eastern black kingsnake

(Lampropeltis nigra)


This species is mostly black on the back, lacking the chainlike pattern of white to yellow that is found in the eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula). However, young individuals of this species may display a faint pattern on the back. The belly may have yellowish spots or irregular patches and is darker posteriorly. It is a large, stout snake that grows to lengths of 36–45 in. (90–114 cm). The only other black snakes in Virginia are the northern black racer (Coluber constrictor) and the eastern rat snake (Pantherophis obsoleta), but neither of these species has white or yellow crossbars or spotting on the head and belly. Mating takes place in the spring, 10–24 eggs are laid in June/July, and the eggs hatch in August/September. Kingsnakes are noted for vibrating their tails when disturbed and for discharging musk from glands at the base of the tail when picked up. These snakes are immune to snake venom and will consume venomous snakes when given an opportunity. They are preyed upon by raccoons, opossums, skunks and other kingsnakes.


This species has been documented in only 3 counties in the Tennessee River drainage of southwest Virginia. It can be found in a variety of habitats, but seems to prefer moist areas near swamps, marshes, along stream banks and lakes. It is also found on rocky hillsides, pastures, near streams and thickets and often under logs, boards, rotten stumps, or in burrows.


The black kingsnake eats skinks, reptile eggs, rodents, birds and other snakes, including venomous species.