A King among Snakes
Kingsnakes are touted by a lot of people in the herpetoculture realm as one of the better snakes to start out with. While their popularity in herpetoculture cannot be denounced my personal experiences with both wild caught and captive bred Kingsnakes Lampropeltis getula leaves something to be desired. We’ll get that in a minute. First, let’s get a better idea of Kingsnakes Lampropeltis getula and how they fit into the realm of Colubrids (basic snakes).
Breaking it Down
Before moving on here’s a little bit of interesting information you might not realize. The 25 species of Milksnakes described today are in the same genus as Kingsnakes which is Lampropeltis. So technically speaking, all Milksnakes are subspecies of Kingsnakes. This can and is somewhat confusing but still good to know as a fact.
Given the above there are approximately 14 species of what most call Kingsnakes and according to some 23 to 25 subspecies of Milksnakes. For the sake of your boredom I’m not going to go into the taxonomy of how their split except to say that Lampropeltis triangulum is the genus and species of Milksnakes which is then further broken down into subspecies.
In the Name of a King?
From what I have been able to discern everybody seems to agree that the name Kingsnake originated from this particular snake being able to withstand being envenomated by Rattlesnakes Crotalus sp. Now then whether this is an actual immunity or a resistance is still up to debate which you can read more about in the forums of the premier venom expert Dr. Bryan G. Fry Venom Forum. Not to mention that it is now considered common knowledge that Kingsnakes L. getula will kill and consume a Rattlesnake Crotalus sp. Long story short, no one that I know of actually can surmise with any accuracy the definite answer of how the Kingsnake L. getula got its common name. But the closest thing we have been able to get is that some early settler saw a Kingsnake L. getula consume a Rattlesnake Crotalus sp. and thought this made it the king of snakes and the name stuck.
The Kings Court
Kingsnakes L. getula are found in an extremely wide range of habitats from southern Canada to the northern areas of South America. Within that range they inhabit deserts, swamps, and mountains alike. It seems that they are none to picky about habitat.
Coat of Arms
The Kingsnake L. getula as it is found in the wild comes in some colors that would be considered drab when compared to the morphs available in captivity. Some are brown and yellow or grey and orange banded, as well as speckled varieties. In the captive environment however breeders such as Bob Applegate of Applegate Reptiles have species they have created such as the stunning Applegate Arizona Mountain Kingsnake Lampropeltis pyromelana which is Red and white in color as well as the Light Phase greeri Lampropeltis mexicana greeri.
As I stated earlier when I began this post my personal experiences with Kingsnakes L. getula leave something to be desired as each one that I have owned eventually became very nippy as they got older and would bite anyone that attempted to handle them. That said I have heard from countless sources that their snakes are extremely calm and never bite. Another aspect of Kingsnakes L. getula that I have found disheartening is the fact that when frightened or caught in the wild is their practice of musking which is the equivalent of a snake fart for lack of a better term. They evert the cloaca and poop and pee all over the handler in order to get the threat to release them. Now this is a great tactic as in the wild a coyote or some other predator will probably not want to eat something that smells like crap. Captive breeding may lessen this behavior and as I have said earlier my experiences are not echoed by the hundreds of people that I have spoken with over the years who have raised and owned Kingsnakes L. getula. If you’re interested in an intelligent snake which will bring many years of enjoyment as well as being a piece of living art then I would recommend you give the Kingsnake L. getula a try and please let me know about your personal experiences with them. Who knows, maybe Kingsnakes L. getula don’t like me because I like one of their food sources better that I do them. I am somewhat of a venom junky and I really enjoy Rattlesnakes Crotalus sp. and find them to be one of the best snakes to work with. But that’s another topic we may cover later.