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Wild Caught Kings

Discussion in 'Kingsnakes' started by RossCA, Mar 15, 2011.

  1. RossCA

    RossCA Member

    Over the past 5 years I've concentrated on finding Cal kings in the wild more than any other species. My obsession started in 2005 when I learned aberrant kings could be found in my area. Since then, I've found several different morphs, which I feel has a lot to do with luck and getting out a lot. In 2007 we experienced a pretty severe drought. My usual herping sites in L.A. and Riverside County were bone dry. It wasn't even green and looked no different than August. Since San Diego had received a lot more rain and was actually green, I decided to look for a nice open area on google earth. Once I found a spot that looked good, I headed that way in hopes of finding an area with AC to flip. My main goal was to find a striped king. Up till that point I had found stripers in Riverside Co., but for the most part, they look different from the stripers in coastal S.D. I considered those different enough to be a lifer, if I could find one. This first picture is from the area I visited that day. As you can see, all the AC that had been there was already cleaned up and set in a pile. I found very few cover objects to flip and after hours of searching, I decided to head out.

    One the way out I came across this old box, which would be the last thing I'd find worth flipping. To my surprise, there laid perfectly coiled, my first San Diego striper!

    I was really excited to find this king. I lived so close to S.D. but never went there herping. I had been wanting to find one of these snakes for a long time but never got around to putting out the effort. In situ

    Now days I realize how easy these are to find in S.D. but this day will always be a great day in my memory.

    The next day I returned to check out another area close by for AC.

    Again, there was not much cover to be found but this old black tarp produced a really nice wide banded king.

    You can find even wider banded kings in S.D. but I had never found one with yellow bands this wide because the bands on kingsnakes from my area are always a lot narrower. To me this was just as cool as finding the striper.

    Those first two days were amazing for me even though I had only found one king per day. Later I was able to find another wide banded king and a nice looking juvenile with medium brown bands.


    This snake was a breath taker. I had seen photo's of them on FHF but never thought I would actually find one. I've never proven one of these out but I'd say its a true hypomelanistic kingsnake. If these are hypo, they tend to pop up in S.D. county more often than any other area I know of, but that could be due to the higher density of kings down there and the higher density of herpers in that area. However, they are by no means common. Later I learned our very own Billboard had rescued this king from development in Calrlsbad and released it at the site I had found it. It was a very impressive looking snake to see in person.

    The head pattern was unbelievable on this snake.

    Another area of San Diego County I've searched for kings was in Anza Borrego. I've heard desert phase stripers and aberrants have been found there on occasion, but to this day, I haven't found one yet. I have seen some really nice kings along the way. Here's a few of them.



    Unfortunately, this king was DOR.




    These first two pictures are of normal looking banded juvenile kings I've found in Western Riverside Co. The majority of kings in this area are dark brown as adults. Medium brown kings can also be found but the darker ones are the majority around here.


    This was a large adult male I found near Lake Perris. This king was very nice looking in person.

    Striped kings in Riverside Co. differ from stripers in S.D. Co. The main differences I've noticed is the yellow and brown aberrancies on the sides, which takes place of the speckling you often see in S.D. stripers. Also, striped kings in Riverside Co. will often have checkered patterns on the belly like a banded kingsnake. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, those are the differences.

    This first one has very clean sides. On the very lower part of the side you see the yellow and brown aberrancies where you would normally see rows of speckling in S.D. Co. stripers.

    Most of the stripers I've found in this part of the county have had 2nd and 3rd stripes on the sides above the yellow and brown aberrancies. Some are well developed, while others are reduced to speckling. In this individual, they are reduced to very slight speckling.

    In this individual they are developed much better than the last but you can still see areas where the side stripes are reduced to speckling. If you look close at high spotted stripers from S.D., you can often times see these side stripes within the speckling. Even though a lot of those snakes have well defined side stripes, they are not called triple stripers because of the lack of contrast due to the amount of speckling. The side stripes on this individual are developed enough to consider it a triple striped king. We call these triple stripers, but thats due to variation more than being an inherited genetic trait, IMO.

    Typical of Riverside stripers is the yellow area below the side stripes with brown aberrant markings. You often see this look on some S.D. stripers but the big difference is the brown markings is often reduced to small strips of brown between the scales or on the scale edges. That said, there have been Riverside looking stripers found in S.D., but I believe range has a lot to do with that. If its not range, the percentage of this look is low in that area for some reason. I know of one highly speckled striper found in Riverside Co., so there are exceptions to the rules.

    The side stripes in this individual are even more developed than the previous individual. You never really lose the speckling on the end of the side stripe near the tail. This snake was found road cruising.

    I thought the vertebral stripe was interesting. Its only about a half scale wide in a lot of areas.

    And a bit of a checkered pattern on the ventral's.

    This striper differs from all the other stripers I've ever found by having the brown and yellow aberrancies very high up on the sides. This may be Riversides version of a high spotted striper. One thing confusing about this snake is the pattern is very similar to some Newporters found in Orange Co. Hubbs believes there might be Newporter influence in this area because of it. It wouldn't be way off to call this snake a Newporter except for the fact the stripe continues down the tail and other striped kings have been found in the same locale. I roadcruised this snake one night in the fall near Lake Elsinore. The previous year I had found a DOR on this certain road in fall. I road cruised there after that but found nothing. The next year I decided to hit it at the same time I found it right in the middle of the road. Because I was driving a little too fast and didn't see it until I was right on it, I had to swerve to miss it, then stopped. I ran back with a flashlight but I could not find it. I ran back to the car and turned it around to use the headlights of the car. Luckily I found it right before it crawled off the road. It was a newly hatched YOY.



    This dotted king was also found near Lake Elsinore and I consider it one of my best finds ever. I found it at my favorite AC spot after 11 years of searching. Until then, I had only found one striper there and the rest were banded. Cal kings are hard to find in this area and I consider my self lucky if I find 2 during the Spring here. There are tons of other species in this area but for some reason Cal kings are hard to come by. Maybe its the habitat that just isn't favorable for flipping AC. Hubbs has found an area where these are more common, but in my neck of the woods, this is the first I've seen in over 20 years herping Western Riverside Co. Dotted kings are highly variable with most individuals having a mixture of striping, dashes, and bars in the pattern. The best examples are those with the most complete dots in the pattern. Only one wild example is known with a nearly, if not all, dotted pattern. Its a pickled specimen featured in Brian Hubbs book on Common kingsnakes.


    Brown bellies in stripers are not common, so that just added to the uniqueness of this snake to me. About 1/3 of the ventral pattern isn't solid brown, though.

    I couldn't have found this snake at a better time. A year previous, I had learned partial barred morphs had been found in Western Riverside Co. and I knew the possibility of finding a completely barred morph in my area was there. I thought I would increase my chances of finding one by looking in wetter habitats in my area, but as fate would have it, I found this snake at a spot I had been going to for years. The funny thing is that because of its pattern, it looked just like a normal banded king when I first lifted the board. It wasn't until about 5 seconds later I realized this snake was aberrant. Its hard to describe the excitement, but its something that lasts for weeks and even months in my case. lol I feel the same way about every aberrant king I find, because in most cases, they are very uncommon.

    Like the dotted kings, barred morphs are highly variable with most examples having stripes, dots, and dashes in their pattern. This example is nearly a perfect one.


    Whitewater Canyon Riverside County. This is one of the most popular herping areas in th U.S. and a place I spent a lot of time night driving back in 2005. Its a special place for me because its the first place I ever road cruised for snakes back in 1991. A lot of people come here for the boas, but my top priority has always been to find kingsnakes here. Of course boas, Specks, and ruber are always something I like seeing here.



    My favorite kingsnakes here are the ones with wide white bands. Here are a couple of kings I found like that in 05.

    A very nice yearling.

    In Sept. 2005 we got a good bit of rain one day, so I decided to hit WW the next day. that night the activity was way up compared to a week before and after. I ended up finding 11 snakes that night, which is pretty good for that time of year. One snake I didn't see until I was right up on it and couldn't stop until I passed it. I knew right away it was a king and ran back with my flashlight (a common occurrence for me while night driving lol). As soon as my light hit the snake I noticed it was a much lighter shade of brown than I've ever seen on a king out there. It was a yearling too and those are always nearly black. I collected the snake I continued driving. Every 20 minutes or so, I would stop and take a look at the snake. I couldn't get its colors off my mind. At first I was thinking maybe this was the offspring of a lighter brown king someone let go out there. I don't know why but it wasn't until a few days later that it dawned on me this snake was probably hypomelanistic. As I got to looking at photographs of similar looking kings from other locales, I noticed they were not as light as this one. That's when I became convinced this snake was really hypo. I consider this the best king I've ever found, not only because its hypo, but because this morph isn't recurring like Newporters, Striped, Eiseni, and Delta morphs. You can expect to turn one of those up sooner or later within their range, but hypos pop up randomly anywhere, like albinos. I feel real lucky to have found this snake.


    In 2006 I set up a boardline in O.C. to hopefully find a Newporter. That spring all I found was the same little Gopher snake over and over out of 30 boards. I lost interest in that site and didn't return till 2010. The aging of the boards helped out immensely. One day I found 7 kings and one Gopher snake. One of the kings was a Newporter. One pair of kings was found under one board, and another board had a pair of kings along with a Gopher snake. Here's a few photos of those kings.




    After 4 years, I finally found my first typical striped Newport. I had been wanting to find one of these for a while because they were one of the looks in a NP I hadn't found yet. Everyone else, it seemed, had found one but me. Normally these are what you can expect to find in a Newport, but I had been lucky enough to find some out of the norm Newports in 2006 in L.A. Co. It was a great feeling to have all that hard work pay off in one afternoon. There's nothing like finding something on your own without someone leading you the way.




    The old oil field home to a banded hypermelinistic morph known as Grease kings. This spot was known to many herpers in the area before I found it one January day in 2006. Upon entering this field, I found boards I later learned were laid out by other herpers. It was about 4 in the afternoon on that January 15th day and getting pretty cold at this point. I was finding nothing under the boards, but I expected that because of the time of year and for the fact I had been skunked earlier at another spot a few miles away. I was new to herping L.A. Co. and had only found one king in this County up to this point. I found a big pile of trash with some boards that appeared to be the work of a bulldozer. I took several of those boards and laid them out in different spots that looked favorable. After about 45 minutes I had flipped every board and piece of AC I could find and decided to leave. While on my way out I noticed a few pieces of bark laying next to a fallen Palm tree. I checked under them and under the last piece I found a juvenile kingsnake. Right away I noticed this king was different than other kings I have found. Its ventral pattern was very dark and so was its head. Later I found out by Hubbs this was a hypermelanistic kingsnake.


    Here is that king now. There's quite a bit of variation in this morph and this one is not considered very dark within its dorsal pattern, but it has the hypermelanistic head and ventral pattern. I was in awe by this snake because I had never seen one like it.

    It wasn't until a couple of months later that I finally found my second king here.

    The next day I returned again and found this odd looking king. This king differs from others by having tan coloration in place of the normal yellow pigment on the belly. That tan color also has an orange hue to it. The light pigment on the head is white and the light yellow rings are darker up top but thats hard to see because of the flash. When it comes to snakes, you really need to see them in person. Pictures don't always tell the true story. This field produces very different looking kings compared to others just a few miles away.

    In 2010 I returned to the oil field for the first time in a couple of years and found my fourth king under this piece of bark.

    Pretty typical of this field. Everyone I talk to claims they've never found more than one king at this spot.


    A lot of banded kings from L.A. have some dark pigment in between the light colored scales. More so than Riverside Co.



    This is the lightest colored king I've found in L.A. Co. I don't think its hypo, just really cool looking for the area.


    In 2006 Don Huffman introduced me to a new area and on that day we found this Newporter, the first I've ever seen in the wild. Its an older adult male with a pretty neat pattern for a Newport. Its not way off from the norm, but you can see the "Scrambled banded" influence in this snake. I kept this snake for a while and bred it to a banded female from the same field. Out of 9 eggs, I got 6 normal banded, 2 Newporters (one was Scrambled banded), and what really has me puzzled is a banded hypermelanistic king also hatched out of that batch. The two Newports are pictured below.

    Here's one of the Newports from the male above. This is a typical Newport but what stands out is the dark head pattern.

    This is the Scrambled banded Newport that was produced. It just goes to show both can hatch out of the same clutch. Its hard to say what causes some Newports to come out Scrambled banded, but for whatever reason it is, its a rare thing in nature. I love the pattern on this snake. I bred the father Newport three more times after this and it never produced another Scrambled banded, only typicals.


    In late Spring of 2006 I went out one last time to see what I could see. Right away I flipped a board and laying there was this snake. At first I thought to my self, this snake has wide yellow bands for the area. Then a few seconds later I noticed the stripe near the tail. Then I noticed the chocolate topped tail and realized this was actually a Newporter. I couldn't believe my eyes, I had never seen one like it. This Newport is considered aberrant because it deviates from the normal striped pattern. Another fellow by the name of Josh R. also found a Scrambled banded Newport a few months earlier and till this day, no others have been documented. A couple have turned up with partial SB patterns, but just slightly. This pattern type has to be considered rare in the wild and a big reason for that is the limited amount of habitat left.


    The very same day I found that SB Newport I also found a normal banded gravid king. She was the first gravid king I've ever seen in the wild, so I took her home in hopes of hatching something aberrant out of the clutch. Out of 7 eggs she laid I got one dark hypermelanistic king, with the rest being normal. These are not a very common morph either and from what I've heard, more Newports have been found in this area than hypers. In contrast, they are much more common in the old oil field I showed earlier. This will be one tough morph to find if that Oil field is ever developed into something else.

    The belly on this individual was very dark.

    One of the rarest kingsnake morphs. Only two have ever been found and both were found by Don Huffman. Don produced this individual in captivity and gave it to me as a small adult. It was definitely the coolest snake anyone's ever given me. There's only one thing I disagree with in Hubbs book, he placed this morph in the same category as the blotched mud morph. In doing so, he seems to suggest this is a striped example of the blotched mud morph but its not. The striped mud morph is a striped or aberrant patterned version of the Whittier morph. This I am 100% sure of from photo's, head pattern, and the fact Northern CA has the same situation going on within the Delta morph. Besides that, The blotched mud morph looks completely different in coloring and actually has stripes. So how could this be a striped version of a snake that already has stripes? lol I don't know why he chose to classify those two morphs together, but I have to say that book is still incredible and this is the only error I've seen worth mentioning. I really hope none of that comes across the wrong way. This morph is a simple recessive trait, and IMO, its the coolest Cal king morph in Southern California.

    Like the Whittier morph, the bellies are always solid brown in this morph.


    The High Desert of L.A. County is home to some very nice black and white kingsnakes. This is the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains.


    I've only found two in this area and this was the nicer of the two. Hope you've all enjoyed.


    Attached Files:

  2. Dragonflies

    Dragonflies Banned User

    Really interesting, thanks for taking the time to post these.
    Nice photography as well. :)
  3. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    Wow, I never realized there were that many wild variation in Cal Kings.
    Thanks for the educational info! You must get a real "high" when you find a special abberant pattern!

    Two things:
    1) Do you leave the snakes in the wild? (Your post is titled Wild Caught; but you sound more like a conservationist.)

    2) What do you mean when you say "AC to flip?"
  4. RossCA

    RossCA Member

    Thanks, guys!

    I have collected a few kings in the past and breed them now. I'm not against people collecting snakes from the wild, as long as they are responsible and care for what they take. And AC stands for "artificial cover". It can be anything from boards, pieces of carpet, tin, or plastic. Its basically just junk people dump illegally off dirt roads. Yeah, its real cool to find something aberrant, especially in LA Co. where there are very few places left to look for snakes.
  5. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    Wow, I'm just amazed with all the different Cali Kings there are, just gorgeous! Very jealous, what a wonderful experience this must be. I hope they don't develop these areas, it would be a shame to lose these snakes.
    Also thanks for sharing all these wonderful pictures with us, I'm sure that all of the members will be very appreciative of this.:D
  6. dduthie

    dduthie Active Member

    Wow! Those are some awesome finds and pics! Thanks for sharing.
  7. Dragoness

    Dragoness Elite Member

    Awesome pics of Awseoms snakes, thanks for sharing!

    The breeding program sounds good - a good way to preserve scarce localities in the event of local extinction.
  8. RossCA

    RossCA Member

    Thanks a lot everyone! When the economy was up, the kingsnake habitat was disappearing fast due to development. Track homes destroy the most habitat, IMO. Now things are at a stand still, but its just a matter of time before the ball gets rolling again. There's a lot of habitat gone due to development, but I'm just thankful I wasn't born a 100 years later when most of the good habitat is gone.
  9. Ninjaguy1987

    Ninjaguy1987 Elite Member

    Hey RossCA,

    I live in these areas. I never knew there so many good local spots in my area now i might just have to go herping around here and I see if i can find any. know of any good spots in San Bernadino County?


    EDIT:Also do you know of the legal laws as far as collecting snakes here in California? I'm curious that'd be helpful thanks.
  10. herptile8

    herptile8 Elite Member

    Beautiful pics. Love all of the kings. :)
  11. RossCA

    RossCA Member

    Thanks for the props!

    Ninja- I don't know that area at all. I suggest you get a copy of Brian Hubbs book on Common kingsnakes. The Cal king chapter is amazing and it tells you everything you need to know to find these snakes.
  12. Aaran

    Aaran Member

    I just love kings... I wish I had kings like that down in florida. Great pics!:)
  13. Merlin

    Merlin Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    There are kingsnakes in Florida!
  14. vega74

    vega74 Elite Member

    Thanks for sharing. Awesome pictures.
  15. Aaran

    Aaran Member

    I know but not like that!
  16. Rakoladycz

    Rakoladycz Elite Member

    Thanks for sharing that is really interesting and quite amazing all the variations. As for the not having kingsnakes like that here in Florida I think we have more than our share of snakes all together in the wild her in Florida. :p I love field herping. I should carry my camera more... but its another thing to carry.
  17. Aaran

    Aaran Member

    I cant disagree with having amazing wildlife. It is incredible down here.
  18. RossCA

    RossCA Member

    Thanks a lot guys, I thought this thread was dead. lol Believe it or not, some of the nicest kings are found in Florida, depending where you go. There are some really light colored individuals in Dade & Monroe Co. south of Miami. They are a little tougher to find now days, but they still turn up. Then there is a really pretty morph in the North Eastern corner of the state, but they are considered very hard to find. The best place is in the pan handle in and around the Apalachicola NF. Here's a few pictures of wild caught kings in Florida. I didn't find these.

    Attached Files:

  19. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    They are gorgeous, love that speckled look to them!
  20. herptile8

    herptile8 Elite Member

    Love the second pic!:x

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