Within Fort Bowie, there are two residents in the genus Lampropeltis, also known as the kingsnakes and milk snakes. These snakes are common throughout North America, and there are 45 species within this genus. The two species found in this park are the Sonoran mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltis pyromelana, and common kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula. Although they look similar to coral snakes, these species are not closely related.
The western coral snake, also found at Fort Bowie, has broader stripes, and the red stripes are bordered by white. The kingsnake has more narrow stripes that are bordered by black. All kingsnakes are non-venomous, but their appearance mimicking that of a dangerous coral snake helps them avoid becoming a meal to mammals and birds of prey.
The genus name Lampropeltis contains the Greek words for “shiny shield”, which refers to their smooth, glossy scales. Their common name of “kingsnake”, however, is a reference not to their looks, but to their diet. In addition to eating rodents, lizards, and frogs, they also prey on other snakes, including rattlesnakes and rat snakes. They can pull this off because of two special abilities: they are completely immune to the venom of other snakes, and they are pound for pound the strongest constrictors in the world. After tracking down their prey, they tightly coil around it and squeeze, which disrupts blood flow to the heart and brain of its victim. Other constrictors, such as pythons and boas, mostly prey on mammals, which die quickly once their blood flow is cut off. However, a large part of the kingsnake’s diet consists of reptiles, which can go longer with interrupted blood flow and low levels of blood oxygen. Kingsnakes evolved a stronger squeeze to ensure that they could quickly and efficiently take down their formidable prey.
Marcus Woo, “Snake Kills Bigger Snakes With World’s Most Powerful Squeeze,” National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/snakes-constrictors-kill-predators-muscles. (accessed August 9th, 2021).
Jessie Szalay, “Kingsnake Facts,” LiveScience. https://www.livescience.com/53890-kingsnake.html. (accessed August 9th, 2021).
“Kingsnake,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingsnake. (accessed August 9th, 2021).
Last updated: September 15, 2021