Other common names
Most adult Short-tailed Kingsnakes are about 14-20 inches (36-51 cm) in total length. These are extremely slender gray snakes with a pattern of black blotches or spots. The light-colored spaces between the black spots on the back often have an orange center giving the impression of an indistinct orange stripe running down the back. The blunt head is very small and roughly the same diameter as the body. The top of the head is dark brown or black. Juvenile coloration is similar to that described for adults.
Short-tailed Kingsnakes occur throughout much of upland northern central Florida, west of the St. Johns River. It is not found outside of Florida
Assessment of risk to people and pets
Non-venomous. Short-tailed Kingsnakes are not dangerous to people or pets. They avoid direct contact with people and pets.
Comparison with other species
Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) Venomous Pygmy Rattlesnakes have a large head and distinct neck, a relatively thick body, and a small rattle on the tip of the tail.
Most adult Short-tailed Kingsnakes are about 14-20 inches (36-51 cm) in total length, with a record length recorded of 25.8 inches (65.5 cm). These are extremely slender gray snakes with a pattern of 50-80 black blotches or spots down the middle of the back that alternate with dark spots on the sides. The light-colored spaces between the black spots on the back often have an orange center giving the impression of an indistinct orange stripe running down the back. The belly is gray to brown and has white flecking. The blunt head is very small and roughly the same diameter as the body. The neck is indistinct, and there is sometimes a dark line through the eye. The pupil is round. The top of the head is dark brown or black. The scales are smooth, and there are 19 scale rows at midbody. The tail is short, comprising 12% or less of the snake’s total length. Juvenile coloration is similar to that described for adults.
Short-tailed Kingsnakes are restricted to upland pine-turkey oak woodlands and dry, sandy-soiled habitats such as coastal live oak hammocks and sand pine scrub. These highly secretive snakes are primarily burrowers and are rarely seen. However, adults are occasionally found in suburban neighborhoods where development encroaches into favorable habitats.
If grabbed or pinned, Short-tailed Kingsnakes may strike at the attacker with the mouth closed while releasing a short hissing sound. They may also rapidly vibrate the tail and exhibit head-twitching behavior.
Short-tailed Kingsnakes appear to feed almost exclusively on small snakes, especially Florida Crowned Snakes (Tantilla relicta). However, some captive individuals have occasionally eaten small smooth-scaled lizards, suggesting they may eat these in the wild. Prey are typically killed by constriction.
Virtually nothing is known of the reproductive biology of Short-tailed Kingsnakes. They are assumed to lay eggs, but no eggs or nesting sites have been found for this species.
If you have a new or interesting observation for this species, please email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum.
Ernst, C.H. and E.M. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 668 pp.
Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2019. Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida. 706 pp.
Powell, R., R. Conant, and J.T. Collins. 2016. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston and New York. xiv + 494 pp.
Share your observations
You can help scientists better understand the biology and distribution of this species by sharing your observations. Send photos or videos of interesting observations, along with associated information, by emailing the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum for documentation in the Museum’s Herpetology Master Database. You can also post your observations on iNaturalist.
Additional helpful information
Do you have snakes around your house? Learn how to safely co-exist with snakes.
Still have questions about snakes or identifications? Feel free to email the herpetology staff at the Florida Museum with your questions.
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