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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake

Lampropeltis zonata pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Pattern Class

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California Mountain Kingsnakes Range Map
Range in California: Purple

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to the other subspecies




observation link






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.

San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Juvenile, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County Juvenile, Laguna Mountains,
San Diego County
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Orange County. © Mike Pecora Juvenile, Laguna Mountains,
San Diego County
Adult, Laguna Mountains,
San Diego County
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Adult basking at the edge of a crack,
San Diego County
Adult, Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County © Colin Byrne
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Santa Ana Mountains ,Riverside County © Nathan Ray Juvenile observed crossing a in August, San Diego County  © Bill Bachman
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Santa Ana Mountains, Riverside County © Nathan Ray
   
Abberant Pattern
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake   San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Aberrant juvenile, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County
 
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
San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Habitat San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Habitat San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
Habitat, 6,000 ft., San Diego County Habitat, 5,500 ft. San Diego County Habitat, 6,000 ft., San Diego County
Coronado Skink Habitat San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Habitat San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
Habitat, 5,500 ft. San Diego County Habitat, 6,000 ft., San Diego County Manzanita and chaparral habitat, Laguna Mountans, San Diego County
© Bill Bachman
     
Short Video
  San Diego Mountain Kingsnake  
  A short look at a juvenile California Mountain Kingsnake found under a rock.  
   
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most 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
20 - 50 inches long (51 - 127 cm.) Most adults are 20 - 24 inches (51 - 61 cm.)
Hatchlings are 7 - 11 inches in length (18 - 28 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.
Color and Pattern
Black, red, and off-white or grayish-white rings circle the body.
The red bands are noticably wider than the others, with the white bands wider than the black.
Some black bands may widen and cross over the red bands on the back, especially in populations in the Santa Monica Mountains.
A red band surrounded by two black bands is referred to as a "triad."
On this subspecies there are 18 - 39 triads, with an average of 33.
Typically, 60 percent or more of the triads have complete red bands with no black crossovers.
The bands continue around the belly, but the coloring is paler, and the black and white bands are reduced in size giving the belly a reddish coloring.
The nose is black with little or no red.
The rear edge of the first white band on the head is on or in front of the last upper labial scale.

Life History and 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 and Feeding
Eats lizards, small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, amphibians, and occasionally snakes, including its own species.
Breeding
Breeding takes place a few weeks after emergence in the spring. Eggs are laid June-July and hatch after 50 - 65 days.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Lampropeltis zonata pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake , is found in three areas in southern California: in the central San Diego County peninsular ranges - the Laguna, Palomar, Volcan, and Hot Springs Mountains; in the Santa Ana Mountains; and in the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica mountains. There are unverified reports from the Whittier Hills, the Palos Verde Hills, and the Baldwin Hills.

The presence of Lampropeltis zonata on Santa Catalina Island was confirmed when an Island Fox was videotaped preying on a California Mountain Kingsnake on Catalina Island on April 26th, 2015. I am presuming that it is L. z. pulchra due to its geographic location. A still photo was posted on Facebook and might still be available. A video file of the April 2015 discovery has been put in the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. You might be able to still watch it on the Facebook Group - Herping the Globe.

Robert W. Hansen, Richard Cazares, and Alexus Cazares. Herpetological Review 46(4), 2015

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

Full Species Range Map
Click map to enlarge

Elevational Range
From near sea level along the south coast to above 6,500 ft. (1,981m) in the Cuyamaca mountains.

Habitat
A habitat generalist, found in diverse habitats including coniferous forest, oak-pine woodlands, riparian woodland, chaparral, manzanita, and coastal sage scrub. 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.

Notes on Taxonomy
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 to illustrate some of the regional variations found in this snake.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
The State of California has listed the subspecies L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake as a California Species of Special Concern. It is protected from take with a sport fishing license by law: "No California mountain kingsnakes can be collected in No California mountain kingsnakes - Lampropeltis zonata may be taken in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura counties."

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

pulchra San DiegoMountain 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 pulchra - Zweifel, 1952 - Copeia, p. 162

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
pulchra - Latin - beautiful

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. multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. parvirubra - San Bernardino 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, 1957.

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.


The 2015 Special Animals List lists the "San Diego" (pulchra) population of L. zonata as shown below.
Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking G4G5
NatureServe State Ranking S1S2
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service S Sensitive
IUCN LC Least Concern
 

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