San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Photo of California Mountain Kingsnake from captivity, close-up, by Bradford Hollingsworth.

Lampropeltis zonata
California Mountain Kingsnake

COLUBRIDAE

Lampropeltis is from the Greek Lampros, meaning shiny or beautiful, and pelte, a shield. This refers to the smooth, shiny scales of Kingsnakes and their relatives. The species name comes from the Latin word zonatus which means banded. In Spanish, these snakes are called Corralillo, a general name for Mountain Kingsnakes.

Description

Photo of California Mountain Kingsnake by Bradford Hollingsworth.

The California Mountain Kingsnake contains six subspecies. All are colorful and attractive snakes with alternating red, black and white crossbands. These crossbands are arranged in triads of color in the order of black, red, black, separated by white. The different subspecies are mainly distinguished by the number of triads, and thus, the width of the color bands vary geographically. There can be from 23 to 56 triads along the length of the body. The head and snout are black, followed by the first white band on the head. Adults have smooth, shiny scales and can reach lengths of 48 inches (120 cm).

Subspecies: Of the six different subspecies, four are found within our region of focus. These include the Coast Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata multifasciata), San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake (L. z. parvirubra), San Diego Mountain Kingsnake (L. z. pulchra), and Baja California Mountain Kingsnake (L. z. agalma). Recently, herpetologists have recognized the Todos Santos Island Mountain Kingsnake as a distinct species, L. herrerae.

Range and Habitat

California Mountain Kingsnakes are found in the western U.S. from the Columbia River area of Washington State in the north, to northern Baja California, México in the south. They are found in mountainous areas throughout their range, such as the Sierra Nevadas, Coast Ranges, Transverse Ranges, and high Peninsular Ranges of California and Baja California. Within the Peninsular Ranges, this species is found at the higher elevations of the Santa Anas, Santa Rosas, Palomar Mountain, Lagunas, Juarez, and San Pedro Martirs.

This snake inhabits moist woods from sea level to extremely high elevations. In the southern portion of their range, the California Mountain Kingsnake is not found near the coast, instead preferring coniferous forests and woodlands above 3,000 feet. This species appears to prefer rocky areas, but also is found beneath logs and under bark.

Natural History

This species is an obvious mimic of the coral snake. It is non-venomous and often mistaken as a dangerous snake. Interestingly, there are no coral snakes overlapping the range of the California Mountain Kingsnake in the present day. The evolution of color pattern mimicry occurred in the past when its ancestors' distribution overlapped the distribution of coral snakes.

Behavior:This species is mostly diurnal, but will be active at night in warmer weather. It is an excellent climber, prefers southwestern facing slopes, and often retreats beneath granite flakes.

Prey and Predators:Will eat lizards, snakes, birds and their eggs, and small mammals.

Breeding:This species lays 3 to 13 eggs in June and July.

Conservation Status

Two of the subspecies found in our region of focus are Federal Special Concern species (FSC) and protected as a California Special Concern species (DFG-CSC). These are the San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake (L. z. parvirubra) and San Diego Mountain Kingsnake (L. z. pulchra). This species is highly prized in the pet trade and significant habitat damage has occurred as the result of unscrupulous collectors.

Suggested Reading

Brown, P.R. 1997. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Company, Houston, Texas. p. 215

Stebbins, R.C. 1985. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. p. 278.


Text by Bradford Hollingsworth and Rob Lovich.
Photographs contributed by Bradford Hollingsworth.

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