What Is a Mountain Kingsnake?

C.B. Fox

The mountain kingsnake is one of a number of species of kingsnake, which are all of the genus Lampropeltis. These snakes grow to be several feet long though they remain slender and lightweight. Native to North and Central America, the various species of kingsnake have spread out to inhabit various ecological niches. Not surprisingly, mountain kingsnakes inhabit mountainous terrain, usually at above 3,000 feet (914 meters), and different species can be found in California, Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, in the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, and Coastal Mountain ranges.

An improperly-cleaned bite from a mountain kingsnake may cause a bacterial infection.
An improperly-cleaned bite from a mountain kingsnake may cause a bacterial infection.

Though there are a number of distinct species of mountain kingsnake, all of them share a similar color pattern. They are covered with alternating bands of red, black, and white, or variations of these colors, such as orange instead of red or yellow instead of white. In most cases, the light-colored band occurs between two stripes of the black or dark colored band, which is one way to tell them apart from coral snakes, which have a similar patterning.

An opportunistic predator, the mountain kingsnake will eat just about any source of protein it comes across. They commonly eat rodents, reptiles, birds, and amphibians, as well as the eggs of birds or reptiles. A non-venomous snake, the mountain kingsnake constricts around a live prey in order to kill it before swallowing it whole. This snake is also known to feed on other snakes, which is how it earned its name as the king snake.

The various species of mountain kingsnake live in geographically distinct areas. The California mountain kingsnake, for example, has a range from Washington state in the United States into the northern regions of Mexico. The Sonoran mountain kingsnake, however, is mainly found in Arizona. Captive breeding of these snakes, which are often genetically similar enough to allow cross breeding among the various members of the genus, has led to an increase in the number of species and subspecies of mountain kingsnake, which would not interbreed in the wild.

In general, mountain kingsnakes are docile snakes that will not bite unless provoked. Though they are not venomous, they do have teeth and can cause a bacterial infection if the bite wound is not properly cleaned. These snakes are active during the day. Specimens that have been raised and bred in captivity are often kept as pets and are usually considered to be an easy species to keep.

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