A patron brought in a picture of a small snake she encountered. The snake is a tan color with dark brown splotches that seem to be outlined with black. It has no rattle, and its body tapers down to a rounded head.
Using resources such as Carl and Evelyn Ernst’s Snakes of the United States and Canada, Deb Platt’s article “Snakes of Ohio at a Glance” on TrekOhio.com, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, and the Ohio Public Library Information Network’s snake ID and information website, we concluded that our patron’s snake is most likely an eastern milk snake.
The eastern milk snake is found all through Ohio in all sorts of habitats. They are secretive and will often hide during the day. Mice and rats are among their preferred prey, so they can be found in and around barns. According to popular folklore, milk snakes got their name from the erroneous assumption that they hung around farms to drink milk from the cows.
The milk snake is not venomous. In fact, there are only three species of venomous snake native to Ohio: the copperhead, the massasauga rattler, and the timber rattler. They all have distinctive features that set them apart from non-venomous snakes, including triangular heads (the non-venomous snakes have rounded heads) and vertical pupils (whereas the non-venomous snakes have round pupils like people do).
Milk snakes are commonly kept as pets, though the eastern milk snake is one of the less popular subspecies. Honduran, Mexican, Pueblan, and Sinaloan milk snakes are favored for their bright red, black, and yellow bands of color. (The colors of these milk snakes mimic the bands of color on the venomous coral snake. Because they look similar, the milk snakes are often mistaken for the coral snake and left alone by predators. The eastern milk snake has more of a rattlesnake coloring, and will even shake the tip of its tail when threatened.)
For more information on snakes, Martin Gaywood’s Snakes and Patricia Pope Bartlett’s Reptiles and Amphibians for Dummies (which is about caring for reptiles and amphibians as pets) are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library.