King snakes are members of the genus Lampropeltis and can be found over much of the United States. Members of the genus can be found from southeastern Canada down to Ecuador.
This means that you can find these nonvenomous constrictors over much of the Americas. They are Colubrids, making them advanced snakes.
The kingsnakes are named for their habit of eating other snakes as part of their diet.
They even eat venomous snakes like rattlesnakes since they are immune to the venom. Milk snakes are also part of the genus.
This genus is easily noted for its shiny scales.
The name of the genus means “shiny shield” in Greek. There are several king snake and milksnake species that can be found in Texas. Here is a list to help you identify them.
1. Prairie King Snake
The prairie kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) can be found in Central Texas. Their range extends over many of the prairie states since that is the natural habitat of the species.
They can also be found in abandoned fields if there are enough animal burrows around. This species spends most of its time underground in burrows or under cover like logs and rocks.
They rarely exceed 3 feet in length. They are gray or brown in tone with darker markings on the back and sides in darker gray, red, or brown tones.
The underside of the snake is yellow, leading to their other common name of the yellow-bellied kingsnake.
Adults tend to have less distinct patterning than juveniles. They eat rodents and other small creatures but will also eat other snakes.
Kingsnakes are unique in that they can eat snakes that are their length or slightly longer.
2. Speckled King Snake
The speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis holbrooki) is named for the speckled appearance of the snake.
They have a dark background color with yellow or white speckles down the body. Some snakes may be lighter.
These nocturnal snakes can be found in open areas like grasslands, the edge of forests, and riverbanks. They are rare for humans to see since they prefer to stay far from human activity.
They can be found in most of the state aside from the western side of the state and portions of the southern part. They eat a wide diet but will happily eat rattlesnakes.
3. Desert King Snake
The desert kingsnake (Lampropeltis splendida) is found in the far south of the state and into Mexico.
They were once considered to be a subspecies of the common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula).
However, a genetic study of the genus revealed that they qualified to be a full species.
They have yellow and black tones to their body that can look like a diamond pattern. They can grow up to 4 feet long on average, but some animals can reach nearly 7 feet long.
They are known for their defensive behavior of flipping onto their back and playing dead. Like other kingsnakes, they eat rodents, lizards, and nearly anything else they can take down.
These snakes are frequently encouraged to live near humans since they can control the populations of dangerous species.
4. Gray-Banded King Snake
The gray-banded kingsnake (Lampropeltis alterna) is a beautiful animal. It has bands of gray and red that create a stunning animal.
They typically stay between 2 and 3 feet as adults.
The width of the bands depends on the morph of the animal, but some will lack the bands entirely.
They live on mountainsides and desert hillsides. they can only be found between 1500 and 7000 feet of elevation.
They are only found in a narrow strip along the border with Mexico and New Mexico. They are rare sights since they are nocturnal and only live in remote, mountainous areas.
5. Louisiana Milk Snake
The Louisiana milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum amaura) is a harmless snake found in the eastern portion of Texas. As the name implies, it is most commonly found on the border with Louisiana. While they are called milk snakes, they are in fact members of the same genus as kingsnakes.
This is called Batesian mimicry. If you have ever heard the “red touches black friend of jack, black touches yellow kills a fellow” rhyme, this is to help remember the order of colors on the harmless mimics versus the actual coral snake.
Like all other members of the genus, they have small heads that blend into the body.
They also have round pupils. If you are ever confused as to whether you are looking at a mimic or a real coral snake, the coral snake has bands that go around the entire snake.
Most of the mimics have bands that stop at the belly and are lighter in color. This can help, but never try to mess with an unknown snake to see its belly or get close enough to tell by the eyes.
6. Western Milk Snake
The western milk snake (Lampropeltis gentilis) is another harmless coral snake mimic. They tend to have more dull colors than the Louisiana milk snake. This makes it a bit easier to tell them apart since coral snakes have very bold colors.
They are typically red, gray, and black in color. The red is typically found in saddles bordered with black.
They have black snouts and the bands can extend to the belly or it may be whitish. They prefer open sagebrush and grasslands but may be found in suburban areas that border these habitats.
They have a wide diet like other members of the genus. They will mimic a rattlesnake by shaking the tip of their tail if they feel threatened.
These small snakes may also strike, but they are known to be very docile. They are common in the pet trade since they tend to tolerate handling well.
7. Mexican Milk Snake
The Mexican milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum annulata) is another harmless coral snake mimic. It tends to have a black head with bands of black, red, and either yellow or cream.
They are mainly found in Mexico but they can be found in southwestern Texas. Since they are coral mimics, they are regularly mistaken for coral snakes.
This can result in the snake being killed because of fear. Remember, never try to kill a snake you may think is venomous. Not only can you be hurt, but the snake is just trying to live its life. Leave it alone and let it move on. This can also keep you safe from potential bites.
Even a dead snake can deliver a dose of venom. Muscle twitches in a dead or dying animal can deliver venom and kill someone. These milk snakes are generalists like other members of the genus and eat a wide diet.
We hope this helps to teach you about the variety of kingsnakes found in the state of Texas. You can also find a number of water snakes in texas, and many other species.
Kingsnakes are great snakes to have around your home (and you can have a pet king snake – see my king snake care sheet here) since they eat many harmful species of snake and control pests like rodents.
If you have any questions or comments about kingsnakes, please leave them below.