Kingsnakes are constrictors, killing their prey by squeezing them to death. It is primarily a ground-dwelling species, although it may sometimes climb into small trees or bushes. They are very active hunters, slithering into rodent burrows and climbing through bushes to catch their diverse prey. They appear to be immune to the venom of other poisonous snakes, which they include on their menu. Kingsnakes are competent swimmers, and they often patrol riverbanks in search of frogs and small aquatic mammals.
Found in almost every type of habitat it will take refuge under rocks, in vegetation and under logs. It feeds on snakes, including rattlesnakes and coral snakes, lizards, mice and birds which it kills by constriction, holding the prey in the powerful coils of its body until it suffocates. Indeed, the description "king" seems to be applied only to those snakes which feed on other snakes.
As well as threatening many animals, these non-venomous snakes also have several enemies of their own, from large birds of prey to raccoons and other carnivores. If cornered, a kingsnake will try to bite its attacker. When captured, the snake’s final defence is to smear its captor with foul-smelling faeces.
A large snake with smooth, shiny scales, the common kingsnake usually has alternating dark and light rings, but some of the many subspecies have more irregular speckled patterns. Kingsnakes have different coloured bodies in different parts of their range. For example, Mexican kingsnakes are black, while those found in the deserts of Arizona have yellow bodies with black spots.
Kingsnakes live in a variety of climates and may be active during the day or night. They hibernate during cold periods, which may last for several months at the northern extent of their range.
Kingsnakes mate in spring. The males bite their mates on the backs of their necks to restrain them during mating. About 12 eggs are laid under rotting vegetation.
Distribution: Southern United States and northern Mexico.
Habitat: All land habitats.
Food: Birds, lizards, frogs and other snakes.
Size: 1 - 2 m (3.25 - 6.5 ft).
Maturity: Not known.
Breeding: Eggs laid in rotting vegetation.
Life span: 25 years.