When walking through the woods, if a person hears the tell-tale rattle of a snake, the assumption is that a rattlesnake is near. That may not be the case, however. Many species of non-venomous snakes are capable of mimicking the intimidating rattle. Chain Kingsnakes are quite adept at this, although they do not have the physical apparatus that the rattlesnakes have. They simply whip the very end of their tail extremely quickly, striking things with the hard tip and creating the noise. Caution is still recommended, however, since kingsnakes will not hesitate to bite if the warning is not heeded. While they lack venom, the bite itself can be painful and there is always the possibility of infection. They also emit an exceptionally foul smelling musk if they are disturbed.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Reptilia
Order - Squmata
Suborder - Serpentes
Family – Colubridae
Subfamily – Colubrinae
Genus – Lampropeltis
Species – Lampropeltis getula
Common names – Chain Kingsnake, Common Kingsnake, Chain Snake
Chain kingsnakes range from 3-6 feet and they can weigh up to five pounds. Their main color is black to a deep brown and white or yellow bands run the length of the snake’s body, giving it its name. The chain kingsnake shares much of its range with the black and speckled kingsnakes. They are terrestrial, but they will climb or swim when necessary. They can thrive in a great variety of terrains, from swampy wetlands to farmed fields. They are often welcome tenants in barns since they consume many animals considered pests.
Chain kingsnakes mate in the spring with eggs being laid 4-8 weeks later. They lay an average of 13-15 eggs, but the number could be fewer or as many as two dozen. The eggs will incubate for 6-10 weeks and when the young hatch they are between 8-13 inches. Hatchlings immediately fend for themselves and begin to hunt small reptiles and mammals.
Kingsnakes are constrictors and prey on other reptiles, small mammals, birds, and eggs – especially turtle eggs. The name ‘king’ was added to their name because of their habit of hunting other snakes, specifically pitvipers. They are resistant to the venom of pitvipers and they prey on rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. They are rarely seen in the open, even where their populations are large since they will spend most of their time under debris, either natural or manmade.
Snake ancestors diverged from their lizard-like ancestors sometime in the late cretaceous period. The snakes slowly lost their legs, with vestigial limbs seen today in only the least evolved of snakes, such as pythons or boas.
While they are not listed as threatened, there have been concerns raised since a decline, sometimes severe, has been noted in parts of their territory. Habitat loss, diseases, and possibly the importation of fire ants have all negatively impacted their numbers.
The General Care and Maintenance of Common Kingsnakes by David Perlowin
King & Milk Snakes (Complete Herp Care) by Adam Black
Snakes of North America: Eastern and Central Regions (Lone Star Field Guide) by Alan Tennant
A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) by Joseph T. Collins, Roger Conant, Roger Tory Peterson, Isabelle Hunt Conant, Tom R. Johnson