King Snake Facts
Scientific name: Lampropeltis getula californiae
Size: 3 – 6ft
Lifespan: 15 – 20 years
Wild Population: 9,000+
Primary Colours: Black, Grey & White
Endangerment: Common, some species becoming endangered.
Habitat: United States
Difficulty of Keeping: Easy
Optimum environment Temperature: 90°F hotspot with ambient temp of 80°F
What do they eat? Mice, Small Rats, other snakes, birds and eggs.
Purpose: King snakes are generally found inhabiting mountain ranges in the United States, some venture further down to urban areas in search for food.
Eggs or Live birth: Egg baring snake.
Venomous: None venomous/ None poisonous
Are they kept in captivity? King snakes are widely kept in captivity across the world and make fantastic pets.
Ease of keeping as a pet: Easy, manageable size and generally quite friendly.
Cost: Ranges between £10 – £500 dependant on morph (colour)
Do king snakes make good pets?
Yes, they are highly regarded and in the top 5 pet snakes for new keepers. King snakes are closely relative species to the milk snake.
- Manageable size.
- Care requirements among the easiest.
- Rarely have any trouble with feeding.
- Come in a large variety of colour morphs.
- Their love of food may lead to a mistake bite.
- They are less readily available than corn snakes.
The cons are difficult to find for a kingsnake, but every animal has flaws right?
Bites that happen by mistake are often when keepers attempt to handle their snake when defrosting rodents.
When removed from their enclosure a king snake is easy to handle and such a reasonable size that it will help if you looking to venture further into larger snakes such as boa constrictors or even reticulated pythons.
The care is very simple and local pet shops often have a starter kit that will be perfect for a baby king snake. (More on care requirements below).
What types of king snake are there?
They are the most common of all kings, they are primarily brown or black with white or yellow banded or speckled across the snake’s body.
Scarlett King snake
A snake with colour bands down the body, which goes red, black and white or yellow.
Scarlett king snakes are often confused with the highly venomous coral snake.
There is a way to tell the difference between the two snakes *please not this does not ALWAYS apply.
Red & Black, venom lack | Red & yellow will kill a fellow.
What this means is the order of the colour bands so if a yellow colour is touching the red band it is a good possibility it is a coral snake.
Mexican Black King Snake
As the name suggests this is a jet-black snake and from experiences seems to be the one that likes to mistake my finger for mouse.
Common eastern king snake
Usually a grey-ish coloured snake, with yellow pinstripe banding from the head to the tail.
Are king snakes a poisonous species?
No, the king snake has no venom but close relatives such as the coral snake is.
A King snake kills its prey by constricting its prey.
When they strike their reclining teeth lock into place and begin to wrap their body around the prey item.
King snakes eat venomous snakes as they are immune to their venom.
They eat snakes such as rattle snakes, cotton mouth & copperhead.
What you will need to setup a king snake in captivity
- Heat source (heat bulb or mat)
- Water dish
- Substrate or bedding
- Feeding Tongs
What Size Vivarium Do I Need?
King snake are excellent escape artists and will find any small gap to free themselves from their caging.
Security of the housing space will save the massive headache of trying to find your snake.
At 3 – 12 months old, plastic terrariums are perfect and have lots of pros.
First of which is doing a full clean out, this takes no more than 10 minutes.
Second, plastic terrariums are super light and can be place almost anywhere within your house.
If it has a removable lid place something weighty on top to prevent escape.
1+ year old king snakes need a slightly bigger vivarium.
A 3ft (long) by 1ft (deep) enclosure will house an average sized adult king snake for the rest of their life.
3ft wooden vivarium’s are best as they have a nice viewing point and are sturdier, this also allows you more options when fitting a heat source to the cage.
Dependant on which type of heat source you are going to be using dictates the type of thermostat you will need.
All have pros and cons but for a king snake either will be just fine.
Heat mats are more energy efficient than heat bulbs, therefore this is what I would recommend unless you live in a very cold area.
A dimming thermostat, this is the type that is required when using any heat bulb.
Rather than turn the power off and on completely it will use a % of energy and dim the lighting to get to the target temperature.
A mat stat, as the name suggests is better for a heat mat, it basically works on an OFF/ON switch.
Do not use a mat stat with a heat bulb, it will cost you more replacing the bulbs.
Correct enclosure temps for a King snake:
Basking area: 85-90 °F
Ambient: 70 – 75 °F
There is no need to have day and night-time settings, though if you prefer to emulate a king snakes natural habitat adjust the basking spot down to 80°F.
Always place the thermostat probe on the hot side of the cage as this will be easier to monitor and keep the temperature consistent.
Aspen is the bedding which we recommend for most colubrid snakes, it is easy to spot and clean the enclosure without doing a full clean.
It is available from most local pet shops at a low cost, it also makes the enclosure replicate their environment much better.
Newspaper is another option but is not the softest of flooring for a king snake, the reason for this being so popular is that it can be obtained for free.
A top tip for newspaper is the get a cheap shredder and this will fluff up and make the bedding much softer and allows your king snake to burrow.
Half aspen | Half Cypress Mulch – this is what I personally use as this has more benefits during the shedding cycle, cypress mulch increases the humidity which aids during the shedding process loosening the skin.
King snake health check
When you go looking for a king snake or if you looking to just monitor a king snakes health (this should be done every 4 – 6 months at least) a health check should be done.
A full head to tail check.
This starts as soon as you see them, are they alert about their surroundings? the tongue should be flickering.
When you pick up the snake is it holding its own bodyweight and not lethargic or limp.
Is there any discharge coming from or around the mouth area, this can be the early signs of a raspatory infection which can be fatal if left untreated?
Start with the head of the snake check for any mites or parasites, around the eyes is often the most common place but they also can be found underneath the head in the groves of the snake’s bottom jaw.
They will be clearly visible on lighter coloured snakes but with dark it can be more of a challenge; a great way is to look for scales that may be uplifted in random places.
Their eyes should be clear with no stuck shed, if there is little shed on the head or on the body, simply put them in a bath or sink with room temp water and this will soften the skin for gentle removal.
During this check a healthily king snake will be actively moving around and just being naturally curious.
Now to check the anus of the snake is there any discharge or anything stuck to or around the area? This area should always be clean.
Finally check the tail of the snake does it go to a straight point or does it have signs of the end of the tail dropping of, if so, this can be an area that is open to infection in the future.
Finally if you are buying a baby king snake ask for the feeding records of the snake, if you are unsure as to the integrity of these records, request that you come and pick the snake up after you have seen the snake accepting a meal.