Eastern kingsnake / Lampropeltis getula getula
California kingsnake / Lampropeltis getula californiae
Desert kingsnake / Lampropeltis getula spendida
Mexican black kingsnake / Lampropeltis getula nigrita
Florida kingsnake / Lampropeltis getula floridana
Praire kingsnake / Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster
*This is just a small sample of the diverse group known as kingsnakes; these species in my opinion are probably the easiest to keep for the novice, especially when it comes to feeding.*
General Characteristics: Kingsnakes are beautiful and hardy snakes, easy to feed and usually easy to handle. Their name Lampropeltis is derived from the Greek; Lampro, which means shiny, and peltis meaning shields, alluding to their shiny smooth scales. At a quick glance kingsnakes are what most people think a snake looks like, slender, muscular and active. Although on closer inspection you would notice a big difference between other colubrids, such as bull, corn, and rat snakes. Kingsnakes have a smaller head making it hard to define their head from their neck. This is an adaptation designed for helping them catch their favorite food source, other snakes.
Kingsnakes are powerful, cannibalistic snake eaters. Kingsnakes have been observed overpowering and devouring snakes, even venomous species almost two thirds as long as themselves. Kingsnakes are also known not to show any effect from rattlesnake venom!
There is some variation in length of adults, but you can expect a full grown adult to be 36” to 60” (3 to 5 foot long.) They grow very fast for there first two years of life, but just like all reptiles, kingsnakes continue growing throughout their entire lives. Kingsnakes in captivity, if well cared for can live 20 years or more! Kingsnakes are adept climbers, and excellent swimmers, found in just about any type of environment, from swamps to grasslands. Kingsnakes ability to adapt to many different situations makes them a hardy, easy to care for pet.
Kingsnakes are generally easy going snakes, which seem to enjoy being out of their enclosure and don’t mind being handled. Let the snake move about you while always supporting its body. Don’t restrain the snake, or grab near the head or vent area of the tail roughly. Don’t hold the snake after handling rodents, or other snakes without washing or disinfecting your hands first. Also avoid handling when the snake is about to shed its skin, as it can’t see well. Small juveniles or baby snakes should be held very gently for short periods of time, they are nervous and easily stressed out when they are so small. If the snake does bite don’t do anything, it will let go! Yanking or pulling the snake off can result in a more painful wound for you, and maybe broken teeth or jaws for the snake. After handling your snake or cleaning its cage you should wash your hands.
Snakes, like all other reptiles might carry Salmonella, although most reptile to human cases involve turtles, wash your hands as a precaution.
Kingsnakes are usually very easy to feed in captivity, especially the species I have listed. Young kingsnakes eat pinkies (baby mice) every 4 to 7 days. Adults eat adult mice, or if your snake is large, small rats every 7 days. I recommend sticking to adult mice even for large adult kingsnakes, they do not have as big of heads as other colubrids and are not use to that amount of stretching. Always feed dead rodents, it’s easier, safer, and more humane for the rodent. You can buy frozen mice at most pet stores or order through the Internet. Defrost by placing them in a bag, (so the rodent doesn’t become wet) in warm water until completely defrosted and soft throughout their body. Or just leave them out until completely soft in the middle. Place an appropriate sized rodent in your snake’s cage and you are done! Occasionally some snakes can be shy and like to eat in their hide, or at night. You can also use tongs to tease (wiggle it around) feed your snake. With these kingsnakes this usually is not necessary.
If you must feed live rodents, never leave them unattended for any period of time, rodents have been known to attack and harm or even kill snakes!
*Important!! only ONE! kingsnake per cage due to there cannibalistic tendencies!!*
1. Must be completely escape proof:
Snakes are escape artists they are incredibly strong and agile. Lids need to be locked in place, never use weights to secure a cage top. Any gaps even if they look small need to be filled or covered. Aquariums with a locking screen lid work well, a plastic reptile specific cage, and home made caging. Floor space is the most important; juveniles do well in a ten gallon sized cage, while an adult needs at least a twenty-gallon long. (Preferably larger)
All reptiles are cold blooded and use their environment to maintain their body temperature. Kingsnakes need an ambient temperature of 82-86 degrees F. The best way to do this is by placing the heat source at one end of the cage to create a hot spot that is a few degrees warmer then the ambient temperature (i.e. 88 degrees F.) and allowing the snake to move away or towards the heat as it needs to. This is called thermoregulation. Heat sources can be: lamps for reptiles or under tank heat pads or tapes. Never use hot rocks or allow any type of heating to come in direct contact with the snake, to avoid injuries. Always check temps. with a thermometer, never guess.
Kingsnakes need proper humidity levels to shed correctly and to stay healthy. The humidity should be 50% to 75%. Too low and shedding problems will occur, too high and the snake might develop blisters and sores, and respiratory infection. Unless you are living in extremely dry or humid conditions this humidity range will never be a problem.
4. Substrate: Newspaper, plain paper towels work well are easy to clean and inexpensive, but don’t look as good as natural substrates. Aspen or cypress are very good substrates. Never use sand, small rocks, pine or cedar. Pine and cedar oils are harmful to reptiles and sand and small rock could be ingested and cause impaction to the snakes digestive tract. Clean weekly or whenever your snake defecates.
5. Enclosure Furniture:
All snakes need a water dish, and at least one hide. Climbing branch is optional. The water dish should be heavy to prevent tipping and the water should be changed almost daily. The hide(s) should be large enough for the entire snake to coil in as well as dark. The hide prevents stress and gives your snake some privacy. Kingsnakes are great climbers and will if provided with a sturdy branch, but this doesn’t seem necessary for their well-being.
Kingsnakes are defiantly one of the most beautiful snakes you can easily keep as a pet, whether mesmerized by there ringed pattern, or amazed at the brightness radiating off their scales, you will be impressed!