Eastern Kingsnake
Lampropeltis getula

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Eastern Kingsnake

Scientific Name:

Lampropeltis getula



Lampropeltis is derived from the Greek words lampros which means "radiant" and pelta meaning "small shields".


getula is derived from the Latin word Getulus which refers to the Getulians people of Morocco in western Africa. The chain-like pattern found on this snake was prevalent in Getulian culture.

Vernacular Names:

Bastard horn snake, black king snake, common chain snake, common king snake, cow sucker, horse racer, master snake, oakleaf rattler, thunder-and-lightning snake, thunderbolt, thunder snake, wamper, wampum snake.

Average Length:

36 - 48 in. (90 - 122 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

63.8 in. (162.1 cm)

Record length:

82 in. (208.3 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: A large stout snake reaching a maximum total length of 2083 mm (82.0 in.). In Virginia, maximum known SVL is 1456 (57.3 in.) and maximum total length is 1621 mm (63.8). Tail length/total length ratio is 9.1-14.5 (avg. = 11.8+/-1.3,n=82). Outside Virginia, the maximum known length is 82 inches *11523*. Adults are usually 36 to 48 inches in length *11523*. Coloration and pattern: dorsal body color black with a series of 18-39 thin white to yellow crossbars (0.5-2.0 scales wide) or with an irregular number of small white to yellow spots. If crossbars are present, most divide on the sides around scale row 5 and the arms often connect with irregular white to yellow ventrolateral patches. Crossbars often incomplete or broken and lateral bifurcations may not be present. Crossbars on the tail are not divided, they usually connect with the ventrolateral patches; venter black with continuations of the ventrolateral patches forming a highly irregular, alternating series of black and white patches, or venter black with small yellowish spots. The ventral pattern is sometimes faded and may be obscure. The head is black with varying numbers of white or yellow spots; The head is not distinct from the neck and is small.*10760* Subspecies: the nominate subspecies L. getula getula, possesses the white to yellow crossbands. The venter has the alternating series of black and white patches. Lampropeltis getula nigra is characterized by having much reduced white to yellow pigment. The dorsum is nearly all black with a variable number of small yellow spots. Crossbars are generally lacking but the yellow spots in some individuals, especially juveniles and immatures, may form a visible chain pattern. Yellow spots occur on the ventrolateral region, and the yellow on the venter occurs as spots or as irregular patches covering one to two scales. The venter is darker posteriorly. The head is black with small yellow spots. The chin and labial scales are yellow and the labials are outlined in black.*10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: Adult males (635-1456 mm SVL, avg. = 1036.9+/-206.3. n=37) are larger than adult females (660-1291 mm SVL, avg. = 921.7+/-157.4, n=27). Sexual dimorphism index is -1.12. The average number of ventrals are nearly identical (males 209.3+/-4.6, 191-218, n=56; females 20-.9+/-3.9, 199-215, n=49), but the number of subcaudals is higher in males (34-54, avg. = 46.9+/-4.4, n=54) than in females (20-51), avg. = 42.1+/-4.5. m=46). Consequently, the average number of ventrals + subcaudals is slightly higher in males (255.7+/-7.8, 231-268, n=54) than in females (252.3+/-6.0, 230-264, n=46). There are no substantial differences between sexes in tail length/total length ratio (males 12.1+/-1.3, 9.1-14.5, n=46; females 11.4+/-1.2, 9.5-14.2, n=34) and number of crossbands (males 26.3+/-4.0, 19-34, n=50; females 26.2+/-4.5, 18-39, n=40).*10760*

JUVENILES: Juvenile L. getula getula are patterned as adults. Juveniles of L. getula nigra have thin crossbars and irregular lateral spotting. The bifurcations of the crossbars are usually not present, nor are the ventrolateral patches. The juvenile dorsal pattern apparently breaks up with age in Virginia L. g. nigra as it does in some other areas. At hatching, juveniles are 208-277 mm SVL (avg. = 244.6+/-21.9, n=33), 238-317 mm total length (avg. = 280.2+/-25.1, n=32), and weigh 6.3-9.1 grams (avg. = 8.1+/-1.6, n = means of 3 litters).*10760* The longevity record for this species is 28 years and 4 months *11523*. Confusing species: The only other black snakes in Virginia are Coluber constrictor andElaphe obsoleta. Neither of these species has white or yellow crossbars or spotting on the head and venter; both have a uniform black to gray dorsum. The dorsum of E. obsoleta may show a narrowly defined blotched pattern in some snakes, especially in southwestern Va. but the lateral white to yellow pigment is lacking. Juveniles of these snakes have a series of brown blotches on the gray dorsum.*10760* Juveniles also have longer heads than adults *11523,11518*, and neonates have relatively longer tails than adults *11523,11499*.

GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION: geographic variation in Virginia L. getula is expressed in pattern, color and scutellation. The differences in pattern between subspecies has been described above. The L. g. nigra pattern is confined to the southwestern corner of Va., whereas, the chain pattern in L.g. getula occurs in snakes to the north and east of the New River drainage. Some individuals in the southeastern corner of Va. have reddish crossbands, as well as wider crossbands than snakes to the north and west. Scutellation in L. getula nigra is within the range of variation exhibited by L.g. getula in number of ventrals (nigra 203.0+/1.4, 202-205, n=4; getula 209.8+/-4.4, 191-220, n=106), number of subcaudals (nigra 49.3+/-2.1, 47-51, n=3; getula 44.9+/-4.4, 34-54, n=99), and number of ventrals + subcaudals (nigra 252.7+/-1.2, 252-254, n=3; getula 254.6+/-6.9, 230-268, n=99).*10760* Within L.g getula, the average number of ventral scales varies from a low of 207.3+/4.5 (199-212, n=7) on the Eastern shore to a high of 210.8+/-2.0, 207-214, n=9) in the lower Piedmont. Number of ventrals + subcaudals varies from 252.9+/-7.2 (234-267, n=29) in the upper Piedmont to 257.4+/-5.5 (251-265, n=9) in the lower Piedmont. The number of crossbands averages higher in the northern Blue Ridge Mountains (32.3+/-2.4, 29-34, n=4) than in the southeastern corner (24.2+/-3.6, 19-31, n=37).*10760* In eastern N.A., the number of ventrals and subcaudals increase clinally from low counts in the north (New Jersey) to high counts in the Florida panhandle. Ventral scale counts decrease westward within the latitudes encompassing Virginia. Number of crossbands is highly variable and range from low counts of about 31 in Central Virginia to New Jersey about 24-25 in Delmarva and the Carolinas, to highs around 52 in southern Florida.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: Reproduction in L. getula has been little studied in Virginia. Mating presumably takes place in the spring. Size at maturity is about 600 mm SVL for both sexes. Known egg laying dates in Virginia are between 16 and 22 June. Clutch size is 9-17 (avg = 12.6+/-3.2, n=5). Ernst and Barbour reported clutch sizes of 3-24 eggs (avg. = 10.8) for this species. Eggs averaged 37.5+/-2.5 x 20.7+/-1.0 mm (length 32.8-44.6, width 19.4-23.4, n=36) and weigh 8.4-10.7 grams (avg. = 9.5+/-0.7). Laboratory incubation time for these eggs was 60-62 days. Hatching occurred on 14-18 August.*10760*

BEHAVIOR: King snakes are noted for vibrating their tails when disturbed and for discharging musk from glands at the base of the tail, when picked up. Individual temperment varies, but many specimens will constrict one's arm when held and will chew, rather than bite. A defensive behavior sometimes exhibited is hiding the head in a ball of coils.*10760*

References for Life History

  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11499 - Palmer, W.M., A.L. Braswell, 1994, The Reptiles of North Carolina, UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11518 - Blaney, R.M., 1977, Systematics of the Common Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getulus, Tulane Studies in Zoology and Botany, Vol. 19, Num. 3-4, pg. 47-103, 57 pgs.
  • 11523 - Thorp, T.J., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert Review for GAP Analysis Project, Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium


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Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


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