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What is a Scarlet Kingsnake?

By S. Ashraf
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Perdido — On Jan 10, 2012

@lighth0se33 – My neighbor died after being bitten, so yes, you can. She thought the coral snake was a kingsnake, and she wanted to catch it and bring it home to her son as a pet.

As soon as she touched it, it turned around and chewed on her hand. It didn't just bite quickly and release, because they have to work in their venom to make it effective.

Still thinking it was a kingsnake, she went on about her day. Coral snake bites don't cause immediate symptoms, but about twelve hours later, the effects hit her.

Her vision got blurry right before her speech became slurred. She lost the ability to move her arms and legs, and though her husband took her to the hospital and told them about the snake bite, it was too late for them to save her.

I make it my policy to stay away from all snakes, period. One little mistake could prove fatal.

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 10, 2012

I live near the coast of Alabama, and scarlet kingsnakes are common around here. We have lots of pine trees and sand, so this is paradise for them.

Unfortunately, we also have plenty of coral snakes, which look almost identical to kingsnakes at first glance. The only difference is that poisonous coral snakes have bands of yellow touching the bands of red, while kingsnakes have only black up against the red bands.

I have never had a run-in with a coral snake, but I have heard that they are dangerous. Does anyone know if you can die from a bite by a coral snake?

By OeKc05 — On Jan 09, 2012

I live in northeast Mississippi, and I have seen several scarlet kingsnakes in my lifetime. I have never been afraid of them, because my parents told me when I was little that they were not poisonous.

Right next to my parents' house is a forest of pine trees. A couple of these have died and fallen over, and I think that is where the kingsnakes are making their homes.

Just last summer, I saw one right after sunset, slithering from the carport back into the forest. I followed it to a tree, where it disappeared beneath some bark. I decided that I should leave it alone, since it wasn't going to do me any harm.

By summing — On Jan 09, 2012

I had a scarlet kingsnake as a kid growing up. My dad found it in the wild and brought it home for us kids to play with.

It was a lot of fun. Its such a cool looking snake and about as sweet as it's possible for a snake to be. Never bit or anything. It only lived for about a year but we loved looking at it and playing with him. I probably wouldn't buy one for my own kids, but I'm glad that daddy had the gumption.

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