By Chloe Criswell
As summer draws closer and temperatures are rising, more wildlife can be seen out and about. Specifically, more of the cold blooded wildlife in the bay have started to make their appearance, sunbathing on rocks, hunting, or raising young. One of these is the California King Snake, or Lampropeltis getula californiae.
As the name implies, they can be found in California, but also can be found in some surrounding states such as Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and even northern Texas! Likely the reason for this snake’s large habitat range is its extreme adaptability. The kingsnake can survive in forests, desserts, chaparral, grasslands, woodlands, even suburban areas with available vegetation. This makes it a great candidate for living in the natural spaces of the Bay Area. More locally, kingsnakes have been spotted in several regional and state parks, including Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Mount Diablo State Park, and Lime Ridge Open Space.
The California kingsnake is non-venomous; however it can deliver a hurtful bite when threatened. Interestingly, it also emits a foul smelling odor and shakes its tail when distressed, similar to the venomous rattlesnake. This behavior might deceive a predator into thinking it is venomous.
This snake is a constrictor, meaning it squeezes its prey to suffocate it before eating. It is also an opportunistic hunter, feeding on birds, rodents, lizards, bird eggs, and even other snakes! The California Kingsnake has been known to eat other snakes, some venomous snakes like the Western Diamondback rattlesnake or the cottonmouth snake, and even other kingsnakes. It is somewhat immune to the venom of its prey, which allows it to survive upon eating a venomous snake. Its cannibalistic tendencies are actually what earned it’s “king” title, similar to the king cobra.
Another factor that sets this snake apart is its range in coloration. The California kingsnake has been found with many different colorations and markings called morphs. Different morphs have been found in different regions where this snake occurs. In California, the snakes are usually either banded or striped. The body of the snakes are typically black and brown with either white or yellow markings (bands or stripes).
The California Kingsnake’s attractive appearance, moderate size, and docile temperament has made it a very ideal snake to keep as a pet. It actually is the most common species of snake kept as pets, which has resulted in even more color morphs, as breeders select certain color and marking traits that are most favorable. Some of these morphs include snakes that are albino or pink in color.
If you see this snake while out in nature, it is usually best to give the snake its space. They will react and possibly bite if threatened. Luckily, their bite is non-venomous, so it can be treated by cleaning the wound and bandaging it. With the arrival of warmer weather, they are likely to venture out in the open more often, so you may get a chance to spot one!