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A scarlet kingsnake is a small, nonvenomous snake. It ranges from 14-20 inches (35-50.8 cm) in length, with an average weight of approximately 2.77 pounds (1.27 kg). Generally considered one of the most beautiful of all snakes, the scarlet kingsnake has a vibrant coloration consisting of narrow yellow rings and broad red rings separated by thin black rings around its entire body. This snake has round pupils, a red snout and smooth scales. Young scarlet kingsnakes resemble adults in coloration, except their yellow rings are much lighter, appearing to be almost white.
The king snake, actually a family of snakes, has the widest geographical range of any land snake. Among the most adaptable of snakes, the king snake is found in a variety of habitats from northern South America to southern Canada. The scarlet kingsnake, specifically, is the variety of the king snake family that is found mainly in the southeastern United States, although it ranges as far north as southern New Jersey. It primarily inhabits the coastal areas and plains of the southeast from northern Virginia, through Florida and as far inland as Mississippi, Tennessee and southern Kentucky. Scarlet kingsnakes are especially partial to habitats in well-drained sandy areas and pine forests.
A scarlet kingsnake likes to stay on the ground’s surface but also can swim well in quiet streams and ponds in addition to climbing quickly into brush. Most of its time is spent burrowing and hiding beneath dense vegetation or rocks. One of its favorite places to conceal itself is in the loose bark of standing pine trees that have died and begun to rot.
The scarlet kingsnake is considered very secretive. It is possible to encounter one during the day, but it generally is mainly active at night. Most of its hunting is done either at dawn, dusk or night. For food, it kills by constriction and prefers a diet of other small snakes, small lizards or rodents. Interestingly, the word “king” in its name refers to it being one of the few snakes that will prey upon other snakes.
Breeding season is from March to June. Clutches of eggs, usually from two to nine, are laid from May through August either in rotten logs or underground. The incubation time of the eggs is about two months; when the babies emerge, they look like small versions of the adults. The life span of a scarlet kingsnake is 10 to 15 years, with sexual maturity coming at two years of age.