Three subspecies occur in the state: Eastern Kingsnake (L. g. getula) is found in extreme southeastern Tennessee, Eastern Black Kingsnake (L. g. nigra) occurs over most of Tennessee except the northeastern corner, and Speckled Kingsnake (L. g. holbrooki) is found in the western and southwestern third of Tennessee where it interbreeds with Eastern Black Kingsnake.
Description: A large, shiny, black constrictor (36.0 to 48.0 inches in length) with varying yellow or white bands or speckles among the subspecies. Eastern Kingsnake has narrow, light yellowish crossbands that create a chainlike pattern. Eastern Black Kingsnake is similar, but crossbands are small, white or yellowish spots. Speckled Kingsnake has small yellow or white spots over entire body creating a "salt-and-pepper" look. Belly is yellow checkered with black markings.
• Northern Pinesnake has dark blotches on a whitish ground color and has strongly keeled scales.
• Young North American Racers and Gray Ratsnakes have divided anal scales.
Habitat: Found in a variety of habitats including forests, fields, shrubby areas, forest edges, urban areas, and edges of wetlands. Common Kingsnakes have a preference for streambanks and wetlands, but are also seen under wood or debris piles, climbing in barns or on stonewalls, and sunning in clearings or on hillsides.
Diet: Constricts its prey including rodents, rabbits, amphibians, birds, bird eggs, lizards, and snakes (including venomous snakes).
Breeding information: Males seek out females in the spring and occasionally males will combat other males. Females lay 3-29 eggs in moist, rotten logs, stumps, or sawdust piles during the summer. Depending on the incubation temperature eggs hatch in 50-65 days.
Status in Tennessee: Widespread across the state. There is no protection for Common Kingsnake, however some populations appear to be declining due to habitat loss, collection for pet trade, and road fatalities.
• Kingsnakes are named for their ability to overcome and consume other snakes, especially poisonous ones. Kingsnakes play an important ecological role in controlling these venomous snakes, which can pose a threat to humans.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Most likely to find these secretive snakes hiding under boards, logs, or other debris in a farm setting.
For more information:
Atlas of the Reptiles of Tennessee
Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.
Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.
Johnson, T.R. 2006. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.