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A Guide to the Amphibians
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 MapRed (possibly Blue) = range in California
(Orange = range of Coast Mountain Kingsnake)


observation link






The SSAR, whose list is used by this website, has recognized that the species Lampropeltis zonata - California Mountain Kingsnake (which formerly was viewed as one species with seven subspecies) now consists of two species. No subspecies have been recognized yet. The other species is Lampropeltis multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake. I will follow the two-species taxonomy while separating pictures of the snakes into their former subspecies, but don't let that confuse you - all of the snakes on this page except for those marked as Species Not Known are the same species.

(Formerly recoginzed as Lampropeltis zonata multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake)
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
  Adult Tuolumne County   Adult, Tuolumne County
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult Tuolumne County Adult, Tuolumne County Adult underside, Tuolumne County
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, El Dorado County  © Chad M. Lane Adult photographed out on the crawl in daylight, Plumas County. © Railfan Adult, El Dorado County.
© Chad M. Lane
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Calaveras County  © Chad M. Lane Adult, Tuolumne County © Nick Esquivel Axanthic adult, El Dorado County Specimen Courtesy of Tim Burkhardt
© 2002 Brad Alexander
 
(Formerly recognized as Lampropeltis zonata multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake, from the population north of Monterey Bay)
Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult found on a driveway in Santa Cruz County © Scott Peden
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Juvenile, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara County Juvenile, Santa Cruz County, found in January 2011 © Scott Peden
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Cruz County.
© Gary Nafis Specimen courtesy of Mitch Mulks
Adult, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Cruz County © 2005 Brian Hubbs Adult, © Gary Nafis
Specimen courtesy of Mitch Mulks
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, San Mateo County
© Zachary Lim
Adult, Santa Clara County
© Nick Esquivel
Adult, San Mateo County
© Zachary Lim
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Santa Cruz County © Zachary Lim Adult, Santa Cruz County © Zachary Lim Adult, San Mateo County © Zachary Lim
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Santa Cruz County
© Benjamin German
Sometimes, this is all you get to see.
San Mateo County.
Adult, Santa Cruz County © Zachary Lim These two adult males were found sheltering next to each other in Santa Clara County, both, strangely, with their hemipenes showing. © Jared Heald
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Santa Clara County © Jared Heald Juvenile, Santa Cruz County © Jared Heald
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, San Mateo County © Jared Heald Adult, Santa Clara County © Jared Heald Adult, Santa Clara County © Jared Heald Adult, Santa Clara County © Jared Heald
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake  
Neonate, San Mateo County © Jared Heald 12-inch-long juvenile with a recent meal, Santa Cruz County © Zachary Lim  
     
(Formerly recoginzed as Intergrades of L. z. multifasciata and L. z. multicincta)
California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake
Adult, Kern County Adult, Greenhorn Mtns, Kern County
© Gary Nafis Specimen courtesy of Mitch Mulks
Adult, Kern County © Ryan Sikola Adult, Greenhorn Mountains, Kern County © Ryan Sikola
California Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake    
Adult, Greenhorn Mountains, Kern County © Ryan Sikola Adult, Greenhorn Mountains, Kern County © Ryan Sikola    
       
(Other intergrades)
California Mountain Kingsnake St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake California Mountain Kingsnake  
Adult from Trinity County © Ben Witzke
(Formerly recoginzed as an intergrade of L. z. zonata and L. z. multicincta)
Adult, Diablo Range, Santa Clara County
© Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Mitch Mulks
(Formerly recoginzed as an intergrade of L. z. zonata and L. z. multifasciata)
 
       
Species Not Known - These snakes from the coast range south of Monterey Bay were not included in the study that recognized two species.
They could be either L. zonata or L. multifasciata
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake Coast Mountain Kingsnake  
Adult, Gabilan Mountains,
San Benito County © Benjamin German
Juvenile, Gabilan Mountains, San Benito County
© Benjamin German
 
       
California Mountain Kingsnakes Feeding
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
An adult California Mountain Kingsnake eating a juvenile
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake in Fresno County. © Patrick Briggs
A captive juvenile California Mountain Kingsnake eating a hairless juvenile mouse.
       
Habitat
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
Habitat, Tuolumne County
Habitat, Tuolumne County
Habitat, Kern County Habitat, Kern County
Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Sierra Mountain Kingsnake Habitat St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat
Habitat, Tuolumne County Habitat, Kern County Habitat, Napa County Habitat, Napa County
St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake habitat  
Habitat, Mt. Saint Helena, Napa County
Habitat, Mayacamas Mountains,
Sonoma County
Habitat, Napa County  
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Coast Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Coast Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
Habitat, 2,500 ft. Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara County Habitat, 1,400 ft. Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Cruz County Habitat, Santa Cruz Mountains,
Santa Cruz County
Habitat, Santa Cruz Mountains
© Zachary Lim
Coast Mountain Kingsnake Habitat Coast Mountain Kingsnake Habitat
Habitat, San Mateo County Habitat, San Mateo County
© Zachary Lim
Habitat, San Mateo County
© Zachary Lim
Habitat, Santa Cruz Mountains
© Zachary Lim
       
Short Video
  San Diego Mountain Kingsnake    
  A short look at a juvenile of the identical species Coast Mountain Kingsnake found under a rock.    
     
Description

Not Dangerous -  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.)
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.

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 sometimes with some red.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
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
According to Myers et al (2013) "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."

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

There are unconfirmed sight records from the White Mountains, Mt. Diablo, Marin County, and the interior south coast range, which would probably be L. multifasciata.

Confirmed from the Gabilan Range at Fremont Peak, first San Benito County record, in 2013. Dana Waters, Herpetological Review 44(2), 2013, but that area is not covered in Myers et al (2013) so the species there is not known.

Full Species Range Map

Click the map to enlarge.
Click Here to see a map of the ranges of all formerly recognized subspecies.
Click Here
to see a map of the ranges of the former subspecies in California.

Elevational Range
From 1,500 - 8,000 ft. ( 457 - 2,440 m). Most common from 3,000 - 4,500 ft. (914 - 1,372 m).

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."

As of June 2016 the SSAR shows the common names to be California Mountain Kingsnake and Coast Mountain Kingsnake.


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.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)


L. zonata multicincta - Sierra Mountain Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)
L. zonata zonata - Saint Helena Mountain Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)
L. zonata multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)

L. zonata multicincta (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954)
L. zonata zonata (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954)
L. zonata multifasciata (subspecies of California Mountain King Snake) (Stebbins 1954)

Sierra Coral King Snake (Klauber)
Coral King Snake (Atsatt 1913)

Coast-range Coral King Snake; Coral (King) Snake; Arizona King Snake; (California) Coral Snake; Corral Snake; Harlequin Snake; Mountain King Snake; Red Milk Snake; Ringed King Snake; Ring Snake; Western Coral King Snake

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 granite collectors tearing off huge slabs of granite with a crowbar then carrying the slabs 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

Related or Similar California Snakes
Lampropeltis multifasciata - Coast Mountain Kingsnake
Lampropeltis 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.

Mulks, Mitch. Zonata - The California Mountain Kingsnake. LM Digital, 2005.


Hubbs, Brian.  Mountain Kings - A Collective Natural History of California, Sonoran, Durango and Queretaro Mountain Kingsnakes.  Tricolor Books, 2004.

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.



Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking None
NatureServe State Ranking None
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
IUCN None

 

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