California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae)

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This page last updated on 04/20/2019
(Fig. 01)
Picture Notes: On 04/16/2019 we were 4-wheeling on Rockefeller Road in the area of the Ireteba Mountains in Nevada. On one of our stops we noticed a very large cave high on a mountain side. Once several of our party reached and entered the large cave they encountered the snake shown in the pictures found here. It appeared to be about three to four feet long.

Description: The California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) is primarily diurnal, but may become increasingly nocturnal during periods of particularly hot weather. Highly variable in appearance. Adult California kingsnakes are most commonly 2.5–3.5 feet in length, and rarely exceed four feet. Its head is somewhat wider than the neck, plate-like top scales, bulging eyes. Its body scales are smooth and glossy, giving rise to the scientific species name "lampropeltis," which means "shiny skin". Most commonly seen with alternating bands of black or brown and white or light yellow, including the underside, where the light bands become wider. A desert phase occurs with dark black bands and narrow bright white bands. In the winter, they retreat underground and enter a hibernation-like state called brumation. When disturbed, California kingsnakes will often coil their bodies to hide their heads, hiss, and rattle their tails, which can produce a sound somewhat resembling that of a rattlesnake. They are considered harmless to humans, but if handled it is common for this species to bite, as well as excrete musk and fecal contents from their cloaca. California kingsnakes are opportunistic feeders and common food items include rodents, birds, other reptiles and amphibians. All kingsnakes are non-venomous, but are powerful constrictors and generally kill their prey through suffocation. The "king" in their name refers to their propensity to hunt and eat other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes, that are commonly indigenous to their natural habitat. California kingsnakes are naturally resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes, but are not totally immune. One of its hunting attributes is that it uses its powerful body to suffocate its prey by constriction. Outside of California, it occurs in southwestern Oregon, Nevada, southern Utah,extreme southwestern Colorado, much of Arizona, throughout Baja California, including several islands, and most of Sonora, Mexico.

(Fig. 02)