Hey defenders, for this week’s Animal of the Week, we have a very special critter. It’s the fascinating California kingsnake! The California kingsnake is a member of the Lampropeltis genus, which contains about 45 species of kingsnakes and milksnakes. They’re white and black striped snakes that are typically active during the day, but will become nocturnal when the weather becomes exceptionally hot. Some kingsnakes employ a form of camouflage known as deceptive camouflage. Their stripes mimic the pattern of venomous snakes, most notably the coral snake. This camouflage inspired the expression: “Red to black, venom lack; red to yellow, kill a fellow.” Referring to the order in which their stripes appear on their body. California Kingsnakes, have white and black stripes that helps them blend into leaf litter on the ground.
Who Made It King?
There are several animals that we give royal names to. You may remember the emperor penguin, whose large size gives it the name, “Emperor.” Or the T-Rex AKA the King of the Dinosaurs, or the Lion, the King of the Jungle or King of Beasts! But those animals all got their names for generally being large. The kingsnake, however, gets its name for a far deadlier reason. It hunts, kills, and eats other snakes!
Are Kingsnakes Dangerous?
The California kingsnake is really only dangerous if you’re a rodent or another snake. They are a non-venomous species of snake that typically grow from 3-5 feet in length. If encountered in the wild, they will employ a few defense mechanisms against humans. First, they will coil tightly, hiding their head under their body. They may also wiggle their tail against their body or against a bush, attempting to mimic the sound a rattlesnake makes with its rattle. If that doesn’t work, they can reach out to bite, but will also musk on anyone who tries to pick them up. Emitting a foul smelling liquid from their cloaca that deters animals from picking it up or eating it. Because they eat rodents which are pests, and rattlesnakes which can be dangerous, it’s good to have the California kingsnake around.
Are Kingsnakes Immune To Venom?
Although California kingsnakes aren’t immune to venom, they do have a natural resistance to venom. Particularly to the venom of rattlesnakes, which live in their habitats. The California kingsnake isn’t a particularly large snake, and isn’t even all that strong for its size. You might be confused how a snake that looks skinnier than other snakes is able to kill and eat their prey. Even when facing off against another constrictor, the kingsnake has the advantage. That is because the kingsnake coils tighter and stronger by utilizing a tight, spring-like coil on its opponent, as opposed to a looser knot-like coil used by most snakes. It’s a classic example of brains over brawn.
Are California Kingsnakes Good Pets?
If you’re interested in a pet snake, kingsnakes, and the California kingsnake in particular, make for great pets. They don’t require very large cages as they don’t grow too big, and can become quite tame and docile with regular handling. They also live in warm, dry areas so it’s easy to replicate their natural environment in a vivarium setup. As with all reptiles, it’s best to buy captive bred California kingsnakes instead of wild caught as they tend to be easier to handle and are less likely to carry disease or parasites.
The King Of California… And Surrounding Areas.
The California kingsnake has a huge range, spreading from Oregon down to Northern Mexico and as far east as Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Each locality presents different patterns on the snakes, with some having small skinny stripes, some that look more like spots, and some with long vertical stripes instead of the short bands. They’ll also interbreed with other kingsnake species in the surrounding regions.
Thanks for reading, Defenders, and thanks for paying tribute to the California kingsnake!