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One of the most common Snakes in North America is the King Snake. Its name derives from the fact that this specie of snake, is one of the few that actually kills other snakes, as does the King Cobra, hence the term “King Snake”. The King Snake is a non-venomous snake which kills its prey through constriction. It also happens to very popular amongst pet owners.

Kingsnakes belong to the family of Colubridae and the subfamily Colubrinae. Colubird snakes are a large family of nonvenomous snakes found around the world, including North America. Kings Snakes are members of the genus Lampropeitis which means “shiny shield” in Greek. The name is appropriate for the genus, which is known for its well-defined, glossy scales.

In recent years, the classification of kingsnakes has been shaken up somewhat. Alan Savitzky, a professor of biological sciences at Utah State University and snake biology specialist, credits the upheaval to advances in molecular evolutionary studies. Whereas scientists used to determine species and subspecies classifications by examining whether snakes could interbreed and produce fertile offspring, they can now analyze DNA to determine how closely related snakes are. With that data, scientists can now classify snakes into groups by looking at if they share an evolutionary path.

Some have argued that black King Snakes, Eastern King Snakes, Speckled Kings Snakes, Sonora King Snakes and California King Snakes, should be considered separate species. Savitzky, a Professor of biological sciences, noted that a 2013 paper in the Journal Systematic Bioglogy posited that the Scarlet King Snake, once considered a milk snake, is actually its own species. Some publications have adopted this proposal, while others still refer to these snakes as subspecies of King Snakes.

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Vibrant patterns, vivid contrasting colors, bands and speckles, is a perfect way to describe this docile creature. The King Snake body outline is less visible to predators like birds, mammals, foxes and coyotes.

Apparently, the King Snake coloring is often a result of their geographic location, according to experts. For example, the father west one goes in the eastern King Snake’s range, the more the snakes coloring resembles the Black King Snake, which lives in Tennessee.

Also, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, King Snakes have smooth scales, a single anal plate, round pupils like most nonvenomous snakes, and a spoon-shaped head with a rounded jaw. T Hey typically range from two to six feet, depending on the species.

The following is a description of some common kingsnake species' appearances and ranges.

Eastern King Snake (common Kingsnake)

Sometimes referred to as “Chain Snakes” or “Chain Kings” as a result of their distinctive markings which can resemble a chain linked across their slender bodies. They have very shiny black scales with white or yellowish chan-like bands that cross their backs and connect on the sides. According to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, eastern King Snakes on the coast generally have wide-bands while those along the eastern mountains have very thin bands. They may be nearly black.

You can find Eastern King Snakes from Southern New Jersey to north Florida and west to the Appalachians and southeastern Alabama, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Black King Snake

The black eastern King Snake in the Appalachians eventually give way to the black King Snake species along the mountains of Tennessee. These snakes, are on average, four to five feet in lenth and range from Southern Ohio and western West Virginia to southeastern Illinois and south the northeastern Mississippi and northwestern Georgia.

You can distinguish between a black Eastern Snake and other snake species as they have a jet black color with traces of white or yellow spots or bands and white throats.

Speckled King Snake

Moving into farther regions of the United States, one sees faint spots of the Black King Snake grow into the full, vibrant markings of the Specked King Snake. This is very colorful specie with yellow or what speckle on every single scale. Typically Scaled are black or brownish in color. The size of the speckls can be evenly distributed, leading to the nickname “Salt and Pepper Snake” or can be denser in certain areas, creating a banded look.

Speckled kingsnakes are found in the middle of the United States, ranging from Illinois to Iowa and south to Alabama and Texas, according to the

California King Snake

A generally smaller species of King Snake, coming in at about two-and-a-half feet is the California King Snake. This handsome specie has shiny black scales with bright white markings. Most California King Snakes have white bands, but some populations have longitudinal stripes going from their heads to their tales. Those populations are usually in Southern California. Both color patterns can appear in the same clutch of eggs.

California King Snakes live in most places along the Golden State except the rainy redwood forests. They’er also found in dryer parts of Oregon, as far was as Colorado and sount into Mexico.

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Continued from previous column.

Scarlet King Snake

California King Snakes live in most places along the Golden State except the rainy redwood forests. They’re also found in dryer parts of Oregon, as far was as Colorado and sount into Mexico.

They can also be found from central Virginia to Key West, Florida and west to the Mississippi River. This range overlaps with the dangerous coral snakes, which Scarlet King Snakes mimic. Similarly to venomous coral snakes, Scarlet King Snakes are red with yellow and black bands the encircle their bodies.

The nonvenomous Scarlet King Snake has evolved to look like venomous species in order to scare off predators. This type of mimicry, where a harmless species mimics a harmful specie, is known as Batesian mimicry.

The primary difference between coral snakes and scarlet King Snake, is primarily color patterns. Corals Snakes have red and yellow bands next to one another , while harmless Scarlet King Snakes have red and black bands next to each other.

In densely populated snake areas, most people use rhymes to distinguish between snakes. For instance “Red on yellow kills a fellow”, or “Red on Black, friend of Jack” While Batesian mimicry may be helpful in keeping predators away, it can cause problems for scarlet kingsnakes. Humans often kill them thinking they are dangerous.

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The Snake behavior will range depending, to an extent, their location. In many parts of the country, King Snakes are primarily nocturnal. They are diurnal in places with more moderate climates, like Southern California. For King Snakes, moderate climates include the southeast, at least in the winter. King Snakes in the Georgia region are likely spotted during the day. During the hot summers, they will come out mostly in the mornings.

King Snakes, if threatened, will emit an unpleasant musk and shake their tails. This is another example of Batesian mimicry, this time of a rattlesnake. They are also known to bite, though their bite is not poisonous to humans.

As it turns out some species of King Snake are “biter and snappier” than others, but that if mostly comes down to the individual temperament of the snake. In general, King Snakes are well known for being docile once tames and for this reason, they are popular pets.

The King Snake generally hibernates over the winter. They stay in caves, mammal burros, rock crevices and hallow logs and stumps.


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As well know, most snakes are kill prey by means of constriction and the King Snake is no different. They will squeeze their prey to death and swallow it whole fairly quickly.

Some misconceptions exist about how the constriction process works. One such misconception is that they crush or break the bones of their prey. Another is that they suffocate it, squeezing the prey’s lunges too tightly to work. Squeezing overwhelms the circulatory system and as a result, blood cannot get to the brain, and the animal dies within seconds due to ischemia.

King Snakes are not ambush hunters – as some would believe. They are hunters and actively seek out their prey through scent. Once they’ve found it, they grab it with their mouths and start squeezing. King Snakes may only eat a few times per month, depending on the size of their meals.

The King Snake primary diet consist of birds, bird eggs, and lizards. In wet climates they are known to feast on frogs and eggs. However, their most famous meal, is other snakes. King Snakes have a natural immunity to put viper venom, meaning that they can eat venomous snakes like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. They also eat non-venomous snakes life rat snakes and garter snakes – and yes, their own fellow King Snakes.

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King Snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs that spend little to no time incubating inside the mother. Their mating time depends on the climate, with snakes in warmer climates mating earlier in the spring and snakes in colder climates waiting until late spring or summer. In general, mating season lasts from March until August, and females often have more than one clutch of eggs per season.

Males seek out females through chemical scent. They will fight each other for a female, wrestling other males until their heads are flat on the ground.

Female kingsnakes lay clutches of three to 24 eggs in debris, rotting logs or other secluded places. Mothers then leave the eggs, which hatch on their own two to three months later, according to the San Diego Zoo. Hatchlings can be up to a foot long and are completely independent from the moment they enter the world.

Kingsnakes reach sexual maturity between 2 and 4 years of age. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, though they can live up to 20 to 30 years in captivity, according to the San Diego Zoo.


King Snake Care Sheet

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