Photo: Laura Decker

King snakes are among the most popular choices for snake hobbyists. They are generally shy and mild mannered, are non-venomous, and grow to comfortable size for handling. They are also very beautiful snakes, with striking color patterns, and a wide variety of color variations among the species. They are closely related to milk snakes, which have similar bands in bright red, yellow and black pigments.

Description: Lampropeltis getula californiae or California king snakes can have various patterns of stripes, bands, or speckles and many colors, including black and white or brown and yellow. Light colors can be sea foam green or yellow or olive-buff. The average reported number of bands is 28-49. These snakes can undergo color morphs, as many as four. The maximum length one can grow is 4-5 feet, but the average is three feet long. They have the typical forked tongue and sleek, cylindrical, scaly bodies of colubrid snakes.

 


Photo: Esther Iglich

Diet: King snakes have a varied diet that includes small mammals, lizards, birds, and even eggs. Their common name comes from their ability to eat other snakes, including venomous varieties. They possess an immunity to the venom. They are also cannibalistic, which makes it unwise to house two King snakes together, and can make mating interesting.

They seek out prey by sight (movement) and smell, searching along the ground, under rocks, and in the branches of shrubs. They generally snatch and swallow live prey, often pressing their victims against rocks or burrow walls to immobilize or disorient them. King snakes have also been observed constricting prey in their coils before swallowing them.

Reproduction: King snakes are oviparous, laying eggs 45 to 65 days after copulation, in small clutches of 6-8. Eggs hatch in 50 to 65 days, at a temperature of 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Sexual maturity is reached in about two years. Males will seek out a female, bite her neck, and begin to constrict her to hold her in place for copulation. Home breeders must take care to observe the mating, as the larger snake may attack and eat the smaller snake, if they aren’t ready to breed. A male may be locked to a female from twenty minutes to several hours.

Habitat: These snakes live in the southwestern to western United States, from Baja California to Oregon and southern Utah to western Arizona. They live in rock outcrops, meadows, prairies, semi-deserts, dry leaves, brushy hillsides, damp spots (such as banks of rivers or streams), or pine forests. Elevation ranges from 0 to 6,000 feet, but mainly below 3,000 feet. They are among the most common snakes in North America. They are not considered endangered.