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A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: The Desert Kingsnake

Updated on July 16, 2012

Lampropeltis getula splendida... The Desert Kingsnake

The desert kingsnake is a member of the colubridae family. It stalks the southwestern corner of the United States and northern Mexico striking fear in every rattlesnake that crosses his or her path.

Appearances are everything to a kingsnake..

Ok so maybe not, but I think they are cool looking snakes nonetheless.The desert kingsnake is typically black with yellow flecks or tiny spots running up and down it's body. The dark black color can be a very dark blue or black while the yellow can be as light as a white color. However the most typical description would be black and yellow. The dark area is typically shiny as though it's been painted with a gloss paint. The top of their head tends to usually match with the darker color while their mouth will boast the yellow color. I used to have a desert kingsnake as a pet, and he actually looked as though he had a big fake clown smile on his face. I through it was a cool feature, but a lot of other people found it to be a bit disturbing.

Though I doubt you would see any out in the wild, albino versions of the desert king snake can be purchased. The albino desert kingsnake has white in place of the darker color and the yellow remains. They are pretty crazy looking.

When they are first born the hatch-lings are usually between 7 and 10 inches long. They will typically grow between 3 and 4 feet, but have been known to grown beyond 6 feet. The females are typically larger than the males.

Photographer: LA Dawson Animals courtesy of Austin Reptile Service
Photographer: LA Dawson Animals courtesy of Austin Reptile Service

Habitat and location of the desert kingsnake

The desert king snake can be found in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. It probably came across it's name because of where it was from, but like most kingsnakes it prefers to live near a water source and good places to hide. You probably won't find a desert kingsnake strolling through sand dunes. You would be more likely to see one in somewhat forested areas or heavy brush.

They can also be found at many pet stores. I believe I paid $65 for mine at a large well known pet store chain.

He wouldn't look so tough if a desert kingsnake was staring him down!
He wouldn't look so tough if a desert kingsnake was staring him down!


The desert kingsnake along with other members of the kingsnake family dine on small rodents, lizards, eggs, birds, etc.. Like many creatures in the wild they are scavengers and aren't too particular. If they can kill and fit a creature in their mouth they will probably eat it. The one thing they are most popular for and get their namesake from is that they will eat other snakes including venomous ones.

The desert kingsnake in particular has a taste for rattle snakes and much to the dismay of rattlesnakes, desert kingsnakes are immune to their venom. The kingsnake is a constrictor. That means it wraps itself around it's prey and chokes it until death. This includes rattlesnakes. While I don't condone the needless killing of any animal you can see videos of people feeding live rattlesnakes to their pet kingsnakes. It's quite shocking. You can see the rattlesnake lose it's tough guy composure and grovel in fear. Snakes aren't big on facial expressions but you can make out the fear all over the rattlesnake. The kingsnake will move in, strike, and wrap itself around the rattlesnake. It won't let go until it knows that it's prey is dead. Then with all the time in the world, the kingsnake will slowly begin consuming it's prey.

Interactions with humans

Like most snakes, in the wild a desert kingsnake will attempt to flee from human interaction. If that doesn't work they've been known to play dead. In nature some animals won't eat something that is already dead, so some species of snakes have adapted the ability to act like they are dead. If messed with they can get kind of testy and may even bite. The kingsnake of course isn't venomous, but a bite can sting a bit and could cause infection if not cleaned properly.

I of course always tried to be gentle as possible with my desert kingsnake so that it would be comfortable with humans. A friend of mine was being a moron one day and started playing rough with my poor snake. The snake first pooped on him and made it quite clear that he didn't like what was going on. When my friend didn't stop harassing the poor thing, it finally bit him. It's clamped on pretty good and first didn't want to let go. I was able to gently get the snake to pull away and returned him to his home. The bite bled a little bit and my friend said it didn't hurt at all. I of course scolded him for picking on my pet.

Desert kingsnakes are highly popular as pets because they are mild tempered and super easy to care for. Unlike many of the popular tropical snakes, the demand for their climate is not as specific. If for example someone's heat pad or lamp wasn't working properly, the desert kingsnake will still thrive alright in room temperature, whereas the popular boa and python pets won't. They also are easy to feed as they only need a steady diet of mice which can be bought frozen at most pet stores. The downside to kingsnakes as pets is that they are brilliant escape artists. All snakes are really good at making grand jail breaks, but the kingsnakes are one of the best.

This unfortunately is how I lost mine. I had him in an aquarium. When the latch for the lid broke I covered the top with heavy books. It was secured enough that a person couldn't lift the books off without taking them down one by one. I also carefully checked all over to make sure there were no holes. I left for a week to go on a trip, and my father was watching out for the snake. He called me one day and said that my snake was gone and the lid was toppled over. The next day my dad called me back and reported that he found the snake, and secured him once again with even more books. A few days later I came home to discover the lid was again toppled over with a huge pile of books on the floor. The room had been secure and no one had been in it. The house was stable and there is no way the books could have been shaken off. I know my father wouldn't have sabotaged my pet's home. I still to this day am not sure how my snake pulled it off, but he made a second escape. This time he got away clean and never made it home.

Would you consider having a desert kingsnake as a pet?

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    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thank you mecheshier! I appreciate the comment!

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks rcrumple. That was the other weird thing about mine, he was only 12 inches long, so I don't know how he was able to apply the pressure the weight off the lid. If I get another snake I will definitely put it in cage with much better security.

    • rcrumple profile image


      6 years ago from Kentucky

      Well Done Hub! Not a Kingsnake fan, but interesting info provided. Your snake's escape is the reason I suggest professional cages in my hub instead of aquariums. There are just too many escapes when a snake grows large enough to use body pressure to push against the top. Unfortunately, there have been a couple of fatal instances involving large constrictors in the last few years when even cement blocks were pushed aside as the escape took place. I kept venomous for many years and had to ensure no chance of escapes. Well written hub! Voted Up.

    • mecheshier profile image


      6 years ago

      Great Hub. Wonderful pics and love the info. Thank you for sharing. Voted up for useful and awesome.


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