It has been a long time since we have done any articles on this beautiful species of Milk Snake, so we thought it was time to do an updated article on the large and attractive Honduran Milk Snake. Of all the milk snakes I personally feel that the Honduran Milk Snake is the most impressive, not only in size but also with regards to their bright colouring, especially when it comes to the amazing variety of mutations that exist within this species.
The Honduran Milk Snake occurs naturally at low to medium elevations of the tropical areas of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Northeastern Costa Rica. The normal or wild type Honduran Milk Snake is a beautiful snake by itself. The background colour ranges from red to orange. The inner rings can be yellow or orange and anywhere in between. A Honduran Milk with yellow rings is known as a Tri-colour Honduran. When the inner rings are orange, it’s called a Tangerine Honduran. Juveniles start out nice and clean looking, but often develop black pigment on many of the scales as they grow. This black pigment is also referred to as “black tipping”. This black tipping is often more abundant on the inner rings. In herpetolculture, little to no black tipping is more desirable.
Adults average around 1.2 – 1.5m in size but there have been specimens that have been reported reaching sizes up to 2m.
Honduran Milk Snakes hatch out as large robust babies, much bigger than many of the other milk snake species. As babies they tend to be defensive and fairly quick. They are known to be quite bitey as they will feel threatened by you trying to handle them; that is just the truth and you can’t blame them from being nervous of us. When we are packing our Honduran Milk Snakes at the show we often joke around as to who is going to setup them up in the displays, as often if you are not careful you will get a bite and they are very quick. A bite from one of these guys is, of course, completely harmless and isn’t even painful; all it does is give you a bit of a fright if you are not used to being bitten. As they grow and begin to become used to you they tame down very well. In all honesty, I have never been bitten once by our adults and they are very tame and docile and easy to handle. So I urge the buyer of a hatchling Honduran Milk Snake to be patient, as this species will tame down as it grows and as an adult it will become very tame.
Like most milk snakes, Honduran Milk Snakes are quite active, but do not need huge enclosures. A medium sized vivarium (even a fish tank with a tight fitting lid) will house your Honduran nicely. The cage should allow a minimum of 30cm of floor space to 30cm of snake and be approximately a third of the snake’s length in height. Hatchlings should start out in an appropriately sized small vivarium or plastic container as they can become stressed and stop feeding in an oversized vivarium.
All snakes are excellent escape artists, so care must be taken when planning their housing. Make sure your vivarium or tank has a tight fitting lid, which can be clamped down. Hondurans are very strong and can push a loose fitting lid from a vivarium. They are ideally housed individually and the only time we have them together is when it comes time for mating.
Hondurans, like all snakes milk snakes, are cold blooded and get heat from their surroundings. In the wild, snakes bask in the sun to keep warm or move to a shady spot if they are too hot, this is called thermo-regulation. The ideal temperature for the warm area of your snake’s vivarium is around 27-33°C.
Heat should be provided using either a heat pad or a heat bulb on the roof of the vivarium surrounded by a bulb guard. It is recommended to use some sort of digital temperature controller in order to control the heat on the hot spot. This will help to ensure the temperature is always right and will also make sure the heat pad isn’t on all the time, especially on those hot days. Heat pads should only cover about a quarter of the floor space to allow your snake to thermo-regulate.
Your milk snake does not require light 24 hours a day and can suffer from stress if the light exposure is too long. It is recommended to keep your milk snake in a natural light pattern that mimics normal daytime, so a heat mat is a better choice between the two heat sources. If you do decide to use a heat pad, then an energy-saving bulb with guard can be added to the vivarium for decorative purposes to help you see your snake, just make sure you switch it off for at least 12 hours at night.
It’s useful when using either method to have a small thermometer on each end of the vivarium to check the temperature. Place the thermometers near the hides on top of the substrate as this is where your milk snake will spend the majority of its time. One end should be around 27 to 33°C and the other around room temperature. Checking temperatures regularly is advised to ensure that your Milk Snake can thermo-regulate by moving around the tank. Milk snakes do not require a U.V lamp in their enclosures.
Different substrates can be used to house your Honduran Milk Snake. We use wood shavings as we find that this is the most practical substrate. Make sure not to use Cedar or Redwood shavings as these are toxic for all animals and should never be used in predator or prey enclosures. We try and to spot clean once a week and then do a complete clean once a month. Newspaper also works well but does not absorb the droppings as well and they seem to quickly mess the newspaper up. If setting up a display enclosure more naturalistic substrates can be used.
With all our breeding animals that are mature and are in condition to breed we feed them their last meals on the 15th of May. In preparation for their brumation period over the next two weeks we slowly start dropping temperatures until they are completely off. On 1st June we move our breeding animals out into another colder room, as our main reptile room gets very warm during the day. We keep this room as dark as we can and we allow it to get as cold as 10°C at night, and we try to keep it below 18°C during the day, with room temperatures averaging 15°C. During this time no food is offered, only clean drinking water. This brumation period lasts two months (some may do it for even longer) and on the 1st of August we bring the snakes back to the main room and over a week or two warm temperatures back up to normal. You can start by offering a small meal after a week out of brumation just to get their digestive system working again, and then after that you can continue your normal feeding regime. Try to even feed females extra during this time to help them with follicle development, egg development, and egg laying.
The snake will shed around 3 – 6 weeks after brumation and after this shed snakes can start being paired up. Eggs are laid within four to six weeks of copulation. I place a plastic egg laying box that can comfortably fit the female when she is curled up. We place this egg-laying box around the enclosure’s midpoint and use damp sphagnum moss inside. Gravid females usually stay in these boxes and only come out to eat, drink, and defecate.
Females have a pre-lay shed about 10 days before depositing eggs. Check temperatures to ensure they are not above 32°C, and make sure the moss isn’t too wet or soggy; it should be damp and fluffy. Check daily for eggs after the pre-lay shed, but remember that egg laying is physically taxing for the snakes, so keep direct contact to a minimum. The female will lay anywhere between 4 and 12 large eggs.
Honduran Milk Snake eggs can be incubated the same way as other colubrids eggs such as corn snakes, kingsnakes and other milk snakes. The only thing is you might need a bigger container to incubate the eggs in as they are large eggs. We take a clear ice-cream tub, drill a few small holes in the lid and then fill it about half way with damp vermiculite. To get the correct dampness in the vermiculite we mix water with it at a 1:1 weight ratio so for example if we add 100grams of vermiculite we will then add 100grams of water. Eggs must be carefully removed and buried half deep into the vermiculite as they were laid. The ice-cream tub with the eggs in it is then placed into an incubator where temperature is maintained at around 29 – 30°C. Eggs should take around 60 days to hatch.
There is an ever increasing number of mutations in Honduran Milk Snakes. Some of the current more common mutations are:
Albino Tri-Colour: Recessive
Albino Tangerine: Recessive
Snow: Double Recessive (Anerythristic and Albino)
Hypo/Hypo Tangerine/Hypo Tri-colour: Recessive
Hypo Vanishing Pattern: Recessive and polygenic
Ghost: Double Recessive (Anerythristic and Hypo)
Striped and Aberrant: Polygenic
Tangerine Dream: Polygenic
Hybino: Double Recessive (Albino and Hypo)
There are a lot of different selectively bred lines of Honduran Milk Snake mutations which are becoming available and look amazing.
The Honduran Milk Snake in my opinion is the most impressive milk snake specie. I recommend the Honduran Milk Snake to anyone interested in colubrids, they will not be disappointed!
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