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
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.
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
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 distribution of California mountain kingsnake in Washington based on records in the WDFW database as of 2016. If you see this species in areas that are not indicated on the map or have more recent observations (less than 10 years), please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form.
For a map of range-wide distribution and conservation status of this species, check out NatureServe Explorer.
Sensitivity to climate change
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.
Exposure to climate change
- Changes in precipitation
- Altered fire regimes
- Increased air temperatures
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 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.
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.
- Hallock, L. A. and K. R. McAllister. 2005. California Mountain Kingsnake. Washington Herp Atlas. 2009. A cooperative effort of Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S.D.I. Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. Map products updated March 2017. Provisional PDF version of the website (2005-2019) created July 2019. 250 pp.
WDFW educational resources
- Wild Washington Lesson Plan – Herps in Washington - Elementary school students are introduced to the cold-blooded world of reptiles and amphibians, also known as herps.
- Family Education – Amphibians and Reptiles - Slither, hop, or crawl on over to learn about herpetofauna!