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What Is a Mountain Kingsnake?

C.B. Fox
C.B. Fox

The mountain kingsnake is one of a number of species of kingsnake, which are all of the genus Lampropeltis. These snakes grow to be several feet long though they remain slender and lightweight. Native to North and Central America, the various species of kingsnake have spread out to inhabit various ecological niches. Not surprisingly, mountain kingsnakes inhabit mountainous terrain, usually at above 3,000 feet (914 meters), and different species can be found in California, Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, in the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, and Coastal Mountain ranges.

Though there are a number of distinct species of mountain kingsnake, all of them share a similar color pattern. They are covered with alternating bands of red, black, and white, or variations of these colors, such as orange instead of red or yellow instead of white. In most cases, the light-colored band occurs between two stripes of the black or dark colored band, which is one way to tell them apart from coral snakes, which have a similar patterning.

An improperly-cleaned bite from a mountain kingsnake may cause a bacterial infection.
An improperly-cleaned bite from a mountain kingsnake may cause a bacterial infection.

An opportunistic predator, the mountain kingsnake will eat just about any source of protein it comes across. They commonly eat rodents, reptiles, birds, and amphibians, as well as the eggs of birds or reptiles. A non-venomous snake, the mountain kingsnake constricts around a live prey in order to kill it before swallowing it whole. This snake is also known to feed on other snakes, which is how it earned its name as the king snake.

The various species of mountain kingsnake live in geographically distinct areas. The California mountain kingsnake, for example, has a range from Washington state in the United States into the northern regions of Mexico. The Sonoran mountain kingsnake, however, is mainly found in Arizona. Captive breeding of these snakes, which are often genetically similar enough to allow cross breeding among the various members of the genus, has led to an increase in the number of species and subspecies of mountain kingsnake, which would not interbreed in the wild.

In general, mountain kingsnakes are docile snakes that will not bite unless provoked. Though they are not venomous, they do have teeth and can cause a bacterial infection if the bite wound is not properly cleaned. These snakes are active during the day. Specimens that have been raised and bred in captivity are often kept as pets and are usually considered to be an easy species to keep.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Mountain Kingsnake and where can it be found?

A Mountain Kingsnake is a non-venomous colubrid snake known for its striking coloration, typically bands of red, black, and white or yellow. They are native to North America, particularly found in the western United States, from northern Mexico to the southern fringes of Washington state. They inhabit a variety of ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, and deserts.

How does the Mountain Kingsnake defend itself from predators?

The Mountain Kingsnake employs mimicry as its primary defense mechanism, imitating the coloration of the venomous coral snake to deter predators. This form of Batesian mimicry is effective because it confuses predators into thinking the kingsnake is poisonous. Additionally, they may also coil and strike, though they lack venom, to scare off threats.

What does the Mountain Kingsnake eat?

Mountain Kingsnakes are carnivorous and have a diet that primarily consists of small rodents, birds, lizards, and other snakes, including venomous species. They are constrictors, meaning they subdue their prey by coiling around it and suffocating it before consumption. Their diverse diet helps control the populations of various small animal species in their habitat.

How do Mountain Kingsnakes reproduce?

Mountain Kingsnakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Mating typically occurs in the spring, and females lay clutches of 3 to 24 eggs in the early summer. The eggs incubate for 50 to 70 days, with hatchlings emerging fully independent. These snakes reach sexual maturity in three to four years.

Are Mountain Kingsnakes endangered?

Mountain Kingsnakes are not currently listed as endangered. However, their populations are affected by habitat destruction, pollution, and collection for the pet trade. Conservation efforts are important to monitor their status and ensure that their natural habitats are preserved, allowing them to thrive in the wild.

Can Mountain Kingsnakes be kept as pets?

Yes, Mountain Kingsnakes can be kept as pets and are popular in the pet trade due to their striking appearance and generally docile nature. They require a controlled environment that mimics their natural habitat, with appropriate temperature gradients, hiding spots, and a diet of rodents. Prospective owners should research their specific care needs and consider the ethical implications of keeping wild animals as pets.

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    • An improperly-cleaned bite from a mountain kingsnake may cause a bacterial infection.
      By: Remus Moise
      An improperly-cleaned bite from a mountain kingsnake may cause a bacterial infection.