Prairie Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster)
This medium-sized species is brownish and blotched. Typical specimens will have a series of larger, roundish brown blotches running down the back with alternating smaller blotches on the sides. The background color will be some shade of grayish-brown. In some individuals, the blotched patterning will obscure with age and a faint overlay of stripes may even develop. The head is relatively small in comparison to the body and is approximately the same width as the neck region. The scales are smooth. The belly is a yellowish-cream color with a mottling of rusty spots and blotches.
Juveniles of the species look similar to the adults, but with more contrast between the blotches and background.
This species can be distinguished from the less common Great Plains Ratsnake in several ways. For one, the head of the Prairie Kingsnake is comparatively much smaller; the Great Plains Ratsnake has a distinct neck. Two, the general body shape of Kingsnakes is roundish, whereas Ratsnakes are cross-sectioned like a "loaf of bread". Three, the Great Plains Ratsnake (a close relative of the Cornsnake) has a bold, black-and-white checkered belly. Finally, the darker stripe running through the eye ends at the jaw line in the Prairie Kingsnake, but continues onto the neck in the Great Plains Ratsnake.
This species is also known as the Mole Kingsnake or Mole Snake.
Despite the name Prairie Kingsnake, this species can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodland, agricultural fields, and, of course, natural prairies. (They are less common in more heavily forested areas.) Favorite hiding spots include: old rock walls, underneath tin and other debris, and in animal burrows. This species can be especially common in and around more open grassland where there are ample places to hide and plenty of rodents to eat. One spring, a friend and I found over ten adult specimens in about two hours simply by flipping tin at an old, fallen down chicken house.
This species emerges from hibernation fairly early in the spring (usually mid- to late March). It can be seen basking in warm, sunny spots or out foraging for its first meal of the year. Shortly after this, males actively seek females. Breeding takes place in the spring.
The remainder of the summer is spent foraging for prey or hiding; occasionally basking. Gravid females will lay their eggs toward the end of summer; hatching takes place in the fall.
As long as the temperature is warm enough, this species will remain active. As soon as temperatures drop, this species will slip into a rock crevice or animal burrow to hibernate until next spring.
This species eats a variety of prey: small mammals (mice, rats, etc.), lizards, and rarely other snakes. Despite being a "kingsnake", warm blooded prey seems to be the overwhelming preference for this particular species.
This species is an active forager. It will catch the scent of potential prey and follow it out like a hound dog (but, of course, relying primarily on the tongue rather than nose). Prey, when found, is seized, constricted, and swallowed whole.
The temperament of this species is generally gentle and amicable, rarely biting even when first caught. In my experience, this species is the most consistently "handleable" of any of the species of Kingsnakes found in Arkansas.
In defense, this species is inclined to tuck its head away for protection and emit a foul-smelling musk. If backed into a corner on the ground, it may vibrate its tail, coil, raise its head high, and (if pressed) strike. Defensive lunges seem reluctant and measured.
This species is common in Arkansas despite its often ill-fated encounters with humans. Although the differences are obvious when considered, it is regularly mistaken for a Copperhead and killed on sight. Since areas in and around barns provide perfect habitat, confrontations with farmers are common. Highway fatalities for this species are a concern as well.