Lampropeltis means "shiny shield" (from Greek λαμπρος, "shine" + πελτα, "small shield"), due to their dorsal scales. The majority of kingsnakes have quite vibrant patterns on their skin. Kingsnakes use constriction to kill their prey and tend to be opportunistic when it comes to their diet; they will eat other snakes (ophiophagy), lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs. They are highly resistant to the venom of other snakes and are known to eat rattlesnakes. The "king" in their name (as with the king cobra) is a reference to their taste for other snakes and their ability to overpower other snakes. Kingsnakes are commonly kept as pets.
Some species of kingsnake, such as the Scarlet Kingsnake, have coloration and patterning which can cause them to be confused with the venomous coral snakes. There are several mnemonic rhymes to help people distinguish between the coral snake and its non-venomous look-alikes, such as "If red touches black, it's OK, Jack. If red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow." and "Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, Don't kill Jack." and "If yellow follows red, you're dead." These rhymes refer to the color of the rings on the snake, and only apply to those coral snakes found in the United States.
Taxonomic reclassification is an ongoing process, and differing sources often disagree, granting full species status to a group of these snakes that another source considers a subspecies. In the case of Lampropeltis catalinensis, for example, only a single specimen exists, and therefore classification is not necessarily finite. In addition, hybridization between species which have overlapping geographic ranges is not uncommon, confusing taxonomists further.
Kingsnakes are commonly kept as pets, due to their ease of care. Kingsnakes are overall hardy and simple to care for. Their captive diet usually consists of appropriately sized rodents, prekilled or live, though frozen is generally preferred due to potential rodent bites. Kingsnakes are generally docile, curious and gentle. Kingsnakes seem to enjoy being handled. They also seemed to be mesmerized by patterns flashing on a television.