While the king snake, Lampropeltis getulus, might be mistaken for a venomous snake, he's actually quite harmless to people and larger mammals. Smaller animals are another story -- they're prime prey. The king snake is quite the hunter, locating prey by scent, catching and constricting his victim to death.
King Snake Appearance
Shiny and black, most king snakes sport white or yellow bands resembling chain links along the back and sides. The color and band size varies depending on their territory, with solid black king snakes found in north-central parts of the United States and speckled varieties found along the Gulf Coast. Mature king snakes average between 3 and 4 feet in length, although some individuals might grow as much as 6 feet long. The average king snake weighs just over 3 pounds when fully grown.
King Snake Nicknames
Because they are so widespread, king snakes boast lots of regional nicknames. If you hear someone referring to a wampum snake, thunder snake, horse racer, oak-leaf rattler, bastard horn snake, chain snake, cow sucker or master snake, they're probably referring to a king snake.
King Snake Diet
As carnivores, king snakes consume various prey. These include small rodents, birds, eggs and lizards. They also eat other snakes, including venomous creatures. Since they are naturally immune to the venom, being bitten by a rattlesnake or similar viper isn't an issue. Sometimes, king snakes devour other king snakes. If kept as pets, king snakes are fed rats and mice or chicks. If the meal was large enough, king snakes might only eat once or twice a week.
King Snake Range
Different species of king snake live throughout North America. Common in the Southeast, eastern king snakes range from southern New Jersey to northern Florida, with the Appalachians as their western boundary. The California mountain king snake is found all over the West Coast, while the prairie king snake reigns in the Midwest. Although they're a terrestrial species, king snakes often live in the vicinity of wetlands, ponds and swamps. That's because of their food preference for turtle eggs and water-dwelling snakes.
Breeding and Reproduction
King snakes reach sexual maturity in their third year. Mating takes place in the spring, with the female laying a clutch of up to 13 eggs by mid-summer. The hatchlings emerge in late summer or early autumn, at a length ranging from 4 to 12 inches. They're on their own from the beginning.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.