Finding kingsnakes and milksnakes in Texas can be difficult!
Most members of the genus Lampropeltis (kingsnakes and milksnakes) spend a lot of their time hidden beneath objects or underground. So while it’s not unheard of, it’s not very common to just stroll past one while walking outside.
Regardless, these non-venomous, mostly docile snakes are fascinating. For example, did you know that kingsnakes EAT venomous snakes? Believe it or not, it’s true!
Today, you’re going to learn about the 7 types of kingsnakes and milksnakes in Texas!
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#1. Eastern Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Adults typically range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
- Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.
Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, which are some of their favorite prey.
Eastern Milksnake Range Map
A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in Texas, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. These beautiful snakes are somewhat secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. You may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals such as mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.
Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. So how do they combat the venom? Interestingly, their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!
#2. Prairie Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster
- Adults range from 30 to 40 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically gray or light brown with darker gray, brown, or reddish-brown blotching, sometimes outlined in black, down the length of their body which fades with age.
- They have a pale or yellowish underside, and their head is indistinct from their body.
- The Prairie Kingsnake is a subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Kingsnake.
Look for Prairie Kingsnakes in western Texas in open habitats, such as fields, farmland, rocky hillsides, and open woodlands. They spend most of their time underground and are found under rocks, logs, and old animal burrows throughout their active period and for winter hibernation.
Prairie Kingsnake Range Map
These snakes feed on a wide variety of prey, such as mice, lizards, other snakes (including other Prairie Kingsnakes), insects, birds, bird eggs, and amphibians. They constrict their prey, coiling around and suffocating it before consuming.
If disturbed, the Prairie Kingsnake may try to warn perceived threats by mimicking a rattlesnake. They accomplish this mimicry by shaking the tip of their tail in dry leaf litter. However, these snakes are non-venomous and don’t typically bite, but they will release a foul-smelling musk if grabbed!
This species is considered of least concern and doesn’t seem to face any significant conservation risks. However, they are sometimes run over when crossing roads or killed because they are mistaken for being venomous. Like many other kingsnakes, this species is sometimes kept as pets.
#3. Speckled Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis holbrooki
- Adults are typically 36 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is shiny black with small yellow, yellowish-green, or white specks, one in the center of almost every dorsal scale though the pattern of the speckles varies by individual.
- The underside is white or yellow with clusters of black checkers and is sometimes more black than white.
The Speckled Kingsnake’s unique appearance resulted in the nickname “salt and pepper snake.” Look for them in fields along the forest’s edge, prairies, grasslands, stream valleys, pastures, and roadside ditches.
Speckled Kingsnake Range Map
These kingsnakes are rather secretive and hard to find in Texas!
In addition, they’re primarily nocturnal. As a result, they’re most frequently spotted crossing roadways in the morning or evening.
Like other kingsnakes, this species is a constrictor, which means they use their coils to asphyxiate their prey before consuming it. They feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, birds, bird eggs, reptiles, reptile eggs, frogs, and other snakes, including venomous species. SEE THE VIDEO BELOW! 🙂
Speckled Kingsnakes are generally quite docile and are often kept as pets. However, if disturbed, they may shake their tail, release a foul-smelling musk, and strike if grabbed. Sadly this species is considered threatened in parts of their range.
#4. Western Milksnake
- Lampropeltis gentilis
- Adults typically range from 15 to 34 inches in length.
- Coloration is whitish, black, and reddish or orange bands, with the reddish-orange bands being bordered by black.
- The snout is blackish and sometimes features white flecking, and the underside may have extensions of the bands or be more whitish.
Western Milksnakes can be found in Texas in open sagebrush, grasslands and are occasionally seen in suburban areas. They’re a secretive species frequently found under objects like rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
Western Milksnake Range Map
Because of their coloration, they are often confused with venomous coral snakes. But luckily, there is an easy way to tell the difference. Just remember this rhyme:
“If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack.”
These snakes aren’t picky about food and will feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, other snakes, lizards, reptile eggs, and occasionally worms and insects. They actively hunt down their prey and use their coils to constrict the life out of them.
Though they’re usually docile when handled, Western Milksnakes do exhibit strong defensive behaviors when disturbed. You can expect them to vibrate their tail (like a rattlesnake), and they may even rear up and strike!
#5. Desert Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis splendida
- Adults typically range from 36 to 48 inches.
- Coloration is glossy black or very dark brown.
- Off-white or yellow speckles form dimly defined narrow cross bands with rectangles of black in between.
Despite their name, Desert Kingsnakes are almost always found in Texas near WATER. Look for them in riparian corridors and near stock tanks in arid areas.
Desert Kingsnake Range Map
Like other kingsnakes, this species is a powerful constrictor. They’ll feed on rodents, lizards, and other snakes, including rattlesnakes. In addition, their incredible sense of smell enables them to locate and consume reptile eggs below the surface.
This snake is non-venomous and generally very docile. Interestingly, If confronted, they frequently flip over and play dead!
#6. Gray-banded Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis alterna
- Most adults range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is typically gray with narrow orange/red banding (Alterna morph) or wide orange/red banding (Blairi morph). However, some individuals lack banding entirely.
- Both morphs feature a relatively large head and large eyes with round pupils.
These beautiful king snakes inhabit desert hillsides and mountain slopes. They’ve been found at elevations from 1500 to 7000 feet above sea level.
The Gray-banded Kingsnake is secretive and hard to find in Texas.
Your best chance of spotting one is crossing a road after dark. In addition, much of their population is located in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, and they are primarily nocturnal.
Gray-banded Kingsnakes are commonly kept as pets due to their small size, interesting color patterns, and calm nature. In addition, they are non-venomous and rarely bite.
Interestingly, they’re immune to rattlesnake venom!
#7. Tamaulipan / Mexican Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum annulata
- Adults typically range from 24 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration is a distinct red, black, and cream or yellow banding.
- The head is black.
The Tamaulipan Milksnake can be found in semi-arid brushlands with sandy soils. A simple rhyme, “if red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack,” can help you distinguish these harmless snakes from venomous look-alikes such as the Texas Coral Snake.
Tamaulipan Milksnake Range Map
Primarily nocturnal, this snake is active in the mornings and evenings during the spring and fall. They generally hide when temperatures are hottest though they may come out to bask for brief periods during the day.
The Mexican Milksnake prefers to feed on rodents and lizards. However, they will occasionally eat other snakes and other appropriately sized animals and insects they encounter if they have to.
This species is generally very docile and often kept as a pet. These snakes can bite and expel musk but rarely do so.
Do you need additional help identifying a snake?
Try this field guide!
Which of these kingsnakes and milksnakes have you seen before in Texas?
Leave a comment below!