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A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: The Prairie Kingsnake

Updated on July 30, 2012
Photographer: LA Dawson, This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
Photographer: LA Dawson, This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Lampropeltis calligaster... The Prairie Kingsnake

Often confused for rat snakes, milk snakes, and copperheads, the prairie kingsnake is a harmless roamer of grasslands throughout a large part of the United States.


The prairie kingsnake has a light brown, tan, or grayish base color with brown, gray, or red spots going down their back and sides in a pattern. Their belly is usually yellow or brownish with occasional brown markings. When the snake is young it's colors will be vibrant, however as they mature some prairie kingsnakes turn almost completely brown and the pattern becomes more difficult to see.

The average adult size is between 30 and 42 inches.


Prairie kingsnakes cover much of the southern United States, from Florida up to Virginia and all the way over to Texas and up through Nebraska.

Hence it's name, the prairie kingsnake prefers hanging out in grasslands near woodland areas and/or constant water sources.

Photo by Dawson, This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
Photo by Dawson, This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.


The prairie kingsnake likes to rodents, but it will also eat other snakes, other reptiles, amphibians, birds, etc.. Kingsnakes aren't known for being overly picky eaters in the wild. If it looks like food then there is a good chance they will go for it. Like all members of the kingsnake family, prairie kingsnakes are constrictors and are immune to the venom of the pit vipers in the United States which are copperheads, rattlesnakes, and water moccasins. Because they are immune to the venom of these snakes they will eat them as well.

Interactions with humans

Because they have similar colors and often live in the same areas, prairie kingsnakes are often mistaken as copperheads and killed. This is especially true when they are young and their colors stick out more. The truth however is that the prairie kingsnake is more likely to scare off copperheads as they are their natural predator.

The prairie kingsnake is not known for being aggressive, but tend to lean more towards other means of scaring away predators. Like many other nonvenomous snakes, the prairie kingsnake will shake it's tail to emulate a rattlesnake and will release a smelly musk in attempts to scare away would be predators. Though they aren't known for biting, it is quite possible that they would bite someone if they felt threatened. Of course they are nonvenomous and a bite from a prairie kingsnake would not likely be dangerous.

People knowledgeable about snakes generally greet kingnsakes of any species with open arms, as kingsnakes help control rodent and venomous snake populations.


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