The San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
(Lampropeltis zonata pulchra
) is a snake
native to Southern California
. Its state-level conservation status is "Species of Special Concern".
''This article has been taken directly from a 2003 public domain report published by the California Department of Fish and Game
A medium-sized (53-108 cm total length) snake with a distinctive sequence of red, black, and white rings (tricolor dyads: Savage and Slowinski 1990; these are similar, but yet different from the triads of Zweifel 1952b) in which relatively narrow white rings are always bordered by black rings, and red coloration, which can occur as rings or bands, borders alternate black rings (Zweifel 1952b; pers. observ.). Occasional aberrant patterns can be found in which rings are lacking (see Figure 2 in McGurty 1988). The number of tricolor dyads on the body (except the tail) ranges from 27 to 38, and between 15% and 100% of the red rings between body dyads are complete (Zweifel 1952b). The snout is jet black and the iris is very dark brown (B. McGurty,, pers. comm.).
Citations in this page need to be referenced in the Source list below.
The taxonomic remarks made for Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra
also apply to this taxon, namely:
This taxon has not been reexamined since Zweifel (1952b) described the races of Lampropeltis zonata. Diagnosis of L. z. parvirubra is problematic because allocation of individuals to this taxon requires using a combination of several characters simultaneously that individually overlap considerably in variation with other races of L. zonata. Biochemical analyses coupled to more extensive morphological analyses are needed to better understand the systematic status of this taxon. Since individuals of L. z. parvirubra are difficult to obtain (captive snakes notwithstanding), novel techniques such as DNA extraction from preserved specimens will almost certainly be needed to help resolve this problem. Interpretation of this taxon as a full species (Collins 1991) is unjustified and awaits the aforementioned analyses.
This California endemic occurs in the Santa Monica Mountains
(Los Angeles County
); Santa Ana Mountains
Counties); Santa Rosa Mountains
(Riverside County); and Corte Madera
, Hot Springs, Laguna
, and Palomar Mountain
(San Diego County: McGurty 1988; Figure 44). Its elevation range extends from near sea level to ca. 1800 m (Palomar Mountain, San Diego County). Two early specimens (SDSNH 9930, USNM 13889) and three post-1960 records (B. MdGurty, pers. comm.) from western San Diego County suggest the possibility of native populations of this taxon near the coast. However, the latter records have remained unverified and the former may represent mislabeled specimens or escaped or released pets (B. McGurty, pers. comm.).
Lampropeltis z. pulchra
is an infrequently observed, secretive, cryptozooic
snake, the life history of which is still only partly understood. The San Diego mountain kingsnake typically emerges from overwintering sites in March and may remain near-surface active through November, but it is particularly conspicuous near the surface from roughly mid-March to mid-May (Klauter 1931, McGurty 1988), during which time it is active during the warmer daylight hours (pers. observ.). Later in the season, it may be active after dark, which is probably related to the fact that, like most snakes, it has a relatively low temperature preferendum and a relatively low critical thermal maximum (42.5 °C: data provided for L. zonata
, subspecies not specified; Brattstrom 1965). Based on wild-caught captive individuals, mating probably takes place in May and eggs are usually laid in June or early July (McGurty 1988; pers. observ.). Females lay 4-9 moderate-sized (averages 36 mm long x 16 mm wide), bone white, leathery-shelled eggs that if similar to eggs incubated in captivity, require at least 2 months to develop before hatching (McGurty 1988). Hatchlings are usually first observed between late August and early October (pers. observ.). The time required to reach reproductive maturity in the field is unknown, but captive L. z. pulchra
required 4-5 years to reach sexual maturity (McGurty 1988). If captive longevity records for other races of this species are any indication (see Bowler 1977), San Diego mountain kingsnakes may be relatively long-lived. Indications exist that L. z. pulchra
may be highly philopatric, consistently using local patches of suitable habitat (McGurty 1988), but the movement patterns of this taxon are largely unknown. This taxon is also probably primarily saurophagous, and only western fence lizards
and Western Skinks
have been recorded as having been eaten by San Diego mountain kingsnakes, but prey similar to other subspecies of L. zonata
are probably also taken (Newton and Smith 1975, McGurty 1988).
In the interior mountain ranges, Lampropeltis z. pulchra
occurs primarily in associations of ponderosa, Jeffrey, and Coulter pine, and black oak, and is infrequently found below the coniferous forest associations (Zweifel 1952b, McGurty 1988; pers. observ.). At lower elevations and in coastal ranges, it occurs below the edge of mixed oak-coniferous forest in riparian
woodlands, usually in canyon bottoms, that have western sycamore (Platanus racemosa
), Fremont's cottonwood, coast live oak, willows, wild rose (Rosa
spp.), and blackberries. It may be found in narrow riparian woodlands in association with chaparral and coastal sage vegetation types (pers. observ.; see McGurty 1988). Rocks or rocky outcrops appear to be an important element of L. z. pulchra
habitat (McGurty 1988), probably because they provide suitable refuge sites and they harbor the necessary food resources. Such locations may also provide overwintering sites.
California state status: "Special Concern"
This snake continues to be highly prized among collectors (S. Barry, R. Fisher, and B. McGurty, pers. comm.) despite prohibitions on collecting or selling it in California (Nicola 1981, California Fish and Game Commission 1990). The only individuals that can be possessed are those that were in possession of their owners prior to when the prohibition on collection regulations were implemented. Currently, this taxon is mentioned for sale in some reptile fancier lists at $250.00 per snake (pers. observ.); such a demand undoubtedly fuels a black market trade for this taxon among collectors. In addition, McGurty (1988) provided data for a single locality in San Diego County suggesting a local decline in L. z. pulchra that he attributes to overcollecting of this taxon. Since no obvious habitat change has occurred at this site (B. McGurty, pers. comm.), the interpretation McGurty provided may be correct. McGurty (1988) also cites the destruction of local habitat by overzealous collectors (the dismantling of outcrops and the shredding of logs and stumps), especially in San Diego County, as reasons for this taxon's decline (see also Newton and Smith 1975). Rock-chipping for this taxon as well as for selected lizards was a problem that was recognized over 15 years ago, and continues to be a problem in certain local areas despite the fact that altering habitat in this way is prohibited under current regulations by both State and Federal land management and resource agencies. Illegal fuelwood harvesting also adds to the problem of habitat alteration (McGurty 1988).