A medium-sized snake, fairly common over most of the state. The overall color is tan, brownish gray, or greenish gray. Numerous dark blotches down the back and sides are brown, reddish, or greenish brown, outlined in black. The belly is yellowish tan, covered by blocky brown markings. Usually, the top of the head has a backward-pointing V- or U-shaped marking. Older individuals often have a darkened ground color, especially in the southern half of the state. When alarmed, a prairie kingsnake will vibrate its tail; if captured, it may try to bite to defend itself. Its bite is harmless.
Similar species: Young or newly hatched prairie kingsnakes often are confused with the venomous copperhead. Kingsnakes have round markings on the back, while copperheads have hourglass-shaped markings.
Length: 30 to 42 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
The prairie kingsnake lives not only in native prairies and open woods, but also along the edges of crop fields, hay fields, old fields, or wood lots, on rocky, wooded hillsides, and near farm buildings. It takes shelter under logs, rocks, boards, or similar objects, or utilizes small mammal burrows.
Kingsnakes are known for their ability to eat other snakes, including venomous species, and they are immune to the venom of copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. Other foods include lizards, small rodents, and occasionally birds. Kingsnakes kill their prey by constriction.
This species is normally active April through November. In spring and autumn, prairie kingsnakes are active mornings and early evenings. In summer, they become nocturnal. Mating occurs in early spring soon after emerging from winter dormancy. Males locate females by following their scent. Eggs are laid during June and early July. A female may lay 5-17 eggs, usually under rocks, logs, or in old sawdust piles. The eggs adhere to each other.
Because the prairie kingsnake consumes many destructive rodents, it provides a valuable rodent-control service.
Kingsnakes eat other snakes, lizards, and rodents, serving as a natural control of the populations of those animals. As with many other predatory species, kingsnakes can themselves be preyed upon by larger mammals and by birds. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.