Scarlet Kingsnake / Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

Photos by Amanda Hurst unless otherwise noted

Scarlet Kingsnake (L. triangulum elapsoides): Scarlet kingsnakes are considerably smaller than milk snakes and reach lengths of 14 � 20 in (36-51 cm). The coloration and patterning is arguably the most beautiful of all snakes in our region. A mimic of the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), scarlet kingsnakes typically have alternating bands of red, black, and yellow in which red touches black but not yellow (in eastern coral snakes red touches yellow but not black. In the nonvenomous scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea), that is similar in appearance, the bands across the back do not extend across the belly. In sections of northern Georgia and Tennessee the two milksnake subspecies are known to intergrade with varying results in pattern and coloration.

Milk Snake (L. triangulum triangulum): The milk snake is a mid-sized nonvenomous snake that attains lengths between 24 � 35 in (61-90 cm). It derives it scientific specific name from the triangular or Y-shaped light patch at the base of the head. It has a gray to tan background color with black-bordered brown blotches on the dorsum. The belly has a black and white checkerboard pattern. This species is often mistaken for the venomous copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), but copperheads have hourglass-shaped, rather than rounded or square blotches.

Range and Habitat: Milk snakes have one of the largest ranges of any snake species in the world. The species comprises 25 subspecies and a geographic distribution from Canada through the Midwest and eastern U.S. to Mexico and south into Ecuador. Eight of the subspecies are found in the U.S. Two subspecies, the eastern milk snake (L. t. triangulum) and the scarlet kingsnake (L. t. elapsoides), are found in our region. The scarlet king is found throughout Georgia, but is far more common in the Coastal Plain than in the Piedmont or mountains. The eastern milk snake and intergrades between the two are restricted to the mountains of northern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina. The eastern milksnake uses many habitats: fields, woodlands, rocky outcrops, and agricultural areas. Scarlet Kings are most common in well-drained sandy habitats in the Coastal Plain and particularly prefer pine forests and Sandhill habitats.

Habits: Milksnakes are sometimes active above ground during the day but are more often found in barns or �flipped� from beneath large rocks or boards. These snakes do not in fact milk cows; their presence in barns is instead representative of the abundance of rodents in such places. Scarlet kingsnakes are primarily fossorial (living underground) but are also adept at squeezing under dead bark and inside dead logs. They are generally very secretive, rarely seen �on the crawl,� except at night or after heavy rains. Scarlet kingsnakes feed primarily on lizards (particularly skinks), but also eat small snakes and rodents.

Conservation Status: The milk snakes are considered too common to be included on the IUCN Red List. They are not federally protected, but are protected by the state of Georgia as nonvenomous snakes by a twist of bureaucratic genius.