CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


California Kingsnake - Lampropeltis californiae

(Blainville, 1835)

(= Lampropeltis getula californiae)
Click on a picture for a larger view



California Kingsnake Range Map



observation link






Pictures and information about this snake and its habitat have been put on three pages:
Page 1, this page, shows to see pictures of the more common banded form of the California Kingsnake, plus a range map, a species description and natural history information, references, and links to more information.
Page 2 illustrates naturally-occurring aberrant morph California Kingsnakes.
Page 3 shows some of the wide variety of habitats utilized by this snake.
 
california kingsnake
Brown and cream adult, Santa Clara County © James Rowe
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Black and cream sub-adult,
Kings County
Brown and cream adult, Yuba County
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Black and white desert phase adult,
Inyo County desert
Black and cream adult, San Diego County mountains Black and cream adult,
eastern Alameda County
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Black and cream adult, Inyo County Adult, desert phase, Riverside County desert © Jeremiah Easter
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Brown and cream adult, Lake County Dark brown and cream adult,
coastal San Luis Obispo County
Dark brown and pale yellow adult, Yuba County
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Dark brown and cream juvenile, western Riverside County Dark brown and pale yellow adult, Alameda County
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Black and white desert phase adult, San Diego County desert Black and white desert phase adult,
Inyo County
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
A brown and cream banded morph adult from the
Diablo Range in Santa Clara County © Holly Lane
A slightly faded Brown and Cream banded morph from the
Santa Clara County mountains © Holly Lane
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Black and cream adult,
coastal Monterey County
Adult, Alameda County © Mark Gary
When encountered in th field, most wild California Kingsnakes don't often become defensive by assuming a threatening posture and striking, as this one did.
Black and cream adult, El Dorado County
© Richard Porter
Black and cream adult,
Southern Monterey County
© Benjamin German
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Adult, Shasta County
© Luke Talltree
Black and cream adult, Santa Cruz County © Zachary Lim Adult, Kern County desert © Ryan Sikola Adult in defensive pose with everted
vent, Big Sur, Monterey County
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake hemipenis
Adult swimming across stream,
Orange County © Nicholas Hess
Adult, Solano County
© Lou Silva
Juvenile, Los Angeles County
© Huck Triggs
The everted hemipenes of a male California Kingsnake. © Patrick Briggs
California Kingsnake
Adult from the coast of Los Angeles County with 40 bands  © Don Sterba
tracks tracks    
California Kingsnake tracks on a dusty road in San Diego County. At 1 PM on a sunny 80 degree day in early June, a California Kingsnake crossed this road. After a short photo session, it crawled away, leaving this track.    
       
California Kingsnakes in either Combat or Courtship
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
These two adult California Kingsnakes were found on a back porch at the end of April in San Diego County. It is not possible to determine what they are doing - they could be a male and a female in courting behavior preliminary to copulation, or they could be two males in combat, although not very aggressively.
california kingsnake video california kingsnake video california kingsnake video  
These three short videos show the same two snakes depicted in the stills above.  
       
California Kingsnakes Feeding and Predation
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
A striped phase California Kingsnake eating a juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in San Diego County. © Kimberly Deutsch Sacramento County adult eating a juvenile Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.
© Michele Coughlin
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
This striped California Kingsnake is eating a San Diego Alligator Lizard in San Diego County. © Liz Samperi California Kingsnakes are powerful predators capable of eating other snakes almost as large as they are. Here you can see one eating a Gophersnake.
© Patrick Briggs
Adult eating a lizard, Santa Catalina Island. © Nathan Smith
california kingsnake california kingsnake  
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
Stacy Holt with Death Valley National Park sent me the above six photos which were taken on 8/28/13 by National Park Service Employees Drew Kaiser and Shannon Mazzei. Drew and Shannon saw the snakes struggling at around 11 AM in near Towne Pass. A California Kingsnake was wrapped tightly around a Panamint Rattlesnake and the snakes were barely moving. Disturbed by the onlookers, the kingsnake retreated under a nearby bush. The rattlesnake was dead by that time, and appears to be biting itself, but was described as biting onto the kingsnake before it died. The kingsnake probably returned to swallow the rattlesnake after the people left.
You can see other interesting wildlife sightings on the Death Valley National Park Facebook Page.
california kingsnake california kingsnake southern pacific rattlesnake southern pacific rattlesnake
Contra Costa County adult killing a Pacific Gophersnake for dinner. © Tim Dayton This California Kingsnake was discovered eating a juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake in the Los Padres Mountains, Santa Barbara County © Benjamin Bruno
  california kingsnake california kingsnake  
california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake california kingsnake
This California Kingsnake was observed battling a California Alligator Lizard on a hiking trail in Santa Clara County. The alligator lizard clamped its jaws down on the snake's tail and held on tight even after it died. The snake had to pull and thrash about for more than 20 minutes before the lizard let go of the badly-damaged tail, finally allowing the snake to swallow it. © Wim de Groot
california kingsnake      
Adult snake looking for food in a bird nest box in Sonoma County © John McClain      
       
Naturally-Occurring Aberrant Morphs and Habitat
california kingsnake habitat california kingsnake habitat    
Go to Page 2 to see some other naturally-occurring aberrant morphs of California Kingsnakes. Go to Page 3 to see pictures of some of the wide variety of habitats inhabited by California Kingsnakes.    
     
Short Videos of Banded Kingsnakes

(Videos of Striped and Aberrant Kingsnakes Here)
california kingsnake video california kingsnake video california kingsnake video california kingsnake video
A very large banded kingsnake crawls off a road and up onto a rock face in a Kern County desert canyon at night. A kingsnake crawls very quickly across the Colorado desert at night in San Diego County. A beautiful banded adult California Kingsnake crosses a road at night in Alameda County, reminding me that my favorite thing about an encounter with a snake is watching it crawl away. A distressed San Diego County California Kingsnake vibrates its tail.
california kingsnake habitat      
Click on the picture above to watch a YouTube video of a defensive California Kingsnake, sent to me by Paivi Kangas.      
     
       
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Size
California Kingsnakes seldom exceed 48 inches. (122 cm). Most commonly found at 2.5 - 3.5 feet in length (76 - 107 cm).
Hatchlings are about 12 inches long (30.5 cm).

Appearance
Smooth, shiny, unkeeled scales.
The head is barely wider than the neck.
Color and Pattern
Highly variable in appearance.
Most commonly seen with alternating bands of black or brown and white or light yellow, including the underside, where the light bands become wider.

Many unusual color phases have been bred, including albinos.
In his book, "Common Kingsnakes, A Natural History of Lampropeltis getula" 2009, Brian Hubbs includes a list of more than 30 prominent aberrant color patterns found in California Kingsnakes. The map shown to the left shows the approximate location for all of these morphs combined in southern California, with the "Delta" and "Eiseni" morphs shown to the north in the central valleys. For much more detailed information about these morphs than I show here, including maps showing some known locations for many of these morphs, consult the book. You can see pictures of some of them, and a map of where they occur, on my Aberrant Morphs page.

A striped phase with a white or light yellow stripe on the back occurs in coastal southern California.
An unbanded phase with a dark belly and lateral striping occurs in the northern San Joaquin Valley and southern Sacramento Valley.
A dark banded phase with a dark underside occurs in coastal Los Angeles County, some with a high number of bands.
A desert phase occurs with dark black bands and narrow bright white bands.
Some variants have much dark speckling in the light bands, others with much light speckling in the dark bands.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Active during daylight in cooler weather and at night, dawn, and dusk when temperatures are high.
Defense
When disturbed, generally not aggressive, but sometimes vibrates the tail quickly, hisses, and rolls into a ball, hiding the head and showing the vent with it's lining exposed.

Immune to rattlesnake venom.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a wide variety of prey, including rodents and other small mammals, lizards, lizard eggs, snakes (including rattlesnakes), snake eggs, turtle eggs and hatchlings, frogs, salamanders, birds, bird eggs and chicks, and large invertebrates.
A powerful constrictor, coiling tightly around its prey.
Breeding
Snakes reach sexual maturity in 3 - 4 years.
California Kingsnakes are ovoviparous, laying eggs that incubate then hatch.
Breeding generally takes place within a few weeks of emergence from hibernation, usually after the first shed, but some snakes wait longer to breed.
(Desert snakes probably breed much earlier while high-elevation snakes probably breed later.)

Male Combat has been observed within the genus:  In a description of the Speckled King Snake (based on Carpenter and Gillingham 1977 - A Combat Ritual Between Two Male Speckled Kingsnakes. SW Nat. 22(4): 517-524) Werler and Dixon, 2000, say that males engage in lively combat during the breeding season or when they are competing for food or territory. The males lie stretched out with their bodies entwined, each one trying to get on top of the other to dominate his rival. In the later stage of combat biting may occur. Usually the larger snake is victorious and the second snake crawls away or assumes a submissive position with his head held flat against the ground.

Courtship behavior between a male and a female involves neck-biting to hold the female during copulation. (Hubbs, 2009)

1 to 2 months after breeding (averaging 6 weeks) females lay from 3 - 24 eggs (average clutch size is probably 8 - 10 for the species) (Hubbs, 2009).
Egg laying occurs generally between May and August.
Eggs hatch in 6 weeks to 2 months (earlier in warmer temperatures, and later in cooler temperatures.) (Hubbs, 2009)

Geographical Range
Lampropeltis californiae is found throughout most of California, but is absent from the damp redwood zone of the extreme northwest coast, the northeast great basin desert, and high elevations in the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges.

Outside of California, it occurs in southwestern Oregon, Nevada, southern Utah,extreme southwestern Colorado, much of Arizona, throughout Baja California, including several islands, and most of Sonora, Mexico.

An introduced population occurs on Gran Canaria Island in the Canary Islands, where there are no native snakes.

The former species Lampropeltis getula - Common Kingsnake was split into 5 species. That former species occured in a very wide range, from the Pacific Coast, to Florida, including most of the southern part of the U. S., south into Mexico.
L. getula now only occurs on the east coast south through Florida.
L. nigra occurs from southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, south to the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River and roughly west of the Appalachian mountains.
L. holbrookii occurs west of the Missippi River east to the Pecos River and south of the Rio Grande into Mexico.
L. splendida occurs in the Texas Big Bend region, parts of southern New Mexico, and an isolated area in northeastern Arizona.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
Found at elevations from sea level to 7,100 ft. (2164 m). in the eastern Sierra Nevada. and up to 6077 ft. (1852.3 m.) in the Southern California mountains
(Herpetological Review 44(2), 2013).

Habitat
Found in a wide variety of habitats - forest, woodland, chaparral, grassland, marshes, farmland, ranches, deserts, and even brushy suburban areas.

Notes on Taxonomy
In 2009 Pyron and Burbrink elevated several subspecies of Lampropeltis getula to full species status, including:

L. g. californiae    to     L. californiae - California Kingsnake
L. g. getula           to     L. getula - Eastern Kingsnake
L. g. holbrooki     to      L. holbrooki - Speckled KIngsnake
L. g. nigra            to      L. nigra - Eastern Black Kingsnake


Pyron, R.A. & Burbrink, F.T. (2009a) Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini
(Serpentes: Colubridae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 52, 524–529.

R. Alexander Pyron, & Frank T. Burbrink. Systematics of the Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula; Serpentes: Colubridae) and the burden of heritage in taxonomy.  Zootaxa 2241: 22–32. Copyright © 2009 · Magnolia Press.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

L. getulus californiae - California Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 2003, 2012)
L. getulus californiae - California King Snake (Ditmars 1907)
L. getulus californiae - California King Snake (Stebbins 1954)
California Milk Snake (Van Denburgh 1897)
Banded King Snake; Blainville's King Snake (Yarrow 1882)
(California) Striped King Snake; Fresno King Snake

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Lampropeltis Kingsnakes and Milksnakes Fitzinger, 1843
Species

californiae California Kingsnake (Blainville, 1835)
Original Description
Lampropeltis getula californiae - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 292, pl. 27, fig. 1

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Lampropeltis - Greek - lampros - shiny and pelta - shield - referring to the smooth, shiny dorsal scales characteristic of this genus

californiae - of the state of California - which includes most of the range of this subspecies.

mostly from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Snakes
L. zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake
R. l. lecontei - Western Long-nosed Snake
C. o. occipitalis - Mojave Shovel-nosed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.

Southern California Kingsnakes - A Website Dedicated to All Cal King Enthusiasts

Dixon, James R. and John E. Werler. Texas Snakes, Identification, Distribution, and Natural History. University of Texas Press, Austin Texas, 2000




Hubbs, Brian. Common Kingsnakes,
A Natural History of Lampropeltis getula
. 2009.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN

 

Home Site Map About Us Identification Lists Maps Photos More Lists CA Snakes CA Lizards CA Turtles CA Salamanders CA Frogs
Contact Us Usage Resources Rattlesnakes Sounds Videos FieldHerping Yard Herps Behavior Herp Fun CA Regulations
Beyond CA All Herps


Return to the Top

 © 2000 -