Finding kingsnakes and milksnakes in Tennessee 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 5 types of kingsnakes and milksnakes in Tennessee!
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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 Tennessee, 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 Tennessee 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. Northern Mole Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata
- 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 Tennessee 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
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 Black Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis nigra
- Adults typically range from 35 to 48 inches in length.
- Coloration is black with wide, 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 Tennessee.
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
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.
#5. Scarlet Kingsnake
- Lampropeltis elapsoides
- 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
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 Tennessee?
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.
Do you need additional help identifying a snake?
Try this field guide!
Which of these kingsnakes and milksnakes have you seen before in Tennessee?
Leave a comment below!