Scales and Tales

I Just Found a Deadly Coral Snake...Well No, Not in South Dakota You Didn't.


Pale Milksnake

One of the most common snakes in South Dakota, west of the Missouri River, is a little-seen snake called the Pale Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum multistriata). These snakes are surprisingly common around here but are very secretive and so, people are often not familiar with them. They love the rains in the spring and fall, which increases the likelihood of encounters with humans.

We get many calls from concerned residents and visitors to the Black Hills about the "Coral snake" they just found in their yard or while hiking. Coral snakes are highly venomous species of snakes native to the southern part of the U.S. There are also a number of species in Central and South America. US Coral snake species do closely resemble some species of milksnakes, including the Pale milksnake. However, our wonderful Pale milksnakes are totally harmless.In the case of US coral snakes vs the Pale milksnake, the old saying: "Red to yellow, kill a fellow - Red to black venom lack" holds true. But, I must add, with both milksnakes and coral snakes, this is not a hard and fast rule.

This is what a southeastern US Coral Snake looks like. This is what a southeastern US Coral Snake looks like.

They use their bright colors to intimidate would-be predators and make those predators (and us) think they are Coral snakes. Bright colors, when found in nature, often indicate the animal either tastes bad or is potentially dangerous. The milksnake's color mimicry of the Coral snake is very effective in keeping them safe, except when worried citizens kill them thinking they are killing a deadly Coral snake.

Pale Milksnake Pale Milksnake

This is probably my favorite native snake species in South Dakota. Keep an eye out for them on walking paths and roadways. They often hang out under rotting logs or lumber and in other places they can hide and find their favorite foods. When you see them, don't harm them - enjoy these little rodent-eating machines! But, it is not just rodents. These snakes also feed on bugs, lizards and other snakes as well, including juvenile and young Prairie Rattlesnakes!! Small and wonderful, Pale Milks rarely get larger than 24 inches. Most of the ones brought in to us are about the size of a pencil.




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Sky Dome

Step inside the Sky Dome to experience a warm tropical climate while exploring our indoor jungle filled with exotic and unique flora and fauna. 

Rattlesnake Gulch

Try your hand at gemstone sluicing or go on a 3D safari. Our very own old west ghost town as numerous photo opportunities and activities to keep the kids entertained.

Cheyenne's Habitat

Cheyenne the bald eagle has been a permanent resident of Reptile Gardens for 11 years with permission of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Maniac's habitat

Maniac is our resident giant saltwater crocodile. At over 16 feet long and1,350pounds, he is one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere. If you don't see him at his enclosure inside the SkyDome, make sure to check outside!

Prairie Dog Town

Get down to eye-level with these fuzzy little animals and see firsthand what life is like in a typical prairie dog town!

Methuselah's Playground

Methuselah was a giant Galapagos Tortoise weighing in at over 600 pounds, and a long time resident of Reptile Gardens. His memory lives on at this playground featuring a bronze statue of Methuselah himself. 

Snake Show stage

Get up-close-and-personal with our snake ambassadors in this family-friendly snake handling show.

Gator Show stage

Dozens of Alligators, Crocodiles, and Caimans and one keeper...what could go wrong? Separate fact from fiction in this educational, family-friendly show and get a chance to pet Fluffy, our baby gator!

Bird Show stage

Interact with birds from around the world at the Bird Show, where they love to show off their beauty and intelligence. 

Gift Shop

Carrying a wide variety of Reptile Gardens souvenirs as well as educational books for every age and a variety of stunning rocks, minerals, and fossils from all over the world.

Green Parrot Cafe

Hungry? Refuel with buffalo burgers, The Maniac burger, Black Mamba Shakes, Indian Tacos, and more!

Giant Tortoise

Don't miss this photo opportunity! Get up-close and personal with these friendly giants who love to have their neck scratched and are great with kids. 

Tortuga Falls

Take a stroll through this meditative garden, gaze into our turtle and koi pond, listen to the waterfalls, and don't miss Darwin the Kookaburra! 

Walking Garden

We're about more than just Reptiles! Our outdoor gardens are beauty to be seen as they change throughout the season and year after year. 

Living Wall

This vertical garden is a wall of color that grows and changes through the Summer season creating striking patterns and unique portraits as it grows. 

Pet A Python

Don't miss your chance to Pet a Python!  Our snake handlers ar here to talk about any questions or myths you've heard about snakes. Don't forget your camera! Our pythons are very photogenic and love to photos with you!