Lampropeltis Fitzinger, 1843
Type species: Coluber getulus Linnaeus, 1766: 382
* Fitzinger, 1843, Syst. Rept., p. 25.
Kingsnakes are a type of colubrid snake that are members of the Lampropeltis genus, which also includes the milk snake along with another four species and 45 sub-species.
Lampropeltis means "shiny shield" (from Greek λαμπρος, "shine" + πελτα, "small shield"), a name given to them in reference to their dorsal scales. The majority of kingsnakes have quite vibrant patterns on their skin. Kingsnakes use constriction to kill their prey and tend to be opportunistic when it comes to their diet; they will eat other snakes (ophiophagy), including venomous snakes, lizards, rodents, birds and eggs. The Common Kingsnake genus are known to be immune to the venom of other snakes and are known to eat rattlesnakes (note — Kingsnakes are not necessarily immune to the venom of snakes from different localities.). The "king" in their name (as with the king cobra) references their taste for other snakes.
Some species of kingsnake, such as the Scarlet Kingsnake, have coloration and patterning which can cause them to be confused with the venomous coral snakes. There are mnemonic rhymes to help people distinguish between the coral snake and its non-venomous look-alikes, including "Red and yellow kills a fellow. Red and black is safe for Jack."
Taxonomic reclassification is an ongoing process, and different sources often disagree, granting full species status to a group of these snakes that another source considers a subspecies. In the case of Lampropeltis catalinensis, for example, only a single specimen exists, and therefore classification is not necessarily finite. In addition, hybridization between species which have overlapping geographic ranges is not uncommon, confusing taxonomists further.
Kingsnakes are commonly kept as pets, due to their ease of care. Kingsnakes are overall hardy and simple to care for. Their captive diet usually consists of appropriately sized rodents, prekilled. Giving live rodents is an illegal offense in some countries and may be bad for the snake's health, as live rodents are capable of delivering powerful bites, potentially injuring the snake. Kingsnakes are generally docile, curious and gentle.
* Grey-Banded Kingsnake, Lampropeltis alterna (Brown, 1901)
Additionally, Alex Pyron and Burbrink have argued that the short-tailed snake, more familiar as Stilosoma extenuatum, be included with Lampropeltis.
1. ^ Pyron, R.Alexander; Frank T. Burbrink 2009. Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae) Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52 (2): 524-529
Hubbs, Brian. 2009. Common Kingsnakes. Tricolor Books, Tempe, Arizona.
* Genus Lampropeltis at The Reptile Database
Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License