Milksnake Care Guide | How To Care For The Nelson’s Milksnake

You’ve decided that you want to own a pet, but you don’t know which one to get. If you are looking for something a little unique and more independent, a snake may be the best option for you: the perfect option being the Milk Snake. This Nelson’s milksnake care guide will cover all the basics you need to know before purchasing a milkshake of your own. 

Milksnakes are a wonderful choice if you are just starting as a pet owner for this type of reptile. They have a great temperament, are small, and are easy to take care of. You just need a little information, and you will be more than ready to become a Milksnake pet owner.

You will find everything you need in this guide when taking care of your Milksnake. You won’t find yourself struggling to figure out what to do or finding answers to your questions.

Nelson’s Milksnake Size And Appearance

milksnake care guide

Its image is well known worldwide, and many have seen one at least once in their life. They are red with black and white/yellow straps at which the white never meets the red. The black surrounds the white, and it has a straight head, unlike a python’s spade-shaped head.

They are also quite commonly mistaken for the venomous coral snake. Being a native Texan I was always taught to tell the difference by the phrase: red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black venom they lack. 

Milk Snakes are smaller snakes, which is why they are perfect as someone’s first pet snake. Their size can change depending on the subspecies of Nelson’s Milk Snake, but the average size for these snakes is 50-70 inches. 

If you are looking for a smaller version of this snake, be careful because some can grow longer than 70 inches. This isn’t the largest type of pet snake, but it can be bigger than the smaller subspecies.

Interestingly enough, both sexes of the snake are the same size. This isn’t always the case with other breeds, where one of the sexes is larger than the other. You won’t tell if one is a female or male by just looking at it.

Nelson’s Milksnake Lifespan

Milk snakes are very tough snakes that allow them to live quite a lifespan. They can live anywhere from twelve to twenty years but usually live around fifteen years. This average lifespan goes for all subspecies and doesn’t vary between these groups. Learning how to properly care for your milksnake will help ensure a longer lifespan.  

Nelson’s Milksnake Temperament

These snakes are great for beginners because they aren’t aggressive snakes like some other breeds. You don’t have to worry about them trying to strike you when you are holding them. And if they do end up giving you a little snip, you don’t have to worry about any venom because they aren’t venomous snakes.

Here are common characteristics of a Milksnake:

  • Peaceful
  • Docile
  • Skittish
  • Shy
  • Hardy
  • Active
  • Needs time to adjust

These snakes are quite shy initially, but they can be quite confident once they get to know you. Be careful not to scare them either. They may not bite you, but they will spray you with a musk scent to scare you away.

Give them time to adjust to you. Once the snake knows who its owner is, it will be more apt to stay in your grasp while you are handling them. If you just got them, you may not want to hold them too long because they are more prone to flee from you.


Because of the Milksnake’s temperament, they are quite easy to handle. Make sure it has gotten used to it. But there are a few steps that you need to take before you begin handling your pet.

Here are the steps you need to take when handling your pet:

  • Wash your hands before touching the snake.
  • Gently pick it up.
  • Don’t bring it close to your head or neck.
  • Support their body with your palm or arm.
  • Allow them to explore a little bit.
  • Don’t squeeze them.
  • Wash hands any time between handlings.

If you are handling a younger snake, you may find that they smell a little bit musty. This is a scent they spray to help ward off predators. As the snake adapts to you and becomes older, it will wear off.

Nelson’s Milksnake Diet

A proper diet is an essential aspect of Nelson’s milksnake care. What makes the Nelson’s Milksnake easy as a beginner pet is also their diet. These snakes have a simple diet. You should feed them appropriately sized previously frozen but thawed mice and smaller rats as adults. 

Multimammate mice are a breed of rodents that are often used to feed a Milksnake. They are a small breed, so it is perfect for the smaller sized snakes. 


The best way to feed your snake is to train them to eat dead or frozen prey. Choosing this route is not only more humane for the prey, but it is also safer for your snake. Your snake could get injured during the feeding if the prey decides to fight back. Mice can bit your snake and cause an infection.

The amount of food you give your snake depends on your snake. Hatchlings will need smaller prey. I would suggest frozen thawed pinky mice. 

Hatchlings should be feed every 5-7 days, juveniles should be fed weekly, and adults should only be fed every 10-14 days. 

The Nelsons milksnake can be prone to becoming overweight when fed too much and too often. 

If you are not for sure when to feed your snake, there are many cues you can look at:

  • They begin to prowl in the enclosure.
  • Their tongue flicks more frequently.
  • They respond to you getting their food.

They will let you know if they aren’t hungry. They won’t find any interest in the food, and the frozen rodent will be left alone. You will then need to throw it away. Dump it in a trashcan outside, so the smell doesn’t disturb your home.

Best Method For Feeding

The best way to give your snake food is to set the food into the enclosure with tongs. You should use tongs because snakes can strike and accidentally bite you. Even the nicest snakes can surprise you, and you don’t want that happening. The snake then will come over to get its meal.

If you have more than one snake, you will want to feed them in different enclosures or different areas of the enclosures. You don’t want them competing for the meal. To keep both snakes, it is always best practice to feed in them away from each other.

Watering Your Milksnake 

For a Milksnake, add a small or medium water bowl into the enclosure. It needs to be big enough to fit the entirety of the snake’s body. The water bowl is best positioned at the cool side of the enclosure because it will often be used to cool the snake down if it ever gets too hot. 

Try to give them fresh non-chlorinated water every day or every other day. If you see the water has gotten cloudy or extremely dirty, it is time to refresh the water for your snake. No one wants to drink dirty water.

Do Milksnakes Need Vitamins And Supplements

Although most snakes don’t need any vitamins and supplements, you can still give them a few. You can coat their food with a calcium supplement. The calcium helps them keep their bones strong. 

If you are feeding your snake the necessary type of food like frozen mice or rats, you will not need to give them these vitamins or supplements. Always ask your veterinarian about supplements and vitamins before giving them to your snake.

Nelson’s Milksnake Enclosure Requirements

There are many options you can choose from with these types of snakes. They do well in many types of environments and quite the hardy breed of snake. You can either pick a traditional aquarium to house your pet or you can create one out of wood. These snakes are not strong enough to break through and escape.

The enclosure should at least 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet tall. It may be a little bigger if you have a larger subspecies of the Milksnake. You want the vivarium the length of your snake’s body so it can stretch out and be active. 

If you make the enclosure, add some glass or plexiglass sidings so you can watch your snake in its habitat. You also want to be able to see it, just in case it has any strange behavior or just so it can see out into the world.

There should be a great ventilation system on this vivarium because these snakes don’t like too much humidity although they do need some. You need a good airflow so that there is not too much humidity build-up and to keep from mold growing. This also helps them not get overheated.

Of course, you will want to make sure that you have an enclosure with a very secure lid. The last thing you want is for your milksnake to escape. 

Best Substrate For A Milksnake

The substrate you use is very important when caring for your Nelson’s milksnake. Substrate is the material you choose to put at the bottom of your enclosure just as if it were the ground they are slithering on if they were in their natural habitat. You want something that is great for your snake and easy to clean.

One of the best substrates to use is Aspen’s Snake Bedding. It is all-natural and used by professionals worldwide. It allows your snake to burrow into the substrate and build a nest. It is odorless which is perfect for snakes. 

The bedding is made of renewable material so it is not toxic to your pet. It is similar to wood shavings but wood shavings can be rough on your snake. This is a much better choice than many other products. For younger Milk snakes, you can use paper towels or a similar type of material. Once they mature, you will need to find a better substrate that they can burrow in. 

Be careful when choosing other brands of aspen bedding. There are many types out there that can be toxic to your reptile or even rough on their scales. This is because these commercial brands may contain dust or other types of contaminants.


Although decor doesn’t seem like something of importance, it can be for a milksnake. Decor offers places for the snake to hide and obstacles it can climb over, around, and under. You want this availability so that your snake gets exercise in every day.

You will need at least two pieces of decor that allow the snake to hide. One should be placed in the hot area of your enclosure and one will need to be placed in the cold area of the enclosure. This allows the snake to have options on both sides of the vivarium.

With all the options today, you can decorate your vivarium in so many ways. Here are those options:

  •  Store-Bought Branches
  • Cork Bark
  • Plants ( non-toxic ) 
  • Artificial ornaments
  • Artificial Rocks

You will want to steer clear of natural rocks. These types of rocks can often get really cold or really hot depending on the environment. The surface can reach a severe temperature that could harm or injure your snake and you don’t want that occurring.

If you are wanting to stick with a more natural habitat, you can add slate rock to your enclosure. This type of rock doesn’t overheat where it can burn your snake and it is often perfect for them to slither upon to bask in the heat lamp.

You want to choose more artificial ornaments because they are lighter than natural objects. You don’t want these objects to fall on your snake or harm it with the heaviness that comes with a natural ornament. 

If you have already provided two hiding spots on either side of the enclosure, you still want to provide partial cover in other areas. Remember that these snakes are often shy. Partial cover will allow you to get to know your snake as well as provide a way for the snake to warm up to you. Never use anything that you find outside such as tree branches or rocks. These can be contaminated with mites or other things that can be harmful to your milksnake. 

Best Temperature And Humidity For Milksnakes 

Temperature and humidity are very important for  Nelson’s Milksnake care. They come from warm, humid climates in South America and Central America. You will need to make sure that the environment resembles these locations.


There should be two areas in the vivarium: a hot side and a cold side. You want to have these options so your snake can warm itself when necessary. The hot or heated side should only take about one-third of your enclosure while the cool side should take up the rest of it.

The heated side should have not exceeded 90 degrees. You will want it to be between above 84 degrees but not over 90 degrees. The entire enclosure should range between 72 degrees to 82 degrees. You can safely drop the temperature to 65 degrees at night. You don’t want it to be too cold or you can send your snake into shock.

There are many ways to provide heat to the heated side of your snake’s habitat:

  • Heat Mat
  • Ceramic Bulb

Heat mats are great because you can control the temperature of them with a thermostat. If you’re using an aquarium and it has a glass bottom, you can put the heat mat beneath it to provide heat for your snake. You don’t want your snake to be directly on it.

Ceramic bulbs have a higher heat output so if you have a larger enclosure, you may want to choose this option. This option is more natural as well because the heat source will be from above instead of below. This source of heat will feel more natural for your snake.


The humidity level within your snake’s habitat should be about 30 to 50 percent so it means the environment will be quite humid. To make sure that the atmosphere stays pretty humid, you will need to make sure there is a large water bowl and that it is full.

Having a great ventilation system will help you keep the humidity at a consistent level. If you need to, you can add a mister that will keep the substrate moist and the humidity at a good level. Make sure to clean the substrate regularly. You don’t want mold growing in it.

Do Milksnakes Need Lighting? 

Nelson’s Milksnake is considered a nocturnal snake so you don’t need any special lighting for them. They will be sleeping during the day and so natural lighting is all you need. You may need additional lighting more for heat rather than light to help them with bone diseases.

Many types of snakes often get a bone disease because of the lack of Vitamin D. This breed of snake isn’t prone to getting it. You may want to include a UVB light so they still get some Vitamin D3. However, many experts will say that it is not essential. 

Caring For Your Milksnake 

Nelson’s Milk snakes are a great beginner pet for those who want to become a reptile owner. They have a great temperament and are easy to handle. You will not have to worry about too many obstacles when you are taking care of this animal. 

When you own a milk snake, you will find they are simple and docile. You don’t have to learn too many techniques, tips, and tricks and you will not have to worry about any aggressive strikes or temperament. You will definitely find yourself pleased with this as your pet.

If you are looking for a great pet snake to get started with then I would also suggest you check out my article:  9 Best Pet Snakes For Kids And Beginners!

Recent Posts