What Is a Desert Kingsnake?

Jillian O Keeffe

Kingsnakes are constrictors that sometimes eat other snakes. The desert kingsnake subspecies has the scientific name Lampropeltis getula splendida and lives in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico in the U.S. and across the border into parts of Mexico. It has a brown or black body with yellow or white bars.

Dessert kingsnakes feast upon frogs.
Dessert kingsnakes feast upon frogs.

The Lampropeltis getula, or kingsnake genus of snakes, encompasses seven species, which vary in appearance. The snakes are constrictors, and the subspecies range across many states in the U.S. Due to their penchant for surviving snakebites and then eating the attacking snakes, the species have gained legendary status in some Native American mythologies. The kingsnake is immune to the venom of other snakes but is itself nonvenomous.

Desert kingsnakes live in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and  northern Mexico.
Desert kingsnakes live in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico.

The desert kingsnake, or Lampropeltis getula splendida, has a black head and a dark body with yellow or white bars. Breeding occurs in April and May, and egg laying occurs in the following two months. A female kingsnake lays up to 12 eggs, which all stick together underground in soil with plenty of moisture. The eggs hatch in August and October. The adults can grow up to 5 feet (about 1.54 meters) in length.

Despite the desert part of its name, this type of kingsnake usually lives close to a water source. They generally move around in the afternoon and evening and spend a lot of time under the cover of dead vegetation or rocks. When disturbed, the desert kingsnake shakes its tail as a warning gesture. It can also fake death by turning over and laying still. When it finds itself trapped, it also produces an odorous substance and defecates.

Thought they can be kept as pets, kingsnakes may eat other snakes kept in the same cage, even those of the same species. The musk production and nervous defecation does not continue once the snake becomes accustomed to the surroundings. Captive snakes will eat rodents, birds, lizards, and frogs, and dead prey are less likely to inflict damage on the pet during the eating process.

If a recently fed desert kingsnake is handled too soon after eating, it may regurgitate out the food. Due to the snake's preference for a secretive hiding place, the enclosure should contain some suitable areas, such as artificial caves or even an upturned terracotta pot. Desert kingsnakes are not regarded as under threat, and the populations of these snakes also help control the levels of venomous snakes in areas where humans may be at risk of snakebite.

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