The prairie kingsnake is one of the most common snakes in the midwest and southeastern United States. Known scientifically as Lampropeltis calligaster, these snakes are often mistaken for ratsnakes, and even rattlesnakes. Prairie kingsnakes are members of the Colubrid family of snakes, which includes thousands of distinct species. When it comes to prairie kingsnakes, there are currently two recognized subspecies: the mold kingsnake, and the South Florida mole kingsnake. But, just how big is the largest prairie kingsnake ever?
Here, we’ll learn all about the prairie kingsnake, starting with what they look like. We’ll discuss their behavior, diet, and where you might find one. Then, we’ll take a look at whether or not these snakes present a threat to humans, and whether or not they’re at risk of extinction. Finally, we’ll discover the largest prairie kingsnake ever recorded.
Read on to learn more!
About Prairie Kingsnakes
The most distinguishing characteristic of the prairie kingsnake is its brown and tan coloring and fossorial head. These snakes rely on constriction and eat many small rodents, birds, and snakes. They’re found in Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and many other states. For much of the year, they’re nocturnal and are best observed at night. Typical specimens grow up to three feet long, though the largest prairie kingsnake ever far surpasses the average.
Prairie kingsnakes bear a superficial resemblance to ratsnakes. Their bellies are light tan, and their bodies range from gray to light brown. They have attractive, irregular stripes up their sides that are unconnected to the blotches running down their backs. Both the blotches and the stripes are a medium brown to copper color.
Prairie kingsnakes have medium weight bodies, and heads that are the same width as the body. Unlike other, more dangerous snakes, like the cottonmouth or western diamondback rattlesnake, their pupils are round. Further, they lack heat-sensing pits, or venom glands. Also, though they make shake their tails, they lack rattles.
The largest prairie kingsnake ever started out life as an egg. Females produce between 2-21 eggs per clutch in May or June. They usually lay their eggs in hidden places, like rock crevices, or under building debris. Eggs hatch in August or September. Adults are active primarily from April to November. In the cooler summer months, they come out at dawn and dusk. But, at the height of summer heat, prairie kingsnakes become wholly nocturnal. They brumate during the winter and mate in the early spring.
Range and Habitat
The prairie kingsnake lives throughout the southeastern and midwestern United States. They’re frequently mistaken for milksnakes. They prefer areas without too much forest coverage, and tend to congregate in areas with plenty of other snakes and rodents. Prairie kingsnakes live in prairies, agricultural fields, open woods, rocky slopes, and near agricultural buildings. They often shelter in rodent burrows, under unused farm equipment, piles of rocks or logs, or in tall grass fields.
The largest prairie kingsnakes eat some of the scariest snakes out there. These snakes are immune to the venom of cottonmouths, copperheads, and rattlesnakes, all of which they frequently kill and eat. These snakes also eat small birds, mice, rats, and lizards. They’re excellent hunters, and kill their prey by coiling around it and constricting it to death.
The Largest Prairie Kingsnake Ever Recorded
Typical prairie kingsnakes grow to between 30-40 inches long, right around three feet. However, the largest prairie kingsnake ever was a whopping 56 1/4 inches long, that’s over four feet eight inches long! The largest specimens generally live in Kansas, where the vast prairies and farmlands provide them with plenty of food and shelter.
Given an unlimited supply of rodents and venomous snakes to eat, these snakes can live upwards of ten years. At birth, snakelings measure six inches or less, so they have a lot of growing to do to reach their adult length. No matter what, the largest prairie kingsnakes are not to be messed with, especially if you’re a venomous snake.
Are Prairie Kingsnakes Venomous?
Luckily for humans, prairie kingsnakes are not venomous. They do sometimes attempt to mimic the venomous rattlesnake by rattling their tail. If they rattle their tail among dead leaves or grass, they can actually reproduce the rattlesnake’s characteristic rattle fairly well. But, these snakes present no threat to humans, children, or dogs. In fact, they’re actually a beneficial species to have around because they kill both venomous snakes and rodents.
If you encounter a snake, and you think it might be a prairie kingsnake, look to the head first. If the head is the same width as the body, and the pupils are round, then there’s nothing to fear. Further, if the snake lacks a rattle, a snowy white mouth interior, or a copper-colored head, then it’s almost certainly not a snake to worry about.
Because of their commonality, prairie kingsnakes are currently listed as Least Concern. That means that their population is stable, and they aren’t in danger of becoming extinct any time soon. You can support this beneficial species by respecting all wildlife. If you see a snake in the wild, do not approach it, and never harass it. These snakes are incredibly docile, but that doesn’t mean they won’t bite you if you try to pick them up. These snakes are also known to release a foul smelling liquid from their anal glands to ward off predators—not something you want on your hands.
Other Record-Breaking Snakes
Green anacondas are a formidable species of snake found in South American waters, and they have the potential to reach impressive sizes. The largest ever recorded was supposedly 33 feet long and weighed around 500 pounds – however, this sighting has not been verified by experts. Anacondas rely on their stealthy nature when hunting for prey. They remain motionless until something unsuspecting comes near them, at which point they strike quickly and powerfully. In fact, these snakes have even been known to take down jaguars – one of the top predators on land in South America! While green anacondas are relatively rare due to habitat destruction, it is important to remember that if you’re swimming or going near bodies of water in South America, then you should be aware that these powerful creatures might be lurking beneath the surface.
These massive creatures feed on a variety of prey, including fish, birds, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and even other small mammals like capybaras! In addition to their impressive size, green anacondas are also known for their powerful swimming ability – they can swim through the water at speeds of up to 6 miles per hour! With this speed combined with their stealthy hunting methods – waiting in the shadows until the perfect opportunity arises – it’s no wonder these snakes have become so successful predators throughout much of South America.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com
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