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. There are at least 16 different types of kingsnakes found in the United States, but in this article we’re going to have a look at the kingsnakes in North Carolina.
Kingsnakes are any snakes belonging to the genus Lampropeltis in the family Colubridae. Milksnakes fall into this family of snakes, and North Carolina even has a species that we’ll show you on this list. Because their general docile nature and overall small size, kingsnakes are commonly found in the pet snake trade.
Let’s have a look North Carolina’s kingsnakes!
4 Different Species of Kingsnakes in North Carolina
The 4 species of kingsnake in North Carolina are the mole kingsnake, scarlet kingsnake, eastern kingsnake, and the eastern milk snake.
1. Eastern kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis getula
These are the largest kingsnakes in North Carolina, often reaching 48 inches in length, with the longest individuals sometimes exceeding 7 feet. They’re deep, glossy, often reaching 48 inches in length.
They live throughout the state, and snakes that live closer to the coastal plains tend to have wider yellow bands, while those deeper inland closer to the mountains may be almost entirely black. In the Outer Banks, kingsnakes of this species are brown with light speckles in between their chainlike stripes.
Like most kingsnakes, they have a strong resistance to the venom of rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths, which are some of their favorite things to eat. In fact, the “king” in their name is a reference to their habit of feeding on other snakes (the same is true for king cobras). Although they aren’t venomous, wild snakes do tend to bite when captured. It’s harmless, but painful.
Eastern kingsnakes are active during the day, and you’ll often find them in agricultural and suburban areas. These places tend to have large rodent populations, which draw in venomous snakes like copperheads, and they, in turn, attract the kingsnakes. So, if you see a kingsnake, leave it be- it’s probably controlling the population of venomous snakes in the area.
2. Mole Kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata
The mole kingsnake light reddish brown in color with darker elliptical spots down their back.As they age, the pattern fades and older snakes may appear to be a uniform brown color. They rarely get bigger than about 40 inches in length. They’re named for their habit of living primarily underground, like moles.
Mole kingsnakes are rarely seen, but they’re very common. Since they tend to live underground, they often live in suburban and agricultural habitats that other snakes wouldn’t survive in. You may even have a few in your backyard without ever realizing it. If you’re in a rural area, check the dead logs and look under a few rocks, and there’s a good chance you’ll find some of these secretive snakes.
In fact, they’re probably one of the most numerous snakes in North Carolina, even though they’re one of the most rarely seen. Since rodents are their main source of food, it’s actually a good thing to have them around. They can make a huge difference in the size of the rodent population. Farmers and others in rural areas should especially appreciate their presence.
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3. Scarlet kingsnake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis elapsoides
The most recognizable and famous species of kingsnake, the scarlet kingsnake it’s instantly recognizable for it’s striking color pattern, which is very similar to the colors of the highly venomous coral snake.
If you’ve heard the rhyme “red touch yellow, kill a fellow, red touch black, friend of Jack,” or any of the similar ones, those are a reference to the scarlet kingsnake and the coral snake.
These two species are so similar in appearance that the scarlet kingsnake is often used in movies to depict venomous snakes. Both “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Mummy” use a scarlet kingsnake in scenes where venomous snakes are supposed to be present.
In North Carolina, you can also simply say “red face, your safe,” since the scarlet kingsnake always has a red face, while the coral snake always has a black face. The rhyme is necessary because, while true coral snakes are actually quite timid and avoid biting except as a last resort, scarlet kingsnakes, taking advantage of their similarity to the coral snake, will bite aggressively if handled. Fortunately, their bite is harmless.
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 common in the coastal plains, but rarer in the piedmont.
4. Eastern milk snake
Scientific name: Lampropeltis triangulum
The eastern milk snake is closely related to the scarlet kingsnake, 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.
Milk snakes can be found in all parts of North Carolina, but they do prefer to live in the more mountainous, wooded regions. They’re present on the coastal plains, but rarer there.
Milk snakes can give you quite a scare when you see them because their colors are so vivid, and they often turn up so close to our homes. They’re perfectly harmless, though. And, since rodents are their favorite food, you might find that it’s a good thing to have a bunch of milk snakes living close by.