Common kingsnakes show great variation in color patterns across the range of the species. There are between 7 and 10 subspecies of common kingsnake, all of which are easily distinguished by their distinct color patterns. Eastern kingsnakes (L. getula getula) are black with yellow chain markings, thus giving them another name — chain kingsnake. Black kingsnakes (L. getula niger) and Mexican black kingsnakes are solid black in color. Flordia kingsnakes (L. getula floridana) are rich brown with yellow speckles covering their scales. Desert kingsnakes (L. getula splendida) are similar to Eastern kingsnakes, but have a black mask over the head and are more yellow. California kingsnakes (L. getula californiae) have the greatest color variation of all the subspecies. California kingsnakes come in black or brown-banded versions with white, cream, or yellow alternating bands. These colors also appear in the striped morph of California kingsnakes. Speckled kingsnakes (L. getula holbrooki) are very similar in color to desert kingsnakes, but each black scale of speckled kingsnakes has a yellow center.
Common kingsnakes are found in North America from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. In the East, this species is found from New Jersey to Florida; in the midwest, from Nebraska to the Gulf of Mexico; and in the West, from Oregon to the tip of Baja California. Common kingsnakes are also found throughout northern and central Mexico.
Common kingsnakes inhabit a wide range of habitats. They can be found in grassland, forests, marshes, valleys, woodlands, farmlands, deserts, chaparral, and river bottoms. Common kingsnakes are fairly secretive, and can often be found under rocks, logs, boards, and dense vegetation.
Common kingsnakes prey on mammals, small turtles, birds and their eggs, reptile eggs, other harmless snakes, lizards, frogs, and rattlesnakes. Common kingsnakes have even been known to be cannibalistic. Kingsnakes use constriction as a means to subdue prey.
Common kingsnakes are egg layers and the females lay between 2 and 24 eggs between May and August. The eggs measure 18 to 30 mm by 35 to 69 mm. The incubation period is from 47 to 81 days and hatchlings are usually 8 to 13 inches in length. Common kingsnakes become sexually mature at 3 to 4 years of age.
The life span of common kingsnakes is thought to be into the early thirties.
Common kingsnakes are diurnal, but are occasionally active at night. Most of them are terrestrial, but are good climbers and will climb low branches and shrubs on occasion. Common kingsnakes are also excellent swimmers. When disturbed, California kingsnakes often emit a foul smelling musk to deter predators. For anyone who has ever handled a kingsnake they might be well aware that these snakes sometimes release fecal matter on their handler. Another defensive strategy is to roll up in a tight ball.
Hawks, raccoons, skunks, and opossums sometimes prey on common kingsnakes. Occasionally other snakes, including other kingsnakes, prey on the young.
Common kingsnakes are valuable creatures to their ecosystem. They control rodent populations, and keep the frog populations in check. Many people are pleased that common kingsnakes prey on rattlesnakes. These snakes are also important as prey for hawks, coyotes, and other apex predators.
IUCN Red List: No special status.
US Federal List: No special status.
CITES: No special status.
Lampropeltis getula is not a conservation concern.
Poindexter, J. 2001. “Lampropeltis getula” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 16, 2006 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Lampropeltis_getula.html.
Snyder, A. and J. Bowler. 1992. Longevity of Reptiles and Amphibians in North American Collections. S.S.A.R. Herpetological Circular No. 21, 40 pp.