- There are snakes in every single ecological niche in Texas, but not all of them are dangerous.
- Kingsnakes are a nonvenomous group of snakes that belong to the genus Lampropeltis. These snakes are found all over the New World (North and South America), with four primary species and forty-five subspecies.
- None of these snakes are dangerous to humans, but they get their name from their habit of eating other snakes.
Texas is one big state! As any native knows, it’s also home to an incredible array of wildlife. One of the most prevalent groups of animals you can find in Texas is snakes. There are snakes in every single ecological niche in Texas, but not all of them are dangerous. Today, we are going to take a look at a particular group of snakes in Texas known as kingsnakes. There are six species of kingsnake in Texas, and by the end of this, you will be able to identify each of them. Let’s get started!
What Is A Kingsnake?
Kingsnakes are a nonvenomous group of snakes that belong to the genus Lampropeltis. These snakes are found all over the New World (North and South America), with four primary species and forty-five subspecies. They are beautiful snakes and make for incredible generalists, allowing them to live in almost every environment in the New World.
None of these snakes are dangerous to humans, but they get their name from their habit of eating other snakes. As the king of snakes, kingsnakes will even eat venomous snakes and have a natural resistance to most venoms! With their harmlessness to humans and habit of eating more dangerous snakes, you should never kill a kingsnake.
Let’s look through the six species of kingsnake in Texas and learn how to identify them.
A List Of Kingsnakes In Texas
The prairie kingsnake is often referred to as the yellow-bellied kingsnake due to its yellow belly.
Prairie kingsnakes (Lampropeltis calligaster) can be found throughout much of Texas, particularly Central Texas. They usually reach a maximum of three feet and can be found in grasslands, woods, and prairies. Most of the time, they remain hidden under rocks or logs and aren’t often seen, like most species of kingsnake.
Prairie kingsnakes are characterized by their brown or tan bodies with elliptical black spotting down their backs. They often have yellowish bellies, giving them their other common name, the yellow-bellied kingsnake.
The desert kingsnake can be found across western Texas, particularly in the desert regions.
Desert kingsnakes (Lampropeltis splendid) can be found in the dry, desert regions of Texas and the neighboring states. They were originally considered a subspecies of the eastern kingsnake but are now commonly identified on their own. They can grow to four feet long but aren’t often seen.
Desert kingsnakes are characterized by their yellow and black bodies. They often have white or yellow rings traveling down their bodies, but the banding is less distinct than the eastern or western kingsnake. Some individuals have a very intense flecked appearance instead or in addition to their banding.
The speckled kingsnake gets its name from the distinct speckles across its body resembling salt and pepper.
Speckled kingsnakes (Lampropeltis holbrooki) are uniquely native to eastern Texas. They can grow to four feet in length and usually live near water. Their preferred habitat is swamps, rivers, and wetlands. Still, these snakes can be found in other locations and even overlap territories with the desert kingsnake in some places.
Speckled kingsnakes are characterized by their black body speckled with yellow dots, hence the name. They are sometimes called the salt-and-pepper-snake due to how intense the speckled pattern can be.
Louisiana milksnakes are coral snake mimics found in east Texas.
The Louisiana milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum amaura) is a mimic snake that has an appearance that copies the venomous coral snake, although all milksnakes are harmless. Milksnakes are members of the Lampropeltis genus, making them kingsnakes. They get their name from the old belief that they milked cows since they were often found in barns. That belief clearly isn’t true, and milksnakes are often found in barns because they like to eat the rodents that are also commonly found there. Milksnakes can be found in east Texas.
Louisiana milksnakes have alternating bands that go: large red band, thin black band, thin white band, thin black band. This pattern repeats down their bodies. These snakes look very similar to coral snakes, with the main difference being the pattern. Coral snakes never have black and red bands touching one another.
The western milksnake is a coral snake mimic that is found everywhere except central Texas.
The western milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum gentilis) is another mimic snake that resembles the venomous coral snake. Western milksnakes can be found in western and eastern Texas, but not central Texas.
Like most milksnakes, western milksnakes have alternating colored bands. Their bands go thick red band, thin red band, thick white band. One distinguishing factor with these snakes is that their bands and colorations don’t usually reach down to their bellies, which are white or cream.
The Mexican milksnake is a coral snake mimic native to Mexico.
Mexican milksnakes (Lampropeltis triangulum annulata) are native to Mexico, but they can be found in some parts of southwestern Texas. Like the other milksnakes on our list, they are coral snake mimics but only grow to two feet long, making them the smallest kingsnakes on the list.
Mexican milksnakes have distinct banding that goes thick red band, thin black band, medium white band. The pattern repeats down their body. Their heads are black, just like coral snakes, making the pattern the best way to identify them.
Snakes That Look Like Kingsnakes In Texas
Texas Scarlet Snake
Texas scarlet snakes (Cemophora lineri) aren’t kingsnakes, but they resemble milk snakes very closely. They are also coral snake mimics and live in southern Texas. These snakes are nonvenomous and harmless to humans.
They are smaller and usually grow to a maximum of 26 inches. Their color pattern goes thick red band, thin black band, medium white band. Their bodies are white, however, and the banding doesn’t wrap around the snake. An additional tell is that the black bands don’t connect at all like other scarlet snake species.
Texas Coral Snake
Coral snakes are venomous snakes that can be found in Texas. Pictured above is an eastern coral snake.
The Texas coral snake (Micrurus tener) is a venomous snake that lives in southern and eastern Texas, although some populations are present in west Texas, east of Big Bend.
The Texas coral snake is a patterned snake with bands that go thick black, thin yellow, thick red. Coral snakes never have black and red bands touching and usually have inky black heads.
Other Non-Venomous Snakes Found In Texas
Western rat snakes come in many colors but darken with age and lose some of the patterns.
One of the most common snakes found in Texas is the Texas rat snake, which is a subspecies of the black rat snake and can grow up to 6 feet in length. This non-venomous snake is an excellent climber and when in search of prey, of which mice, rats, and birds are their primary target, will scale trees on the hunt. While the rat snake is not toxic, it does still bite and if threatened will not only strike but will also protect itself with an unpleasant musk.
Pink is one of the many colors that the coachwhip snake may come in.
©Nathan A Shepard/Shutterstock.com
The coachwhip snake is another non-venomous snake that is found in Texas and while it is harmless to humans, the same can’t be said for the rattlesnake. The coachwhip, in addition to eating small birds, reptiles, and just about anything else it can catch and ingest, will kill rattlesnakes and eat those too. This snake is long and skinny and can be anywhere from 3 feet to reaching over 8 feet long. It comes in a variety of colors – pink, reddish-brown, black, gray, and tan – and as a fast snake, can often be found crossing roads at the quick speed of 3.6 miles per hour.
To recap: there are snakes that look like kingsnakes, and there are other nonvenomous snakes in Texas, but there are only the following 6 kingsnakes in Texas:
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Radiant Reptilia/Shutterstock.com
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