Milk Snakes: Colored for Danger, but Totally Harmless

A lot of animals are named after things they sometimes eat — anteaters eat ants, dung beetles feed on….well….you know. Then we have milk snakes — a vibrant bunch of North American serpents with no interest whatsoever in dairy products, despite their common name. Like many snakes, milk snakes are generalist predators that eat just about anything they can catch and swallow. In general, younger milk snakes consume smaller prey such as lizards, while older ones primarily eat small mammals such as mice or voles. According to herpetologist Trevor Persons, the name “milk snake” originated from the mistaken belief that since these snakes were frequently found in or around dairy barns, they were stealing milk from farmers by sucking on dairy cows. The truth is, snakes don’t naturally consume milk, and any cow would definitely notice and object to a sharp-toothed reptile clamping down on her udders. Milk snakes are nonvenomous and pose no threat to humans. Unfortunately, throughout their range, they're often killed at the hands of people who mistake them for venomous species. If you're wondering whether milk snakes make good pets, the answer is yes. They are considered shy and easy to handle. Just make sure they have plenty of hiding places and they will be happy and easy to care for. As they often eat small mammals and insects in nature, you will want to feed them pre-killed mice.