Florida's Kingsnakes - Lampropeltis getula floridana, Lampropeltis getula getula, Lampropeltis getula meansi

Lampropeltis getula floridana

Range: see map, It intergrades (interbreeds) with the Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) It is not found outside of Florida.

Habitat: Uncommon, it is found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, cypress strands, prairies, marshes, estuaries, sugar cane plantations, and stands of melaleuca (Australian punk trees).

Lampropeltis getula meansi

Range: Endemic to Florida, see map. Morphological intermediates or hybrids (i.e., currently unrecognized L. g. goini) between the Eastern Apalachicola Lowlands Kingsnake and the Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) are found mostly in the surrounding region from southern Gulf and Franklin counties to the west, north to Calhoun County, and east into northern Liberty (north of Telogia Creek), Gadsden, Leon, Wakulla, and Jefferson counties. It is not found outside of Florida.

Habitat: Rare, it is found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, cypress strands, prairies, marshes, and estuaries.

Lampropeltis getula getula

Range: In Florida, see map, It interbreeds with the Florida Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana), as well as with the with the Eastern Apalachicola Lowlands Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula meansi) from surrounding Apalachicola region from southern Gulf and Franklin counties to the west, north to Calhoun County, and east into northern Liberty (north of Telogia Creek), Gadsden, Leon, and Wakulla counties. Outside of Florida, it is found from southern Alabama to southern New Jersey.

Habitat: Uncommon, it is found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, cypress strands, prairies, marshes, and estuaries. Like other Kingsnakes in Florida, its populations have declined drastically the last few decades. 

Click on the map for county local FL Kingsnake photos 

Terrapin being robbed of its eggs as they fell. Corralled by a large Citrus County King. Photo credit Kimo Brown

A Species in Decline

In recent years, Common Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula) and Florida (floridana) have virtually disappeared from much of their range in Florida, southern Georgia, and southeastern Alabama. Although known primarily from anecdoctal reports, these declines have appeared to occur at an alarming rate. In some regions, kingsnakes have gone from common to apparently absent in less than a decade. No discernable pattern of these declines has been determined, as the species may be undetectable across large areas yet still locally abundant in others. So far, the eastern (getula) and Florida (floridana) subspecies appear to be the only taxa affected, but other races are being watched closely.

Scientists are puzzled by these declines, which do not follow the patterns normally associated with invasive species, development/sprawl, known diseases, or unsustainable harvest.

Fire ants have been implicated in the decline of many native species since their introduction near Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the mid 20th century. These impacts usually radiate outward from the central Gulf Coast in a relatively uniform pattern. While fire ants have no doubt taken a toll, kingsnake declines appear to be centered considerably east of the inoculation point and do not follow the geographic pattern generally associated with ant-related extirpations.

While clearly a source of stress, development-related habitat fragmentation does not explain declines on large, relatively remote public lands such as the Conecuh, Ocala and Apalachicola National Forests.

Disease may also play a role but more research is needed to identify which, if any, pathogens are involved.

In the past few decades, advances in reptile husbandry have taken pressure off of wild snake populations by providing the pet industry with a renewable supply of captive-bred specimens. Most kingsnake declines have been noted in the years since commercial collection began to wane.

Well-known for eating other snakes, including venomous species, kingsnakes are arguably the most popular, least-persecuted snakes in the Southeast. However, for such a conspicious animal, suprisingly little is known of their ecology or population biology. Field studies are currently underway to help elucidate the natural history of this species but additional work is needed to help determine potential causes of their apparent decline. The Upland Snake Conservation Initiative is joining with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to sponsor a multi-disciplinary effort to investigate the subject.  

Gravid Highlands County King. April 2016

    Pasco County King eating a Eastern Diamondback 2006