16 Types of Kingsnakes & Milksnakes in the United States!

Finding kingsnakes and milksnakes in the United States can be difficult!

Here’s why:

 

Most members of the genus Lampropeltis (kingsnakes & 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 16 types of kingsnakes and milksnakes in the United States!

 


#1. Eastern Milksnake

  • Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum

eastern milksnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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

eastern milksnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

A member of the kingsnake family, Eastern Milksnakes occupy a wide variety of habitats in the United States, 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

prairie kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States 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

prairie and northern mole kingsnake

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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. Northern Mole Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata

mole kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 30 to 40 inches in length.
  • Coloration is gray, light brown, or orangish with black-bordered darker brown, gray, or reddish-brown blotches down its body, which fade with age.
  • The head is indistinct from the body, and there is sometimes a dark line through the eye.
  • Also called the Brown Kingsnake.

 

A subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Kingsnake, the Northern Mole Kingsnake prefers open habitats in the United States near forest edges. These snakes are difficult to find since they spend most of their time underground in old animal burrows or under logs and rocks. You’re most likely to spot one crossing the road at night.

 

Northern Mole Kingsnake Range Map

prairie and northern mole kingsnake

 

A nocturnal species, the Northern Mole Kingsnake feeds primarily on rodents. However, they’ll also prey on lizards, frogs, and occasionally other small snakes. These snakes are constrictors, and they asphyxiate their prey by coiling around it and squeezing it before consuming it.

 

The secretive nature of these kingsnakes means that they rarely come into contact with people. They’re non-venomous but may shake their tail as a warning which can sound a bit like a rattlesnake when done in dry leaves. They’re generally quite docile but may bite if grabbed.

 


#4. Eastern Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis getula

eastern kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 36 to 48 inches in length.
  • Coloration is shiny black with white or yellow chain-link bands, but some individuals may be entirely black.
  • Stout head and small beady eyes.
  • Also called the Common Kingsnake.

 

Eastern Kingsnakes thrive in various habitats in the United States!

 

Look for them in hardwood and pine forests, bottomlands, swamps, and wetlands, as well as farmlands and suburban areas. They are a terrestrial species but are often associated with water preferring riparian habitats along stream banks or marsh edges.

 

Eastern Kingsnake Range Map

eastern kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

A very secretive species, the Eastern Kingsnake is frequently spotted when moving logs, boards, tin, or other objects they use for cover. They’re constrictors and feed on various types of prey, including rodents, lizards, birds, and turtle eggs. Incredibly, they’re immune to venom from pit-vipers and regularly feed on smaller venomous snakes like copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes!

 

If disturbed, these snakes can mimic rattlesnakes by shaking their tails in dry leaves. They may also release a foul-smelling musk and bite if captured.

 

Unfortunately, the Eastern Kingsnake has seen dramatic declines in many areas. This is most likely due to habitat loss and degradation, imported fire ants, and disease.

 


#5. Speckled Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis holbrooki

speckled kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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

speckled kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These kingsnakes are rather secretive and hard to find in the United States!

 

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.

 


#6. Eastern Black Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis nigra

 

eastern black kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 35 to 48 inches in length.
  • Coloration is black with white, cream, or yellow speckles, larger and more numerous on the sides.
  • Stocky body, head indistinct from the neck, and a yellow or cream underside with black checkering.
  • Also frequently referred to as just “Black Kingsnake.”

 

Eastern Black Kingsnakes occupy various habitats in the United States.

 

They can be found in forests, agricultural lands, thick brush around streams and swamps, floodplain and wetland edges, and even suburban areas!

Eastern Black Kingsnake Range Map

eastern black kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These kingsnakes are very secretive, and they often seek shelter under logs and other debris. They’re primarily active during the daytime but are most active in the morning during the summer.

 

Being constrictors, they use their strong coils to asphyxiate their prey. Eastern Black Kingsnakes frequently prey on lizards, rodents, birds, turtle eggs, and other snakes, including venomous pit vipers.

 

Though they’re non-venomous, these kingsnakes may shake their tails if disturbed. In dry leaves, it sounds much like a rattlesnake! If handled, they may also release a foul-smelling musk and strike.

 


#7. Scarlet Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis elapsoides

scarlet king snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 14 to 20 inches in length.
  • Coloration is alternating red, black, and yellow rings encircling the body; the yellow and red rings never touch.
  • Small head, barely distinct from the neck and a red snout.

 

Scarlet Kingsnakes can be found in pine flat woods, pine-oak forests, fields, agricultural areas, and occasionally urban environments. But they are hard to see because they are secretive and mostly stay underground. Look for them under logs, rocks, boards, and other debris. However, they’re also excellent climbers and are sometimes spotted on trees and buildings.

Scarlet Kingsnake Range Map

scarlet kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

These vividly colored non-venomous snakes are sometimes mistaken for venomous coral snakes. In fact, they were used as stand-ins for venomous snakes in the movies “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Mummy Returns.”

 

So how do you tell the difference between a dangerous coral snake and a harmless Scarlet Kingsnake in the United States?

coral snake vs scarlet snake

Just remember this rhyme and you’ll never have to worry! “If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow; if red touches black, you’re all right, Jack.”

 

These kingsnakes are generally non-aggressive. However, they may vibrate their tail if disturbed, producing a buzzing sound when in leaf litter. If grabbed, they may strike and release a foul-smelling musk.

 


#8. Western Milksnake

  • Lampropeltis gentilis

 

western milksnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States 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

western milksnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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.”

coral snake vs western milksnake

 

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!

 


#9. California Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis californiae

california kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 36 to 48 inches in length.
  • Most individuals are black or brown, with whitish bands running down their bodies.

 

The California Kingsnake is widespread across many types of habitats in the western United States.

 

Look for them in woodlands, grasslands, deserts, marshes, and even suburban areas! Most of the year, these kingsnakes are found out during the day, except during cold weather when they retreat underground to enter a hibernation-like state called brumation.

California Kingsnake Range Map

california kingsnake range map

Do you know how kingsnakes got the name “king?”

 

It refers to their ability to hunt down and eat other snakes! Incredibly, California Kingsnakes will even go after venomous rattlesnakes.

 

This species has the incredible adaptation to constrict its prey. In fact, California Kingsnakes have the strongest squeeze when compared to the size of their body! It’s thought they evolved this trait since their main diet consists of other reptiles, which don’t require as much oxygen as mammals.

 


#10. Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis pyromelana

sonoran mountain kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults reach up to 36 inches in length.
  • Coloration is red, black, and yellow, white, or cream bands with the black bands bordering the red.
  • The head is white with a black band over the eyes.

 

These kingsnakes are primarily found in mountainous areas in the United States, with elevations between 3000 and 9000 feet above sea level. They occupy chaparral, conifer forests, juniper woodlands, and rocky areas and are frequently spotted along streams or near springs.

sonoran mountain kingsnake range map

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes are very secretive and often spend their days under rocks, logs, or in dense clumps of vegetation. They hunt at night, and like other kingsnakes, this species is a powerful constrictor. Lizards, birds, rodents, and other small snakes make up the majority of their diet.

 

Despite their mimicry of coral snakes, Sonoran Mountain Kingsnakes are NOT venomous!

 

Interestingly, they sometimes eat venomous snakes since they are immune to pit viper venom! But this doesn’t happen incredibly often because they generally prefer smaller prey.

 


#11. Desert Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis splendida

desert kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 its name, Desert Kingsnakes are almost always found in the United States near WATER. Look for them in riparian corridors and near stock tanks in arid areas.

Desert Kingsnake Range Map

desert kingsnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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!

 


#12. Gray-banded Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis alterna

gray banded kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 the United States.

 

gray banded kingsnake range map

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!

 


#13. Short-tailed Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis extenuata

short tailed kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically average between 14 and 20 inches in length.
  • Coloration is gray with black blotches or spots and sometimes an indistinct yellow or orange stripe running down the spine between blotches.
  • Slender, often pencil-thin with a dark brown or black head.

 

The Short-tailed Kingsnake is so named because its tail comprises less than 10% of its total length! They’re a fossorial species, which means they’re highly adapted to burrowing and spending time underground.

short tailed king snake range map

These little kingsnakes have specific habitat requirements and only live in sandy, upland parts of Florida. Look for them in pine or oak woodlands, coastal oak hammocks, or sand pine scrub.  These snakes are incredibly hard to see and are very secretive.

 

The diet of the Short-tailed Kingsnake is limited as well. They feed almost entirely on small Black-crowned Snakes.

 

Though small, these snakes are known to be defensive when disturbed. They’ll often vibrate their tail, twitch their head, and may even hiss. If grabbed or pinned, they may strike.

 


#14. Tamaulipan / Mexican Milksnake

  • Lampropeltis triangulum annulata

mexican milksnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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

mexican milksnake range map

Credit – Virginia Herpetological Society

 

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.

 


#15. California Mountain Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis zonata

california mountain kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults typically range from 20 to 50 inches in length.
  • Coloration is bands of black, red, and off-white or grayish-white. Red bands, bordered by black bands are the widest.
  • The snout is typically black but may have some red.

 

The California Mountain Kingsnake is a habitat generalist. They’ll occupy various habitats, including coniferous forests, pine-oak woodlands, riparian woodlands, chaparral, manzanita, and coastal sage scrub. They prefer wooded areas near streams, rocky outcrops, or rotting logs that provide cover.

california mountain kingsnake range map

These kingsnakes are constrictors that feed on a wide variety of prey. Lizards, amphibians, nesting birds, bird eggs, and other snakes (including their own species) make up most of their diet.

 

These secretive snakes spend much of their time under objects like logs, underground, or in rock crevices. They hibernate starting in November and generally emerge in February or April.

 

Though brightly colored, this species is non-venomous.

 


#16. Coast Mountain Kingsnake

  • Lampropeltis multifasciata

coast mountain kingsnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults range from 20 to 50 inches in length.
  • Coloration is bands of black, red, and off-white or grayish-white. Red bands, bordered by black bands, are the widest.
  • The snout is generally black but may have some red.

 

This kingsnake species is found ONLY in California!

 

Coast Mountain Kingsnakes occupy various habitats but are generally found near streams in areas with good cover. So if you find one, which is rare, have no fear because they are NOT venomous!

 

They are nocturnal during hot, dry weather and spend most of the day underground, in rock crevices, or under logs or other cover objects. However, in cooler weather in the spring or fall, they may be diurnal or even crepuscular, meaning they are active during twilight hours.

 


Do you need additional help identifying a snake?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these kingsnakes and milksnakes have you seen before in the United States?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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