Kingsnake vs. Garter Snake (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

Distinguishing a king snake from a garter snake is very simple. In general, king snakes are larger and bulkier than garter snakes.

Another distinguishing feature is their color. Kingsnakes have diverse patterns and color variations; however, they are mostly recognized for their distinct banding consisting of light-colored bands on a darker backdrop.

On the other hand, Garter snakes have a striped pattern that resembles a garter: one or three longitudinal reds to yellow stripes with checkered spots in between.

Scientifically, both snakes come from the family Colubridae. Nonetheless, the species have evolved to take on entirely different features but with some common characteristics. For instance, they are both nonvenomous, give off a bad-smelling musk, and both males emit pheromones to entice females during mating season.

Kingsnake vs. Garter Snake

Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmedConsult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.

Kingsnake vs Garter Snake

FeaturesKingsnakeGarter Snake
1. Scientific NameLampropeltis getulaThamnophis
2. Size2 – 6 feet.2 – 2.5 feet.
3. ColorsVaries. Generally, brown, black, red, green, yellow, white.Varies. Usually black, brown and yellow.
4. RangeEastern Canada to Southern Ecuador.Throughout North America.
5. Hunting BehaviorHunters. Constrictors.Hunters with low venom toxicity.
6. Breeding SeasonMarch to August.Spring.
7. Lays EggsYes (Oviparous) .No (Ovoviviparous).
8. Pet BehaviorUsually docile.Skittish.
9. Warm Side Cage Temperature80-85°F 80-85°F
10. Cool Side Cage Temperature75-80°F70-80°F
11. VenomNo.Yes, but very low toxicity.
12. CostStarting at $90.Starting at $20.
13. Life Expectancy (In Captivity)20 – 30 years.2 – 9 years.
14. DietMice, Baby Rats. Kingsnakes also eat other snakes.Frogs, earthworms, lizards, slugs, minnows, and small rodents.

Kingsnake Overview

Kingsnakes are popular among snake enthusiasts due to their beautiful and diverse patterns and colors.

Additionally, they adapt to captivity quickly because they have a vast geographic range, meaning they can live in various habitats and conditions.

Kingsnakes are terrestrial; thus, they can be found in different geographical locations across the USA. However, most reside from Northern South America to Southern Canada. As a result, they are easier to care for as they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and humidity.

They are also famous for being one of the few snake species that feeds on other snakes, even venomous ones. In particular, king snakes love to feed on cottonmouths, rattlesnakes as well as their kind. They can do this because of their powerful constriction ability and being resistant to snake venom.

Garter Snake Overview

Garter snakes are commonly found across the Southeast and North America and prefer to reside in meadows, marshes, woodlands, and hillsides.

They do not feed on warm-blooded prey and instead opt for earthworms, small amphibians, leeches, slugs, snails, insects, crayfish, and small fish.

Garter snakes are primarily active during the day; however, they can tolerate a wide range of temperature variations, unlike most snakes. To keep their body temperature under check, common garter snakes employ thermoregulation.

Comparison between King Snake and Garter Snake

1. Look and Color

Kingsnakes and garter snakes look very different. Look for the yellow stripes running from head-to-toe on the common garter snake, while many king snakes have stripes running in circles around the snake’s body. King snakes also look much more vibrant.

Kingsnakes lack pits, and their heads are more rounded than those of other snakes.

They have markings on the head, a fine, thin line between their eyes, and a black spot on top of their heads, curved like arrowheads.

However, the looks of kingsnakes can vary drastically. For example, the scales of a speckled kingsnake are dark brown or black in hue. The amount of the speckles can be uniformly dispersed, giving the appearance of a banded pattern. Every scale of this vibrant snake is speckled with white or yellow.

The scales of California kingsnakes are gleaming black with brilliant white patterns. White bands are found on most California kingsnakes, although some have longitudinal stripes running from their skulls to their tails.

Scarlet kingsnakes have crimson bodies with black and yellow bands next to each other that go around their body. Although black kingsnakes are almost entirely black, they contain yellow or white patches or bands and white throats occasionally.

There are around 35 different garter snake species. Each of these species has different color variations.

For instance, some species have a checkered body pattern with lights and grayish or reddish body color. Others, which are found in Florida and Georgia, are somehow bluish in background coloration.

2. Habitat

Common garter snakes are exceedingly ubiquitous, very versatile and, can endure harsh environmental conditions. Ordinary garter snakes are found in various environments, including grasslands, marshes, woods, and hillsides.

You can find a typical garter snake from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and southern Canada. Garter snakes are regarded as generalists because they can live in a wide range of environments. They prefer to be near water and dwell in forests, grassy knolls, and meadows, especially in dry areas of the West.

Kingsnakes similarly dwell in a wide range of environments. You can find them from the Southeastern, Northeastern, Eastern, Southern, Western, to the Midwest, states of the USA.  They also prefer to live in forests, meadows, suburbs, and rocky areas, and deserts.

3. Hunting and Feeding

Garter snakes do not constrict their prey to kill it, while kingsnakes do.

Kingsnakes are constrictors. They are active predators that aggressively seek out their prey by detecting their scents. Once kingsnakes have located their prey, they usually grasp it with their lips and start squeezing it.

As a result of squeezing circulatory system is overworked. Ischemia occurs when blood cannot reach the brain, and the creature dies within seconds. Kingsnakes are not ambush hunters but active hunters. Because of the magnitude of their meals, kingsnakes may eat a few times each month. Kingsnakes prey on birds, rodents, bird eggs, and lizards.

They are also known to be opportunistic feeders that prey on other snake species. Because king snakes are naturally immune to pit viper poison, they can consume dangerous snakes like rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. Nonvenomous snakes like garter snakes and rat snakes, and their fellow kingsnakes, are also eaten.

Garter snakes eat fish, amphibians, and earthworms, among other things. Their strong fangs and rapid reflexes paralyze their prey. Some species of garter snakes have a minor neurotoxin in their saliva that induces paralysis, making tiny kills simpler to swallow. Garter snakes, like other snakes, consume their prey whole.

To gather chemical substances in the air, this snake sticks its tongue out of its mouth. It then returns its tongue in its mouth and inserts the tine into a particular organ on the top of its mouth, known as the Jacobson’s organ. This mechanism allows the snake to identify signals from other snakes as well as their next diet.

4. Lifespan

Garter snakes do not live as long as kingsnakes, usually.

Kingsnakes reach sexual maturity between the ages of two and four years. Their wildlife expectancy is unknown, although they can survive up to thirty years in confinement.

The typical life expectancy of a wild regular garter snake is 2 to 6 years. The majority of ordinary garter snakes perish within their first year of existence. At three to four years of age, garter snakes attain breeding age and reach their maximum growth. In captivity, typical garter snakes have a longer lifetime, ranging from six to ten years.

5. Predators

Garter snakes and kingsnakes share similar competitors, including birds, turtles, and other snakes.

Due to their small size and lack of venom, garter snakes are preyed upon by numerous animals ranging from large fish, bullfrogs, foxes, hawks, snapping turtles, milk snakes, and American crows.

They rely on stealth and disguises for safety and will run away into the water to avoid predators on land. Furthermore, their stripes make them hard to see correctly and seize in grasslands. If they are unable to run, they coil to seem bigger and may strike and bite. They also squirm and emit a foul-smelling fluid when attacked.

King snakes are masters of disguise—however, animals such as hawks, owls, coyotes, opossums, and skunks will still try to catch them.

When cornered, king snakes have an elaborate defense mechanism. For example, the scarlet Kingsnake mimics the appearance of the venomous coral snake to ward of possible predators.

Lastly, they make rapid, jerky movements that cause their bands to flash, causing predators to be startled.

6. Length and Size Differences

Since there are many species of garter snakes, their size varies. The overall length of a common garter snake is generally 1.5 to 2.5 feet, although they can grow larger in captivity. Males have lengthier tails and are typically tinier than females.

Young ordinary garter snakes are 4 to 9 inches long when born and look similar to grownups. They are slim to somewhat thick. The biggest garter snake (giant garter snake) can reach up to 64 inches.

Similar to garter snakes, the size of king snakes varies depending on the species. For instance, Scarlet kingsnakes are small, averaging 11 inches to 23 inches. The California kingsnakes, on the other hand, grow to average between 3 to 4 feet.

7. Reproduction

Kingsnakes are oviparous, meaning that the females lay eggs immediately or shortly after conception.

Those that live in warmer climates usually mate sooner in the spring, whereas snakes in colder regions wait until late spring or early summer to breed. The mating season typically lasts from March to August, and females often have several clutches of eggs every season.

Males use chemical pheromones to attract females. Female kingsnakes lay clenches of 3 to 23 eggs in hidden locations such as decaying logs. Mothers then abandon the eggs, which hatch on their own two to three months later. Hatchlings are self-sufficient from the minute they are born.

Garter snakes are Ovoviviparous. Females can store the male’s sperm until they are needed. Once the eggs are fertilized, they remain in the snake’s body for a period of 2 to 3 months.

Most females give birth to 5 to 100 offspring in late July and October. Newborn garter snakes are self-sufficient and must locate food on their own when they are born.

Garter snakes mate as soon as they awaken from hibernation in the spring. The males are the first to leave the cave, and they wait for the females to follow. Males encircle the females as soon as they leave the shelter. Pheromones are emitted by males that entice females.

Fun Fact: The female’s size determines the size of the progeny; bigger females have larger litters.

8. Which One can you Pet?

Both Kingsnakes and garter snakes make excellent pets.

The choice between either simply boils down to preference. Kingsnakes are wonderful pets since they are low-maintenance and available in a wide range of colors and patterns. On the other hand, garter snakes are tiny, making them easy to care for and handle. While some might be venomous, their venom poses no threat to humans.

Personally, I prefer the kingsnake because of its vibrant colors. Further, I’ve found kingsnakes to be a little more docile, personally.

More Snake Comparisons:


While these snakes might seem very different at first glance, they share a lot of similarities. For example, garter snakes may be found in abundance in the wild, particularly near water sources such as lakes and streams, while Kingsnake prefers forests, rocky areas, and grasslands.

Both snakes employ a sophisticated pheromone-based communication mechanism. They are also non-venomous, which makes them perfect pets for beginner snake keepers. Nonetheless, they have some considerable differences when it comes to diet and reproduction.

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