Chain (Eastern) Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula getula
Female - SC
Female - unknown County - SC
Photo By Scott Quint

Description:
A large sturdy animal, this snake has black to brown dorsal coloration with light colored crossbars numbering from 17 to 36 on the body and 5 to 11 on the tail. The crossbars themselves can be white, cream, silvery gray or tan. The cross bars can be from 1 to 3 scales wide and the scales within the bands may have dark tips. Lateral light markings on the snakeís flanks connect the bars to form a chain-like pattern, giving credence to its name. The coloration is variable with irregular combinations of dark and light patterning. The scales are very polished looking, hence the genus Lampropeltis, which means literally shiny skin. The pattern on the head is also very variable with most of the head scutes containing some light marking and the labials vertically bi-colored giving them a tiger-stripe like appearance.

     Chain Kingsnakes can look fairly different from area to area. Bi-colored scales in wider crossbars can make this snake look very different from those with thinner bars or no bi-colored scales. Snakes from the Hatteras National Seashore area in North Carolina have many bi-colored scales in the dark areas between the crossbars giving them a speckled appearance. This population once was described as L.g.sticticeps. Specimens from some areas around Jasper County, South Carolina have very reduced lateral markings so as to give them a ringed appearance.

    Adult Chain Kingsnakes are from 34 to over 48 inches long with the record being 82 inches. Males tend to be larger than females. These powerful animals have a fairly cylindrical body with an indistinct head. The tails tend to be somewhat short and thick making gender determination difficult without probing.

    Young kingsnakes look almost identical to the adults though they usually have proportionately longer heads. Some juveniles have some red or orange mottling in the light flank markings.

    Chain kingsnake dorsal scales are smooth and number 21 at mid-body and 19 on the tail. There are 200 to 222 ventrals and 35 to 55 subcaudals.

Biology and Behavior:
    Chain Kingsnakes are mild tempered animals that, although shy, become quickly accustomed to humans. When first picked up they may struggle or attempt to bite but often settle at once and will then tolerate handling. We have observed that most of the time there will be some struggling with smaller snakes being more disturbed than larger ones. Like many snakes, Chain Kingsnakes will usually secrete musk and vibrate their tails as a preliminary defensive gesture.

    Most accounts of these animals describe diurnal behavior. We have yet to see anything contradictory in the field, but captive animals move throughout the night. When we have discovered these snakes under sheltering objects, it has always been in the afternoon or evening. Past research describes Chain Kingsnakes as semi-fossorial and many captive specimens that we have held prefer to cover themselves in the substrate.

    Chain Kingsnakes will eat just about anything of appropriate size that it can catch. Rodents, lizards, birds, turtles, eggs (especially turtle eggs) and amphibians are just a few items. Chain Kingsnakes have relatively small mouths and are really bad at catching rodents, though they certainly try. Based on this and their preferred habitat, watersnakes probably make up the bulk of their diets; turtle eggs are too seasonal to be a staple and turtles themselves are too big and difficult to hold, except for hatchlings. In captivity, glass lizards (Ophisaurus) cause an extremely aggressive feeding response in these snakes and probably also are frequent prey. Kingsnakes are not deterred by venomous snakes and will readily make a meal out of one. Observations seem to indicate that they are extremely tolerant of snake venom and venomous snakes often do not even attempt to bite them, but instead attempt to hide their heads and use coils to fend off the attacking kingsnake.

    In the coastal plains, kingsnakes start mating in mid April through early June. Females can be sexually mature at about three years and 30" long and males mature a little more quickly. Gestation usually lasts 40 to 60 days, after which 3 to 30 eggs (12 to 15 being an average clutch) are laid. Hatching occurs after 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the environment.

    Chain Kingsnakes are fairly long-lived animals with life spans reported as high as 21 years.

Range and Locality Data:
    There are many subspecies of common kingsnakes with the Chain Kingsnake being the only one in the range covered by this book. Common kingsnakes span the entire United States and can be found in 27 states and Mexico. The Chain Kingsnake ranges from Southern New Jersey, south to central Florida and west to the Appalachians. Records come from almost every county in Coastal Plains.

    Chain Kingsnakes are almost always found in wet areas and have a preference for standing water. Generally shy they stay close to sheltering foliage or near holes or burrows where they can quickly disappear should danger threaten. They can be quick to adopt man made habitat and donít seem to shy away from agriculture, though most other forms of habitat destruction seems to push them out.

    Chain Kingsnakes seem to be fairly abundant as there are hundreds of records of them through out the region. Although few records come from suburban areas, and almost none from urban areas, rural areas seem to yield large numbers of these snakes, especially on the roads. In undisturbed areas, careful and diligent observation will reveal many kingsnakes.

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