California King Snakes

By Al Price

Kingsnakes are constrictors. This means that they squeeze their prey to death and swallow it whole.

There are some common misconceptions about how constricting works. One way is that constrictors crush or break the bones of their prey. Another is that they suffocate it, squeezing the prey’s lungs too tightly to work.

“It turns out that the squeezing overwhelms the circulatory system,” experts say, “Blood cannot get to the brain, and the animal dies within seconds due to ischemia.”

Kingsnakes are active hunters, not ambush hunters, according to the San Diego Zoo. They actively seek out their prey through scent. Once they’ve found it, they grab it with their mouths and start squeezing. Kingsnakes may only eat a few times a month depending on the size of their meals.

Kingsnakes eat rodents, birds, bird eggs and lizards. Kingsnakes in wet climates also eat turtle eggs and frogs, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Their most famous meal, however, is other snakes.

Kingsnakes have a natural immunity to pit viper venom, meaning that they can eat venomous snakes like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. They also eat nonvenomous snakes like rat snakes and garter snakes — and their fellow kingsnakes.

Kingsnake reproduction and life span

Kingsnakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs that spend little to no time incubating inside the mother, say the experts. Their mating time depends on the climate, with snakes in warmer climates mating earlier in the spring and snakes in colder climates waiting until late spring or summer.

In general, mating season lasts from March until August, and females often have more than one clutch of eggs per season.

Males seek out females through chemical scent. They will fight each other for a female, wrestling other males until their heads are flat on the ground.

Female kingsnakes lay clutches of three to 24 eggs in debris, rotting logs or other secluded places. Mothers then leave the eggs, which hatch on their own two to three months later, according to the San Diego Zoo. Hatchlings can be up to a foot long and are completely independent from the moment they enter the world.

Kingsnakes reach sexual maturity between 2 and 4 years of age. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, though they can live up to 20 to 30 years in captivity, according to the San Diego Zoo.

(So, if you see what looks to you like a rattlesnake, before you run and hide, or before you kill it, take a good look at it. If it DOESN’T have a diamond-shaped head, and it doesn’t have rattles on its tail — DON’T KILL IT! It’s probably a King snake.)