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and Reptiles of California


California Mountain Kingsnake - Lampropeltis zonata

(Lockington ex Blainville, 1876)
Click on a picture for a larger view



California Mountain Kingsnake Range MapRange in California: Red (possibly Blue)


observation link



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The SSAR, whose list is used here, does not recognize any subspecies of Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake. 7 subspecies of this snake are traditionally recognized, 5 of them found in California. These 5 subspecies are listed here under Alternate Names. Research on the species has called into question the accuracy of these 7 subspecies, but when more studies are completed, researchers will probably recognize some or all of these subspecies once again. I have treated them as Pattern Classes.

To get more pictures and information about these Pattern Classes (ex-subspecies), click on the scientific name links underneath the photos.

St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Napa County. Formerly the subspecies L. z. zonata - St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Rick Staub Adult, San Diego County. Formerly the subspecies L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake Juvenile, Santa Clara County. Formerly the subspecies L. z. multifasciata- Coast Mountain Kingsnake
San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Riverside County. Formerly the subspecies L. z. parvirubra - San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Mitch Mulks Adult, Tuolumne County. Formerly the subspecies L. z. multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Axanthic L. z. multicincta, El Dorado County. Snake courtesy of Tim Burkhardt Photo © 2002 Brad Alexander
  Sierra Mountain Kingsnake  

A California Mountain Kingsnake rests in a crack in a large boulder in Kern County. Often this is all you will see of a snake before it retreats deeper into the rock. Unscrupulous collectors will often pry up and destroy rocks to get to a snake. This destroys important microhabitat which was slowly created over thousands of years - maybe millions - and which may be used by many species of animals.

Habitat
Coast Mountain Kingsnake habitat San Diego Mountain Kingsnake habitat San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
L. z. multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake habitat, 2,500 ft.
Santa Clara County
L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake habitat, 5,500 ft.
San Diego County
L. z. parvirubra - San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake habitat, 6,200 ft., San Bernardino County
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake habitat St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat  
L. z. multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake habitat, Tuolumne County


L. z. zonata - St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat, Napa County  
Snakes similar to the California Mountain Kingsnake
Many species of tricolored snakes with red, white, and black bands are popular pets. Sometimes these pets escape or get released illegally into the wild where they may be mistaken for California Mountain Kingsnakes. Below are a few of these tricolors.
Arizona Mountain Kingsnake Sinaloan Milksnake Milksnake
Arizona Mountain Kingsnake
Very similar to the California Mountain Kingsnake, but typically has a solid white nose.
Sinaloan Milksnake
This snake was found in the wild in Ventura County, where it was mistaken for a California Mountain Kingsnake.
Milksnakes 1, 2, 3, 4
Another snake similar to the California Mountain Kingsnake, but the white bands on a milksnake tend to increase in width towards the bottom of the snake.
  coral snake  
 Arizona Coralsnake
The light-colored bands on a coral snake touch the red bands, which differentiate this dangerously venomous snake from the California Mountain Kingsnake on which the red bands touch the black bands.

 
Short Video
   
  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
20 - 50 inches long (51 - 127 cm.) Average length is 24 - 30 inches (61 - 76 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.
Black, red, and white or off-white to pale yellow rings circle the body. Bands vary in width, often depending on the population. The red bands can vary in shade from blood red to orange, to pink. Frequently, the black bands widen and cross over the red bands on the back. Occasionally there will be little red visible, especially in the central high Sierras. Black and white snakes are sometimes found. 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 typically black, occasionally with some blotches of red, followed by the first band which is white.

A red band surrounded by two black bands is referred to as a "triad." Triads counts (excluding the tail triads) are one of the methods used to determine subspecies, along with the location of the first white ring.
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
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

(The ranges of the traditionally-recognized subspecies of L. zonata are shown below under "Taxonomic Notes.")
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. From near sea level along the south coast, to 9,000 ft. (2750 m) on Mt. San Jacinto.
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.


In 1999 Rodriguez-Robles et. al (Rodriguez-Robles, Denardo and Staub (1999 Molecular Ecology 8: 1923-1934)
Publication #19)
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, no longer recognizes subspecies of L. zonata but we will continue to treat separately the 5 traditonally-recognized subspecies found in California to illustrate some of the regional variations found in this snake. These subspecies are listed below along with a map showing their ranges.
L. z. multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake: Brown
L. z. multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake: Orange
L. z. parvirubra - San Bernardino Mtn. Kingsnake: Light Blue
L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake: Purple
L. z. zonata - St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake: Red
L. z. zonata x L. z. multifasciata Intergrade Zone: Gray
Other Intergrade Zones: Bright Yellow
Unconfirmed Localities: Dark Blue
 
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
The State of California considers the San Bernardino population (parvirubra) and the San Diego population (pulchra) to be potentially threatened. No California Mountain Kingsnakes can be collected in Orange and San Diego counties, and in Los Angeles County west of Interstate 5.

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 Oppel, 1811
Genus Lampropeltis Kingsnakes and Milksnakes Fitzinger, 1843
Species

zonata California Mountain Kingsnake (Lockington ex Blainville, 1876)
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

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

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
L. z. multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. parvirubra - San Bernardino Mtn. Kingsnake
L. z. pulchra - San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
L. z. zonata - St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake

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

Sometimes called the Coral Kingsnake

Related or Similar California Snakes
Lampropeltis getula californiae - California Kingsnake
Rhinocheilus lecontei - Long-nosed Snake
Chionactis occipitalis annulata - Colorado Desert Shovel-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.


These listings apply only to the San Bernardino and San Diego populations of this snake.
Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife DFG:SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service USFS:S Sensitive

 

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