A brief over view of Lampropeltis in Kentucky

By Phil Peak


Four species of Lampropeltis inhabit the Commonwealth of Kentucky. There is richness in variation in both species and intergradient forms. Every corner of Kentucky has at least one species of these interesting and often beautiful snakes. The following is a brief summary of this genus in its many forms rather than a comprehensive analysis of each.



The Black Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula nigra is the common kingsnake of the state. This species thrives in many habitats and can be found throughout Kentucky with the exception of a handful of counties within the Bluegrass Region.  The specimen above hailed from Edmonson County and is typical of upland populations.

This specimen is more typical of lowland populations. Examples from these habitats such as this Calloway County animal often retain some of the juvenile patterning into adulthood.

Along the Mississippi corridor in extreme western Kentucky exists an intergradient form, L.g.nigra x L.g.holbrooki, the Black Kingsnake x Speckled Kingsnake intergrade.

The above specimen was photographed in Hickman County. As is typical with intergrades these snake show intermediate characteristics of either subspecies.

The Prairie Kingsnake, Lampropeltis calligaster can be found roughly from a point near Louisville south to the Tennessee state line and west to the Mississippi River in the west, though it is absent or rare throughout much of the Western Coal Field. It frequents old field habitat and can be locally common. They vary in coloration from gun metal gray to a range of other earth tones, most notably some shade of brown.

Hatchlings begin life heavily patterned but much of this is lost by adulthood, particularly with males which often lose all but the faintest remnants of their original patterning as they mature. The Prairie Kingsnake above was located in Graves County.

The milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum has a statewide distribution though it is rare to absent in some of the counties in the Western Coal Field along the Ohio River.

The Eastern Milk Snake, L.t.triangulum is found from an area east of Louisville through the Bluegrass and Eastern Coal Field Regions.

It is characterized by numerous dorsal blotches and a Y configuration on the nape. It usually has chestnut brown blotching on a background of tan or gray. Conspicuous lateral blotching is present. The above specimen was found in the Bluegrass Region in Harrison County.

From the Knobs Region to approximately Land Between the Lakes the milk snake occurs as an intergrade, Eastern x Red Milk Snake - L.t.triangulum x L.t.syspila.

These snakes show intermediate characteristics of either subspecies and can be quite variable even at the same locale.

The above specimen was located in Bullitt County and displays the collar on the nape which is associated with the Red Milk Snake. Snakes from the intergrade zone can show either the collar or Y configuration, and the number of dorsal blotches varies. Intergrades often have reduced lateral blotching yet rarely to the extent displayed by what is considered pure Red Milk Snakes. The variation within this intergradient population makes them particularly interesting.

The Red Milk Snake, L.t.syspila occurs in the Jackson Purchase Region and is easily identified by its bright coloration, reduction of dorsal blotches and the absence of lateral blotches. The snake in the photo was photographed in Fulton County.

Our fourth species of Lampropeltis is the Scarlet Kingsnake, Lampropeltis elapsoides. This small but colorful snake has a wide yet sketchy distribution in the state. Historically known from several locations in east and south-central Kentucky, recent records are predominantly from west Kentucky in upland forest situations. The specimen below was located in Trigg County.

Over all this is a diverse assemblage of snakes encompassing a wide spectrum of coloration and size as well as habitat preference. Always beautiful, always interesting, and a pleasure to observe in Kentucky’s fields and forests.