The scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) is a nonvenomous species of kingsnake found in the southeastern and eastern portions of the United States. They are found in pine flatwoods  hardwood hammocks, prairies, cultivated fields, and suburban areas. Long thought to be divergent from other tri-color kingsnakes and milksnakes, Pyron & Bubrink  demonstrated the phylogenetic distinction of this species and its closer relationship to the mountain kingsnakes of the Southwest than to milksnakes. These fossorial snakes are among the smallest of all kingsnakes, usually ranging from 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) at maturity. The maximum recorded length is 68.4 cm (26.9 in). Hatchlings range in size from 10 to 20 cm (3.9 to 7.9 in).
The generic name, Lampropeltis, is derived from the Ancient Greek lamprós (λαμπρος) meaning "bright" and peltas (πελτας) meaning "shield", after the sheen of their scales. Its specific name, elapsoides, is a Latinization of the Greek word éllops (ελλοπς) which refers to coral and was used to describe the nineteenth century genus, Elaps (type genus of the family Elapidae), which included the coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), a venomous species which the scarlet kingsnake resembles and with which the scarlet kingsnake is sympatric.
It was once believed that the scarlet kingsnake intergraded with the Eastern milk snake, which produced a variation once named the coastal plains milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum temporalis), but this is no longer recognized as a legitimate subspecies.
Scarlet kingsnakes have a tri-color pattern of black, red, white, and various shades of yellow bands that appear to mimic the venomous coral snake. A method to help differentiate between venomous and non venomous tricolor snakes in North America is found in the popular phrases "red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black venom lack", "red on yellow's a deadly fellow; yellow on black's a friendly Jack" or "If red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow; if red touches black, you're all right, Jack" and "Red and black is a friend of Billy Jack".
All scarlet kingsnakes are born with white banding. With adults that have shades of yellow instead of white, the juveniles develop the yellow, apricot, or tangerine colored banding of their parents as increase in length, with most specimens expressing this beginning around 26 cm (10 in).
Scarlet kingsnakes are secretive, mostly nocturnal, fossorial snakes and are seldom seen by people. Loose bark on rotting pine trees is a favorite place for them to hide during spring or during heavy rains. They are often found at the base of decaying pines below the fallen bark, decaying wood, and soil where they hunt for they favorite prey, skinks.
- Stejneger and Barbour. 1917. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 125 pp. (Lampropeltis elapsoides, p. 88).
- The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org.
- Armstrong, Michael P.; Frymire, David; Zimmerer, Edmund J. (December 2001), "Analysis of sympatric populations of Lampropeltis triangulum syspila and Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides, in western Kentucky and adjacent Tennessee with relation to the taxonomic status of the scarlet kingsnake", Journal of Herpetology (Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles) 35 (4): 688–93, doi:10.2307/1565915, ISSN 0022-1511, JSTOR 1565915, http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e050a2140da939dde29bfd13582719af621eb734dba33044f9d443e023694dc49&fmt=P
- Pyron, R.A.; Burbrink, "Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini Serpentes: Colubridae.", Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, http://188.8.131.52/~fburbrink/Research/Publications/selected_publications.htm
- Williams, Kenneth L. (1988), Systematics and natural history of the American milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum., Milwaukee, WI (USA): Milwaukee Public Museum, http://md1.csa.com/partners/viewrecord.php?collection=ENV&recid=1964640
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