Scarlet Kingsnake Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Scarlet Kingsnake
Scientific Name:Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides
Life Span:12 to 30 years
Mass / Size:2.77 pounds or 1,270 grams
Length: 14 to 20 inches
Habitat:Near bodies of water and areas with loose, sandy soil
Country of Origin:North America

Naming / Taxonomy

The generic name of the Scarlet Kingsnake, Lampropeltis, is obtained from Lampros, which is the Ancient Greek word for “shiny” and Peltas which means “shield,” after the snake’s shiny scales. Furthermore, coral is the meaning of the Greek word Ellops to signify its genus name Elapsoides. The Scarlet Kingsnake belongs to the same genus as the eastern coral snake, of which it has a high resemblance with.

Physical Description

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The scarlet kingsnakes have energetic decorations on their skins with bright and contrasting colors. The designs, including some dots, speckles, and bands, fill out the entire body of the snake, so it allows the kingsnake to be invisible from predators like hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, and other snakes.

Scarlet kingsnakes have a tricolored design of black, red, white, and various shades of yellow bands that appear to impersonate the venomous coral snake in the form of Batesian mimicry. As they evolve, they develop different shades of yellow within geographic areas where this is represented. Additionally, the yellowing pigmentations are presented like a gradient that is lighter towards the bottom and darker towards their back.

Early expression of yellowing emerges as early as 3 months and proceeds through the first 3 years. As adults age, progressive darkening of the yellowish banding occurs. The yellow pigmentation diversifies from lemon to school-bus yellow, to tangerine, to apricot.

Despite similar colors in their skins, the design still varies between scarlet kingsnakes and coral snakes. Scarlet kingsnakes have red and black bands alternating each other, while the latter has red and yellow bands alternating one another. 

Since they coexist in some ecosystems all over the world, people use some rhymes to distinguish them. For instance, “Red on yellow kills a fellow. Red on black, a friend of Jack.” Because of the distinct similarities between the two snake species, humans often exterminate them, mistaking them for the poisonous one.

Now for some distinct body parts, scarlet kingsnakes have round pupils, an anal plate, a head that is shaped like a spoon, smooth scales, and a rounded jaw. On average, they can be seen to be two to six feet long.

Conservation Status

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The scarlet kingsnakes seen in North America are not deemed endangered, though the populations of many are decreasing. The Todos Santos Island scarlet kingsnake is critically endangered, however, according to the Red List of Threatened Species from the IUCN or the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Additionally, scientists feel concerned that the community of eastern scarlet kingsnakes in the southeastern coastal plain and Florida is diminishing. While the problem of the decrease is unknown, some suspect invasive fire ants that may swarm and eat scarlet kingsnake eggs or newly hatched young, according to Outdoor Alabama.

Life Span

When scarlet snakes are under care in captivity, they can usually live around 20 years up to 30 years old. But, their life span when in the wild remains unknown, as reported by data from the San Diego Zoo.

Availability and Natural Habitat

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Scarlet kingsnakes are tiny snakes; in fact, they actually are just 0.3 to 0.6 meters in length. These colorful snakes are located in some areas in Florida, Virginia, and all along the Mississipi River. These places are also where we can find the coral snakes that look quite similar to the scarlet kingsnake. Both these species of snakes are filled with black and yellow rings and a primary red color. The core difference would be coral snakes are venomous while scarlet kingsnakes are not. 

Across their diverse habitats, scarlet kingsnakes find comparable dwelling places to congregate in. They usually opt for staying in forests, rocky desert areas, grasslands, suburban locations, and some rocky fields. In some wetter parts of the US, scarlet kingsnakes consume more time around riverbanks, ponds, and swamps. But, these kingsnakes prefer to sojourn mostly on land compared to spending time submerged in water or trees. Basically, that means they are terrestrial creatures.

These snakes are also more adaptive in a seemingly secret life where all they do is hiding. You can usually spot them under tree barks, logs, burrows, and some boulders. They are really more discreet and lowkey compared to other animals.


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Scarlet kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes that kill by constricting their prey. These colorful reptiles are a very popular snake species in North America.  Because they are treated like the kings of the food chain, they get their namesake of being a kingsnake. These snakes have a tendency to eat other serpents, even the most dangerous ones.


If you want to know how these snakes behave, you should look into the particular area where they live. First off, scarlet kingsnakes are mainly nocturnal in most of their preferred geographical locations. They prefer day and night in places with more temperate weathers, like what they have in California. On the other hand, they tend to enjoy mid-level temperatures, including how it is during winters in the southeast portion of the US. But, scarlet kingsnakes located in the east are more likely to be seen at daytime. Amid the hottest summers, these snakes usually roam around in the morning, according to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.


Scarlet kingsnakes will wobble their tails and give out an unpleasant aroma during situations where they feel threatened. This is their imitation of the behavior done by a rattlesnake. Scarlet kingsnakes are not venomous, but they can also bite you whenever they feel threatened.

Some kinds of this snake are more hot-tempered than others, but that it frequently depends on the personality of the individual snake. But don’t be too scared, the scarlet kingsnakes are proven to be obedient and time once you have trained and tamed them. Because of their general kindness and peacefulness, the scarlet kingsnakes are preferred pets.

Scarlet kingsnakes ordinarily spend their winters while hibernating. During the cold winter times, they hide inside burrows, crevices, hollow caves, and some old tree stumps.



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Scarlet kingsnakes kill their prey through constrictions, meaning they squash their prey and eat their entirety as a whole when they die.

People are known to have some typical misapprehensions about how this defense mechanism happens. Some people think that when a constrictor attacks an animal, it can break and crush their bones. Another myth is that people believe that constrictors squeeze the lungs their prey to end up in suffocation. 

This is how it really works. The circulatory system of its prey is caused to go haywire as the snake keeps on squeezing the animal it has captured. The prey item will suffer from ischemia and die within seconds since the blood cannot flow properly to the brain.


Scarlet kingsnakes are aggressive hunters and do not tend to spend time thinking around and strategizing. By following the scent of their prey, they rush their movements and proceed to attack. Then, they immediately grab their target by biting them, and they keep on squeezing. Scarlet kingsnakes may only eat several times every few weeks, with the size of their chosen meal into consideration.


Scarlet kingsnakes eat bird eggs, bird eggs, lizards, and almost all types of rodents. Scarlet kingsnakes in tropical climates also eat some frogs, tadpoles, eggs, and turtle hatchlings. These kings of the food chain even eat other snakes like them. They can even eat the poisonous ones because they are naturally immune to the toxic poison. Aside from the poisonous ones, they also enjoy eating non-venomous ones like garter snakes, rat snakes, and other scarlet kingsnakes like them.

Eating Habits

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When you plan on feeding your pet, make sure they are the only snake around the enclosure. Never feed two scarlet kingsnakes in the same territory. Divide them for a few minutes before they eat to circumvent food aggression, and then keep them apart for several hours after they’re done. 

If you do not have skinks and lizards available, you can feed your snake mice. Most people suggest using live mice when feeding your snake, but this is not a requirement. Plus, live mice, if they fight back, can injure our snake. You can opt to feed your scarlet kingsnake with some freshly killed. Another option would be to freeze some of the mice and then thaw them once it is time for feeding your snake.

You can start by feeding your snake one mouse per week. But if you are seeking quick and immediate growth, you can feed it once every three days. Once the kingsnakes are fully developed, go back to giving them one mouse per week. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and some health issues for your pet.

For baby scarlet kingsnakes, start their nutrition by feeding them with pinky-sized mice. Feed baby snakes once every five to seven days. This is a satisfactory feeding schedule until the snake is a year old.

Snakes develop fastest during the first year of their lives. Adult snakes can be fed less often, about once every ten days, or once every other week. While your snake increases its size, gradually increase the amount of food that you provide. When you have bigger adult snakes, you can go for giving them some rats instead of little mice. This live food can be bought from most pet shops, but you can also buy them online.

While your snake is still busy eating, it would be best to stay away from it and wait for the lump from visible in its body to disappear. Don’t hold your snake up while you can still see the rodent indention in the snake’s body. If it’s still visible, your snake might feel hostile and attack you.


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Provide your scarlet kingsnakes with fresh water. Utilize some freshwater, not tap water, and place it in a bowl deep enough for your snake to do a little swim. Sometimes scarlet kingsnakes enjoy submerging inside their container, but be careful not to put too much water that can spill over the edges. Keep the water it bright and clean by replacing it every day.

Development and Reproduction

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Keepers must house your snakes alone or together only when breeding. Never keep them in the same habitat with other kinds of snakes. Don’t place juvenile scarlet kingsnakes together because they might eat each other. Scarlet kingsnakes should be kept in their living spaces alone, so they feel safe, comfortable, and don’t have to struggle with each other just for food.

Only keep the scarlet kingsnakes together if you have decided to breed them. Make sure to study and do your research beforehand, so you don’t accidentally put the snakes. Observe them for signs of aggression. Do not keep scarlet kingsnakes together after spawning has occurred.

Males tend to look for their potential female mates by following their chemical scent. The males will battle one other to win over a female, brawling with the other men until the loser lays flat on the battleground.

The female scarlet kingsnakes lay groups of three to 24 eggs in rotting logs, burrows, or other hidden locations. After putting the eggs, the mother snake abandons the babies, which will eventually hatch on their own after several weeks. Then, the baby scarlet kingsnakes can grow up to about twelve inches, and they have the instinct to care for themselves once they are born and hatched.

Mating Season

For scarlet kingsnakes, the climate on their geographical territory dictates when their mating season will begin. For those in colder areas, they reproduce during the end of spring towards the first of summer. On the other hand, those in hotter states begin mating at the start of spring.

Common Health Problems

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When taking care of scarlet kingsnakes, there is still a chance that your snake will encounter some health problems during their lifetime. Here are some things that you need to note.

First, watch out for parasitic mites that can live on the body of your pet. Check out the skin under their scales, their eyes, and their mouth. If you discern that your kingsnake is not eating and feeling lethargic, its body might be infested with mites, so give them a proper inspection.

Start treating your scarlet snake by giving them a bath using warm water. Sanitize their entire enclosure and provide them fresh flooring or substrates. Don’t bring back the original décor and furniture that was initially in their terrarium. It would make it easier to locate the mites and get rid of them this way.  If strenuous disinfection, cleaning, and sterilization still fail to remove the population of the mice, ask your vet about possible products or consult with an expert from a trusted exotic pet shop to finally solve the infestation problem. 

You should also watch for some diseases involving the respiratory system. If your scarlet kingsnake sounds secrete too much saliva or sounds like it is panting, it may be suffering from respiratory disease. These illnesses caused by contact with sick snakes, having dirty cages, and being exposed to shallow temperatures. If the symptoms persist within 48 hours, or if you feel uneasy, contact your veterinarian for some tests and proper medication. 

Lastly, you should observe how often your pet regurgitates their food. It’s not surprising for this to happen to your pet every once in a while. But, you should still take note that this can be an indication of significant disease. You should also refrain from picking your pets too soon after they eat. This will upset their stomach and cause them to vomit. To be sure, you should look for other possible symptoms if you see them regurgitating repeatedly. If this situation does not get better after a while, the best option is for you to bring them to the doctor for some labs. 

Preventing Illnesses

To keep your snake healthy, find a vet who knows about scarlet kingsnakes. Most animal doctors don’t come in contact with reptiles and snakes that often, as the usual customer are domesticated cats or dogs. Ask around in snake keeper communities and forums for their top recommendation. It is good to get acquainted with reputable veterinarians even when things are still doing well so that you have someone to consult during emergencies. 


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You should handle your snake gently. Remember that this the scarlet kingsnake is a wild animal, so it may feel afraid of you for quite some time. Hold your snake gently, and refrain from touching its face, especially during the beginning. When your snake is still getting used to you and your created area, only handle your pet for a short while and work your way up.

It’s not uncommon for kingsnakes to defecate or urinate on you when you handle them. Also, if you notice that your snake’s behavior or appetite changes abruptly, it could be because it’s stressed from too much handling.

Shedding is one significant event that you should watch out for. If you see your snake preparing to shed, refrain from carrying it. Noticeable signs that shedding is approaching are bluish and milky skin. In a few days, they’ll crawl entirely out of their old skin, and it will be safe to hold them again.

Particularly around the time when they’re shedding, scarlet kingsnakes will appreciate if you can help them by misting non-chlorinated water throughout its living space.

Finally, don’t restrain your snake. Scarlet kingsnakes do not really prefer biting prey or people, but if you suppress them, they might. Do not provoke them by placing pressure and squeezing them. Let them crawl and traverse gently through your fingers, hands, and arms. Also, they won’t face any risk of injury, do not let them dangle unsupported.


For the cage of your pet, juveniles can survive inside a 10-gallon terrarium, while picking a bigger one, about 20 gallons for your matured scarlet kingsnakes. The enclosure must at least be double the size of the snake. 

For best results, choose a clear glass terrarium or similar container. Though scarlet kingsnakes usually only get about 4 feet long, some can reach an adult length of 6 feet. So that your kingsnake can be adequately accommodated, make sure you get a terrarium that fits the right size. 

Most adult kingsnakes need an enclosure that can fit about 20 gallons. But you will know if your scarlet kingsnake has enough room if it cannot go beyond two-thirds of the enclosure’s area. Just remember, the larger the cage, the better it will be for your snake. Your snake can enjoy space to roam if you can allow it more room. 

Finally, make sure the living area of your snake is tightly shut and secure. The enclosure must be sealed enough that there would be no risks of your snake escaping. If the living space is not sturdy enough, your scarlet kingsnake will find the weak part and use that space to run away. Provide a secure living space, as scarlet kingsnakes are known to be quick in escaping their enclosures.


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For cage substrates, you can use cypress mulch, Aspen shavings, pelleted paper, and Sani-chips. Scarlet kingsnakes from tropical areas will do better on a drier substrate such as the husks, shavings, and chips. On the other hand, scarlet kingsnakes from Florida will prefer slightly damp substrates like sphagnum moss and mulch, similar to their tropical birthplace.

Don’t forget to cover the floor of the habitat. You can acquire commercial substrates or use newspaper, paper towels, or indoor carpet. It helps if you avoid cat litter or anything chemically treated or oily. Also, refrain from using anything that has an odor.

If the type of floor you have chosen for your scarlet kingsnake won’t be suitable for burrowing, you should at least add a few logs, corks, wood, and sticks to serve as their hiding places whenever they need to feel safe, protected, and secure.

If you want, you can add several some structures like branches that they can hang from or climb whenever they feel like it. These decorations are not strictly necessary, but they will make your tank more interesting for both you and your California Scarlet kingsnake.

Lighting and Temperature

Temperatures in the snake’s living space should be around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Radiant heat is recommended. For the primary heat source, an under tank heater can be your best bet. Place it toward one end so that there will be a colder area should your snake seek for one. 

Next, install a light in the tank that can help you view your snake. If you want your snake to be visible, you can add an ordinary fluorescent bulb to the living space, or just install a light bulb near the cage. But, take note; you need not buy any form of specialized lamps for the tank.

Additionally, it can be better if you provide a colder end in the cage, with a warmer end at the opposite. Since snakes are cold-blooded, they can transform into the current heat of their environment. You can purchase some pads, cables, and heaters in a trusted pet shop or online store to help regulate the temperature. 

Finally, do not place the snake enclosure near a space where the sunlight can hit. Temperatures can rise very swiftly, which can actually cause death to your scarlet kingsnake.

Where Can You Get a Scarlet Kingsnake as a Pet

For Scarlet Kingsnakes, you can acquire them from online breeders and sellers or special pet shops that feature exotic pets and reptiles. Only transact with legitimate sellers that can offer you with positive reviews from past customers.

How to Care for a Pet Scarlet Kingsnake

Scarlet Kingsnakes are a favorite among exotic pet owners. But, don’t just get them for their popularity. You should make sure that you can cope with its specific food request: lizards.  Though they are very pretty with their vibrant colors, they only prefer eating geckos, anoles, and skinks. You can trick them by feeding them lizard-scented mice. If these are things that you cannot cope up with, opt for another type of snake.

If you have issues with them being picky, you should make sure that you keep their habitat clean and well-maintained so that they won’t contract the disease. Also, you should manage to handle them as much as they like and keeping their environment at the ideal warmth, lighting, and humidity.

Fun Facts about Scarlet Kingsnake

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1. Scarlet kingsnakes are timid snakes which can be exhibited with them hiding most of the time. Scarlet kingsnakes prefer to slide away and disappear after they see an animal, a human, or an unusual movement.

2. The scarlet kingsnake is nocturnal and prefers to stay underground. This will limit their contact to humans and owners to almost nothing and also serves to protect these small snakes from other, larger animals and predators.

3. The scarlet kingsnake is very bashful, which means there is no need for humans to feel so threatened about them. These snakes are more afraid of people than we are of them. As long as you leave the scarlet kingsnake in the piece, you would not encounter a problem with them.

4. Scarlet kingsnakes hate being exposed to bright lights. If you want to own your scarlet kingsnake, there would be no need to invest in a heating lamp.

5. The scarlet kingsnake is famous for being the tiniest among the kingsnake family. Once it reaches full maturity, it usually is about sixteen to twenty inches.

6. You can play some mind games with your scarlet kingsnake by rubbing the food you will feed on a lizard so that it can absorb the scent.  

7.  Some scarlet kingsnakes would rather starve instead of eating other food aside from the skink lizard.

8. When scarlet kingsnakes give birth to their young, they lay them as eggs, which means they are oviparous. Usually, eggs still gestate and undergo incubation before they start to hatch.

9. The warmth of the scarlet kingsnake’s eggs often helps determine the gender of the snake. If the egg is colder, chances are higher that they end up as a female. If the egg feels warmer, it is more likely to be a male.

10. Starting with being picky, these snakes are particular about the things that would like to eat and what they would not.  One of their favorites is the skink lizard, and they won’t eat anything else most of the time. That’s how much they love it. This makes feeding time super tricky when you can’t get these specific lizards for your snake to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Are humans safe from scarlet kingsnakes?

Yes. These snakes are usually well-behaved, and they do not have venom in their blood. There is no need to worry about potential danger.

Are scarlet kingsnakes aggressive?

The scarlet kingsnake is not aggressive. If the snake senses any sign of life around it that could potentially be a predator, it hides or slithers away.

What are the scarlet kingsnake’s predators?

The animals that eat the scarlet kingsnake are usually some coyotes and some red-tailed hawks.

Is the scarlet kingsnake poisonous?

No. The scarlet kingsnake is non-venomous, so you will not be poisoned when you get into contact with one.

Do scarlet kingsnakes bite?

Scarlet kingsnakes are also known to bite whenever they feel threatened, though their bite is not poisonous to humans.

Are scarlet kingsnakes good pets?

Scarlet kingsnakes are not advised to be kept as pets by beginners. They require immediate level care that can be done by experienced reptile pet owners.

How long do scarlet kingsnakes get?

Scarlet kingsnakes reach 40 to 50 centimeters or 16 to 20 inches long when they mature. 

Where are scarlet kingsnakes found?

The region where scarlet kingsnakes are known to reside consists of most of the states in the eastern part of the US, but especially in the southeastern states like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Do scarlet kingsnakes kill other snakes?

Scarlet kingsnakes get their namesake from their ranking in the food chain. They eat other snakes, even some poisonous ones. 

What do baby scarlet kingsnakes eat?

Scarlet kingsnakes, including their young, love to eat some skinks, anoles, and other forms of lizard. They love this food so much that most of them will only eat this and decline all different kinds of food.

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