The King of Snakes

Kingsnakes are touted by a lot of people in reptile keeping as one of the ‘better’ snakes to start with. Their popularity in reptile keeping cannot be denounced; my personal experiences with both wild caught and captive bred Kingsnakes Lampropeltis getula leaves something to be desired. That’s for a later time though. Let’s get a better idea of Kingsnakes Lampropeltis getula and how they fit into the realm of Colubrids (basic snakes).

A King among Serpents
Everybody seems to agree the name Kingsnake originated from this particular snake being able to withstand being envenomated by Rattlesnakes Crotalus sp. Whether this is an actual immunity or a resistance is still up to debate which you can read more about in the forums of the premier venom expert Dr. Bryan G. Fry Venom Forum. Not to mention that it is now considered common knowledge that Kingsnakes L. getula will kill and consume a Rattlesnake Crotalus sp. No one that I know of can surmise with accuracy the definite answer of how the Kingsnake L. getula got its common name. The closest thing we have been able to get is that some early settler saw a Kingsnake L. getula consume a Rattlesnake Crotalus sp. and thought this made it the king of snakes and the name stuck.

The Kings Castle
Kingsnakes L. getula are found in a wide range of habitats from southern Canada to the northern areas of South America. It seems they are none to picky about habitat. In that range they inhabit deserts, swamps, and mountains alike.

The Kings Livery
The Kingsnake L. getula as found in the wild comes in some colors that would be considered drab when compared to the morphs available in captivity. Some are brown and yellow or grey and orange banded, as well as speckled varieties. In the captive environment however breeders such as Bob Applegate of Applegate Reptiles have species they have created such as the stunning Applegate Arizona Mountain Kingsnake Lampropeltis pyromelana which is Red and white in color as well as the Light Phase greeri Lampropeltis mexicana greeri.

The Final Decree
As I stated earlier when I began this post my personal experiences with Kingsnakes L. getula leave something to be desired as each one that I have owned eventually became very nippy as they got older and would bite anyone that attempted to handle them. I have heard from countless sources that their snakes are extremely calm and never bite. Another aspect of Kingsnakes L. getula that I have found disheartening is the fact that when frightened or caught in the wild is their practice of musking which is the equivalent of a snake fart for lack of a better term. They evert the cloaca and poop and pee all over the handler in order to get the threat to release them. This is a great tactic in the wild, a coyote or some other predator will probably not want to eat something that smells like poop. Captive breeding may lessen this behavior and as I have said earlier my experiences are not echoed by hundreds of people that I have spoken with over the years who have raised and owned Kingsnakes L. getula.

If you’re interested in an intelligent snake which will bring many years of enjoyment as well as being a piece of living art then I would recommend you give the Kingsnake L. getula a try and please let me know about your personal experiences with them. Who knows, maybe Kingsnakes L. getula don’t like me because I like one of their food sources better that I do them. I am somewhat of a venom junky and I enjoy working with Rattlesnakes Crotalus sp. and find them to be one of the best snakes to work with. But that’s another topic.

About John F. Taylor
John F. Taylor is the former Founder of Southern California Wildlife, and not only is he an amateur herpetologist, but also an expert on San Diego-based reptiles and their habitat. Additionally, he has extensive experience with exotic species from all over the world. He has worked within the pet industry for over a decade and served as Editor for the San Diego Herpetological Society. He's personally handled well over 200 various species. His articles appear in multiple media environments; most recently several of his articles have appeared within the industry-respected Reptilia Magazine, a renowned European publication and Reptile Magazine as well as Reptiles and Reptiles USA published by Bow Tie publications.

He's also published “Captive Care of Uromastyx” through T.F.H. This summer will see the launch of new book series on the captive care of reptiles and insect pets. To see his most current work you can go to "My main goal is to educate people living in small environments, primarily apartments, on the unique challenges of keeping a reptile or insect. There’s an alarming lack of actionable data on this topic and a lack of information or an abundance of misinformation is impacting the quality of life for reptiles and insects everywhere."