California Mountain Kingsnake

CA mountain-kingsnake-LC0909-20 - Michele Setter

Lampropeltis zonata

The bold coloration of the mountain kingsnake resembles that of the venomous coral snake.  How can you tell the difference?  Look at the bands and remember: “Red on black, friend of Jack.”  Mountain kingsnakes have red bands that are bordered by black, not white or yellow. Coral snakes have red bands bordered with yellow. If you see a snake in our area with red, black and yellow bands, it can only be a mountain kingsnake—coral snakes do not live in California.

Some research indicates that birds will avoid the red, black, and white ringed pattern no matter the order. This may also serve as disruptive coloration; when the snake crawls rapidly, the colors blend into a grayish blur, making it difficult for predators to follow.

California mountain kingsnakes range from southern Washington to northern Baja California.  In California, they are found in the coastal and interior mountains but are absent from deserts.  Common kingsnakes (L. getula) are seen below 7,000 feet above sea level;  mountain kingsnakes (L. zonata) live at both high and low elevations.  Mountain kingsnakes live in coniferous forest, oak-pine and riparian woodlands, chaparral, and scrub. They prefer wooded areas with rotting logs or rock outcroppings.

Jack came to live at the museum in 2009.  He had been in captivity for more than seven years as part of a behavioral research study.