I am back into the California Kings! A few years back I sold all of my king snakes. Shortly after I missed them. I had an opportunity to buy a great group from a fellow herper; most of you have probably herd of him if you know anything about the Cal. king community. I have the California permit to breed rosy boas and California king snakes, so I am back into the kings! I have two clutches due to hatch soon. I will be adding photos soon. I also have been building my desert king projects and other king snake interests. I have some Tarahumara mountain kings that will hatch anytime now. I also have some left over from last season. Feel free to contact me and inquire. I am excited about jumping back into the colubrids, eggs, eggs, and more eggs!
King Snake Care
By Stephen Richardson
Lampropeltis getula californiae
Lampropeltis getula nigrita
Lampropeltis getula splendida
King snakes are possibly the easiest snake to maintain in captivity. They have great appetites, they can handle temperature fluctuations, and do well in most substrates. All of my field experience is with the California King Snake (Lampropeltis getula californiae). I have found California Kings in several of the mountain ranges in southern California, in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, and in coastal areas. Most of the Cal kings I have photographed in the wild were found just before sunset or during all hours of the night. Often on my way home from teaching night classes, I will catch a Cal king crossing the road. King snakes have variable patterns and come in a variety of colors, making them some of the most fascinating snakes to keep and breed in captivity. The adult size of the snakes on this care sheet range from about 2.5 to 4.5 feet. Some species of king snakes can exceed 6 feet.
Caging and Substrate
King snakes are ophiophagus which means they are snake eaters.
Consequently, king snakes should be kept alone in their enclosure. I keep all my king
snakes in a rack system with under the belly heat cord. Any escape proof cage made
for reptiles should work well for king snakes. Use aspen chips for substrate and place a
heat pad made for reptiles on one side of the cage. The best substrate for most snakes is aspen. The heat pad
should be adhered to the outside bottom of one side of the cage to maintain a thermal
gradient. Snakes are ectothermic so they need to be able to move within their
enclosure to thermal regulate. Place a water dish on the cool side of the cage and a
hiding place on both the cool and warm side of the enclosure. Keep your snake’s
drinking water fresh and disinfect the water dish often. I change substrate for kings
about once a month and spot clean often.
I suggest that king snakes be fed in a feeding tub where the snake is removed
from its cage and placed in the tub where its food is waiting for it. King snakes in
captivity can develop a strong feeding response, they often strike at any movement.
The feeding response can be minimized by handing your snake often and using a
feeding tub. King snakes are particularly sensitive to smells. If you handle another
snake and then pick up your king, then it may decide to try to eat your hand. I
recommend that you wash your hands before you handle your king snake. If you find
yourself in the predicament of having a king snake latched on to your hand or finger,
then place your hand and snake under some cold running tap water. After some time
they usually decide to let you go.
I feed kings roughly once a week, although female and baby kings usually have no
problem with being fed twice a week. I feed my kings frozen thawed mice or hopper
rats. I thaw out my frozen feeder rodent and dry it off before I offer it to the snake.
Whenever possible, captive snakes should be fed frozen thawed food; this is the most
ethical choice with the added benefit of being the safer choice for your snake.
Common Husbandry Challenges
King snakes are snake eaters, thus do not keep a king snake with any other snake. In some of my many hiking adventures I have come upon king snakes eating other snakes; keeping a snake with a king snake in captivity just facilitates this behavior. Further, I have observed many kings bite themselves during feeding time, the smell of food and their own movement is just too much to handle. This is generally not a problem, the snake usually realizes it made a mistake and lets itself go. This behavior does give you, the king snake keeper, a sense of how strong the feeding response can become. There have been multiple cases of baby kings consuming themselves tail first until they end up in a tight circle. I have seen this occur in my neonates once. I simply gently pulled the snake’s body out of its mouth. This suggests that you should stick around to see what your baby king does after you have fed it.
Going Off of Feed
When the temperature in your neighborhood drops during the fall and winter your king snake may quit eating. This is not a problem; simply give your snake two weeks to clear its digestive tract and unplug the heat pad and keep your snake cool for two to three months. This is normal behavior for most North American snakes and, in fact, it is healthy for your king snake to brumate for some time. Simply keep their water dish clean with fresh water and monitor the health or your snake during brumation. When your local temperatures start increasing, bring your snake’s cage back up to temperature and resume feeding your snake.
All snakes shed their skin. A healthy shed should roll of a snake’s body in one piece. If a snake has pieces of shed stuck to its body, or it has eye caps, then you will have to soak it in warm water. I use a Sterilite container with a locking lid and air holes to soak my snakes. After about 10 to 15 minutes soaking in roughly 82˚ water, you can gently rub of any retained shed or eye caps with your finger. I cannot remember any cases of retained shed on my adult kings; however, I have had to help some baby kings shed. As long as you keep your king snake healthy with a clean cage and fresh water to drink, then your snake should never have any problems shedding.
Any pet snake should be handled often to keep it accustomed to human contact and to observe the overall health of the snake. If you notice small black or dark brown dots on your hands after holding your snake, then your snake has mites. Mites can spread from one snake’s enclosure to the next fairly quickly. If you handle a snake with mites and then handle another, then both snakes will end up with mites. Mites can be removed easily by soaking your snake in warm water and using a product by Natural Chemistry called Reptile Relief. The product can be sprayed on your king snake, do not spray on their eyes, until it drips and then gently slide your hands along the snake and you will both feel and see the dead mites come off your snake. I recommend you use cleaning gloves for this process. Follow the recommendations on the bottle. After treating a snake I wash them off with warm water and let them soak in clean warm water to make sure there is no more product on their body. You may need to treat a snake multiple times. Additionally, the snake’s cage should be cleaned and sprayed with Reptile Relief. If left on your snake mites can lead to major health problems. You should have a sense of urgency if you notice mites on your herps.
Snakes from the genus Lampropeltis are truly amazing. They are tough,
beautiful, and come in a variety of colors and patterns. King snakes have succeeded in
inhabiting most of our continent; they are an important part of the ecology of where they
live. Keeping king snakes is fun and rewarding as long as you keep your snake’s cage
clean, give it fresh water, and plenty of food energy. Remember, your snake is entirely
reliant on you for all its health needs. If you are diligent and do not neglect your king
snake’s needs, then it will thrive for many years.