Common Kingsnake Fact File
The common kingsnake has seven recognized subspecies and these each have high variability in their appearance between one subspecies and another.
They have a wide range which spans across much of the United States in North America.
Their name comes from their ability to eat snakes giving a perception that they are the king of snakes. As they are non-venomous they will constrict their prey. Along with snakes they also consume birds, lizards and frogs.
Females deposit their eggs among rotting vegetation which provides the heat their eggs need to hatch.
Read on to learn more about these remarkable reptiles.
What does the common kingsnake look like?
These reptiles are highly variable in their coloration depending on the subspecies being considered. Most authorities recognize 7 subspecies which each have vastly different scale patterns. Some recognize as many as 10.
Some have flat coloration such as the Mexican black kingsnake which is jet black while the California kingsnake has rings of cream along the dark grey body. Even among subspecies their is variation with one population of the California kingsnake being brown with a cream band along the body.
An average common kingsnake measures 1-2m (3.25-6ft) long. The longest individual on record was 2.08m (82in) long.
What does the common kingsnake eat?
The common kingsnake is a carnivore. They feed on birds, lizards, frogs and other snakes. These reptiles appear to have an immunity to the venom of other snakes and as such can eat this species.
Their is variation in diet between the subspecies due to their different ranges.
These reptiles are non-venomous. They will kill their prey through constriction by wrapping around it.
They will actively hunt prey and have been known to enter rodent burrows in pursuit of their prey. These snakes will enter the water in pursuit of prey such as frogs.
These animals have been recorded to engage in cannibalism.
Credit: Connor Long, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Where can you find the common kingsnake?
North America is the native home of the common kingsnake. Here the species has a wide range across the United States.
What kind of environment does the common kingsnake live in?
Their wide range means this species is found in a wide variety of habitats. Potential habitats include forest, savanna, shrubland, grassland, wetlands and rocky environments such as cliffs or mountains.
These animals are seen hiding under rocks, logs, stumps or among vegetation.
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How does the common kingsnake produce its young?
At the beginning of the breeding season, which ranges from March to August across their range, males will fight for breeding rights. They will raise their heads and necks and then entwine before attempting to push their opponent to the ground.
The male who can successfully push the other to the ground is rewarded with mating rights with the female.
During mating the male will bite the neck of the female.
12 eggs will be deposited by the female in to rotting vegetation, wood or in an underground chamber. The decomposition of this material provides the warmth required to incubate the egg. Incubation lasts between 50 and 80 days.
They can break themselves from their egg using the egg “tooth” on the nose. Just before this they will absorb the yolk from the egg which provides nutrition during the first weeks of life.
At hatching the young measure 30-35cm (12-14in) long. Young spend the first week of life in their nest until they shed their skin for the first time.
Hatchlings are independent as soon as they hatch.
Sexual maturity is primarily tied to size and is reached sometime between 60 and 92cm (24-36in). This typically falls between 1 and 4 years old being later in females.
What does the common kingsnake do with its day?
Their coloration which is broken up by bands and stripes will help to camouflage these snakes as they move through their habitat.
The common kingsnake has the ability to swim. They are often seen at riverbanks and will occasionally enter the water. Some will climb through low vegetation.
There is variability in their activity pattern across their range. Some are active by day while others come out at night.
In the north of their range these reptiles will undergo a longer period of hibernation. This period of inactivity is undertaken in a cave, hollow log or the abandoned burrow of another animal.
Credit: Public Domain
Predators and Threats
What is impacting the survival of the common kingsnake?
Natural predators of the common kingsnake include American alligators, larger snakes, birds of prey such as hawks and mammals such as racoons, striped skunks and Virginia opossums.
To defend themselves against predators they will hiss, strike or bite the predator.
If captured they will begin to smear the predator with their feces as a last ditch attempt to have the predator release them.
These reptiles have a stable population. While an exact estimate has not been made it is assumed it would exceed 100,000.
They are present in the pet trade and small numbers may be removed from the wild to supply this.
Small amounts of habitat loss through urbanization and agricultural development have occurred.
Most authorities recognize 7 subspecies of the common kingsnake but others have proposed as many as 10.
The “lampropeltis” portion of their scientific name comes from a word meaning ‘shiny skin.’
Their name, kingsnake, was taken from their ability to eat other species of snake.
Across their range this species is known by a number of alternative names. Some of these include the thunderbolt, wamper, horse racer, common chain snake and black king snake.
Credit: Public Domain
Hammerson, G.A. 2019. Lampropeltis getula. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T67662588A67662645. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T67662588A67662645.en. Downloaded on 12 November 2021.
Bartz, S. 2012. “Lampropeltis getula” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 12, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Lampropeltis_getula/
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Willson, J. and Andrews, K., 2021. Species Profile: Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) | SREL Herpetology. [online] Srelherp.uga.edu. Available at: <https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/lamget.htm> [Accessed 12 November 2021].
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