The SSAR, whose list is used by this website, has recognized that the species Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake (which formerly was viewed as one species with seven subspecies) now consists of two species. No subspecies have been recognized yet. The other species is Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake. I will follow the two-species taxonomy while separating pictures of the snakes into their former subspecies, for those who like to recognize the subspecies, but don't let that confuse you -
All of the snakes on this page except for those marked as "Species Not Known" are the same species.
Coast Mountain Kingsnakes formerly recoginzed as Lampropeltis zonata pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
These snakes from the coast range south of Monterey Bay were not included in the study that recognized two species.
They could be either L. zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake, or L. multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Not Dangerous - This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.
There are no venomous snakes in California that can be mistaken for this snake, but the similar-looking Arizona Coral Snake, found in Arizona, is venomous and dangerous.
20 - 50 inches long (51 - 127 cm.)
Hatchlings are 7 - 11 inches in length (18 - 28 cm.)
A medium-sized slender snake with a head not much wider than the cylindrical body with smooth shiny scales.
Color and Pattern
Black, red, and off-white or grayish-white rings circle the body.
The red bands are noticably wider than the others, with the white bands wider than the black.
Some black bands may widen and cross over the red bands on the back, especially in populations in the Santa Monica Mountains.
A red band surrounded by two black bands is referred to as a "triad."
On this subspecies there are 18 - 39 triads, with an average of 33.
Typically, 60 percent or more of the triads have complete red bands with no black crossovers.
The bands continue around the belly, but the coloring is paler, and the black and white bands are reduced in size giving the belly a reddish coloring.
The nose is black sometimes with some red.
Life History and Behavior
Secretive, but not rare in suitable habitat. Spends most of the time underground, under surface objects, or inside rock crevices. Occasionally seen active on the ground in the daytime, especially near shaded streams on hot sunny days. Active during the day at high altitudes during times of low nighttime temperatures (which is typical habitat.) When temperatures are more moderate, it can be crepuscular, nocturnal, and diurnal. During very hot weather, activity is primarily nocturnal. This snake is normally active at temperatures between aproximately 55 - 85 degrees.
Enters into winter hibernation typically around November, emerging some time from February to April, depending on location and weather conditions.
Diet and Feeding
Eats lizards, small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, amphibians, and occasionally snakes, including its own species.
Mating takes place a few weeks after emergence in the spring.
Eggs are laid June-July and hatch after 50 - 65 days.
A habitat generalist, found in diverse habitats including coniferous forest, oak-pine woodlands, riparian woodland, chaparral, manzanita, and coastal sage scrub. Wooded areas near a stream with rock outcrops, talus or rotting logs that are exposed to the sun are good places to find this snake.
According to Myers et al (2013) "Lampropeltis multifasciata is composed of all populations in the Peninsular Ranges and in the Transverse Ranges, north into the Coast Ranges just south of Monterey Bay, California, including the disjunct population on Isla Sur of Islas Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico."
The presence of Lampropeltis zonata on Santa Catalina Island was confirmed when an Island Fox was videotaped preying on a California Mountain Kingsnake on Catalina Island on April 26th, 2015. I am presuming that it is L. z. pulchra due to its geographic location. A still photo was posted on Facebook and might still be available. A video file of the April 2015 discovery has been put in the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. You might be able to still watch it on the Facebook Group - Herping the Globe.
Robert W. Hansen, Richard Cazares, and Alexus Cazares. Herpetological Review 46(4), 2015
There are unconfirmed sight records from the interior south coast ranges.
Confirmed from the Gabilan Range at Fremont Peak, first San Benito County record, in 2013. Dana Waters, Herpetological Review 44(2), 2013
Click the map to enlarge. Click Here to see a map of the ranges of all formerly recognized subspecies.
Click Here to see a map of the ranges of the former subspecies in California.
From near sea level along the coast, to 9,000 ft. (2750 m) on Mt. San Jacinto.
Notes on Taxonomy
In 2013 Myers et al (Myers, E. A., J. A. Rodríguez-Robles, D. F. DeNardo, R. E. Staub, A. Stropoli, S. Ruane, and F. T. Burbrink. 2013. Multilocus phylogeographic assessment of the California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) suggests alternative patterns of diversification for the California Floristic Province. Molecular Ecology 22 2013 - PDF) show that Lampropeltis zonata consists of two species, but did not give these species Common Names. They also show that the southern species contains two lineages - the southern species, and the Peninsular Range lineage.
"Using nonparametic and Bayesian species delimitation, we determined that there are two well-supported species within L. zonata. Ecological niche modelling supports the delimitation of these taxa, suggesting that the two species inhabit distinct climatic environments. Gene flow between the two taxa is low and appears to occur unidirectionally. [north to south only] Further, our data suggest that gene flow was mediated by females, a rare pattern in snakes. In contrast to previous analyses, we determined that the divergence between the two lineages occurred in the late Pliocene (c. 2.07 Ma). Spatially and temporally, the divergence of these lineages is associated with the inundation of central California by the Monterey Bay."
"Recognizing two species in this complex is a conservative decision, as the southern taxon could potentially be further subdivided into two separate lineages."
As of June 2016 the SSAR shows the common names to be California Mountain Kingsnake and Coast Mountain Kingsnake.
Lampropeltis zonata (Lockington ex Blainville 1835)
"Lampropeltis zonata is composed of all populations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coast Ranges north of Monterey Bay, California, north into the Klamath Mountains, in Oregon, plus an additional, disjunct population along the Columbia Gorge, in the great state of Washington."
Lampropeltis multifasciata (Bocourt 1886)
"Lampropeltis multifasciata is composed of all populations in the Peninsular Ranges and in the Transverse Ranges, north into the Coast Ranges just south of Monterey Bay, California, including the disjunct population on Isla Sur of Islas Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico."
L. zonata multifasciata - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012) L. zonata parvirubra - San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012) L. zonata pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012) L. zonata agalma - Baja California Mountain Kingsnake) (Mountains of northern Baja California) (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)
L. zonata multifasciata (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954)
L. zonata parvirubra (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954) L. zonata pulchra (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954) L. zonata agalma (Mountains of northern Baja California) (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954) L. zonata herrerae (South Todos Santos Island) (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954)
Sierra Coral King Snake (Klauber)
Coral King Snake (Atsatt 1913)
Coast-range Coral King Snake; Coral (King) Snake; Arizona King Snake; (California) Coral Snake; Corral Snake; Harlequin Snake; Mountain King Snake; Red Milk Snake; Ringed King Snake; Ring Snake; Western Coral King Snake
The State of California has listed the subspecies L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake as a California Species of Special Concern. It is protected from take with a sport fishing license by law: "No California mountain kingsnakes can be collected in No California mountain kingsnakes - Lampropeltis zonata may be taken in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura counties."
When slabs are torn off rock outcrops by someone searching for this snake or other reptiles, the habitat this snake uses for refuge is irreparably damaged. It takes thousands of years for this rock fissuring to occur, so this habitat will not be replaced for many centuries. Such rock destruction is illegal in California: "It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs or other shelters in or under which reptiles may be found." (2007 regulations 5.60.4.)
Reptile hunters are usually blamed for rock habitat destruction, but bulldozers are far more destructive. I have also witnessed granite collectors tearing off huge slabs of granite with a crowbar then carrying the slabs away.
Lampropeltis multifasciata Myers, E. A., J. A. Rodríguez-Robles, D. F. DeNardo, R. E. Staub, A. Stropoli, S. Ruane, and F. T. Burbrink. 2013
Meaning of the Scientific Name
Lampropeltis - Greek - lampros - shiny and pelta - shield - referring to the smooth, shiny dorsal scales characteristic of this genus
multifasciata - Latin - multi - many and fasciata - bundled, banded - refers to the banded dorsal pattern
Rodriguez-Robles,Denardo and Staub (1999 Molecular Ecology 8: 1923-1934) Publication #19
Myers, E. A., J. A. Rodríguez-Robles, D. F. DeNardo, R. E. Staub, A. Stropoli, S. Ruane, and F. T. Burbrink. 2013. Multilocus phylogeographic assessment of the California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) suggests alternative patterns of diversification for the California Floristic Province. Molecular Ecology 22 2013 - PDF
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.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
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.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
The Special Animals List lists the "San Diego" (L. z. pulchra) population of L. multifasciata as shown below.
NatureServe Global Ranking
Apparently Secure - Secure
NatureServe State Ranking
Critically Imperiled - Imperiled
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)
California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Bureau of Land Management
USDA Forest Service
The Special Animals List lists the "San Bernardino" (L. z. parvirubra) population of L. multifasciata as shown below.
NatureServe Global Ranking
Apparently Secure - Secure
NatureServe State Ranking
Imperiled in the state because of rarity due to very restricted range, very few populations (often 20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors making it very vulnerable to extirpation from the state.