Are Eastern Kingsnakes Venomous?

If you reside in the US, there’s a chance that you have seen an eastern kingsnake in your neighborhood. You may already be aware that many different venomous snake species live in the eastern parts of the United States. But, are eastern kingsnakes venomous?

If you’re asking this question, you probably aren’t a snake expert… that’s OK. We’re here to answer this question for you and give you some background on this amazing species.

Key takeaways

  • Rather than using venom to kill their prey, kingsnakes squeeze and suffocate their prey before eating.
  • Because they consume venomous snakes that could harm people, they are incredibly beneficial for humans to have around.
  • Some kingsnake species are confused with coral snakes because they both have bands on their bodies but are different in color.

Are Eastern Kingsnakes Venomous?

Eastern king snake slithering
Eastern king snake slithering | image by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The answer is no, eastern kingsnakes are not venomous. They don’t need venom because they don’t kill prey with a poison. They will grab ahold with a quick bite, then constrict their victim’s body and hold on with their mouth until it dies.

So, if you see an eastern kingsnake in your yard, you can rest assured that it will not harm you and is actually helpful to have around.

Eastern kingsnakes’ habitat

Eastern king snake in grass field
Eastern king snake in grass field | image by wyldtwyst via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0

The eastern kingsnake is a nonvenomous snake found in forested areas of the eastern United States. It is most commonly found between North Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Florida, though it has been reported as far north as New York and as far south as Florida.

Their habitat varies depending on location, but they are most commonly found in woodlands or grasslands. They frequently find refuge in abandoned animal burrows or rock crevices.

You can also find them in fields, swamps, and forests. It prefers to live in areas where there are a lot of small rodents to eat.

How do eastern kingsnakes eat?

Eastern kingsnakes consume their prey in an interesting manner. This snake is a constrictor, which means it will wrap itself around its prey and squeeze until it dies or suffocates.

It then swallows the animal whole, though larger prey such as rabbits and squirrels can be difficult for these reptiles to consume. Eastern kingsnakes in captivity eat frozen mice or rats, in the wild they prefer to dine on other snakes almost exclusively.

They can feed on other small animals in the wild, including birds, lizards, frogs, salamanders, eggs, in addition to venomous snakes.

Size and appearance of the eastern kingsnake

Eastern king snake in defensive position
Eastern king snake in defensive position | image by briangratwicke via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0

The eastern kingsnake can grow to be five feet long—nearly two meters! This makes it one of the largest kingsnake species in North America. Females are slightly longer than males, but both sexes weigh the same when they reach adulthood.

The eastern kingsnake has a glossy black body with a white belly, though some individuals have yellowish-white or pinkish-orange markings on the underside. Typically, the head is solid black with white stripes on each side. The scales are smooth, shiny, and thick, similar to those found on other Lampropeltis snakes (the milk snakes).

Are eastern kingsnakes immune to poison?

They are! Eastern kingsnakes have a unique diet which consists of other snakes, including venomous ones. This means they consume a lot of poison. However, they have a particular enzyme in their blood that allows them to neutralize the poison.

So, eating rattlesnakes and cottonmouths isn’t a big deal for them (which are some of the most venomous snakes in the country). Kingsnakes have developed resistance to these venoms over time because it helps in their survival and reproduction.

This way, they won’t get sick from eating venomous animals. However, even though they are not venomous like other species, you should still take precautions when handling this snake.

Threat level of eastern kingsnakes

Eastern king snake in grassland
Eastern kingsnake in grassland | image by joshl via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0

The eastern kingsnake is typically a docile and helpful creature. They eat other snakes that are potentially dangerous to you. They aren’t venomous nor considered aggressive.

Eastern kingsnakes are very beneficial in controlling populations of venomous species that are dangerous to humans. They enjoy eating other venomous snakes such as the Coral Snake, Water Moccasin, Rattlesnake, and Copperhead.

As mentioned, they are not known to be aggressive toward humans or other animals unless provoked by something threatening, such as a dog or cat, which may attack them out of fear or confusion.

How can you tell if a snake is venomous?

There are several ways to tell if a snake is venomous, but the best way is to examine its features. Venomous snakes sometimes have patterns with bright colors like the coral snake, while non-venomous snakes are typically brownish or gray in color.

Additionally, venomous snakes have triangular-shaped heads, while non-venomous snakes have rounded heads. Look for these characteristics in these snakes to determine whether or not they are venomous.

Coral snake vs. eastern kingsnake

Aquatic coral snake in moist land
Aquatic coral snake in moist land | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s a good chance that you’ve come into contact with a coral snake or a kingsnake at some point in your life if you live in the United States. They both have striking patterns and are beautiful animals, but they differ significantly in ways that make it possible to identify them.

The belly and neck of a coral snake are covered in red scales with black bands. Eastern kingsnakes have thin yellow or white bands on their bodies and bellies, but no red scales. Remember the old saying: “red touch yellow, kill a fellow” which simply means that if a red band is touching a yellow band… steer clear!

Even though the eastern kingsnake has yellow bands rather than black bands, it probably is difficult to be confused for a coral snake. Eastern king snakes are mostly black after all, while coral snakes are very brightly colored.

It’s the scarlet kingsnake that looks very similar to a coral snake. In fact, it uses the similarity as a defense against predators. When a would-be predator sees these bright colors it usually won’t take a chance on messing with one.

Both eastern kingsnakes and coral snakes are typically very shy and tend to flee when people approach them. If someone were only to catch a glimpse of one, it’s possible for someone who doesn’t know much about snakes to mistake an eastern king for a coral snake.

Conclusion

Although eastern kingsnakes are not venomous, you should exercise caution when around them. They can still bite you, so be cautious when handling them and keep your hands away from their mouths. Always respect nature’s power and keep a safe distance from wild animals.