Kingsnakes are one of the most widespread and common groups of snake in North America. All kingsnakes are non-venomous, and many of them are actually resistant to the venom of other poisonous snakes. Kentucky is home to several species of kingsnake, including two species of milksnake, which is part of the same genus. In this article we’re going to be learning about the kingsnakes in Kentucky.
Kingsnakes live in a wide variety of habitats, and many of them prefer to feed on other snakes, including venomous ones. This actually makes kingsnakes good to have around.
Kentucky is ranked as the 37th largest state in the country with 40,409 square miles of land, 45 major lakes, several major rivers including the Mississippi border the state to the west. All that coupled with Kentucky’s warm summers and fairly mild winters makes for plenty of welcoming habitats for kingsnakes.
For this article we’ll be including all snakes that are a part of the Genus Lampropeltis, aka kingsnakes. Don’t forget though, this also includes milksnakes.
With all that being said, let’s have a look at Kentucky 5 types of kingsnakes!
5 species of kingsnakes in Kentucky
The 5 species of kingsnake in Kentucky are the eastern black kingsnake, prairie kingsnake, eastern milk snake, red milksnake, and the scarlet kingsnake.
1. Eastern black kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis nigra
This subspecies of Lampropeltis getula is found throughout most of the state of Kentucky. There are some areas in northern parts of the state where they aren’t as common however. They are sometimes referred as the black kingsnake.
This subspecies may also reach up to 4 feet in length and get somewhat large for a kingsnake. Eastern black kingsnakes are mostly black in color, however they are usually covered in yellowish spots. They enjoy living in forests, wetlands, and near water. They breed in the spring and the females lay eggs in the early summer.
2. Prairie kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis calligaster
Also called the yellow-bellied kingsnake, the prairie kingsnake is only found in areas of western Kentucky, where it prefers open grassland near permanent water sources. It grows to a bit over three feet in length and looks much like the rat snakes with which it shares it’s habitat.
They prefer to stay out of sight as much as possible, so to find one you’ll have to start flipping over rocks and old logs. Just be careful- they’re not the only snake that likes to hide in those places!
This species is unique among kingsnakes, in that it eats primarily rodents and lizards, instead of snakes. If they feel threatened, they will rattle their tail. In the dry leaf litter and grass of their typical habitat, this can sound just like a real rattlesnake.
If you try to handle one in the wild, it’s probably going to bite you- often several times. Since they’re non-venomous, there’s no danger. But they do have a mouth full of very sharp teeth, so those bites can hurt.
3. Eastern milksnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis triangulum
The eastern milk snake is closely related to the scarlet kingsnake which we’ll learn about soon, but they’re very easy to tell apart. The milk snake is much bigger, with grey or cream colored scales and black and reddish brown splotches on it’s back. It’s named for the distinctive cream-colored triangular or y-shaped marking at the bas of it’s head.
Milk snakes can often be found in large barns, and folklore claims that their name is not because of their markings, but because they sneak into barns at night and milk the cows. This, of course, isn’t true. Instead, the reason they’re so common in barns is that barns usually have a lots of rodents, which are a milk snakes favorite prey.
Eastern milksnakes can be found throughout the entire state in every county of Kentucky. There is 1 other type of milk snake in Kentucky, the red milksnake that we’ll learn about next.
4. Red milksnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis triangulum syspila
The red milksnake can be found in some areas of western Kentucky. Red milksnakes can reach about 3 feet in length as adults. They can be identified by their dominant red bands that are outlined with black borders, separated by tan or pale bands.
Like other members of the genus Lampropeltis, red milksnakes are constrictors. They feed on other snakes, small mammals, amphibians, and lizards. Milksnakes are comfortable in a variety of habitats including forest edges, open woodlands, prairies, grasslands, near streams or rivers, and rocky hillsides.
5. Scarlet kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis elapsoides
One of the most recognizable and famous species of kingsnake, is the scarlet kingsnake. It was once referred to as the scarlet milksnake, because it was thought to be a subspecies of the eastern milksnake. Its colors and appearance is very similar to the colors of the highly venomous coral snake.
Scarlet kingsnakes like to hide out underneath the leaf litter and old logs, where they ambush lizards and small snakes. You won’t likely spot one out crawling along the forest floor, and they even live underground much of the time, like the mole kingsnake. These snakes are quite rare in the state of Kentucky and have just a few isolated populations.