Species Profile: Eastern King Snakes

My brother is getting ready to save up to go buy a pet snake at the local pet store and is thinking of getting an Eastern Kingsnake. I decided to do some research to help him decide whether he should go forward in purchasing this species of snake or not.

What do you need to know about the Eastern kingsnake? Eastern kingsnakes are non-venomous, grow to be about twenty years old and are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. They are constricting snakes that only grow to about a length of about four feet long, usually less. 

When most people hear about the species of kingsnakes, they tend to feel a bit frightened. What most people do not know is that the Eastern kingsnake and other species of kingsnakes can be quite docile, if handled properly and often.

There are many aspects and qualities about the Eastern kingsnake that make them not as dangerous as they seem. 

Eastern Kingsnake Description

To get to know these creatures you will want to first know the basics. Here are some basic facts to know about the average Eastern kingsnake:

  • The common name of the snake: Kingsnake
  • The scientific name of the snake: Lampropeltis getula
  • Average Length of the snake: 36 to 48 in. (90 to 122 cm)
  • Record Length of the snake: 82 in. (208.3 cm)
  • The average life of a kingsnake: 25-30 years.

For a visual of the Eastern kingsnake, click here.

These creatures have characteristics that separate them from other species of snakes and they have key features that make them unique in a way and easy to identify.

The color patterns on their skin are very vivid and vibrant in color. The bands and speckles on their body are viewed in a way that helps them stay hidden from larger animals like foxes, coyotes, and birds. They have smooth scales on their body and round pupils like other nonvenomous snakes and a rounded jaw.

There has been some research done on how their color can change from where they are located geographically.

An example of this study would be if you were to go farther west, a kingsnakes color can resemble the black kingsnake that lives in Tennesse. To get an idea of other kingsnakes and their characteristics, here are a list of them below.

Related Species

There is not just one kind if kingsnake! In fact, there are more than one! These creatures are fascinating and intriguing. Their different species are told apart by looking at their physical characteristics. Here is a list of a few other kingsnake species:

Eastern kingsnake (Commonly known as just the “kingsnake”) 

Scientific name: (Lampropeltis getula) 

  • These snakes can often be called “chain snakes” or “chain kings” because of how they look and the noticeable markings on their bodies.
  • They have shiny black scales and a mix of white and yellow bands that cross over their body and sometimes connect.
  • These snakes can be found in the southern part of New Jersey to the north of Florida and the west of the Appalachian.

Black Kingsnake 

Scientific name: (Lampropeltis nigra or Lampropeltis getula nigra) 

  • These snakes are almost black in color, they are about four to five feet in length and can be found in the southern part of Ohio to the western part of West Virginia and southeastern Illinois.
  • They like to roam in rocky areas and places where vegetation is.
  • While they are almost completely black in color, they can sometimes have spots of yellow or white on them.
  • They eat most of the time during the day and are especially active during the mornings in the summer.

Speckled Kingsnake 

Scientific name: (Lampropeltis holbrooki or Lampropeltis getual holbrooki) 

  • If you move farther west you can find a snake that looks similar to the black kingsnake but instead of being black in color they are quite vibrant and colorful creatures.
  • hey can be yellow or white and spots of black or brown on them. They have the nickname “salt and pepper snake” because of this.
  • These snakes can also be found in the middle of the United States. Illinois to Iowa or south of Alabama and Texas. 

The California Kingsnake 

Scientific name: (Lampropeltis getula californiae or Lampropeltis getula californiae) 

  • These snakes tend to be the smallest of their kind, reaching about 2.5 to 4 feet in length. California kingsnakes have black scales as well with white markings across their body.
  • While of the species has longitudinal stripes starting from the heads to their tails others simple have white bands.
  • These snakes are popular everywhere and live everywhere too. Except for the Golden State where it tends to rain in the forests. They can also be found in dry parts of Oregon and the south of Mexico. 

Scarlet Kingsnake 

This snake can either fall under a name of its own (Lampropeltis Triangulum elapsoides) or the name of a milk snake (Lampropeltis elaposoides). 

  • These snakes are also quite small in size compared to their other kingsnake relatives. They grow to about  1 to 2 feet in which they can They in central Virginia and Florida.
  • This geographic range overlaps with the coral snakes, which the scarlet snake mimics. The scarlet snake has red and yellow and black bands that go across their body.
  • These snakes have evolved to look like a more venomous species so that they are able to scare off larger prey.
  • Though the pattern between the coral snake and the scarlet snake are extremely similar the coral snake has red and yellow bands next to each other while the scarlet snake has red and black bands next to each other.
  • The only problem to their skill in surviving attacks from larger prey is that humans tend to think the scarlet snake is the coral snake and they end up killing them. 

Eastern King Snake Lifespan, Reproduction, and Habitat

The average lifespan of an eastern kingsnake can be up to 20 to 30 years while living in captivity. They reach sexual maturity between 2 to 4 years of age. 

The reproduction process of an eastern kingsnake is also interesting, kingsnakes are oviparous which means they lay eggs that do not spend much time inside the belly of the mother. The time in which they mate also depends on the weather.

If it is starting to become spring-time the snakes will start to mate as the weather becomes warmer. If it is colder in the spring-time, the snake may wait till late in the summer to begin its mating. Mating season also lasts between March until August.

These male snakes go out and find females to mate with by smelling their chemical scent. If two males go for one female, the two males will fight till one beats the other. 

The females lay about one to 3 clutches every season (about 24 eggs). The female lays these eggs in a hidden area where birds or other larger animals cannot get to them and the female goes off leaving her eggs behind.

After they hatch, the hatchlings can be about a foot long and become fully independent as soon as they enter the world.

The habitat of the eastern kingsnake can be a wide variety of places and environments. They can live in forests, grasslands, suburbia, and rocky areas in fields as well as deserts. The snakes that reside in much more wetter areas can be found in the eastern or southern parts of the United States.

They can be found in swamps or riverbanks. Eastern kingsnakes and their relative kingsnakes are very sneaky creatures. They have learned to live under rocks, logs and in burrows in the ground in order to hide from larger prey and for them to be able to sneak up on their prey themselves.

Behavior of an Eastern King Snake

The behavior of a kingsnake depends on where the snake was located. Most kingsnakes are nocturnal, which means they roam and are active at night. For kingsnakes that are likely to be found in the southeast, are likely to be seen roaming during the day. 

If a kingsnake feels threatened they will put out a musky smell and shake their tails. They almost mimic the cry of a rattlesnake when they do this. Some species of kingsnakes can have a larger tendency to bite but it usually comes down to the temperament of the individual snake. 

If you manage to train your kingsnake they can become much more docile and tame. And because they can become docile through training and handling it makes them a popular pet to own. 

How Eastern King Snakes Hunt and Feed

Most eastern kingsnakes are likely to be found roaming around during the day in the summertime. And because they are a type of constrictor snake they can easily kill and eat their prey by squeezing it to death and swallowing it whole.

Some prey they eat includes other snakes, lizards, birds, rodents, and turtle eggs. They are commonly known for eating and killing other snakes includes also have a natural immunity to venomous snakes such as pit vipers, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths. 

Overall, these snakes are known to eat just about anything! 

While they are famous for those venomous kills, they can eat nonvenomous snakes like rat snakes and garter snakes.

Kingsnakes are hunters, and they do it actively. They are not ambusher like some snakes can be when hunting for their food. Kingsnakes usually find their prey by tracking them through their scent. And once they have successfully tracked heir prey they will kill and eat it immediately.

A common misconception about kingsnakes and their ability to constrict their prey is that they break the bones of their prey in order to kill it and eat it. Or they suffocate the prey by squeezing all the air from its lungs.

But the fact is when they constrict their prey, they are really just giving an overwhelming sensation to the circulatory system which cuts off blood from going to the preys brain. 

If you are keeping a kingsnake as a pet you will want to feed your kingsnake every five to seven days or once a week is also fine. This schedule to feeding is good to keep until the snake reaches about a year old.

As the snake becomes older you can feed it less frequently, a guide to follow would be about every ten days or once every other week.

A guide most pet snake owners like to follow would be to watch the snakes habits in order to form a better and healthier feeding schedule. You would feed the snake wait for it to defect and wait another day and feed it again. You do not want to feed your snake more food if it has not defected yet. This could be bad for its digestion.

As listed above, there are many options when it comes to feeding your kingsnake. Most kingsnakes do very well on the diet of rodents that are usually captive and bred in captivity as well. You can switch between mice for your smaller snakes and small rats for your larger snake.

You should also make sure that the prey is not larger than the width of your snake’s body, this can make it more difficult for it to swallow.

If you provide healthy rodents or mice, your snake will not give you much trouble when it comes to eating. 

Related Questions 

Are king snakes harmful to humans? Kingsnakes are non-venomous but are known to be one of the strongest constrictors in their family. They can cause harm to a human if they feel threatened or territorial

Are rat snakes and kingsnakes the same? A rat snake and a king snake are not the same but they do fall under the same family of snakes along with vine snakes, indigo snakes, and milk snakes.

How can you tell a kingsnake from the deadly coral snake? Most kingsnake snakes have pupils that are shaped in an oblong way, like cats eyes, and a slit along the center of their eye. Also, remember this rhyme: red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, you’re OK, Jack. 

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