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What is a California Kingsnake?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A California kingsnake is a reptile indigenous to California, Arizona and Nevada along with areas of northern Mexico. The proper name is Lampropeltis getula californiae. This non-venomous snake is a member of the Colubridae family and is a subspecies of the common kingsnake.

California kingsnakes are typically black along the belly with thin white bands along their back. A full grown specimen can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 m) long and females are often larger than males. The scales are smooth and their body averages 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter. Though this size and coloring is typical, these types of snakes also may have color and pattern variations based on the region where they live.

Some regional California kingsnakes include the Newport Long Beach striped, San Diego striped, Delta striped, Eiseni striped, and Nitida striped. Each geographic area is home to a slightly different pattern of stripes that makes it easy to track the snake’s origin. Variations in pattern or color also frequently occur in snakes bred for captivity. This may be due to cross breeding with other types of snakes.

A California kingsnake does not have live births but instead lays eggs. The female usually produces around nine eggs and the snakes, known as hatchlings, arrive approximately eight weeks later. New hatchlings are only ten inches (25.4 cm) long and take several months to become full grown.

As the snake grows, it will shed its outer skin. Young snakes may have to shed as often as once per month, while full grown snakes only shed their skin approximately four times per year. This shedding process allows the snake to grow and remove any parasites that have attached to their body.

The California kingsnake will be active during the daylight hours, unlike many other reptiles. As the weather heats up, however, they will spend more time moving around at night. This change in their habits makes them harder to track. During periods of extended cold weather, the snakes will enter a period of semi-hibernation, where they find a safe place underground to stay.

The California kingsnake feeds on a variety of small animals. Instead of using venom to subdue their prey, they suffocate them through constriction. Rodents and amphibians are the most common food but birds and other reptiles are also consumed. The California kingsnake is also well known for preying on other snakes, including the highly venomous rattlesnake. Since rattlesnake venom has little effect on California kingsnakes, they often will seek out small rattlesnakes for food.

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