6 Types of Kingsnakes in New Mexico! (ID Guide)

Finding kingsnakes in New Mexico can be difficult!

Here’s why:

 

Most members of the genus Lampropeltis (kingsnakes) 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 6 types of kingsnakes in New Mexico!

 


#1. 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 New Mexico!

 

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.

 


#2. 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 New Mexico 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!

 


#3. 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 New Mexico.

 

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.

 


#4. 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 New Mexico, 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!

 

So how do you tell the difference between a dangerous coral snake and a harmless Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake in New Mexico?

sonoran mountain king vs coral 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.”

 

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.

 


#5. 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 New Mexico 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!

 


#6. 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 New Mexico.

 

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!

 


Do you need additional help identifying a snake?

Try this field guide!

 


Which of these kingsnakes have you seen before in New Mexico?

 

Leave a comment below!

 

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