Kingsnake, California

California Kingsnake at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama

Scientific Name: Lampropeltis getula californiae

Not only do they slither across the ground, but California kingsnakes are also excellent at climbing trees and swimming. This desert inhabitant can adapt well to a multitude of surroundings. It can maneuver through desert sands, forests, and water, all with ease. It is also able to eat a large variety of small animals, making it easier to find food wherever it lives. California kingsnakes are also common pets because of their adaptability as well as their docile nature.

Fun in the Sun

California kingsnakes are diurnal and are therefore most active when the sun is shining.  Their preference for desert climates shows just how much they appreciate the sun.  Around late fall, these snakes will enter a period of brumation for the winter, in which their metabolism slows down and they become mostly inactive.  This is not to be confused with hibernation, where an animal is actually asleep.  During brumation kingsnakes will sleep, but they will also wake up occasionally for water.  They do not need to consume any food during this period.        

There is no listing available for the common kingsnake by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The common kingsnake includes several different subspecies, one of which is the California kingsnake. 

The largest populations of California kingsnakes are found in southern California.  This kingsnake can also be found in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah, Oregon and northern Mexico.  It prefers arid regions, typically residing in the desert.  However, it has also been known to adapt easily in grasslands and woodlands. 

California kingsnakes typically eat small animals such as mice, rats, lizards and frogs.  To catch its prey, the snake will coil tightly around it, constricting until the victim expires. This snake has a specialized jaw structure which allows it to move and stretch its lower jaw independently, affording it the ability to consume prey larger than its own head.  Perhaps a slightly more shocking staple of their diet is other snakes, including rattlesnakes.  The California kingsnake is able to tolerate the venom when consuming a rattlesnake; it can only be harmed if a bite from a rattlesnake injects a large amount of venom that travels to the kingsnake’s heart.  The kingsnake was so-named for its tendency to eat other snakes.

The California kingsnake has some variety in its color scheme, depending on the area in which it lives.  It will generally have a white or yellow body with thick black or brown stripes along its back.  The top of the head is the darker color while the front of the face tends to be the lighter.  This color formation helps to disguise the snake’s movements and outline as it slithers away from predators.  It also provides good camouflage, especially in leaf litter where these snakes like to hide.  The scientific name explains the appearance of the snake: lampro means shining and peltis means shield.  This is an accurate description considering the glossy sheen of the kingsnake’s scales.  Hatchlings are typically about one foot long, while adult California kingsnakes can grow to be about four feet long.

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