Scarlet Kingsnake Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides

Scotland County, NC
Photo By Sam Cohen

Description: Actually a species of milksnake, the Scarlet Kingsnake has the usual red, black and  light colors found in many snakes of the species. The snout, eyes and head are red followed by a black band and then the base color which is typically yellow. The following pattern is a bright red bordered on both sides by black on a yellow base color. In fact, the pattern appears to be alternating rings of yellow, black, red, black, yellow, black, etc. In actuality, the pattern is really red blotches, bordered by balck on a yellow base color, but the blotches wrap all the way under the snake so as to look like rings. A longitudinal separation going all the way down the center of the ventrals betrays this.

     The pattern of the Scarlet Kingsnake is only occasionally variable with the most frequent variations occurring in South Florida populations. Variations manifest as wider or thinner red, black or yellow areas. The typically yellow coloration can vary from white to yellow to orange. Specimens from the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina have a white base instead of yellow with great consistency. There can also be a varying amount of black flecking in the red portions, though it seldom attains dominance except in South Florida populations where the black can overrun the red.

     Scarlet Kingsnakes are the smallest of the milksnakes, typically attaining only a little over 20 inches. Some large specimens can get over 25 inches with the record being 27 inches. Neonates can be as small as 3 inches.

     Neonate Scarlet Kingsnakes are patterned as the adults except that the base color is always white. The yellow coloration comes in as the snakes mature.

     Scarlet Kingsnakes are often confused with the venomous Coral Snake Micrurus fulvius fulvius.

Biology and Behavior: .

This is a cryptic, fossorial and nocturnal animal. It is timid and can be surprisingly defensive. Typically not encountered unless being specifically sought, but they do turn up in gardens or under stones or in rotten logs. They can sometimes be found out foraging at night occasionally on roads but more frequently along the edges of pine stands. Their coloration is excellent camoflage at night. The contrasting pattern being very disruptive, especially amidst ground cover. They can and will climb, however. They have been observed climbing vertically on pine trees or up citrus trees.

     This is not a calm animal and seldom get used to being handled. If picked up they will usually struggle and often bite, even after being in captivity for a long time. Too much handling can cause them enough stress to stop feeding.

Scarlet Kingsnakes primarily eat skinks and other lizards, but will also eat immature rodents of appropriate size and also smaller snakes.

In the coastal plains, these snakes start mating in  April through early June. They can be sexually mature at about three years and 16" long. Gestation usually lasts 40 to 60 days, after which 2 to 12 eggs (4 to 6 being an average clutch) are laid. Hatching occurs after 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the environment and temperature.

Scarlet Kingsnakes reportedly have life spans as high as 18 years in captivity, though they can make poor captives.

Range and Locality Data: The Scarlet Kingsnake ranges from mid-North Carolina, south throughout Florida and west to the Appalachians. This snake is locally common being very abundant in small, often discrete, areas.

Scarlet Kingsnakes are found in wooded areas. This is a very shy animal but can adapt to human impacted areas. They have been reported to be common around citrus orchards as well as other micro-habitats.

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