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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake

Lampropeltis zonata multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Pattern Class

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Range: Brown

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The SSAR, whose list is used here, does not recognize any subspecies of Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake,
but the traditional subspecies names are still used by some herpetologists and most snake enthusiasts and herpetoculturists.

Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
  Adult Tuolumne County  
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult Tuolumne County Adult, Tuolumne County
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, El Dorado County  © Chad M. Lane Axanthic adult, El Dorado County Specimen Courtesy of Tim Burkhardt
© 2002 Brad Alexander
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Calaveras County  © Chad M. Lane Adult, El Dorado County.
© Chad M. Lane
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Tuolumne County © Nick Esquivel Adult, Tuolumne County Adult underside, Tuolumne County
  Sierra Mountain Kingsnake  
  Adult out on the crawl in daylight, Plumas County. © Railfan

 
Intergrades
California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Kern County Adult, Kern County, Greenhorn Mtns. (Intergrade with L. z. multifasciata)
© Gary Nafis Specimen courtesy of Mitch Mulks

Adult from Trinity County © Ben Witzke
Feeding
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake  
An adult Sierra Mountain Kingsnake eating a juvenile Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
in Fresno County. © Patrick Briggs
 
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake  
A captive juvenile Sierra Mountain Kingsnake eating a hairless juvenile mouse.

 
Habitat
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
Habitat, Tuolumne County
Habitat, Tuolumne County
Habitat, Kern County
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
Habitat, Tuolumne County

Habitat, Kern County Habitat, Kern County
Short Video
  San Diego Mountain Kingsnake  
  A short look at a juvenile California Mountain Kingsnake found under a rock.  
Description

Not Dangerous to Humans
There are no venomous snakes in California that can be mistaken for this snake, but the similar-looking Arizona Coral Snake, found in Arizona, is venomous and dangerous.
Size
Adults measure 24 - 47 inches long (61 - 119 cm.) Most adults are 24 - 36 inches long (61 - 91 cm.) Hatchlings are 8 - 12 inches in length (20 - 30 cm.)
Appearance
A medium-sized slender snake with a head not much wider than the cylindrical body with smooth shiny scales. The scale count at mid-body is usually 21 - 23.

Black, red, and white or yellowish rings circle the body. The red bands are much wider than the black and white bands. Some black bands may widen and cross over the red bands on the back. Occasionally there will be little red visible, especially in the central high Sierras near Yosemite National Park. Black and white snakes are sometimes found. A red band surrounded by two black bands is referred to as a "triad." Typically, fewer than 60 percent of the triads have complete red bands with no black crossovers. On this subspecies there are 19 - 48 triads, with an average of 35. The bands continue across the belly, but the coloring is paler, more faded in appearance, and the bands are more irregular, often encroaching into adjacent bands. The nose is black. The rear edge of the first white band on the head is located behind the corner of the mouth.
Behavior
Secretive, but not rare in suitable habitat. Spends most of the time underground, under surface objects, or inside rock crevices. Occasionally seen active on the ground in the daytime, especially near shaded streams on hot sunny days. Active during the day at high altitudes during times of low nighttime temperatures (which is typical habitat.) When temperatures are more moderate, it can be crepuscular, nocturnal, and diurnal. During very hot weather, activity is primarily nocturnal. This snake is normally active at temperatures between aproximately 55 - 85 degrees.

Enters into winter hibernation typically around November, emerging some time from February to April, depending on location and weather conditions.
Diet
Eats lizards, small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, amphibians, and occasionally snakes, including its own species.
Reproduction
Breeding takes place a few weeks after emergence in the spring. Eggs are laid June-July and hatch after 50 - 65 days.
Range
This subspecies, Lampropeltis zonata multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake, occurs from Ventura County north of Lockwood Valley north through the Tehachapi Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Tehama County, where a very large intergrade range with the Saint Helena Mountain Kingsnake - L. z. zonata begins. The area from Ventura County to Tulare County may also be an intergrade range with the Coast Mountain Kingsnake - L. z. multifasciata. It is reported but unconfirmed from eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, from the White Mountains, and from Lassen County.

The species Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake, occurs from northerm Baja California, to southern Washington. In California it is found in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San jacinto, Santa Monica, and Santa Ana mountains of southern California, and throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains into the Tehachapi mountains. It ranges along the south-central coast and through the south coast ranges and part of the Diablo Range, continuing north away from the coast along the north coast ranges into the mountain ranges in the far north of the state. There are unconfirmed sight records from the White Mountains, Mt. Diablo, the interior south coast ranges, Santa Catalina Island, and Marin County.

Confirmed from Camp Ohlone, first Alameda County record, in 2010. Zachary A. Cava Herpetological Review 41(1), 2010

Confirmed from the Gabilan Range at Fremont Peak, first San Benito County record, in 2013. Dana Waters, Herpetological Review 44(2), 2013
Habitat
A habitat generalist, found in diverse habitats including coniferous forest, oak-pine woodlands, riparian woodland, chaparral, and manzanita. Wooded areas near a stream with rock outcrops, talus or rotting logs that are exposed to the sun are good places to find this snake. From 1,500 - 8,000 ft. ( 457 - 2,440 m). Most common from 3,000 - 4,500 ft. (914 - 1,372 m).
Taxonomic Notes
In 2013 Myers et al (Myers, E. A., J. A. Rodríguez-Robles, D. F. DeNardo, R. E. Staub, A. Stropoli, S. Ruane, and F. T. Burbrink. 2013. Multilocus phylogeographic assessment of the California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) suggests alternative patterns of diversification for the California Floristic Province. Molecular Ecology 22 2013 - PDF) show that Lampropeltis zonata consists of two species, but did not give these species Common Names. They also show that the southern species contains two lineages - the southern species, and the Peninsular Range lineage.

"Using nonparametic and Bayesian species delimitation, we determined that there are two well-supported species within L. zonata. Ecological niche modelling supports the delimitation of these taxa, suggesting that the two species inhabit distinct climatic environments. Gene flow between the two taxa is low and appears to occur unidirectionally. [north to south only] Further, our data suggest that gene flow was mediated by females, a rare pattern in snakes. In contrast to previous analyses, we determined that the divergence between the two lineages occurred in the late Pliocene (c. 2.07 Ma). Spatially and temporally, the divergence of these lineages is associated with the inundation of central California by the Monterey Bay."

"Recognizing two species in this complex is a conservative decision, as the southern taxon could potentially be further subdivided into two separate lineages."


Lampropeltis  zonata (Lockington ex Blainville 1835)

"Lampropeltis zonata is composed of all populations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coast Ranges north of Monterey Bay, California, north into the Klamath Mountains, in Oregon, plus an additional, disjunct population along the Columbia Gorge, in the great state of Washington."

Lampropeltis  multifasciata (Bocourt 1886)

"Lampropeltis multifasciata is composed of all populations in the Peninsular Ranges and in the Transverse Ranges, north into the Coast Ranges just south of Monterey Bay, California, including the disjunct population on Isla Sur of Islas Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico."


L.zonata/L.multifasciata range map

"Circles represent individuals assigned to the northern species (Lampropeltis zonata),
triangles indicate individuals belonging to the southern species (Lampropeltis multifasciata) and
squares represent individuals assigned to the Peninsular Range lineage.
The approximate range of L. zonata is highlighted in red, and that of
L. multifasciata is highlighted in blue (modified from Stebbins 2003).
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Rodriguez-Robles, Denardo and Staub (1999 Molecular Ecology 8: 1923-1934) Publication #19 have called into question the recognition of 7 subspecies of Lampropeltis zonata, but not the existence of any subspecies:

"Examination of colour pattern variation in 321 living and preserved specimens indicated that the two main colour pattern characters used to define the subspecies are so variable that they cannot be reliably used to differentiate taxonomic units within this complex, which calls into question the recognition of 7 geographical races of this snake."

Mitochondrial DNA studies found 2 clades of L. zonata, a southern clade from Baja California and southern California, and a northern clade comprised of two subclades - a coastal subclade from the central coast and southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, and a northerneastern subclade of populations north of the San Francisco Bay and most of the Sierra Nevada.

The SSAR, whose taxonomy we follow on this website, does not recognize any subspecies of L. zonata but I will continue to treat separately the 5 traditionally-recognized subspecies found in California as pattern classes to illustrate some of the regional variations found in this snake.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
When slabs are torn off rock outcrops by someone searching for this snake or other reptiles, the habitat this snake uses for refuge is irreparably damaged. It takes thousands of years for this rock fissuring to occur, so this habitat will not be replaced for many centuries. Such rock destruction is illegal in California: "It is unlawful to use any method or means of collecting that involves breaking apart of rocks, granite flakes, logs or other shelters in or under which reptiles may be found." (2007 regulations 5.60.4.)

Reptile hunters are usually blamed for rock habitat destruction, but bulldozers are far more destructive. I have also witnessed people tearing off huge slabs of granite with a crowbar then carrying the slabs back to their truck to haul them away.

Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids
Genus Lampropeltis Kingsnakes and Milksnakes
Species zonata California Mountain Kingsnake 
Subspecies


multicincta Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Original Description
Lampropeltis zonata - (Lockington, 1876 ex Blainville, 1835) - Proc. California Acad. Sci., Vol. 7, p. 52 ex Blainville, Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris., Ser. 3, Vol. 4, p. 293
Lampropeltis zonata multicincta - (Yarrow, 1882) - Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus., Vol. 5, p. 440

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Lampropeltis - Greek - lampros - shiny and pelta - shield - referring to the smooth, shiny dorsal scales characteristic of this genus
zonata
- Greek - zonata banded - refers to the black banding
multicincta - Latin - multi - many and cincta - banded - refers to the banded dorsal pattern

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz
Alternate Names
Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake

Related or Similar California Snakes
L. z. multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. parvirubra - San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. zonata - St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake
L. g. californiae -California Kingsnake
Rhinocheilus lecontei -Long-nosed Snake
More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Rodriguez-Robles,Denardo and Staub (1999 Molecular Ecology 8: 1923-1934) Publication #19

Myers, E. A., J. A. Rodríguez-Robles, D. F. DeNardo, R. E. Staub, A. Stropoli, S. Ruane, and F. T. Burbrink. 2013. Multilocus phylogeographic assessment of the California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) suggests alternative patterns of diversification for the California Floristic Province. Molecular Ecology 22 2013 - PDF

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press.

 

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Snakes within the range of this former subspecies are not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
 

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