Pale Milksnake

Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata


Adults average 45-75 cm (~18-30 inches) in total length. Scales are smooth and glossy in appearance, and are found in 21 (rarely 23) rows at mid-body[1]. The form is characterized by a tri-colored pattern of red or orange bands or saddles which are bordered on either side by black bands of variable width, and set on a white to cream or gray background. The colored bands or saddles may or may not reach the venter, are known to vary in number from 20 to 36, and may occasionally be interrupted mid-dorsally by black pigment[2][3]. The venter, in turn, may be immaculate white or variably patterned with black pigment. The scales of the white, cream, or gray background coloration are generally variably flecked with dark pigment in a trait known as "news-printing"[1][3][4].

Similar Species

No other species within the range of the Pale Milksnake is known to exhibit a similar color or pattern[5][6][7].

Alternate Scientific Name

The scientific name of Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata is alternately spelled Lampropeltis triangulum multistrata. Further notes on this are included under the Taxonomic Notes heading below.


The known range for Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata extends from central and eastern Montana south through central and eastern Wyoming, central and western South Dakota, and through most of Nebraska[6]. This form intergrades with the very similar Central Plains Milksnake (L. t. gentilis) in southwestern Nebraska, northwestern Kansas, and northeastern Colorado[1]. The Pale Milksnake also intergrades with the Red Milksnake (L. t. syspila) along the Missouri River Valley in eastern Nebraska and South Dakota[8], and with the Utah Milksnake (L. t. taylori) in northwestern Colorado and, presumably, southwestern Wyoming[1][9][10]. Intergrade zones are generally characterized by animals with an appearance that is intermediate between the adjacent subspecies, though certain individuals may more closely resemble populations at either extreme[11].


The Pale Milksnake inhabits sandhills, prairies, canyons, semi-deserts, rocky escarpments, riparian areas, and mountain foothills and valleys. This form is largly fossorial and nocturnal. Though most active during moist conditions, the presence of surface water is not a prerequisite for Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata populations[2].


Like all members of the genus Lampropeltis, the Pale Milksnake is oviparous. Mating takes place soon after emergence from brumation in the Spring, with oviposition occurring in June or July[2][3]. This form lays 2-10 leathery, oblong eggs which hatch in August or September[3][12].


Like other members of the Colubrid tribe Lampropeltini, Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata is a vertebrate specialist. Known food items for this form include small mammals and Squamate reptiles (notably, Sceloporus and Aspidoscelis)[13]. Historical records of invertebrate predation in Lampropeltis triangulum have recently been refuted under the premise that invertebrate remains in the digestive tract are likely the result of secondary ingestion (i.e. the snake ingested an insectivorous prey item) rather than intentional predation[14].

Conservation status

Several states offer the Pale Milksnake some form of protection from collection. However, due to the fossorial and nocturnal habits of this form, as well as its limited period of activity, collection is unlikely to be of concern to its survival or viability[2][15]. Far greater threats come in the form of habitat destruction/alteration, contamination/pesticide and herbicide use, non-native species (i.e. domestic dogs and cats), exotic diseases, and climate change[16][17].

Taxonomic Notes

In Robert Kenicott's original (printed) description of the present Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata (as Lampropeltis multistriata) in 1861, the subspecific epithet was spelled "multistriata". It was, however, pointed out by Edward D. Cope later the same year (1861),that the original printing had misspelled Kenicott's intention of multistrata by adding an extra "i" and thus turning -strata into -striata. As a result, there is on-going debate regarding the proper spelling of the subspecific epithet.

There is evidence against the recognition of L. t. multistriata as a subspecies. The range of phenotypic variability found in the Central Plains Milksnake (L. t. gentilis)[1] appears to fully encompass L. t. multistriata[2], suggesting it should be sunk into L. t. gentilis for a lack of diagnostic viability[11]. Further, many populations of L. t. multistriata are not predominantly comprised of animals with the classic and extreme "Pale" phenotype[3][12]. Indeed, many historical specimens of L. t. multistriata were considered to be L. t. gentilis[18][19] despite of the availability of of the name Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata.


  1. Williams, Kenneth L. 1988. Systematics and Natural History of the American Milksnake, Lampropeltis triangulum. (2nd ed.). Milwaukee Public Museum. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  2. Grover, Cole R. and Dell T. Despain. 2009. The Pale Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum multistrata): Natural history and captive husbandry. IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians. 17 (1): 230-233.
  3. Grover, Cole R. and Dell T. Despain. Personal Observation.
  4. Deptula, W. 1997. Ghost of the Great Plains. Reptiles. 5 (10):32-46.
  5. Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
  6. Conant, Roger and Joseph Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians -Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
  7. Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Mountain Press Publishing Company. Missoula, Montana.
  8. Kiesow, Alyssa M. 2006. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of South Dakota. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. Pierre, South Dakota.
  9. Roth, J.J. and H.M. Smith. 1990. The milksnake, Lampropeltis triangulum, in northwest Colorado. Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society. 25 (1):6-7.
  10. Smith, H.M., C. Ristau, T. Bell, M. Bell and D. Chiszar. 1995. Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata x taylori. Herpetological Review. 26 (4):210.
  11. Smith, H., Chiszar, D., and Montanucci, R. 1997. Subspecies and Classification. Herpetological Review 28(1):13-16.
  12. Hubbs, Brian. Personal Communication.
  13. Hamilton, Bryan Tyler, Rachel Hart, Jack W. Sites. 2011. Feeding Ecology of the Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum, Colubridae) in the western United States. In Review.
  14. Greene, Harry S., Edmund J. Zimmerer, William M. Palmer, and Michael F. Benard. 2010. Diet Specialization by the Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides). IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians. 16 (4): 18-19.
  15. Montana Natural Heritage Program. July, 2009. Montana Species of Concern Report. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Helena, Montana.
  16. Graeter, Gabrielle J., Kurt A. Buhlmann, Lucas R. Wilkinson, and J. Whitfield Gibbons (Editors). 2008. Draft Inventory and Monitoring: Recommended Techniques for Reptiles and Amphibians, with Application to the United States and Canada. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) Technical Report. Aiken, South Carolina.
  17. Smith, B. E., and Nathan T. Stephens. 2002. A conservation assessment of the pale milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata) in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Technical Report.
  18. Nelson, D.J. 1950. Lampropeltis triangulum gentilis in Montana. Herpetologica. 6:41-44.
  19. Nelson, D.J. 1948. Lampropeltis triangulum gentilis in Montana. Herpetologica 4:170.

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