The California kingsnake is a nonvenomous snake endemic to the western United States and northern Mexico. Due to ease of care and a wide range of color variations, the California kingsnake is one of the most popular snakes in captivity. These snakes are usually dark brown or black in color with whitish-yellow bands. The “king” in their name refers to their propensity to hunt and eat other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes, that are commonly indigenous to their natural habitat.
Read California Kingsnake, its distribution, description, and many more interesting facts related to it with Pritish Kumar Halder.
California kingsnakes are widespread along the West Coast of North America, including the Tehachapi Mountains and the southeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. These snakes live in Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and north western Mexico. They live in a wide variety of habitats, including woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, river bottoms, and even suburban areas.
The California kingsnake is on average 2.5 to 3.5 feet long (76 – 107 cm) though they can grow larger; California kingsnakes on Islas Angel de la Guarda, Baja California, Mexico, have been documented growing to 78 inches (2 m). A wide range of color morphs exist in the wild; they are usually found with alternating dark and light bands ranging in color from black and white to brown and cream. Some populations may have longitudinal stripes instead of bands.
Habits and Lifestyle
California kingsnakes are primarily diurnal but may become increasingly nocturnal during periods of particularly hot weather. They are mostly terrestrial but may climb low branches and shrubs. They are generally solitary except when they hibernate during cold weather. In the winter, they retreat underground and enter a hibernation-like state called brumation. When disturbed, California kingsnakes will often coil their bodies to hide their heads, hiss, and rattle their tails, which can produce a sound somewhat resembling that of a rattlesnake. They are considered harmless to humans, but if handled it is common for this species to bite, as well as excrete musk and fecal contents from their cloaca.
The California kingsnake is widespread along the West Coast of North America to elevations of approximately 6,100 ft (1,900 m) in the Tehachapi Mountains and to over 7,000 ft (2,100 m) in the southeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. This species lives in a wide variety of habitats, including woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, and even suburban areas.
Diet and Nutrition
California kingsnakes are carnivores and common food items include rodents, birds and their eggs, other reptiles and amphibians.
The “king” in their name refers to their propensity to hunt and eat other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes; California kingsnakes are naturally resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes. California kingsnakes are non-venomous and kill prey by constriction; they are the strongest constrictors proportionate to body size of any snakes. This adaptation may have evolved in response to the kingsnake’s preferred reptilian prey, which needs less oxygen to survive an attack by constriction than mammalian prey items.
California kingsnakes are oviparous animals, meaning they lay eggs.
Their breeding season begins in the spring; during this time the males compete for available females. Eggs are laid between May and August, which is generally 42-63 days after mating; in preparation, the female will have chosen a suitable location.
The typical clutch size is 5 to 12 eggs with an average of 9, though clutches of 20 or more eggs are known. The hatchlings usually emerge after 40-65 days and are approximately 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 cm) in length. Newborn snakes are completely independent at birth and reach reproductive maturity when they are 3-4 years old.
There are no major threats to California kingsnakes at present.
According to IUCN, California kingsnakes are locally common and widespread throughout their range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
California kingsnakes play a very important ecological role in their environment as they help to control populations of their prey species.
The California kingsnake is one of the most popular pet reptiles due to its ease of care, attractive appearance and docile demeanor. Due to natural color and pattern variability between individual snakes, snake enthusiasts have selectively bred for a variety of color patterns known as “morphs”. Wild-type California kingsnakes are technically illegal to sell without special permits in their home state of California. These increased restrictions are due to a law that prohibits sale of native California species within state lines; albino morphs are exempt from this law. The law is loosely enforced.
The California kingsnake is one of the most popular pet reptiles due to its ease of care, attractive appearance, and docile demeanor. Due to natural color and pattern variability between individual snakes, snake enthusiasts have selectively bred for a variety of color patterns and morphs. Dozens of color variations are sold today in the pet trade.