Lampropeltis elapsoides

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Scientific name Lampropeltis elapsoides
English name Scarlet kingsnake
Habitat This species occurs in all kinds of habitats in its distribution area where there are a lot of places where it can hide; the presence of water is also decisive most of the times. 

This includes pine- and oak-forest, prairies, agricultural and urban areas.

Distribution The southeast of the USA: in Florida and from eastern Louisiana up to southern New Jersey.

This species was previously considered a subspecies of Lampropeltis triangulum (L. t. elapsoides). 

Pyron & Burbrink proved in 2009 that these snakes are separate species.

Pyron, R.A.; Burbrink, F.T. (2009), “Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini Serpentes: Colubridae”, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 52 (2): 524-529.

This slender snake, which, on average reaches lengths between 35 and 50 cm (with a record length of approx. 68 cm), is the smallest Lampropeltis species.

Maximum life expectancy is usually somewhere between 12 and 20 years (record age is 22 years and 4 months).

These snakes mimic the Harlequin coral snake (Micrurus fulvius fulvius) with their colours and pattern.

Click on the picture at the top of this page to see how they look.

After a brumation period of some months, the copulations take place from March till June. Between May and August, they lay their eggs (2-9) which hatch after 55-60 days.

At birth, these snakes are between 8 and 18 cm in length. The juveniles have a pattern of white-black-red bands. This white band becomes yellowish when they reach maturity.

This species is a night-active ground dweller and leads a rather hidden life. During the day they mainly stay under (rotting) stumps and especially under the loose bark of decaying coniferous trees. They are excellent climbers.

Every now and then they are found in the openness, especially in the nights after heavy thunderstorms.

People who look for this snake and know where to look, find them quite regularly.

The Scarlet king snake is a food-specialist that, in the wild largely lives on lizards, like young anoles, but, especially the juvenile snakes, prefer small skinks.

They also eat small snakes, amphibians, earthworms and small rodents.

In the terrarium, they often only accept small, living lizards. Switching to baby mice sometimes succeeds by scenting the mice with a lizard smell. Also, earthworms, amphibians and small fish are sometimes accepted.

Lampropeltis elapsoides, Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina © Tom Sinclair

If you succeed in getting them to eat regularly they apparently do quite well in a terrarium with lots of hiding places. The disadvantage is they rarely show themselves.

These somewhat nervous snakes do not like bright light (so avoid using a heat lamp, but use a heating cable under the terrarium) and are almost always located in/under a shelter.

They thrive best at a daytime temperature of 24 to 29 degrees C. The night temperatures may be a little lower.

Is occasionally bred in captivity.