The kingsnake is true reptile royalty

It was a true, slam-on-the-brakes, jump-out-of-the-truck type of wildlife encounter. What appeared to be a unique reptile slithering across a red dirt road in remote Perry County, Ala., lived up to its expectations.

By choice, I travel with a kind soul who knows more about catching snakes than I do. Plus, he’s much faster and more fearless. After scrambling out of the truck, doors wide open, he got a good hold of this magnificent creature and lifted the serpent up for observation. We gasped in unison, “Speckled king!”

Often called the “salt-and-pepper” snake, the speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulua holbrooki) is easily identified by the dazzling light dots covering its jet black body. These scintillating spots may range from yellow to orange to white and may cover almost every scale on the snake. They may even form thin crossbars on the dorsal surface, making it appear slightly banded.

Though the species has a reputation for being a renegade when caught, this particular kingsnake was extremely docile and incredibly cooperative for its Saturday afternoon photo shoot. Stretching its beautiful body to almost 4 feet long, this kingsnake was definitely deserving of its namesake—reptile royalty in the flesh.

Well known for its intense appetite for rodents, the kingsnake is also famous for eating venomous snakes, though it usually does so only when the opportunity arises. The juveniles prefer lizards and small snakes, such as baby garter and ribbon snakes, while the adults feed primarily on rodents and larger snakes, including water snakes and water moccasins.

From farms to fields to swamps to forests, kingsnakes can be found in a variety of habitats from Illinois to Alabama. The best chance to see them this spring may be during the heat of the day when they are basking. But if you’re not keen on getting sprayed with a smelly musk, I suggest using a snake hook.

Good luck if you think you’re going to just “run across one” while in the woods. The roads are the best viewing spots. Please respect their place in the natural world though, and refrain from running them over with your tire. A good snake is NOT a dead snake. Who wants to be overrun with rodents?

Take some time to get to know the habits and habitat of one of the South’s most fascinating reptiles. You will be rewarded.

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