Like all snakes, Florida kingsnakes are primarily identified by their color and pattern. Although the three species of common kingsnakes indigenous to Florida are similar in appearance, the Florida kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana) is easily distinguished by the number of crossbands on its back. Commonly called “chain snakes” or “chain kings,” the Florida kingsnake is non-venomous and seldom bites. Ironically, this harmless snake preys on rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes, immune to their potent venom.
Adult Florida kingsnakes are generally 36 to 48 inches long; the record is 69.5 inches. All three common kingsnakes have yellowish-brown to black bands of color on their backs extending down the sides, but not crossing the belly, called crossbands. The Florida kingsnake has 40 yellow dorsal crossbands interspersed in a degenerate lateral chain-like pattern with 34 narrow light crossbands. There are 21 to 23 dorsal scale rows at mid-body in between the crossbands. These scales lighten with age until they become almost the same color as the crossbands. Young snakes are more distinctive than the adults, with smooth black scales between the lighter crossbands creating a bold, intricate body pattern.
The top of the adult snake’s head features large plate-like scales in the center; below the tail the scales are elongated and divided. The checkerboard belly pattern varies from white to brown and is flecked with yellow smudges.
Common to all snakes, the Florida kingsnake’s eyelids are fused to form a transparent covering, and its pupil is round.
Range and Habitat
Ranging throughout the Florida peninsula, south from Volusia County on the eastern coast to Key Largo in Pinellas County on the western coast, the Florida kingsnake is primarily diurnal, or active during daylight hours, most of the year. Hot summer nights induce some nocturnal activity.
It's equally at home in pinelands, oak hammocks, prairies, cypress swamps, marshes, estuaries, stands of melaleuca, also known as Australian punk trees, and in the sugarcane plantations surrounding Lake Okeechobee. A secretive snake, it seldom ventures far and rests in the shade under logs, tall grass, leaf litter, boards, trash piles and barrels.
Diet and Reproduction
Like all snakes, the Florida kingsnake is carnivorous. In addition to eating rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes, the Florida kingsnake feeds on other non-venomous snakes and is known to be cannibalistic, eating its own kind. Frogs, turtle eggs, rodents, birds and bird eggs round out the diet of this medium-size constrictor.
Breeding takes place from February to May. In the early summer, females lay three to thirty eggs. Arriving in late summer, hatchlings are 5 to 8 inches long, miniature versions of the adults.
Getting Along with the Florida Kingsnake
The Florida kingsnake is one of 50 established species and 45 sub-species of Florida snakes, of which only six are venomous. Non-venomous snakes such as the Florida kingsnake are virtually harmless unless cornered, captured or harmed. Non-aggressive, like the majority of Florida snakes, the Florida kingsnake flees when threatened and only bites as a last resort. They are not considered dangerous to humans and play a beneficial role in the natural ecosystem by preying upon rodents and venomous snakes .
If encountered in their natural environment -- or even in your backyard, garage or pool – snakes should be left alone, according to snake experts, or herpetologists. Enjoy the occasional snake visitor as you would any wildlife. However, if you are unsure of the species, or if you find a snake inside your home, it should be humanely removed and relocated to a wooded area nearby. There are several resources available on the Internet to research humane live-removal methods, and several Florida pest control companies offer snake-removal services.
- Florida Museum of Natural History: Guide to Color Pattern
- Florida Museum of Natural History: Guide to Getting Along With Snakes
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Facts About Reptiles and Amphibians: Common Kingsnake
- Kingsnake:Florida Kingsnake
- The Living World of Animals; Reader's Digest Association, London
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images