King Snake

Lampropeltis elapsoides

Last updated: May 26, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit BikerPhoto/Shutterstock.com

King Snakes eat other types of snakes.

King Snake Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Colubridae
Genus
Lampropeltis
Scientific Name
Lampropeltis elapsoides

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

King Snake Locations

King Snake Locations

King Snake Facts

Fun Fact
King Snakes eat other types of snakes.
Diet
Carnivore

King Snake Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
Lifespan
10-15 years
Length
36-60 inches

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View all of the King Snake images!



“King Snakes eat other types of snakes.”

King snakes can climb trees and swim. They are carnivores eating rodents, birds, birds’ eggs, lizards, and other snakes. These snakes are not venomous; instead, they squeeze their prey to death. Their lifespan is 10 to 15 years.

4 King Snake Amazing Facts

  • They are not harmed by the venom of other snakes
  • Its lifespan is 10 to 15 years
  • Due to their scale pattern, they are sometimes called a chain snake
  • They release a musk odor to deter predators

Where to Find a King Snake

King snakes live in North America, specifically the eastern, western, and southern part of the United States. Different species of king snake live in different sections of the United States and some live in Mexico.

The habitat of this snake differs among species as well. Some of them live in forests and grasslands near bodies of water while others live in a desert habitat. In a forest or grassland habitat, these snakes hide in hollow trees or beneath piles of leaves and sticks. Alternatively, in the desert, they can be found under rocks or in tight crevices.

These snakes are active in the spring and summer. Their breeding season goes from March to May and their eggs hatch late in the summer season.

Types of King Snake

There are six species of king snake, and they all belong to the Colubridae family. Though some of these snakes have a similar appearance, they live in different places.



  • Common king snake or Eastern king snake (Lampropeltis getula)-This species of king snake lives on the eastern coast of the United States from Pennsylvania to Florida. Though they usually grow to a length ranging from 36 to 48 inches, the longest Eastern king snake on record is 82 inches.
  • California king snake (Lampropeltis californae)-These king snakes live in cliff areas, wetlands, and grassland areas of California. It is less colorful than other species of king snake with its black or brown scales featuring white bands.
  • Speckled king snake (Lampropeltis holbrooki)-This species lives in the middle and southern portion of the United States and into Mexico. Its territory includes Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. Some can even be found as far south as Mexico. It’s named for its black body covered in yellow spots, or speckles.
  • Desert king snake (Lampropeltis splendida)-As its name indicates, this snake has a desert habitat. It lives in the southern part of the United States including Texas and New Mexico and its territory extends into Mexico. This species is shy and known to ‘play dead’ when confronted by a human.
  • Black king snake or Eastern black king snake (Lampropeltis nigra)-It lives in the southern part of the United States including the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and the northern part of Georgia. Its dark scales set it apart from the more colorful species of king snake.
  • Scarlet king snake (Lampropeltis elapsoides)-This species is especially colorful with its bands of black, red, white, and yellow. It lives in the eastern and south eastern portions of the United States. This is the smallest species of king snake usually measuring no more than 20 inches long. However, the largest scarlet kingsnake ever recorded was 28 inches long.

King Snake Scientific Name

Lampropeltis getula is the scientific name for the common or Eastern king snake. It’s in the Colubridae family and the class Reptilia. The Greek word Lampropeltis means shiny while getula refers to its bands of scales.

The species of king snake are:

  • Lampropeltis getula
  • Lampropeltis californae
  • Lampropeltis holbrooki
  • Lampropeltis splendida
  • Lampropeltis nigra
  • Lampropeltis elapsoides

King Snake Population & Conservation Status

The population of the Eastern or common king snake is unknown. But biologists believe its population exceeds 100,000 mature adults. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports its conservation status as Least Concern with a population that is stable.

How to Identify King Snake: Appearance and Description

An Eastern king snake has black or brown scales with 30 narrow vertical bands of yellow or white on its back. Its underbelly is yellow with zig-zagging patterns of black scales.
This species of king snake is very different in appearance from the scarlet king snake. The scarlet king snake has alternating bands of bright red, black, white, and yellow.

The typical size of the Eastern king snake is 36 to 48 inches in length. They weigh up to four pounds. The longest king snake recorded is up to 7 feet!

How to Identify Eastern King Snakes

  • A black or brown background of scales
  • 30 narrow bands of yellow or white horizontal scales
  • A yellow or white underbelly with zig-zagging black scales

King Snake Pictures

black and white king snake
King snakes are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Least Concern.

Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

green and brown california king snake
The California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae) is a nonvenomous snake.

Murilo Mazzo/Shutterstock.com

California King Snake on a branch
California King Snakes live in cliff areas, wetlands, and grassland areas of California.

Ann May Snz/Shutterstock.com

King Snake: How Dangerous Are They?

King snakes are not venomous. They are shy snakes that would rather slither beneath a gathering of leaves or a rock than confront a threat. In fact, one species of king snake called the desert king snake plays dead when threatened by a human. This means it remains still on the ground until the human moves away and the snake can escape to safety.

Despite having a shy temperament, a king snake may bite a human if it feels threatened. Though this snake isn’t venomous, its bite can be painful. If someone gets a bite from a king snake, the first thing to do is wash the area with soap and warm water. Then, put first-aid ointment on it. If there’s pain, putting ice on the area can offer relief.

Remember, there’s always the potential for infection, so if a rash appears in the bite area, it’s best to see a doctor.

King Snake Behavior and Humans

King snakes are shy and prefer to remain hidden in their habitat. These snakes are not considered pests, in fact the opposite is true!

They eat rodents which keeps the population of mice and moles under control. So, if a homeowner sees a king snake in their garden or on their property, this reptile should be left alone to hunt rodents.

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About the Author

Ashley Haugen is a lifelong animal lover and professional writer and editor. When she's not immersed in A-Z-Animals.com, she can be found hanging out with her dogs and birds.

King Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What's the difference between king snakes and cottonmouths?

King snakes are nonvenomous while cottonmouths have venom. Both snakes are relatively equal in length, but king snakes tend to be darker while cottonmouths are brownish with diamond-like patterning.

Are king snakes venomous?

No. King snakes are not venomous.

How do king snakes hunt?

King snakes stalk their prey, grab ahold of it with their jaws, and wrap around it. They are constrictors. They wrap around their prey to constrict its breathing in order to kill it, then swallow it.

Are king snakes aggressive?

No, these snakes are not aggressive.

Are king snakes friendly?

While king snakes are not aggressive, they don’t want to interact with humans. They’d rather take shelter beneath a rock or pile of leaves.

Why are these reptiles called king snakes?

They are called king snakes because they consume other snakes. Furthermore, some of the snakes they eat such as copperheads and rattlesnakes are venomous. King snakes are immune to the venom of these snakes and hunt rattlesnakes- read more about that here.

Where do king snakes live?

King snakes live in the United States and down into Mexico. Different species of king snakes live in different sections of the United States and Mexico.

The habitat of this snake includes rock ledges, hollow logs, piles of leaves and beneath tree bark.
Some of these snakes seek shelter underground during brumation. Brumation is a reptile’s version of hibernation.

What do king snakes eat?

King snakes are carnivores. They eat rodents, birds, birds’ eggs, lizards, and even other snakes.

How big does a king snake get?

Most king snakes grow to a size of 36 to 48 inches long. But one Eastern king snake was recorded at a size of 82 inches!

Do king snakes bite humans?

Yes, but it’s rare. These snakes would rather slither away or play dead than confront a human. But they are able to bite a person if they feel cornered.

Is a king snake a good pet?

No. Though many of these snakes are colorful like the scarlet king snake or have interesting scale patterns like the speckled king snake, they are not suitable pets.

They need to be kept in an enclosure that maintains a certain temperature or they can easily become sick and die. Also, these snakes want to hunt and capture their food instead of having something fed to them. Finally, this is a shy snake likely to become stressed when an owner tries to handle it.

What are the differences between Copperhead and Kingsnake?

The main differences between copperheads and kingsnakes are that they belong to different families, inhabit slightly different ranges, and have unique physical characteristics. They differ in size, reproduce by different methods, kill unique prey by different means, and only one of them poses a threat to humans.

What's the difference between kingsnakes and king cobras?

King cobras are much larger than kingsnakes, as well as far more venomous. Kingsnakes are also more colorful than king cobras.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/speckled-kingsnake
  2. , Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_kingsnake
  3. , Available here: https://kysnakes.ca.uky.edu/snake/lampropeltis-getula-nigra
  4. , Available here: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/florida-snake-id/snake/scarlet-kingsnake/
  5. , Available here: https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/reptiles/snakes/common-kingsnake.html
  6. , Available here: https://www.beardsleyzoo.org/eastern-kingsnake.html
  7. (1970) https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/67662588/67662645 Jump to top

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