Florida King Snake Lampropeltis getula floridana


Below: An adult Florida king snake showing bright yellow coloration and some speckling

Florida Sugar King Snake Lampropeltis getula floridana

The sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee in Glades, Hendry, and Palm Beach Counties are inhabited by one of the largest remaining king snake populations in the state of Florida. Having spent many days in the field in this region, we have had the opportunity to see many king snakes here and have saved select examples for breeding. Though not known for being highly speckled or exceptionally colorful, the nicest of these have subtle beauty all their own. 

Below: A pretty Florida king snake with a high contrast pattern

Florida king snakes are variable, so it is hard to create one description that fits them all. Some have very little speckling and have a solid black or chocolate brown background. Others have varying amounts of speckling. We prefer specimens with the cleanest patterns and brightest colors. Juveniles tend to be solid black without speckling. They may have red coloration on the bands, though this usually fades with age.

These snakes tend to be very docile and are some of our highest recommended pet snakes. They are usually very good eaters at all ages and are very hardy. This variety is an excellent choice for the first time snake keeper.

Below: A typical juvenile Florida king snake

Florida Sugar King Snake Lampropeltis getula floridana



In the Wild

The area now known as the Everglades Agricultural Area was once part of the Everglades. Lake Okeechobee overflowed its southern shore directly into the River of Grass. Though the Everglades was once considered an impenetrable wasteland,  farmers eventually discovered that the fertile muck soils of the marshlands were perfect for growing a variety of crops. The water was drained into ditches and canals so that the fields could be farmed. Some of the canal banks were piled with the limestone spoils dug from the canals. Others banks were carpeted in lush grass or brushy vegetation. Rodents and rabbits abounded in the symmetrical  maze of waterways and fields and fed directly on the sugar cane which had become the main crop of the region. Unknowingly, man had created a paradise for snakes.

Racers, indigo snakes, garter snakes, ribbon snakes, and waters snakes all thrived on the canal banks. Dense populations of rat snakes inhabited the rows of Australian pine trees planted along the canals. However, it was the Florida king snake that truly became the dominant serpent of the region. King snakes thrived on the bounty of the canals, feeding on the abundant food sources including rodents, frogs, turtle eggs, and other serpents.

Below: A road side canal in the sugar cane fields

Sugar cane field canal Hendry County, Florida

A growing legion of snake enthusiasts in the mid 20th century soon learned to take advantage of the artificial "snake farm" that had been created in the cane fields near the lake. A spring morning's walk down a canal bank could produce double digit numbers of Florida king snakes, which basked in the early sunlight, as well as numerous other serpents. Fallen signs, old truck tire inner tubes, and tin from the roofs of barns and pump houses could be flipped for hiding snakes.

Snake hunters discovered that they could make decent money collecting snakes in the cane fields. The most clever collectors selectively placed their own cover objects, especially carpets, which, if placed correctly, became reliable sources for king snakes. The art of bank walking for king snakes and hunting structures for rat snakes was shared among the snake hunters. A culture of "commercial collection" had been created.

Below: A classic snake hunter's set in the cane fields. This is an old truck tire inner tube folded over and placed on a rock pile at the end of a canal.


Though today's "field herping" culture generally looks down on the practice of "commercial collection," the reality is that, at least in the case of king snakes in the cane fields, the practice was sustainable for many years. Collectors generally focused their efforts near roads and towns, simply because there was no need to go very far into the fields to find snakes. The fields were so extensive and so much of the land was inaccessible that it simply was not possible to collect all of the snakes. The snakes were an artificially abundant cash crop that were only there in such numbers because of man's modification of the habitat. No matter how many animals were collected, there always seemed to be plenty left to breed to sustain the population.

Times have changed in the cane fields. Most the the fields are owned by large corporations that aggressively discourage trespassing on their land. Law enforcement officials patrol all the roads running through the fields and keep a sharp eye out for trespassers. Canal banks are maintained by a regiment of herbicide and dredging, which makes them  much less hospitable for wildlife. The banks sprayed with herbicide become barren and inevitably collapse from erosion, after which they are dredged with backhoes to keep the canals from filling with silt.

Below: A Florida king snake found under a board in a trash pile

Florida king snake Lampropeltis getula floridana Glades County, Florida

Though still common, the king snakes are not nearly so easy to find as they once were. Illegally dumped trash is quickly removed in most areas. The banks are maintained in such a way that at many stages, very little life persists along the canals. The harvest has become less bountiful.

As captive breeding has became more popular and the demand for wild caught snakes in the pet trade has decreased, the snakes have been collected less and less frequently.  A new breed of "field herper" now hunts with a camera. Many of the old time collectors' tricks are being lost to time as shear numbers of snakes are not considered as important as diversity of species, each one a simple check on a list that need not be repeated.

A new call for restoration of the Everglades will undoubtedly change the area once again. A large chunk of the Everglades Agricultural Area is slated to be turned back into marshland. "Restoration" is accomplished by dynamiting and bulldozing of the canals, the banks, and the fields themselves. A "restored" area more or less resembles a parking lot before being reflooded. At a time in the not-too-distant future, snake hunting in the cane fields may become just a memory.

Below: Daniel Parker shows off the bounty of a short hunt in the cane fields: five Florida king snakes and two scarlet king snakes

Daniel Parker Florida king snakes Lampropeltis getula floridana Scarlet king snakes L. t. elapsoides



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