California kingsnakes are an integral part of Anza’s ecosystem

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California kingsnakes can come in many color combinations, from speckled or black or brown and white bands to this striped morph. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

One of the most common – and harmless – reptilian residents in the Anza Valley is the California kingsnake.

This sleek serpent is also the state snake; California is mentioned in its scientific name – Lampropeltis californiae.

While plentiful in the forest, woodland, chaparral, grassland, marshes, deserts and brushy suburban areas, kingsnakes can be secretive, quietly hunting rodents, young birds, eggs, invertebrates, amphibians and other snakes. They are welcomed by area residents for their ability to overcome and eat rattlesnakes without harm, being immune to the rattlers’ venom.

Known as a powerful constrictor, the kingsnake coils tightly around its prey until it suffocates its prey.

California kingsnakes rarely grow larger than 48 inches in length. The most commonly observed sizes are 2.5 to 3.5 feet. Hatchlings are about 12 inches long.

Kingsnakes are smooth and shiny with a head slightly wider than the neck. They can be highly variable in appearance, with patterns and colors ranging from alternating bands of black or brown and white or light yellow, to striped, speckled and albino. Color differences and variants can occur in specific populations in different areas of the state.

Common kingsnakes are diurnal, moving and hunting during the day, but they can be active occasionally at night.

When disturbed, these snakes can emit a foul-smelling musk and defecate to deter predators. Another defensive strategy that has been observed is the vibrating their tail, hissing and rolling into a ball, hiding the head and showing the vent with its lining exposed.

The life span of wild kingsnakes is thought to be a little more than 30 years; captive specimens live at least that long.

California kingsnakes are ovoviparous, meaning that they lay eggs that incubate and hatch. Mating generally occurs in the spring, when the snakes emerge from their hibernation period, called brumation.

Males have been observed fighting in competition for a female. They lie stretched out with their bodies entwined, each one trying to get on top of the other to dominate his rival. They may resort to biting. After the stronger snake wins, the weaker one will crawl away or assume a submissive position with his head held flat against the ground.

In one to two months after breeding, female snakes lay three to 24 eggs, usually between May and August. The eggs hatch in six to eight weeks.

Kingsnakes provide rodent and pest control in the high desert chaparral environment.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.