The California kingsnake is a nonvenomous snake endemic to the western United States and northern Mexico. Due to ease of care and a wide range of color variations, the California kingsnake is one of the most popular snakes in captivity. These snakes are usually dark brown or black in color with whitish-yellow bands. The "king" in their name refers to their propensity to hunt and eat other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes, that are commonly indigenous to their natural habitat.
California kingsnakes are widespread along the West Coast of North America, including the Tehachapi Mountains and the southeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. These snakes live in Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and northwestern Mexico. They live in a wide variety of habitats, including woodland chaparral, grassland, deserts, marshes, river bottoms, and even suburban areas.
California kingsnakes are primarily diurnal but may become increasingly nocturnal during periods of particularly hot weather. They are mostly terrestrial but may climb low branches and shrubs. They are generally solitary except when they hibernate during cold weather. In the winter, they retreat underground and enter a hibernation-like state called brumation. When disturbed, California kingsnakes will often coil their bodies to hide their heads, hiss, and rattle their tails, which can produce a sound somewhat resembling that of a rattlesnake. They are considered harmless to humans, but if handled it is common for this species to bite, as well as excrete musk and fecal contents from their cloaca.
California kingsnakes are oviparous animals, meaning they lay eggs. Their breeding season begins in the spring; during this time the males compete for available females. Eggs are laid between May and August, which is generally 42-63 days after mating; in preparation, the female will have chosen a suitable location. The typical clutch size is 5 to 12 eggs with an average of 9, though clutches of 20 or more eggs are known. The hatchlings usually emerge after 40-65 days and are approximately 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 cm) in length. Newborn snakes are completely independent at birth and reach reproductive maturity when they are 3-4 years old.
There are no major threats to California kingsnakes at present.
According to IUCN, California kingsnakes are locally common and widespread throughout their range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
California kingsnakes play a very important ecological role in their environment as they help to control populations of their prey species.
The California kingsnake is one of the most popular pet reptiles due to its ease of care, attractive appearance, and docile demeanor. Due to natural color and pattern variability between individual snakes, snake enthusiasts have selectively bred for a variety of color patterns and morphs. Dozens of color variations are sold today in the pet trade.