A-z - Animals

king snake

King Snake Facts

prey
Other snakes, rodents, lizards, birds
group behavior
  • solitary
  • Lives alone except during mating season
interesting fact
King snakes eat other types of snakes.
diet
carnivore

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"King snakes eat other kinds of snakes."

King snakes can climb trees and swim. They are predators that eat rodents, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and other snakes. These snakes are not venomous; instead, they crush their prey to death. Their lifespan is 10 to 15 years.

King snake infographic

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4 Surprising Facts About King Snakes

  • They are immune to the venom of other snakes
  • Its lifespan is 10 to 15 years
  • They are sometimes called chain snakes because of the pattern of their scales
  • They emit a musky scent to deter predators

where to find them

Prairie King Snake
Prairie King Snake

© Matt Jepsen/Shutterstock.com

King snakes live in North America, especially the eastern, western, and southern parts of the United States. Different species of kingsnakes live in different parts of the United States, and some live in Mexico.

The snake's habitat also varies by species. Some of them live in forests and grasslands near water bodies, while others live in desert habitats. In forest or grassland habitats, these snakes hide in hollow trees or under leaves and branches. Alternatively, in deserts, they can be found under rocks or in narrow crevices.



These snakes are active in spring and summer. Their breeding season runs from March to May, and their eggs hatch in late summer.

species

The most beautiful animal - scarlet king snake
The scarlet king snake is native to the southeastern United States and averages between 20-28 inches in length.

©Valt Ahyppo/Shutterstock.com

There are six species of king snakes, all of which belong to the snake snake family. Although some of these snakes look similar, they live in different places.

  • Common King Snake or Eastern King Snake ( Lampropeltis getula ) – This king snake lives on the east coast of the United States from Pennsylvania to Florida. While they typically grow anywhere from 36 to 48 inches, the longest eastern kingsnake ever recorded was 82 inches.
  • California King Snake ( Lampropeltis californae ) – These king snakes live in the clifflands, wetlands and grassland areas of California. It is less colorful than other species of kingsnakes, with white stripes on black or brown scales.
  • Spotted Kingsnake (Lampropeltis holbrooki) – This species lives in the central and southern United States and into Mexico. Its territory includes Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. Some can even be found as far south as Mexico. It is named for its black body covered with yellow spots or spots.
  • Desert King Snake ( Lampropeltis splendida ) – As the name suggests, this snake has a desert habitat. It lives in the southern United States, including Texas and New Mexico, and its territory extends into Mexico. This species is shy and will "play dead" when confronted by humans.
  • Black King Snake or Eastern Black King Snake ( Lampropeltis nigra ) – It lives in the southern United States, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and northern Georgia. Its dark scales distinguish it from the more colorful kingsnakes.
  • Scarlet King Snake ( Lampropeltis elapsoides ) – This species is exceptionally colorful with black, red, white and yellow stripes. It lives in the eastern and southeastern United States. This is the smallest of the kingsnakes, usually not exceeding 20 inches in length. However, the largest scarlet kingsnake ever recorded was 28 inches long.
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scientific name

common king snake
A common kingsnake swimming in the water in Tucson, Arizona.

©iStock.com/Florence and Joseph McGinn

Lampropeltis getula is the scientific name for the common snake or eastern king snake. It belongs to the family Colubridae and the class Reptilia. The Greek word Lampropeltis means shiny, and getula refers to its band of scales.

The types of king snakes are:

  • termite
  • California lantern grass
  • impala
  • koi carp
  • black lantern grass
  • longtail tuna

Population and Conservation Status

Cropped view of a Mexican black king snake as part of a larger colubrid-family-of-picture-id1304920522.jpg
The black king snake lives in Mexico.

©Murilo Gualda/Shutterstock.com

The number of eastern kingsnakes or common kingsnakes is unknown. But biologists put its population at more than 100,000 adult adults. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports its conservation status as Least Concern, with a stable population.

appearance and description

king snake curled up in the grass
King snakes are often mistaken for coral snakes because of their color.

© Matt Jepsen/Shutterstock.com

Eastern kingsnakes have black or brown scales and 30 yellow or white vertical bands on their backs. Its underbelly is yellow with jagged black scales.
This kingsnake is very different in appearance from the scarlet kingsnake. Scarlet kingsnakes have alternating bands of bright red, black, white, and yellow.

The typical size of an Eastern kingsnake is 36 to 48 inches long. They weigh up to four pounds. The longest kingsnake ever recorded was 7 feet long!

How to Identify Eastern King Snakes

  • Black or brown background of scales
  • 30 yellow or white horizontal graduated narrow bands
  • Yellow or white belly with jagged black scales

evolution and origin

spotted king snake
spotted king snake

© Joe Farah/Shutterstock.com

The earliest known snake ancestor was a nocturnal hunter with tiny hind legs with ankles and toes. Recent research suggests that snakes originated from land, rather than sea, during the Middle Early Cretaceous period (about 128.5 million years ago) in Laurasia. By analyzing the fossils, genetics and anatomy of 73 species of snakes and lizards (living and extinct), researchers were able to better understand what the first snakes were like.

It is believed that the original snakes had two small hind legs and preyed on animals larger than the lizards of the time. It couldn't wrap itself around larger creatures the way modern pythons can. This snake was thought to be nocturnal, but this changed 50-45 million years ago when the Colubroidea snake family emerged, which were mainly diurnal. This may be advantageous, as cooler nighttime temperatures limit nocturnal activity and contribute to their success.

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There are many kinds of snakes, with more than 3,400 species living in different habitats including land, water and trees. Research has shown that snakes are able to survive and reproduce in many different kinds of habitats, thanks to their extraordinary ability to disperse over long distances. Scientists estimate that snakes have a range of up to 42,500 square miles, about 4.5 times that of lizards. Furthermore, they manage to inhabit environments normally inaccessible to terrestrial animals and have successfully colonized aquatic habitats several times during their evolution.

Snakes have come a long way since their original ancestors, and remain fascinating species to study. Their ability to adapt to different environments makes them one of the most successful animals on Earth today.

king snake pictures

black and white king snake
King snakes are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

© Matt Jepsen/Shutterstock.com

Green and Brown California Kingsnake
The California kingsnake ( Lampropeltis californiae ) is a nonvenomous snake that naturally develops unusual patterns and uniform colors.

©Murilo Mazzo/Shutterstock.com

California king snake on a branch
California kingsnakes live in California's cliff regions, wetlands, and prairies.

©Ann May Snz/Shutterstock.com

How dangerous are they?

Striped chromatic phase California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)
The striped hue is one of the many color changes of the California kingsnake.

© Creeping Stuff/Shutterstock.com

King snakes are not poisonous. They are shy snakes that would rather glide under foliage or under rocks than face a threat. In fact, a species of kingsnake called the desert kingsnake will play dead when threatened by humans. This means it stays on the ground until the humans leave and the snake can escape safely.

Although shy, king snakes may bite if they feel threatened. Although this snake is not venomous, its bite can be painful. If someone is bitten by a king snake, the first thing to do is wash the wound with soap and warm water. Then, apply first aid ointment on top. If there is pain, applying ice to the area can provide relief.

Remember that the possibility of infection is always there, so it's best to see a doctor if you develop a rash at the bite site.

Behavior and Humans

Apalachicola King Snake
Lampropeltis getula meansi, commonly known as Apalachicola Kingsnake

© Left Hand Photography/Shutterstock.com

King snakes are shy and like to hide in their habitats. These snakes are not considered pests. In fact, the opposite is true!

They eat rodents, thereby keeping the rat and mole population in check. Therefore, if homeowners see a king snake in their garden or on their property, they should leave this reptile alone to prey on rodents.

similar animals

  • The bull snake (Pituophis catenifer) hisses very loudly due to a modified epiglottis.
  • The racer (Coluber constrictor) is long, thin and fast!
  • Coachwhips (Masticophis flagellum) like to use a periscope to peer above their home's meadows in search of food.

39 King Snakes

California king snake isolated on white background
California kingsnakes can reach lengths of up to 60 inches.

© reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

39 King Snakes
Guatemalan milk snake, Lampropeltis abnorma (Bocourt, 1886)
Gray-banded kingsnake, Lampropeltis alterna (AE Brown, 1901)
Mexican milk snake, Lampropeltis annulata Kennicott, 1860
California kingsnake, Lampropeltis californiae (Blainville, 1835)
Prairie King Snake, Lampropeltis calligaster (Harlan, 1827)
Santa Catalina Island kingsnake, Lampropeltis catalinensis (Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1921)
Scarlet King Snake or Scarlet Milk Snake, Lampropeltis elapsoides (Holbrook, 1838)
Short-tailed snake, Lampropeltis extenuata (RE Brown, 1890)
Central Plains Milk Snake, Lampropeltis gentilis (Baird & Girard, 1853)
Common King Snake, Lampropeltis getula (Linnaeus, 1766)
Brooks' Kingsnake, L. g. Brooksy Barber, 1919
Florida Kingsnake, L. g. Florida (Blanchard, 1919)
Eastern kingsnake, L. g. getula (Linnaeus, 1766)
Apalachicola lowland kingsnake, L. g. means Krysko & Judd, 2006
Mexican black king snake, L. g. nigrita Zweifel & Norris, 1955
Greer king snake, Lampropeltis greeri (Weber, 1961)
Spotted Kingsnake, Lampropeltis holbrooki Stejneger, 1902
Madrean Mountain King Snake, Lampropeltis knoblochi Taylor, 1940
Neo-Leonian kingsnake, Lampropeltis leonis (Günther, 1893)
Mexican kingsnake, Lampropeltis mexicana (Garman, 1884)
Ecuadorian Milk Snake, Lampropeltis micropholis Cope, 1860
Black Kingsnake, Lampropeltis nigra (Yarrow, 1882)
South Florida Mole King Snake, Lampropeltis occipitolineata Price, 1987
Central American milk snake, Lampropeltis polyzona Cope, 1860
Arizona mountain king snake, Lampropeltis pyromelana (Cope, 1866)
Utah Kingsnake, L. p. Lower lip muscle W. Tanner, 1953
Arizona mountain king snake, L. p. pyromelana (Popular Science, 1866)
Mole King Snake, Lampropeltis rhombomaculata (Holbrook, 1840)
Ruthveni king snake, Lampropeltis ruthveni (Blanchard, 1920)
Desert King Snake, Lampropeltis splendida (Baird & Girard, 1853)
Milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum (Lacépède, 1789)
Lampropeltis webbi Bryson, Dixon & Lazcano, 2005
California mountain king snake, Lampropeltis zonata (Lockington, 1876 ex Blainville, 1835)
San Pedro king snake, L. z. Agama (Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1923)
Todos Santos Kingsnake, L. z. herrerae (Van Denburgh & Slevin, 1923)
Sierra Nevada mountain king snake, L. z. multicincta (Yarrow, 1882)
Coast Ranges Mountain King Snake, L. z. multifasciata (Bocourt, 1886)
San Bernardino Mountain King Snake, L. z. Viper Zwifel, 1952
San Diego Mountain King Snake, L. z. pulchra Zweifel, 1952
St. Helena Kingsnake, L. z. zonata (Lockington, 1876 ex Blainville, 1835)

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about the author


Ashley Haugen is a lifelong animal lover and professional writer and editor. When she's not obsessing over AZ-Animals.com, she can be found hanging out with her dogs and birds.

King Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the difference between a kingsnake and a cottonmouth?

King snakes are non-venomous, while cottonmouths have venom. Both snakes are relatively equal in length, but kingsnakes tend to be darker in color, while cottonmouths are brown with a diamond-shaped pattern.

Are king snakes poisonous?

No, king snakes are not poisonous.

How do king snakes hunt?

King snakes stalk their prey, grab it in their jaws, and entwine it. They are shrinkers. They wrap around their prey to constrict its breath to kill it, then swallow it.

Are king snakes aggressive?

No, these snakes are not aggressive.

Are king snakes friendly?

Although kingsnakes are not aggressive, they do not want to interact with humans. They would rather hide under a rock or a pile of leaves.

Why are these reptiles called king snakes?

They are called king snakes because they eat other snakes. Also, some of the snakes they eat such as copperheads and rattlesnakes are venomous. Kingsnakes are immune to the venom of these snakes and prey on rattlesnakes – read more about them here.

Where do king snakes live?

King snakes live in the United States and Mexico. Different species of kingsnakes live in different parts of the United States and Mexico.

The snake's habitat includes rock ledges, hollow logs, piles of leaves, and under tree bark.
Some of these snakes seek refuge underground when injured. Brumation is a hibernating version of a reptile.

What do king snakes eat?

King snakes are carnivores. They eat rodents, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and even other snakes.

How big is a king snake?

Most kingsnakes grow to be 36 to 48 inches long. But the recorded Eastern King Snake measures 82 inches!

Do King Snakes Bite?

Yes, but rarely. These snakes would rather slip away or play dead than confront humans. But if they feel cornered, they can bite.

Are king snakes good pets?

Can't. Although many of these snakes are as colorful as the scarlet kingsnake or have interesting scale patterns like the spotted kingsnake, they are not good pets.

They need to be kept in an enclosure that maintains a certain temperature, otherwise they can easily get sick and die. Also, these snakes want to hunt and capture food, not eat. Finally, this is a shy snake that can become tense when its owner tries to handle it.

What is the difference between a copperhead and a kingsnake?

The main differences between copperheads and kingsnakes are that they belong to different families, have slightly different habitats, and have unique physical characteristics. They come in different sizes, reproduce in different ways, and hunt unique prey in different ways, only one of which poses a threat to humans.

What is the difference between a king snake and a king cobra?

King cobras are much larger than king snakes, and are also much more venomous. King snakes also come in more colors than king cobras.

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source
  1. , available here: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/speckled-kingsnake
  2. , available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_kingsnake
  3. , available here: https://kysnakes.ca.uky.edu/snake/lampropeltis-getula-nigra
  4. , available here: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/florida-snake-id/snake/scarlet-kingsnake/
  5. , available here: https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/reptiles/snakes/common-kingsnake.html
  6. , available here: https://www.beardsleyzoo.org/eastern-kingsnake.html
  7. (1970) https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/67662588/67662645 Jump to top