king snake, name for a number of species of the genus Lampropeltis, nonvenomous, egg-laying, constricting snakes of North America which show much variation in color and markings. The common king snake, or chain snake ( Lampropeltis getulus ), of the E United States is usually about 3 to 5 ft (90–150 cm) long and black or brown with yellow and white rings or bands that form a chainlike pattern. It eats rodents, birds, and snakes. It is immune to the venom of the rattlesnake and the copperhead, which it kills by constriction. The scarlet king snake ( L. doliata ) has a pattern of black, red, and yellow bands similar to that of the unrelated coral snake. Other less brightly marked varieties of the same species are called milk snakes, because they are reputed by legend to milk cows. King snakes are valuable destroyers of rodents. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Squamata, family Colubridae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.