California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata)

View of the topside of a California mountain kingsnake uncoiled on the ground
No other snake in Washington has this color pattern. This snake is harmless to humans. (W.P. Leonard, Copyright)
Category: Reptiles
Family: Colubridae - Colubrids
State status: Candidate
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)

Moderate

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form. Providing detailed information such as a photo and exact coordinates will improve the confidence and value of this observation to WDFW species conservation and management.

In Washington, this snake occurs at the northern extreme of its range, and the population is isolated from the rest of its range by approximately 200 miles.

The species’ range in Washington is small with few individuals documented. They occur in the Columbia River Gorge in an area of the state that is likely to see increased development and vehicular traffic.

Description and Range

Physical description

The California mountain kingsnake is a medium-sized snake (1.5 to 3 feet in length) with red, black, and white bands. The red bands are bordered by black. No other snake in Washington has this color pattern. This species superficially resembles the venomous coral snake, but it is harmless.

Close up of the head and upper body of a California mountain kingsnake.
This California mountain kingsnake was found in Klickitat County. W.P. Leonard, Copyright

For more details about the California mountain kingsnake, see the Washington Herp Atlas.  

Ecology and life history

The California mountain kingsnake occurs in moist microhabitats in Oregon white oak-ponderosa pine forest, where individuals are usually found under woody debris and rocks.

Little is known about this species in Washington. It is chiefly diurnal, but may be nocturnal during warm weather.

Similar to other snake species occupying the same area, it most likely becomes active in late March or April and remains active until October.

Mating probably takes place in May with three to nine eggs laid in June or July. The incubation period is approximately 60 days

Geographic range

The Washington range is limited to the southernmost areas of eastern Skamania County and western Klickitat County. The Washington range is isolated from the rest of the species' range by approximately 200 miles. Unsubstantiated reports exist for the Blue Mountains and Yakima County. Nothing is known about their abundance in Washington.

This map from the Washington Herp Atlas illustrates the known distribution of California mountain kingsnake in Washington as of 2016. 

California mountain kingsnake state distribution map as of 2016, showing detections in Skamania and Klickitat counties
Washington Herp Atlas (2017)

For a map of range-wide distribution and conservation status of this species, check out NatureServe Explorer.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change

Moderate

No information exists regarding the sensitivity of this species to climate change. Due to its occurrence in moist, typically open riparian, microhabitats in Oregon White Oak-Ponderosa Pine forest, this species may have some sensitivity to altered precipitation and fire regimes, particularly as an egg-layer with only weakly calcified eggs (such eggs are strongly affected by solid moisture levels), that result in habitat loss or degradation. In Washington, species distribution is extremely small (around 20 mi.) and at the northern extent of the range, and occurrence is isolated and disjunct from the rest of the range by 200 miles. Based its reproductive mode, oviposition or active-season habitats that become either too wet or too dry may place it at a reproductive or physiological disadvantage. Further, it may be dietarily dependent on several egg-laying reptiles (especially western fence lizards and western skinks) that may be similarly affected.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change

Moderate

  • Changes in precipitation
  • Altered fire regimes
  • Increased air temperatures
Confidence: Moderate

Regulations

Licenses and permits

Be advised that collection of this species is only permitted under a WDFW Scientific Collection Permit for research and educational activities.

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.

Conservation Threats and Actions Needed

  • Resource information collection needs
    • Threat: Lack of information on status and distribution.
    • Action Needed: Conduct comprehensive surveys to determine distribution and population numbers.
  • Fish and wildlife habitat loss and degradation
    • Threat: Loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat as well as an increase in vehicle traffic. The species occurs in the Columbia River Gorge -- an area of the state that is highly desirable and is likely to see increased development and vehicular traffic. 
    • Action Needed: Determine where populations occur and how to protect those populations from development and road mortality.
  • Overharvesting of biological resources
    • Threat: Removal from the wild. These are attractive snakes with docile temperaments that can be easily tamed and kept in captivity. This makes them vulnerable to collecting as pets.
    • Action Needed: Public outreach and education. Make sure that laws protecting this species are enforced.

See the Climate vulnerability section for information about threats posed by climate change to this species.

Living with wildlife

Snakes are among the most misunderstood of all animals. Of the dozen or so species of snakes found in Washington, only the western rattlesnake is capable of inflicting a venomous bite, which it seldom does. All snakes are an important part of the natural food chain, eating a variety of prey—from mice and birds to frogs and insects.

Observe snakes, like all wild animals, from a respectful distance. Learn more about living with snakes.

Resources

References

Johnson, M. L.1939. Lampropeltis zonata (Blainville) in Washington State. Occasional Papers, Department of Biology, College of Puget Sound (1): 2-3.

Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie, Jr., and R.M. Storm. 1983. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 332 pp.

Stebbins, R. C. 1985. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, 2nd Edition. The Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 336 pp.

Storm, R. M. and W. P. Leonard (Coordinating Editors). 1995. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society The Trailside Series, Seattle, Washington. 176 pp.

WDFW publications

PHS Program

WDFW educational resources

Other resources