Snake debate

Asked May 21, 2017, 11:04 PM EDT

There is an ongoing family debate about the snake pictured. Therefore we need an expert! So what kind of snake is this?

Pendleton County West Virginia

1 Response

Thank you for your question. The snake in your photographs is the Eastern milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum). It is a non-venomous species.
This species is often mistaken for the venomous copperhead and needlessly killed.

The Eastern milksnake is found from Maine west to Wisconsin and south to Tennessee and the upper parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. They occur throughout West Virginia. Typical length is a little over two feet, and a maximum length of a little over four feet has been recorded.

This species is found in forested habitat, but can also be seen in open fields. They can be found under rocks, lumber, and other types of materials/debris around former agricultural areas, meadows and edges of woodlands. Milksnakes have a varied diet. They feed on small rodents, small birds, lizards, snakes (including copperheads and rattlesnakes), amphibians and the eggs of lizards, snakes and birds. They also eat various insects and other invertebrates. Like their relatives the kingsnakes, milksnakes appear to be immune to the venom of pit vipers.

Milksnakes reproduce by laying eggs. Mating normally occurs from April to June. Eggs are laid in early summer and hatch in approximately eight weeks. Babies have the same pattern/coloration as the adults, except their colors are generally brighter.

If threatened, milksnakes will usually try to escape. They may vibrate their tail and release a strong-smelling musk from their anal glands. If handled, they generally will bite and chew.

Here's a link to the a publication on West Virginia Snakes from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

An excellent field guide for snakes in your area is:

Gibbons, Whit. (2017). Snakes of the Eastern United States. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

Hope this answers your question, and thank you for contacting Ask an Expert.