Added 27 October 2003. Last updated 9 August 2009: updated L. ruthveni and Bibliography.

An introduction to


Kingsnakes and Milksnakes


Genus Lampropeltis

There is such an enormous variety of kingsnakes and milksnakes seen today in the reptile trade, together with their abundant "phases" and "morphs", that it is easy for the beginner (and even the not-beginner) to get confused as to which species is which, or even if a snake is a species, a subspecies or an "intergrade" (a cross between two species or subspecies). What follows is an introduction to the genus Lampropeltis, which contains all the kingsnakes and milksnakes. It is not intended as an exhaustive guide, and I strongly recommend that if you wish to pursue the subject further then you buy one of the books listed in the Bibliography.

As a rule these are not difficult snakes to keep in captivity, although they tend to be secretive, particularly the milksnakes. A cage of 2-3ft in length is usually sufficient, but a hidebox is an absolute necessity. Also the keeper should beware that these snakes do eat other snakes in the wild, and that some species and subspecies are known to be cannibalistic. Apart from breeding it is probably safest to err on the side of caution and keep one snake per cage with this genus. Again, for more specific help please consult the Bibliography.

Finally, please note that although the bare essentials of this guide are here, it will be supplemented over time. In particular the milksnakes (L. triangulum ssp) could do with more details.

L. alterna, Grey-Banded Kingsnake L. calligaster, Prairie Kingsnake L. getula, Common Kingsnake
L. mexicana, Mexican Kingsnake L. pyromelana, Sonoran Kingsnake L. ruthveni, Ruthven's Kingsnake
L. triangulum, Milksnake/False Coral Snake L. zonata, Mountain Kingsnake  

Species Common Name Origin Adult size Notes
L. alterna Grey-Banded Kingsnake USA (Texas, Trans-Peco), Mexico (Trans-Peco, Durango, N Zacatecas, Coahuila) ?'



Characteristically a snake with alternating grey and orange bands outlined in black. Chief disadvantage as a captive is its strong preference for eating lizards (especially skinks) rather than rodents. The two subspecies are not normally recognised as such, being considered "phases" instead: of these, the "blair" is usually the most sought after.
L. a. alterna
L. a. blair
L. calligaster Prairie Kingsnake Much of USA except western states   ?'



L. c. calligaster Prairie Kingsnake  
L. c. occipitolineata South Florida Mole Kingsnake  
L. c. rhambomaculata Mole Kingsnake  
L. getula Common Kingsnake USA and Mexico ?' ??.
L. g. getula Eastern Kingsnake/ Chain Kingsnake   3½-4½'  
L. g. "brooksi" Brook's Kingsnake     No longer recognised taxonomically as a subspecies but still recognised as a phase by hobbyists and dealers.
L. g. californae Californian Kingsnake     A deservedly popular pet snake. Naturally occurring specimens tend to be dark brown to black in colour with broad white bands. Now bred in an almost bewildering variety of phases, including albinos which are now fairly common.
L. g. "conjuncta" Baja Banded Kingsnake     No longer recognised taxonomically as a subspecies but still recognised as a phase by hobbyists and dealers. Very narrow, poorly defined light banding
L. g. floridana Florida Kingsnake USA (S Florida) 4' Yellowish with light but intricate patterning.
L. g. "goini" Blotched Kingsnake/ Apalachicola Kingsnake   6' No longer recognised taxonomically as a subspecies but still recognised as a phase by hobbyists and dealers. Intergrade between the Florida Kingsnake and Eastern Kingsnake.
L. g. floridana x L. g. getula [Formerly known as] Florida Kingsnake     Light to dark brown background with numerous yellow to cream crossbands. Makes a hardy and good captive.
L. g. holbrooki Speckled Kingsnake     One of the less popular subspecies, probably because of its less attractive personality and greater proneness to cannibalism.
L. g. nigra Black Kingsnake     A highland species. Comments on L. g. holbrooki also apply to this snake.
L. g. nigritus Mexican Black Kingsnake     Similar to Californian Kingsnake, also has a good disposition.
L. g. splendida Desert Kingsnake     Inhabitant of the Chihuahuan desert.
L. g. sticticeps       Status questionable (see EMBL database entry for sources).
L. g. "yumensis" "Desert phase"     No longer recognised taxonomically as a subspecies: now considered a phase of L. g. californae. Stark black-and-white coloration.
L. mexicana Mexican Kingsnake



USA (S Texas), Mexico (E Chihuahua, S & W Nuevo Leon, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and Aguascalientes)    


L. m. mexicana San Luis Potosi Kingsnake
L. m. greeri Durango Kingsnake
L. m. leonis  
L. m. thayeri Variable Kingsnake
L. pyromelana Sonoran Kingsnake USA (Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico) and Mexico (Sonora and Chihuahua)   Nocturnal and extremely secretive species, found in high elevations at 3-9,000ft in forests. Up to five subspecies may be recognised. Coloration is brilliant red with black and white rings. This is a highly sought after species. Brumation is necessary for breeding.
L. p. pyromelana
L. p. infralabialis
L. p. knoblochi
L. ruthveni Ruthven's Kingsnake Mexico (Michoacan, Querétaro, Jalisco) 3' Found on the Central Mexican plateau in rocky woodlands at high elevations: there has been little study of their natural habits [Crabill]. Crabill recommends this as a good-tempered snake that feeds well on rodents. Albino specimens are quite common in the pet trade, the usual two phases being "candy cane" and "orange albino". In his article on interbreeding, Fankhauser (1996) claims that to his knowledge this is the only Lampropeltis species that has been proven to interbreed successfully with all other species of the genus.
L. triangulum Milksnake/False Coral Snake   1.2-2m Name of "false coral" derives from the apparent mimicry of the Micrurus coral snake (the latter being dangerously venomous).
L. t. triangulum Eastern Milksnake      
L. t. abnorma Guatemalan Milksnake       
L. t. amaura Louisiana Milksnake      
L. t. andesiana Andean Milk Snake      
L. t. annulata Mexican Milksnake      
L. t. arcifera Jalisco Milksnake       
L. t. blanchardi Blanchard's Milksnake       
L. t. campbelli Pueblan Milksnake       
L. t. celaenops New Mexico Milksnake/ Big Bend Milksnake       
L. t. conanti Conant's Milksnake      
L. t. dixoni Dixon's Milksnake       
L. t. elapsoides Scarlet Kingsnake     Preys largely on other reptiles.
L. t. gaigae Black Milksnake       
L. t. gentilis Central Plains Milksnake      
L. t. hondurensis Honduran Kingsnake   3½-5' Variable coloration.
L. t. micropholis Ecuadoran Milksnake   2m/6'  
L. t. multistrata Pale Milksnake      
L. t. nelsoni Nelson's Milksnake      
L. t. oligozona Pacific Central American Milksnake      
L. t. polyzona Atlantic Central American Milksnake      
L. t. sinaloae Sinaloan Milksnake      
L. t. smithi Smith's Milksnake      
L. t. stuarti Stuart's Milksnake      
L. t. syspila Red Milksnake      
L. t. taylori Utah Milksnake      
L. zonata Mountain Kingsnake USA (Washington, Oregon, California) and Mexico (Baja California Norte) 3'/1m Mountain dwellers along the West Coast of North America. Habitat may be moist woods, coniferous forest, oak woodland or chaparral. Diet is general, although the lizards Eumeces skiltonianus and and Sceloporus occidentalis are favoured items. There are legal restrictions on collecting any of the subspecies from the wild: check with the local authorities. Coloration: basically red and white crossbands separated by narrow black ones: width of red bands may vary in inverse proportion to the black, but the white ones are relatively constant. The top of the head is black. The iris is dark brown. Reproduction: 3-9 eggs laid in June-July: incubation 48-87 days, average of about 2 months [SOURCE: Moore]
L. z. zonata St Helena Mountain Kingsnake     
L. z. agalma Baja California Mountain Kingsnake    
L. z. herrerae Todos Santos Mountain Kingsnake    
L. z. multicincta Sierra Mountain Kingsnake    
L. z. multifasciata Coast Mountain Kingsnake    
L. z. parvirubra San Bernadino Mountain Kingsnake    
L. z. pulchra San Diego Mountain Kingsnake     


Common Kingsnakes, David Perlowin, Herpetocultural Library, 199?. Very useful guide to L. getula, its species and subspecies and their care and husbandry.

Snakes: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual, R D & P Bartlett, Barrons, 1997, New York/Hong Kong. Good section on the Lampropeltis species, including subspecies, intergrades and phases.

"The Genus Lampropeltis", Philippe Gérard, Reptilia 17. Useful summary of the genus as a whole.

"Breeding the Albino Ruthven's Kingsnake", Thomas Crabill, Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist 6:6 (February 2001).

"Random Thoughts on the Getula Complex of Kingsnakes", R D Bartlett, Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist 5:12 (August 2000).

"'A Beautiful Serpent': the California Mountain Kingsnake", Mary Edith Moore, Reptile Hobbyist 3:10 (June 1998).

"Snake Hybrids: An Interesting Way to Increase Diversity", Fankhauser, Reptiles 4:8 (1996). Covers aspects of interbreeding Lampropeltis species with other colubrids, mainly Elaphe and Pituophis. The author warns against some aspects of this and particularly against hybridisation between members of the L. pyromelana, L. triangulum and L. zonata complexes. Note that this method of diversification is probably fairly controversial, and I personally would not be happy with it.

"Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist's Herp Care Series, No. 8, California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californae Blainville, 1835)", Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist 5:8 (April 2000).

I have not read the following, but these are widely available, at least over the Internet if not from pet shops:

Kingsnakes and Milksnakes, Ronald G Markel and Richard D Bartlett, Barron's Educational Series, 1995. Anything written or co-authored by R D Bartlett is usually worth reading, although I cannot vouch for this one having not read it.

Milksnakes and Tricolored Kingsnakes, R D Bartlett. See the comment for the previous book.

Kingsnakes and Milksnakes in Captivity, Robert Applegate, Professional Breeders Series, ECO/Serpent's Tale NHBD, 2007.


The Lampropeltis section of the JCVI/TIGR reptile database provided (as always) much useful information, especially regarding subspecies, distributions and the history of recent taxonomic changes. have a useful Kingsnake and Milksnake section, including forums. have a bibliography for L. calligaster.

Click here for an index of magazine articles on colubrids, including Lampropeltis.


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