Finding kingsnakes and milksnakes in Iowa can be difficult!
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 3 types of kingsnakes and milksnakes in Iowa!
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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 Iowa, 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 Iowa 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 Iowa!
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.
Do you need additional help identifying a snake?
Try this field guide!
Which of these kingsnakes and milksnakes have you seen before in Iowa?
Leave a comment below!