What Is an Eastern Kingsnake?

Melissa Barrett
Melissa Barrett

The eastern kingsnake, or lampropeltis getula getula, is a subspecies of kingsnake native to the warm, temperate regions of the eastern United States. At lengths up to 8 feet (2.43 meters), it is among the largest species of snakes indigenous to North America. Although large, this kingsnake is nonpoisonous and generally quite docile. This makes the species a popular choice as a pet.

Due the unique markings of the eastern kingsnake, physical identification of the species in nature is fairly straightforward. Most individuals are dark black with white stripes across the back. These stripes join to solid white stripes that run the length of the snake's body on both sides. It is this unique combination that gives the snake its most common nickname: chainsnake.

Unlike many snakes, the eastern kingsnake is frequently tolerated in populated areas. The chainsnake is a natural predator to both mice and poisonous snakes, and many people in rural areas see the snake as helpful. As the snake poses very little danger to humans and livestock, some farmers will go as far as to relocate the snakes onto their properties. As a mating pair of chainsnakes can produce up to 24 offspring per year, it is easy to establish an effective natural pest control system.

Despite the helpful nature of the eastern kingsnake, there is some concern about its dwindling numbers in the wild. While still plentiful in much of its native habitat, the species is rapidly disappearing from areas of Florida and South Carolina. The most likely cause of this die out is loss of habitat, although some biologists believe that disease may have played a role.

By North American standards, the eastern kingsnake is considered large. It is, however, one of the smallest species of constrictor regularly kept as a pet. In captivity, the chain snake rarely grows over 6 feet (1.82 meters) in length. As such, medium to large aquariums provide sufficient room for all but the largest snakes. In addition, the kingsnake is a relatively light eater, requiring only weekly feedings in adulthood.

Individuals interested in keeping these animals as pets should be aware that the eastern kingsnake has a reputation for being an escape artist. As such, the snake’s housing should have a very secure cover. Additionally, although chainsnakes are relatively docile toward humans, they are cannibalistic. As such, they will likely try to eat any smaller snake that is placed in the same enclosure.

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