Scarlet Kingsnake

Scientific Name
Lampropeltis elapsoides
Also Known As
Scarlet Milksnake
All of Florida
Small Mammals, Amphibians, Eggs, Lizards
Life Expectancy
6 - 8 Years
The Scarlet Kingsnake
Scarlet Kingsnake conservation status - Least Concern

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This Snake is Not Venomous

Scarlet Kingsnakes in Central Florida

The Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) is a non-venomous colubrid species indigenous to the southeastern United States, including central Florida. This slender yet powerful constrictor is appreciated by many for its vibrant coloration and valued role in controlling pest rodents.

This guide provides detailed identification tips, biology facts, and information on scarlet kingsnake habits, reproduction, diet, and human interactions in central Florida.

Appearance and Identification

Scarlet kingsnakes can be identified by their smooth and glossy scales, colorful banding patterns, and other distinctive features

Adult Scarlet Kingsnake

Photo 187627480 © Crowley Museum & Nature Center Inc, CC BY-NC

Adult Scarlet Kingsnakes

  • Size: Adult scarlet kingsnakes reach 20 to 48 inches (51 to 122 cm) long. Larger specimens may exceed 4 feet.
  • Coloration: Vibrant bands of red/orange and black rings cover the length of the body. White or yellow rings separate the darker bands. The red bands fade to pinkish anteriorly.
  • Scales: Thin smooth dorsal scales in 17 scale rows at midbody. Ventrals number 213-232. Subcaudals 41-57.
  • Head: The head is distinct from the neck with a rounded snout and large eyes with round pupils.
Juvenile Scarlet Kingsnake

Photo 246025952 © Tommy Hamrick, CC BY-NC

Juvenile Scarlet Kingsnakes

  • Size: Hatchlings average 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 cm) long and weigh around 5 to 10 grams.
  • Coloration: Newly hatched scarlet kingsnakes exhibit bold red, black and white transverse bands. The snout is black and the belly white or pinkish.
  • Scales: The smooth dorsal scales are arranged in longitudinal rows. Ventral scales number between 212 to 232. Subcaudals range from 41 to 57.
  • Head: The head is only slightly wider than the neck with large eyes and rounded snout.

Scarlet kingsnakes can be confused with the venomous coral snake and juvenile milksnake. Proper identification of banding patterns and head shape helps distinguish the harmless scarlet kingsnake.

Maturation Rate

Young scarlet kingsnakes mature quickly in Florida’s warm climate. Hatchlings average 8 to 13 inches long and sexual maturity is reached by 24 to 36 months old. They gain most of their adult length within the first 3 years.

Habits and Behavior

Scarlet kingsnakes are mostly active during the day and crepuscular periods. They can often be observed basking in the early morning. Secretive and fossorial, they spend much time buried underground or hiding beneath surface debris. When threatened, scarlet kingsnakes may vibrate their tails and release a foul-smelling musk from their cloaca.

Scarlet kingsnakes inhabit a range of ecosystems in Florida including pine flatwoods, scrub, upland hardwood forests, and human-altered environments. They seek shelter under boards, logs, and leaf litter. Inside homes, they may be found in crawl spaces, garages, and sheds.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Scarlet kingsnakes reach sexual maturity by 2 to 3 years old. They are oviparous, with females laying 3 to 12 eggs in May through July. The eggs hatch around 60 days later from August to September. Hatchlings grow rapidly and are independent immediately.

Lifespans in the wild average 6 to 8 years. Scarlet kingsnakes may live over 20 years in captivity.

Ideal Habitat and Range

Central Florida’s humid subtropical climate with mild winters provides excellent habitat for scarlet kingsnakes. Average annual temperatures range from the low 70sF (22C) in the north to the upper 70sF (25C) in southern regions. Summer brings highs in the 90sF (30sC). Rainfall totals 50+ inches (1270+ mm) per year.

Abundant vegetation, wooded areas, and human structures offer shelter. Ample prey like lizards, rodents, birds, eggs, and other snakes provide nutrition for growth and reproduction. Scarlet kingsnakes thrive in Florida’s warm, moist environment.

Diet and Feeding

Scarlet kingsnakes are carnivorous and consume a varied diet of small vertebrates. Hatchlings start by feeding on lizards and progress to small mice and other prey. Adults eat:

  • Lizards – anoles, skinks, geckos
  • Small snakes – ringneck snakes, wormsnakes
  • Rodents – mice, rats, voles
  • Bird eggs and nestlings
  • Frogs and toads

Scarlet kingsnakes are opportunistic foragers. They find prey using chemical cues detected by flicking their forked tongues. Prey is constricted to suffocation before swallowing whole. Smaller prey may be pinned down while swallowing. Scarlet kingsnakes can go weeks between feedings.

The florida cattail such as this is the preferred food for the florida Round-tailed Muskrat

Photo 256492135 © Wayne Fidler, CC BY-NC

The florida cattail such as this is the preferred food for the florida Round-tailed Muskrat

Common Health Risks

Though non-venomous, scarlet kingsnakes can bite in self-defense if threatened. The small, rear-facing teeth may cause minor punctures or scratches. Any bite should be thoroughly washed to avoid infection.

Like many reptiles, scarlet kingsnakes may harbor Salmonella bacteria. Proper handwashing after handling snakes prevents potential salmonellosis infection. Overall, scarlet kingsnakes pose minimal health risks to humans.

Preventing Scarlet Kingsnakes

The primary method to deter scarlet kingsnakes is exclusion by sealing potential entry points into homes and structures. Closing gaps in foundations and openings around pipes prevents access. Kingsnakes may enter under poorly fitted doors. Keeping garage and shed doors closed also limits shelter sites.

Trimming vegetation and clearing clutter reduces suitable habitat around the home. Removing sources of food like pet foods and rodents through sanitation helps deter kingsnakes. Glue boards and live traps can remove individual snakes found indoors.

Preventing Scarlet Kingsnakes

Photo 260473888 © Joe Girgente, CC BY-NC

Scarlet Kingsnakes in Central Florida – Conclusion

In summary, the scarlet kingsnake is a unique and beneficial reptile native to Central Florida environments. Their vibrant coloration and rodent-eating habits make them an attractive backyard resident. With proper identification and exclusion methods, kingsnakes can be deterred from entering homes.

If encountered, scarlet kingsnakes should be safely removed and released outside unharmed. Their important ecological role makes coexistence with kingsnakes through prevention and tolerance a goal.