milk snake is a species of the kingsnake.

The milk snake is a very vibrant snake. This snake has patterns of red, black, yellow, and sometimes white bands with red and black bands touching. This is slightly different from the coral snake. Because of its similarity to the coral snake, they are accidentally killed by those who confuse the two snakes.

There exists a common mnemonic or memory device to help people remember and recognize the difference in colors between a milk snake and the coral snake that works almost one hundred percent of the time, “Red on yellow kills a fellow. Red on black venom lack”. You can find this mnemonic rhyme along with a larger explanation here.

This rhyme works great in the continental United States and has helped me identify snakes both owned by friends as well as in the wild. However, as soon as you leave the US, you will find multiple highly venomous snakes that also have the red on black surrounded by a yellow color pattern. Other coral snakes globally may have other colored bands or no bands at all.

The best way to identify a coral snake from a milk snake is by its head, which is blunt and black to behind the eyes. The coral snakes bands also go all the way around its body instead of stopping at the belly.

Another common subspecies, the eastern milk snake typically has a gray to tan background color with black-bordered brown blotches on the dorsum.

This subspecies is also common and behaviors like other milk snakes. The eastern milk snake is commonly mistaken for the copperhead snake, a venomous snake found in regions close by the eastern milk snake. Again, this is no accident. The eastern milk snake purposely has similar colors and shape as the copperhead to fool potential predators.

Can I Still Get Injured by a Milk Snake’s Fangs or Teeth?

The milk snake does not have any fangs nor identifiable teeth. This is another identifiable between itself and the coral snake. The coral snake has short fangs that are always erect or visible.

There have not been any recorded human deaths from a milk snake bite. They are friendly to humans and aid in keeping rodent populations in check.

That being said, milk snakes can be easily scared and bite an owner, especially a young milk snake. Juvenile milk snakes have more energy than the adult and will bite more often as well. This is good to know for potential pet owners, if your pet milk snake bites, with training and becoming more familiar, the snake will stop.

Milk snakes are a nocturnal species. Because they are primarily awake during the night, they should be handled with care and for short periods of time, typically no more than seven minutes at a time. This should be taken into account when looking for a pet snake. Since milk snakes can get scared easily when handled, it is important to be gentle and considerate.

One who wants to avoid getting bit by their snake will follow this list of suggestions:

  • Keep your pet snake well fed
  • Never offer it food directly from your hand
  • Approach it slowly when touching it
  • Handle it gently
  • Avoid handling it when it is mid-shed

If a milk snake is found in the wild, don’t kill it! These snakes are our friends and help eliminate mice, rats, and other venomous snakes. If you do notice an overrun of milk snakes on your property, do your best to relocate them.

I find it very sad that most cases of a snake attack or snake bite incidents occur when people provoke a snake or try to pick up a wild snake improperly. So many of these can be avoided by simply letting the snake be.

Even if you feel confident that a wild snake is not venomous, its recommended to not approach the snake.

You won’t run across many milk snakes out in the open. They generally can be found near barns, rocky slopes, forests or other areas where rodents are present. Since they are nocturnal and terrestrial, the milk snake will hide under wood piles or blend in with ground litter and vegetation.

While they are not on an endangered list, its good to keep helpful snakes around.

How do Milk Snakes Eat?

Milk snakes will eat just about anything. They will eat birds and their eggs, frogs, insects, and other snakes. Despite these things, milk snakes love to eat rodents- the primary diet. A milk snake will ambush its prey and strike sometimes several times. Then it will suffocate the creature until dead and then swallow the animal whole.

Wild milk snakes hunt at night but I found no information if house pets need to be feed in the nighttime. I don’t believe its critical to feed your snake at night. However, I would highly encourage not feeding your milk snake live rodents but rather pre-killed and thawed rodents only. 

Not only is this the cheaper option because you can buy rodents in bulk and store them in the freezer but a dead mouse will never attack your snake and potentially hurt it.

Something cool I found is that milk snakes will eat other snakes, particularly the coral snake. This is great news to humans as the coral snake would love to chomp on a human hand. We like milk snakes!

What Do I Do if I am Bitten by a Milk Snake?

Assuming you know for sure you are bitten by a milk snake and not a venomous cousin, there is little to do other than clean the area where you were bitten. These snakes can’t do more than scare you by suddenly biting. Their jaw and mouth is relatively small and has little capacity to deal much damage.

Just like you should wash your hands after handling a pet snake, you should clean up after a bite to keep yourself safe. Remember what goes in your pet snake’s mouth. You don’t want dead mouse particles on your hand.

If you were bitten while handling the milk snake, put it back in the cage and give it some space to cool down before handling again. Try to find the reason for the bite, whether you put your hand in the milk snake’s tank like you typically would feed it, the snake is shedding, or feels grumpy.

However, if you were bitten in the wild, by an unknown snake or have any doubt that it was a milk snake but potentially the venomous coral or copperhead snake, you will need to follow a different set of instructions.

What Do I Do if I am Bitten by a Coral Snake or Copperhead Snake?

If you have been bitten by a coral snake or copperhead snake, it is critical that you remain calm and keep your physical activity to a minimum. Fast movement and panicking cause an increase in blood pressure and this pushes the venom further into your bloodstream, endangering you further and is necessary.

Seek immediate medical attention and visit the emergency room. I strongly advise calling 911. If the snake is still around, get to a safe distance from it first, in case it strikes again. Once you are out of danger, I do not recommend driving to a medical facility yourself.

If you are bitten by a venomous snake, it is critical that you remain calm and keep your physical activity to a minimum.

Venom affects your nervous system, which is especially dangerous while driving. If possible, have someone you trust as an emergency contact drive you, or call an ambulance.

Coral snakes have sharp short fangs which piece the skin by a chewing motion. Unlike the milk snake, coral snakes sink their teeth into a prey or predator for as long as they can to help the spread of venom. The venom is quite lethal, second to the black mamba but takes a while to effectively distribute into the bite area.

The copperhead snake is well-known for being eager to bite. They will bite a victim and then release, letting the venom do its magic. They’ll keep close to prey that try to escape and wait until it dies before swallowing it whole.

It is important that you get out of the area and receive medical aid. Remain calm but understand the seriousness of the situation. Although pit vipers are capable of ‘dry bites’ or bites without any release in venom, treat all coral and copperhead bites the same and get help.

Luckily, in the United States, proper treatment and antivenom are common to emergency personnel and centers. Because antivenom is easily accessible, the chances of a fatality have gone down dramatically over the past few decades.

Here is a great post about snakes bites and different things that you should know.

How do I Prevent Being Bitten Again?

Being bitten by a milk snake is generally an uncommon experience. That being said, there are a few things you can do to make sure the snake will not bite you again.

First, replace the snake in its cage and secure the openings. The milk snake is known for being sneaky and an escape artist.

Second, if you think it bit you because of hunger, feed your snake. It might be a good idea to approach the snake with the food on tweezers to keep some distance between your hand and the snake’s mouth.

If the snake is shedding, see if there’s something you can do to assist. Keep the humidity levels at optimal levels, a water basin for the snake to loosen up in, among other things.

Milk snakes really aren’t known for being ‘biters’ so there’s probably a good reason they gave you a nip. Learn how to identify your snake’s mood and keep it healthy.

Related Questions

Why are they called ‘milk snakes’? Old myths recount how milk snakes would sneak into barns and suck the milk from dairy cows. Of course, this is all fabricated. Milk snakes cannot physically drink milk from a cow. Milk snakes do like to hang out in barns which is probably where the myth came about.

Are milk snakes aggressive? Milk snakes are not particularly aggressive or quick to bite which make these snakes such great pets.

Do milk snakes drink milk when they are young? Milk snakes are like other snakes and do not drink much water, let alone milk. Furthermore, milk snake’s mothers, like all snakes, do not take care of their young and leave them to fend for themselves. Milk snakes do not drink or produce milk.

Chase Bryan

Chase is a freelance writer and stand-up comic. He currently lives in Idaho where he works on a collection of short stories for children about the son of a Native American Chief.

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