The black kingsnake is a large, mostly black snake with a yellow and black belly. It can be found in the Southeastern and Central United States. The black kingsnake was previously considered a subspecies of the common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) and is still somtimes referred to as Lampropeltis getula splendida or the eastern black kingsnake.
The body of the black kingsnake is mostly black or very dark brown. The snake often has several small yellow dots along its side and they become more intensely yellow closer to the belly. The belly of the snake is yellow and black in a chessboard pattern. The black kingsnake shares parts of its range with the closely related speckled kingsnake in the southwest and the common (or eastern) kingsnake in the East, the species often interbreed. Therefore, various combinations of the patterns are possbile.
Black kingsnakes reach an average length of 35-48 inches (90-120 cm). The largest specimencan reach a maximum length of up to 72 inches (185 cm).
Hunting Behavior and Habitat
Black kingsnakes have adapted to living in a wide range of habitats. They are often seen near water or swamps but can also inhabit dryer areas. Their diet mainly consists of reptiles including other snakes such as rattlesnakes. To limit the risk of being bitten, the king snake attacks its prey by biting and fixating its head, thus preventing it from opening its jaws. It then gradually swallows its victim while still alive. During this process, it always keeps the prey’s head constrained.
Like other kingsnake species, the black kingsnake is resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes and copperhead and cottonmouth snakes. So even if they get bitten while trying to eat them, they will most likely be fine. However, a large amount of venom or a large number of intense bites can still harm and possibly kill a king snake.
Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes and harmless for humans. If they feel threatened or are handled, they don’t hesitate to bite, however. Their bite will not have any serious effect on humans or larger pets but should be cleaned and disinfected as any other wound.
Black kingsnake range in the USA
Scientific classification of Lampropeltis nigra
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Squamata
- Suborder: Serpentes
- Family: Colubridae
- Genus: Lampropeltis
- Species: Lampropeltis nigra
The (eastern) black kingsnake has been elevated to species level in 2009. Previously, it was considered a subspecies of the common kingsnake and is still sometimes refereed to as Lampropeltis getula nigra.