Corn snakes belong in the rat snake family, whereas milk snakes are a species of snakes in the kingsnake family. They’re very similar as pets.
Both species are brightly colored but have different patterns on their bodies. For instance, while milk snakes are banded, corn snakes are mostly blotched. Therefore, it is easy to tell them apart
Both corn snakes and milk snakes can be found in eastern parts of the United States. A popular breed of milk snake called the eastern milk snake mainly resides in the Northeastern parts of America, while corn snakes mainly reside in the southeastern United States.
Best as a Pet: Corn snakes are very docile pets, making them slightly better beginner snakes. But, milk snakes are also known to be very good snakes for beginners, so it’s hard to go wrong either way!
Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmed. Consult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.
Corn Snake Overview
Corn snakes are also commonly known as red rat snakes. It is befitting that they would be called red rat snakes because their bodies are covered in reddish-orange colors with blotchy patterns. Even so, they have sub-species with slightly varying colors and patterns.
Corn snakes, just like the rest of rat snakes, feed on rodents. Their most favorite food is rats.
They are non-venomous, so they are totally harmless to human beings. They also don’t grow too big and can fit in small places in captivity. Moreover, they are docile and relatively easy to take care of.
Corn snakes are, without a doubt, some of the best snake species to domesticate, especially if you are a beginner hobbyist.
Fun Fact: It is believed that corn snakes got their name because of their body patterns which look awfully similar to Indian corn. Another theory is that they got their name from their tendency to lounge near corn granaries waiting around for rats and mice to eat.
Related Article: Do Corn Snakes Bite?
Milk Snake Overview
Scientific name Lampropeltis Triangulum, milk snakes are variants of the well-known kingsnakes, which are famous for eating other snakes.
There are about 24 known subspecies of these snakes, including Sinaloan milk snakes, Pueblan milk snakes, and Nelson’s milk snakes.
They are primarily found in North America. Milk snakes are gorgeous with their bright colors and strikingly patterned bodies.
While they are often mistaken for venomous coral snakes and copperheads, milk snakes pose no threat to humans. If anything, they make such amazing pets if given the proper care and attention.
Fun Fact: The snakes got their name from sneaking into barns to drink milk from nursing cows. However, it makes more sense that the snakes would roam around the barns waiting on rodents to kill and consume.
Comparison of Corn Snakes Vs. Milk Snakes
Corn snakes are the most common type of serpents in the woods of the Southeastern United States. They roam the areas between New Jersey to Florida and all the way to the west of the Mississippi River.
They live in a wide range of habitats depending on the weather and availability of food. For starters, you will not miss them in the forests and grasslands. When the weather is relatively warm, corn snakes invade rodents’ burrows and slither into abandoned buildings searching for food. When it is cold, these serpents seek shelter in mammal burrows, stump holes, and other hidden places.
As for milk snakes, you can be sure to bump into them all over the Northern American range. These serpents cover a wider range than any other snake in the region. In the United States, for instance, they live everywhere in the east and midwest.
Milk snakes thrive in a wide variety of habitats, especially since they have such a wide range. While they prefer forests, you can also find them in fields, rocky areas, farms, and barns. Comparatively, they are shyer than corn snakes and tend to spend time hidden under rocks, boards, or in the darkest areas of barns.
2. Behavioral Differences
Being cold-blooded animals, corn snakes and milk snakes tend to avoid going out when it is hot. For this reason, they tend to be nocturnal and only get out to forage for food at dusk and during the night. However, they have no problem getting out during the day when it is cold and wet.
During winter, both species go into a state of prolonged sleep, commonly referred to as hibernation. However, in milk snakes’ case, it is more of brumation because they wake up often to drink water.
Milk snakes are solitary serpents and tend to spend most of their time alone. The only time you will find them in the company of other snakes is when they are copulating or bundled away with other snakes during hibernation.
When bred in captivity, it is best to keep a milk snake in an enclosure alone because that is how they like it. The other reason is that they would end up eating the other snake that they are closed up with, including their own kind.
On the other hand, corn snakes have a perfect sense of smell. They can sense prey and predator from a distance. Thus, they use this ability to hunt for food in underground tunnels and on trees, as they are excellent climbers.
In captivity, both snakes are usually fed frozen mice.
In the wild, milk snakes are part of the king snake family, which is known to feed on other snakes. These snakes can sense the smell of a snake from quite a distance. You would be surprised to know that they also consume venomous snakes, the likes of copperheads. Interestingly, they do not get affected by the venom as they are immune.
Even so, snakes are not the only thing that milk snakes eat. They also feed on rodents such as rats, mice, and squirrels. They also eat small mammals, birds, and eggs.
Corn snakes, also known as red rat snakes, love to eat rats. They also consume other types of rodents and small animals, just like milk snakes. Juveniles tend to eat cold-blooded animals like lizards and frogs, while adult corn snakes eat warm-blooded animals.
Both corn snakes and milk snakes are powerful constrictors. They squeeze their prey to death by inhibiting the flow of blood to the brain, causing suffocation. After that, they swallow their prey whole, usually head first, and take a few days off to digest.
Read More: What do Corn Snakes Eat?
4. Which Of the Snakes Is Venomous?
Neither the milk snake nor the corn snake is venomous. They are both harmless to humans, which is one of the reasons why they make such fantastic pets.
When threatened, their first instinct of both snakes is to escape. Other than that, they are both masters of Batesian mimicry, where they act as the more dangerous snakes such as rattlesnakes to inflict fear. This tactic tends to be counteractive because some end up being killed for it.
Also, milk snakes tend to be confused with dangerous coral snakes because of their coloration and patterns. Both snakes have alternating bands of similar colors, and if you are not familiar with the specific patterns of each, it would be difficult to tell them apart. Milk snakes have red and black bands next to each other, while coral snakes have red and yellow bands next to each other.
Unfortunately, these two types of snakes tend to exist in the same areas.
5. Appearance Differences
Corn and milk snakes are similar sized and even share similar colors, but their patterns are different.
Corn snakes have reddish scaled, which are blotched with patches of red, orange, and brown. While many other snakes have the same color patterns on their skins, you can tell a corn snake apart by the black and white checkered pattern on their underside.
Milk snakes are very attractive with their banded and speckled patterns. The bands mostly come in three colors: white, black, and red. Between the bands, it is white, orange, or yellow. Each band is outlined beautifully in color black.
There are albino varieties among the milk snakes as well. As with albinism, these snakes lack black pigments, also known as melanin, and therefore, all the areas that are supposed to be black are replaced with white.
Corn snakes are relatively large and usually grow up to between two feet and six feet long. The longest corn snake on record is 72 inches in length. On the other hand, milk snakes up to a range of between 14 and 69 inches.
Both male and female milk snakes grow equally and tend to have similar body dimensions. Thus, they do not have any significant differences in the structure of their bodies- they have the same colors, weigh the same, and are of the same length. The only way to tell a male milk snake from a female one is by checking their reproductive organs.
Lastly, both corn snakes and milk snakes have round pupils like all non-venomous snakes. Venomous snakes like copperheads have vertical pupils which resemble those of cats.
6. How to Care for Corn Snakes and Milk Snakes
Corn snakes are some of the easiest snakes to take care of.
Besides being non-venomous, they are docile and quite cooperative. Moreover, they eat rodents such as rats and mice, which are readily available.
Keep in mind that corn snakes are good escape artists, so you should ensure that their enclosure is super secure. It should also be big enough to enable the snake to roam around. Also, the temperature should be regulated such that one side of the vivarium is hot and the other side cold. You could install a thermogradient for this purpose.
When healthy, corn snakes tend to flick their tongues frequently, and their eyes are clear and bright. Also, their skin is smooth without blisters. If you notice any anomalies, it is best to consult a reptile vet to guide you on the way forward.
Similar to corn snakes, milk snakes make excellent pets for snake owners.
Milk snakes are easy to pet, provided you set up a comfortable place for them to live in. The most important factor to put into consideration is the enclosure setup. While they are not large snakes, it is essential to put them in an enclosure big enough for them to roam. Thus, you want to put them in a 20-gallon tank or bigger.
Furnish the inside of the enclosure by adding some branches and rocks for the snake to climb on and maybe even hide behind. Snakes like having some solitary time in an enclosed space, and that is why it is important to have a place where they can go hide.
Also, remember to divide the enclosure into two temperature zones: one cold and one warm. Maintain the cooler section at room temperature and the warmer section at a slightly higher temperature, preferably 80⁰F or above. Put one hiding spot on the hot side and another on the cool side of the enclosure.
Additionally, it is advisable to put a water bowl for the milk snake on the cooler side of the tank. Ideally, the bowl should be big enough for the snake to submerge into when it feels like it. In the other section, you should consider putting a humidity box.
A humidity box provides the environment your snake needs to shed its skin. This is because it is damp, and milk snakes love the feeling of dampness on their skin. However, you should not leave the box in the enclosure for more than a few days.
Note: Milk snakes tend to be cannibalistic, so don’t have more than one milk snake in an enclosure.
They also love to eat, so be careful not to overfeed them. As milk snakes think everything is food, you probably want to keep off them after they’ve eaten lest they bite you.
More Snake Comparisons:
Corn snakes are species of the rat snake family, while milk snakes belong to the family of kingsnakes. Both are non-venomous and quite docile, which makes for excellent pets, especially for beginner snake hobbyists.
While milk snakes are mostly found in the North American region, corn snakes are most common in the Southeastern parts of the United States. Both snakes are constrictors and feed mainly on rodents. Interestingly, though, milk snakes tend to consume other snakes, including their own kind.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.