A medium to large, shiny black snake covered with small yellow spots. The ground color is generally black or dark brown. A white or yellow spot in the center of most of the scales makes it look speckled. The belly is yellowish with some irregular or rectangular black markings. In young individuals, the light spots form crossbars along the back. Like the rest of our kingsnakes, this species vibrates its tail when alarmed. When captured, they may try to bite and will smear a foul-smelling musk onto your hands, but they quickly calm down and can be easily handled.
Similar species: The eastern black kingsnake (L. nigra) was recently discovered in our state; in Missouri, it is known only from a few counties along the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri. Its speckled pattern is very faint or incomplete, with white or yellow dots; in some individuals, the pattern can be a faint chainlike marking along the side.
Length: 36 to 48 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
The speckled kingsnake lives in a wide variety of habitats: prairies, brushy areas, forest edges, rocky, wooded hillsides, and along the edges of swamps or marshes. Commonly encountered on rocky, wooded hillsides or near farm buildings. It is rather secretive and takes shelter under rocks, logs, rotted stumps, boards, and in small mammal burrows.
Foods include small rodents, lizards, and other snakes, including venomous species such as copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. It is immune to the venom of the various pit vipers in Missouri. The speckled kingsnake kills its prey by constriction.
Speckled kingsnakes are active between April and October. In spring, early summer, and autumn, they are active during daylight. In summer, they avoid hot temperatures by becoming active at night. Winter dormancy is apparently spent underground in small mammal burrows or in caves. Courtship and mating occur in late April or May. Females lay usually 6–14 eggs during the summer, and the young hatch in late summer.
Snakes have always captured the imaginations of humans. In myth, religion, and story, snakes perform the role of seducer, sneak, guardian, healer, killer, and transformer. On a more practical level, snakes help humans by consuming many rodents that are injurious to our interests.
As a predator, this snake helps keep populations of other animals in check. And although it can defend itself by biting, by vibrating its tail ominously, and by smearing a stinky musk on attackers, this snake can be eaten by other predators. The eggs and young are especially vulnerable.