King of snakes
If you’ve lived in California for a while, you’ve probably met a king—a kingsnake! Kingsnakes are one of the most common snakes in the United States. They are ground-dwelling snakes that frequently kill and consume other snakes, including dangerous species such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths; kingsnakes are extremely resistant to their venom
There are several pattern and color variants among kingsnakes. The most prevalent and most identifiable pattern is banding, which often consists of light-colored bands on a dark background. Some California kingsnakes have longitudinal stripes that span from head to tail. Although stripes are significantly less common than bands, they are frequently observed on California kingsnakes in San Diego and Riverside counties.
Occasionally, the stripes are divided into dot-dashes or even individual dots! These patterns obscure the body contour of the snake, making it less visible to predators such as hawks, eagles, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, skunks, bobcats, and even other kingsnakes.
Some kingsnakes, such as the scarlet kingsnake and California mountain kingsnake, are nearly identical in coloring and patterning to deadly coral snakes, making them easy to confuse. There is a rhyme that can be used to distinguish a venomous coral snake from its nonvenomous counterpart: “Red on yellow, kill a guy; red on black, no venom.”
This rhyme alludes to the hue of the snake’s bands. This rule does not apply south of the United States border. In Latin America, there are numerous coral snake species with this red, black, yellow, and white pattern. Therefore, unless you are a professional snake handler, avoid contact with banded snakes!
The milksnake L. triangulum, often known as a tricolor or tri-colored king, is one type of kingsnake. A frequent fallacy about milksnakes is that they siphon milk from the udders of cows! Many milksnakes are found in barns, although they are not after milk but rather mice.
Diet and Habitat
From southeast Canada to southern Ecuador, king snakes inhabit rocky outcrops, brushy hillsides, river valleys, woodlands, fields, and pine forests. During the day, kingsnakes can be observed searching for food or a mate in Southern California. Additionally, you may encounter one at night or dawn. In most other regions of the United States, kingsnakes are nocturnal. This may be due to the fact that it is significantly hotter during the day and the temperature in Southern California is very mild. They might become increasingly nocturnal as the summer progresses.
Most kingsnakes find a spot to hibernate until spring in the fall, unless they dwell in a warmer area, such as Southern California, where they are significantly less active and can go dormant or into a brief “pseudo-hibernation.”
In addition to other snakes, kings consume lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs, relying on their powerful stomach acid to digest their meal. Since they do not produce venom, kingsnakes subdue their victim by constriction. Kingsnakes are aggressive hunters that actively seek for prey, unlike rattlesnakes, which are ambush hunters.
Once food is identified by smell, the snake seizes it in its mouth and coils around it so quickly that its prey cannot breathe. Depending on the quantity of the meal, the kingsnake may go several days without eating.
The Todos Santos Island kingsnake L. herrerae is in imminent danger of extinction. The few snakes that inhabit Isla Todos Santos, an island off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, are frequently captured for pet trade.
The state of California considers the L. zonata pulchra San Diego mountain kingsnake to be endangered. The laws of California prohibit the selling of native reptiles, yet some snake collectors disregard the law and over collect this species.
It appears that all snakes are constantly attacked simply for being snakes. Too many individuals believe that all snakes are deadly and must be eliminated on sight. However, snakes, particularly native kingsnakes and gopher snakes, play a crucial role in managing rodent populations. If you spot one of these magnificent animals while jogging, trekking, or simply lounging in your yard, consider yourself fortunate to be in the presence of a king!