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Black Kingsnake!

Last Saturday, I put in a marathon day in one of my favorite parts of the world - southern Ohio's diverse Adams County. I got down there at 9 am, and met up with John Howard at his house, which sits in the midst of lots of GOOD STUFF. We explored far and wide that day, in part scouting things for this weekend's Mothapalooza. After dinner, John turned me on to a "life" dragonfly, the Stygian Shadowdragon, Neurocordulia yamaskanensis. These things are cool as can be, coming out to fly for a brief period from dusk until dark. We saw many of them at fingertip range hunting over Ohio Brush Creek, and if all goes well we'll have one in the hand tomorrow night, and I'll make some photos - that's about the only way you'll get a camera on one of these beasts. After the shadowdragons, we worked until nearly midnight at John's moth traps, recording many interesting things. I rolled back into my driveway around 2 am that morning.
When John and I get afield, we always find scores of cool stuff, and this trip was no exception. Hopefully, you ophidiophobes have already figured out from this post's title that the feature creature is a SNAKE. If not, I am engaging in an act of courtesy, and warning you now: THIS POST IS ABOUT A SNAKE! Oh no, oh no, a snake, a snake - turn back, turn back!
For those of you bold enough to venture ahead, and who may never have had the great fortune to meet a kingsnake, onward ho!
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing not one, but two, Black Kingsnakes, Lampropeltis getula, on this day. John had caught one in his garden before I arrived, and I found another under a debris pile later that day.
Neither were particularly large, about two feet in length, but a well-developed adult can reach four feet. Kingsnakes are normally fairly passive, and while they might try and take a nip when first captured, neither of these individuals made an attempt to bite and calmed down nicely.
The kingsnake is a handsome reptile indeed: rich lustrous black, stippled with fine white lines and a checkerboard belly. Their sleek tubular shape is quite pleasing to the eye.

Overall, this is a rare beast in Ohio. Populations are currently known from only four of our southernmost counties: Adams, Jackson, Lawrence, and Scioto. Kingsnakes can be fairly common in some regions within these counties, though.

The large eye suggests an animal who takes part in the nightlife, and Black Kingsnakes do indeed prowl under cover of darkness. The one that I found this day was sleeping it off under cover, and that's often how one finds them. When they do emerge and go on the hunt, lesser creatures would do well to stay out of the snake's path. Small mammals such as mice and voles are fair game, as are songbirds, fence lizards and skinks, and probably large insects and other invertebrates.

But why the name "Kingsnake"? Because, docile and handsome as this reptile may be, they pursue other snakes with a vengeance, and any other snake small enough to be swallowed is not safe if a kingsnake is afoot. Kingsnakes probably take plenty of other harmless species such as Eastern Garter Snakes, Brown Snakes, Ring-necked Snakes and the like. But even the venomous species are not immune, and in this part of the world that would be the Timber Rattlesnake and Northern Copperhead. While even the biggest kingsnake isn't going to handle a full-grown Timber Rattlesnake, they'll catch and eat the small ones, apparently. Kingsnakes are unaffected by venom, and thus able to handle rattlesnakes and copperheads, both of which most other predators give a wide berth.

Any snake that can catch and eat a Timber Rattlesnake deserves to be dubbed the king.


jaredmizanin said…
Fantastic! I spent Sunday, June 2, looking for herps in Adams and Scioto Co. You are kingsnakes can be common in the area. We were shocked to find five that day, although two were DOR. We also found an Eastern Hognose and an Eastern Worm Snake but not our target (Copperhead). Wish we could be present for Mothapalooza!
Lisa Rainsong said…
I love how much I learn from your posts, and these are great photos of a very beautiful snake.
Buckeyeherper said…
Black kings are in a few more counties. I have seen them in Pike and Gallia Cos in addition to the counties you listed. They are also known from Meigs and Vinton Cos too! You were off in your hognose co record numbers as well a while back.
Jim McCormac said…
Man, I'm glad the Buckeyeherper is there to set me straight on all things herpetological! I'm just going by the published record, at least as currently exists....
Peter Kleinhenz said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Kleinhenz said…
Great shots, Jim! I have also seen Kings in Pike County and Vinton County. They are gorgeous snakes that seem to have a knack for living in the nicest habitats to explore (whether that is a prairie opening or a tin site). Glad you were able to see some!
Buckeyeherper said…
I'm not trying to be obnoxious, and sorry if i came off that way. I'm just trying to add a little to the discussion. Most of those records were published back in the Ohio Reptile Atlas from 06. If you don't have it, i dont know how available it is anymore. Hopefully, updated records will come in the future book. The pike co black king was actually published long ago but no specimen existed so it wasn't included in the atlas. I turned up a number of pike co dors back in the day and we finally got around to publishing all of our Ohio county records from over the years a little while ago in Herp Review. We "updated" pike co now that specimens were available in that publication.

I don't herp Ohio much anymore, but spent many a day in field all over the state. SE Ohio was my favorite and I am pretty familiar with it. Now I spend my days chasing turtles in Michigan. Come on up for a northern Michigan paddle and naturalizing trip sometime. The wood turtles are always calling...

Rob Baxter said…
We have two at least that live on our property that is in warren county almost in butler county. Just played with "slinky" as the kids call the big one(close to 5' long) on Saturday.

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