King Snake Care Sheet

Introduction

King Snakes are known as one of the most popular breed of snakes in the herpetoculture known as Lampropeltis. They also tend to share a lot of similarities with milk snakes as well which make them very common when grouped together. They mainly inhabit various areas of both North and South America. A large majority of snakes in the Lampropeltis genus tend to be from region of South America as well. There are multiple different varieties of king snakes out there and one of them being the California King Snake.

 

The alternate name for the California King snake is Lampropeltis Getula Califoniae. Right next to the California King Snake in popularity, you have the Grey Banded King Snake or (also known as the Lampropeltis Alterna). There are many other various breeds out there but these are just two of the most common type of King snakes out there. There are a few things that both the King snake and the milk snake both share that pet owner’s new and old love. Both type of snake are relatively easy to handle, they’ve been known to be relatively easy to breed with high success rates, and for those who choose snakes for their cosmetics, King snakes come in a wide variety of colors.

 

Choosing which King snake is best suited for you will ideally depend on what you want to do. Do you just want a pet that you can own and look at every once in a while? You’re more than likely going to want an adult because it’s less work and it’s less to worry about with a fully matured adult. If you’re looking to breed, then not only should you do some prior research to make sure you know what you’re doing but you want to make sure you’re getting your breeding snakes from a trusted source that takes great care of their pets as well.

 

Housing

One of the most difficult parts about choosing a home for this pet is finding out exactly what size cage you would need because King snakes don’t just come in one particular size. They can come up to a different variety of sizes so instead of having a baseline cage height and width, you’ll have to choose your home for the snake based on the individual snake or snakes you plan on housing. There are some pros and cons to using small and large cages for both adults and young.

 

When snakes are young, housing them in a small caging unit may make king snake care relatively easier food wise because they’ll be able to find their food a lot easier. However, as these snakes grow, they’re going to need more room and you’re going to have to constantly upgrade your housing if it’s not appropriately equipped to let these pets grow into full sized snakes. However, most pet owners prefer to only keep large cages so that they can get used and adapt to an environment they’ll grow into their entire lives. Sometimes, it can be hard introducing your pet into a new environment when you buy a brand new cage or lay out a brand new housing environment.

 

To get a decent idea about size proportions, if you’re raising by king snakes, you should be fine with using just a 10 gallon aquarium or cage. However, if you wish, you may even start out with a five gallon enclosure but you should be warned that it’s not going to last very long and this will ideally depend on just how small your snake is. Also, as stated earlier, this will highly depend on how often you really wish to purchase a new enclosure. King snake care is relatively easy and picking a habitat is easy as well, they’re not too picky and seem to do okay in most types of enclosures.

 

For adults however, you’re more than likely going to want something that’s at least twenty gallons. If you plan on breeding King snakes, then you might want to look into a 30 gallon enclosure at the minimum to ensure that you have plenty of room for breeding and development. How do you judge the size of a good enclosure for a king snake? The ideal size will be able to fit a thermal gradient in the enclosure. So what’s the big difference between an aquarium and a cage? Well, one of the most and foremost differences is the weight between an aquarium and a cage. Aquariums tend to be larger and heavier than the counterpart enclosures, cages. Their bulk and weight is what keeps many professional breeders away from them.

 

If you’re planning on starting a breeding company or owning at least 10 king snakes, then you’re going to want to use what’s known as the rack system. The easiest way to describe what a rack system looks like is to picture some chest drawers. That’s ideally what a rack system will be where you can slide the enclosures in and out and access which snakes you need to access at any time. On a rack system, there’s going to be a few different rows of cages stacked up vertically. How you accommodate your king snakes will ideally depend on how many there are and how large the snakes are but most owners prefer to only keep 1 to 2 per rack. One of the main concerns of the rack system however is that there’s no lid on the majority of them so that’s why you have to be careful and cautious if you decide to go with a rack system.

 

The official “lid” of a rack system is ideally the top of the enclosure rack when the drawer is pulled out. When you push the rack back in, the sides sliding in should align perfectly with the top of the next rack or the enclosure. Any good rack system should have a heat tape on the back of the enclosure which should help spread heat throughout the entire enclosure. You’ll want to make sure that you’re not only picking out a system that has adequate heating but you want to make sure there’s great heat spread in the enclosure which can be found with a thermometer. Another use of the thermometer besides measuring and monitoring heat conditions is to prevent the hazard of a fire popping up. Many breeders swear by the rack system for efficient monitoring of their daily habits and to make sure that there’s a thermal gradient providing adequate temperature in the enclosure.

 

Substrate

Covering the bottom of your enclosure is relatively easy but with proper king snake care, there are actually quite a few choices you can use here. There are only a couple of different things that you should avoid at all costs because of the harmful chemicals inside of the substrate and those are pine shavings and cedar shavings. These products are known to be relatively harmful to snakes and can be deadly if used inside your enclosure. The main problem here is that have a risk of getting the shavings stuck in their mouth when they eat because of the aromatic oils inside the shavings. So, it’s best to avoid using cedar or pine shavings altogether and using one of the many other alternatives.

 

One great choice that’s recommended for king snake care is sterilized reptile bark. One of the main reasons that new pet owners like this substrate is because it’s easy on the eyes and it’s great to look at. However, one of the other benefits behind the bark is that it’s very easy to clean as well. It’s easy to spot any kind of waste left behind and all you have to do is lift and scoop when you want to clean out the tank or do what’s known as spot cleaning. The best part is, you don’t have to replace this substrate constantly like an alternative such as newspaper, you can get away with replacing sterilized reptile bark only once a month.

 

One of the other alternatives is what’s known as aspen bedding. Not only does this include the nice benefit of making it easy to spot clean but your king snakes will be able to burrow as well. Snakes like to hide and they like to burrow during certain times, and while it isn’t essential to allow them to do this, it’s just a nice bonus for them to have. If you’re on a shoestring budget or you’re still not sure what kind of substrate you should use, then maybe you should try a less common household option. Some household options may not be as great to look at, but they still serve their purpose and what they’re supposed to do.

 

If you have any old newspaper lying around or get newspapers on a consistent basis, then you might want to consider using newspaper. One of the benefits to using newspaper substrate is that it’s easy to spot clean but however, you’ll find yourself cleaning out the newspaper a lot of and putting it back in. So what’s the big deal about allowing a snake to hide and providing the right type of substrate that allows them to do so? They aren’t exactly going to die if you don’t provide them with a hiding place, however, these snakes like to feel secure, and especially when they’re brand new to their environment and everything looks brand new to them.

 

However, a hiding spot doesn’t have to be made out of substrate and often at times, it isn’t. You can be creative with this one, you can pick and choose whatever you want or even decorate it to blend in with the environment you’ve created in the enclosure. A lot of people have been creative with this one, and here are just a few examples of some hiding spots you can provide. First, you can cut out a cereal box, and open up a suitable sized hole for the snake to come and go as they please. Some people like to use shoeboxes as well but this will really depend on the size of the enclosure you’ve chosen for your snake. It may not be mandatory to provide burrowing ground but providing a hiding spot is absolutely essential for your pet.

 

If you don’t really feel like making a hiding spot or place to keep away from the cool, then you can always purchase a pre-made plastic one from the pet store. The majority of them is made in plastic and is already decorated, so all you have to do is set it in the tank. It really will depend on your own personal preference as to what you think looks the best. While these may cost more than making one on your own, the good news is, that they’re easily cleaned and maintained as all you usually need to do is wipe them off when they get dirty (which is very rarely). Some people prefer to have only one hiding spot for their king snakes but some people like to put two hiding spots inside of an enclosure (one in the coolest spot of the cage and one in the warmest spot of the cage).

 

Food

Feeding your king snake is pretty easy and cost effective because like all other snakes, they’re carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. Feeding your snakes effectively may really depend on the size of the snake but ideally you want to be feeding your baby king snakes some pink mice. Pink mice are small in nature and aren’t going to harm or fight back against your snakes. Feeding habits and how much you should feed change based on the owner but if you’re looking for a general rule of thumb, you should be feeding them once or twice a week.

 

However, once your snake begins to grow or as any snake begins to grow for that matter, the prey that you feed the snake will need to grow as well. There are a lot of different theories on how to measure the optimal size for a snake’s food but what you ideally want to do is to take the diameter of the widest point of the head (which should exclude the head) and focus on that. It’s not uncommon for king snakes to eat other types of snakes that are the exact same size so as long as something is smaller or the exact same size as the snake, it’s a good bet that it will eat it.

 

Also, that brings up another point that you should be housing snakes individually, especially if you’re breeding babies and you might want to look into obtaining a rack system to store your snakes if you’re breeding. One common problem that new owners have is that their king snake regurgitates food and if you’ve never seen what this looks like then I don’t recommend doing a Google search on it because it’s not exactly pretty. This however is a very common problem when a King snake is held captive and is nothing new. This shouldn’t be cause for alarm if it only happens once or twice but if it happens several times or continues to happen then you might need to examine the eating pattern or food.

 

Usually this happens right after the snake is eaten its food and the number one cause for regurgitation is because the snake is handled too much right after eating, which is why you should leave it alone after eating, much like you don’t go swimming right after eating. Also, your snake might regurgitate food if the prey is far too large for the snake, if the food you fed it was infected or if the temperatures aren’t ideal. King snakes need heat in order to properly digest their food and if it’s too cool, then that’s the risk you’re going to take.

 

When feeding your king snakes, you might be pleasantly surprised to find out the kind of things they eat. While the most common thing to feed snakes when they’re in captivity is pink mice, in California the California King Snake breed often likes to feed on Rattlesnakes. One thing that you might want to look for when purchasing a baby king snake is that they were fed a certain kind of pinky mice. You don’t want mice from the wild that might be ridden with disease or infections, you want to make sure the snakes were raised eating unaltered and domestic mice. The majority of the time, a breeder has fed baby king snakes at least once and they should tell you if they haven’t.

 

Some other breeds have had issues when it comes to getting them to feed in captivity such as the grey banded king snake. This particular breed is notorious for having difficulty eating when they’re first in captivity, so make sure you know for sure that the pets have been fed domestic pinky mice at least once before you buy them, so you don’t have to worry about them not being used to the food. Now the type of prey that you should feed them can vary from what person to person says but it’s been proven that the best type of food is frozen prey that has been thawed out for eating. Also, freshly killed mice are the best as well for efficient eating.

 

One more benefit to feeding your snake dead mice is that they don’t bite. When you try to pick up or handle live mice, they’re more than likely going to try to bite you, especially if you’re feeding large mice to your adult snakes. Also, while this doesn’t happen often, some snakes have succumbed to bites from mice when they’re trying to feed, so you must watch carefully if you decide to feed your snake live bait. It’ll be much more efficient in the long run if you plan on raising your own mice instead of constantly going to the pet store and buying fresh mice. While it may seem more costly and it will be at first, you’ll save money in the long run.

 

Sometimes, you may encounter the rare problem that a snake doesn’t seem to want to eat its food. Snakes not wanting to eat can be caused by a wide host of things but the most common cause is poor environmental conditions. So the first thing you’re going to want to do is check on the temperature and the living conditions to make sure they’re correct. Then, you’re going to want to make sure the snake isn’t going through a shedding phase. After you’ve checked for that, make sure your snake isn’t ill or pregnant because that will cause the king snake to stop eating as well. Now, you may rarely encounter issues where even with all the right conditions, your snake refuses to eat.

 

If this becomes the case, then you might want to take it to the vet and have it checked for illness because they’re might be something you don’t know about going on. It’s really not uncommon for some snakes to refuse to eat in the winter time so this isn’t something you should be too worried about, because even with the best environment and living conditions available, it just gets too cold out, it’s hard to digest food and snakes aren’t interesting in eating sometimes. Also, during the cool season, you shouldn’t have to worry about feeding too much because this is usually when they’ll go into hibernation.

 

While feeding, the king snake will stop eating for two weeks prior to going into hibernation. Not only that but the snake will require a warm spot that it may remove anything and everything from the digestive tract before it begins the hibernation process. You’ll want to keep an eye on the temperature during this time and make sure you’re lowering it gradually over time to a steady and cool 60 degrees. 60 degrees is basically the lowest that you’ll want it to go to. While the snake won’t be eating during this time, you’ll want to make sure that it has access to plenty of water as well.

 

Handling

Handling your king snakes is actually very straight forward and is relatively easy compared to some other breeds that tend to be aggressive when approached by their owners. You’ll find that adult king snakes can be very laid back and very relaxing to handle, which allows you to simply reach in and pick your snake up. However, the babies at times may seem to be nervous, but they shouldn’t give you too much trouble as a result. One common mistake that new owners make is that they handle their new snake too much and end up stressing it out. If you happen to notice that your king snake suddenly changes their appetite, starts eating less or has a sudden behavioral change, don’t handle it for a while.

 

 

Heating

This is the most important and most vital to your pet’s health and safety, because without the appropriate temperatures they can’t survive adequate in a captive environment, nor can they breed. If you’re not careful about this part, then you’re going to want to consult with someone who knows what they’re doing to make sure you’re temperature is adequate for the cage but we’ll do the best we can help to help you out at keeping the cage warm. The best environmental conditions have to be present if you want to have a shot at breeding because if they’re not, the offspring won’t live very long.

 

If you’ve ever owned other pets or you’ve ever known anyone that’s ever owned any other type of pet other than a reptile, then your views and perspectives on what it takes to raise one of these pets may not be perfect. You see, raising a reptile and caring for them to ensure they live the longest life possible is far different than that of other pets such as a dog or a cat. Reptiles are all cold blooded, which means they unlike other animals don’t possess the ability to regulate heat from their body like warm blooded mammals. Basically king snakes rely on a very basic animal instinct when it comes to keeping cool or becoming warm (they simply go where the temperature feels right).

 

If it’s too warm, they’ll move to some shade or a hiding spot and if it’s too cool, they’ll simply move to a spot where it’s warm, which is why when you’re providing king snake care, you have to make sure that your snake has an adequate cage that has both warm and cool spots for both occasions. In the wild, reptiles go where they feel good and they learn to adapt in the wild, and it’s far easier in the wild because of the wide range of space open out there in the world. However, while in captivity, that freedom is gone and we must provide them the correct temperature and living conditions. The best thing you have to do is to provide them with a heating gradient so that they have plenty of options available.

 

The first and most essential part of a heating system that you’ll need is a good thermometer that’s preferably digital. You want something that can withstand heat and that’s as accurate as possible. Having a thermometer that’s even a few degrees off such as the old standard models might cause some undesired results or make miserable living conditions for your king snakes. The best temperature that you should be shooting for should be around 85 degrees but it can go up to 88 degrees at the absolute highest. This is what you’re going to want to shoot for on the warm end but when you go over to the cool side of the temperature gradient, you should be at a steady 72 degrees give or take a couple of degrees.

 

Now, at night, it’s not harm if the temperature does drop down to around 65 degrees but you have to make sure that if it does drop down to this temperature that he snake is warm during the day and temperatures resume to normal optimal temperatures. Now a lot of people have problems spreading heat throughout an aquarium and for that, the most simplistic and cost effective solution would be to get what’s known as an under tank heater or (UT). These under tank (UT) heaters are very effective and work a lot like a heading pad, working to spread the heat around evenly. To install an under tank heater, all you really have to do is simply apply the adhesive that should have come with it to the bottom of the aquarium. Then, simply slap the heater on and set the optimal temperatures for your enclosure.

 

Some people prefer to user under tank heaters because not only are they highly effective but they’ll work at night as well and you won’t have any bright lights annoying your king snakes. The second choice you’re going to have which is a more cost effective solution but less heat effective is what’s known as a heat bulb. The first thing you’re going to want to make sure you do when installing a heat bulb, is find a nice spot for the bulb to hang that the tank isn’t going to have any kind of access to. If it does, it might burn itself. There are a lot of different methods for doing this and a lot of people have switched to under tank heaters just to save themselves the hassle or running the risk of burning their pet or the house down with over tank bulbs.

 

One thing you’re going to want to pay attention to is the wattage of the bulb. The wattage essentially will determine just how hot the enclosure will get so don’t go nuts if you’re raising a king snake in a tiny enclosure or it may become what too hot way too fast. The correct temperature from each bulb will vary per enclosure, so that’s why you’re going to want to mess around with the distance from the bulb to your enclosure and the placement. This is where a digital thermometer comes in so you can measure the different areas of your cage, to makes sure both sections are adequately warmed or cooled.

 

Unlike a lot of other reptiles or pets kept in a cage, king snakes may not stop eating if the temperature is warm but they’ll be susceptible to burns if they get too close and they need the warmth to help them properly digest their food, so make sure they have the proper temperatures present before putting a snake in the cage. Also, when it comes to heat rocks, some people have wandered if it’s ok to use them and no, it’s not ok. While heat rocks may be effective for their general purpose and what they do, the main problem behind these heat rocks is that they’re accessible by the reptile and you run the risk of getting the pet burned.

 

Also, you need to take humidity into account as well. Keeping an eye on the humidity will essential to the survival of your pet, so make sure that the humidity stays around 50% (as low as 40% and as high as 60%) to be safe. Also, when the king snake is about to shed, humidity plays an important factor as well because this will assist it in the shedding process. All reptiles shed and it’s important to make sure they have a healthy and smooth shed or other issues may occur during that time.