Kingsnake Care Sheet provided by Reptifiles

Kingsnake (Lampropeltis spp.)

Skill Level: Easy

 Kingsnake

Kingsnakes are a nonvenomous, terrestrial species of snake native to many areas of North America, particularly in the United States and Mexico. There are many different types of kingsnake — about 45 recognized subspecies! They have been found in just about every type of environment, from swamps to grasslands, and are excellent climbers as well as swimmers.

Kingsnakes are crepuscular, which means that although they are active at night, their peak hours are around dawn and dusk. In the wild, these hours are spent hunting prey like small mammals, frogs, lizards, bird eggs, and even other snakes.

Kingsnakes are fast growers, quickly reaching their adult size of 3-5’ long. 5’ may sound like a big snake, but their slender build keeps them perfectly manageable. They also tend to live long lives of 20 years or more!

Because of their simple care requirements, docile but active personality, and exceptional hardiness, they make perfect first-time snakes. Specifics of care can vary between the different species of kingsnake, so while this care sheet provides a foundation to give you a good start with your new pet, we recommend looking into the natural habitat and needs of your particular type of kingsnake.

Fun fact: Kingsnakes are a main predator of venomous snakes, and appear to be completely immune to rattlesnake, copperhead, and cottonmouth venoms!

 

Shopping List

  • 4’x2’x2’ Zen Habitats Reptile Enclosure with PVC Panels
  • 100w PAR38 halogen flood bulb, white light
  • 5” domed heat lamp with a ceramic socket
  • plug-in lamp dimmer
  • digital probe thermometer + hygrometer
  • temperature gun
  • 22” forest T5 HO fluorescent UVB bulb + fixture
  • light timer
  • 3-4” substrate (bedding)
  • 2+ hides/caves
  • decorations: branches, plants, cork logs, rocks, etc.
  • large water bowl
  • 12” soft-tipped feeding tweezers

Keep reading for specifics on the supplies that you will need!

 

Terrarium Size

Kingsnakes are fairly active snakes, so their enclosure must be sufficiently large to meet this need. And because they are terrestrial, floor space is more important than vertical space. However, they still enjoy climbing, so some vertical space should be provided to accommodate this. The Zen Habitats 4’x2’x2’ Reptile Enclosure is perfect for meeting a kingsnake’s space needs.

Front-opening terrariums are the most popular for housing snakes because they make terrarium access easy, hold heat and humidity well, and tend to be more attractive. Furthermore, front-opening enclosures tend to be more secure (read: escape-proof) than their top-opening counterparts.

Some people advise housing young kingsnakes in smaller enclosures than adults, but as long as your kingsnake is not very young (near hatchling size), and they have enough places to hide, they should be able to be housed in an adult-sized enclosures without problems.

Multiple kingsnakes should not be housed in the same enclosure.

 

Substrate (Bedding)

Using the right substrate in your kingsnake’s terrarium helps regulate humidity and promotes good health. Using the wrong substrate can be unhygienic and can make your snake sick.

  • Zilla Lizard Litter
  • Zoo Med Forest Floor
  • Reptichip
  • Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding
  • DIY Naturalistic Mix:40% organic topsoil + 40% Zoo Med Reptisoil + 20% play sand
  • Paper towels (best for use with hatchlings or for quarantine)

If you choose a loose substrate, take care to layer it at least 3” thick for best results — kingsnakes love to burrow! Spot clean to remove poo and urine as necessary, replacing any substrate that you remove. Substrate should be totally replaced every 3-6 months, depending on terrarium size and your snake’s habits. Paper towel, however, should be replaced as soon as it is soiled.

 

Lighting

Kingsnakes are crepuscular, which means that they are most active around dawn and dusk. Having a light in the enclosure helps them regulate their day/night rhythm. There is a common myth that snakes don’t “need” UVB and therefore shouldn’t have access to it, for fear of stressing them out or even hurting their eyes. Again, this is false. There is mounting scientific evidence that UVB is, in fact, beneficial for snakes, and therefore should be provided. For this reason we recommend using the Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0 UVBor Arcadia Forest 6%, long enough to span half the length of the enclosure.

Lights should be left on for 12 hours/day. Nighttime lighting/heat and colored bulbs are not necessary.

 

Heating

Kingsnakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on their environment to determine their body temperature. They can’t control their own body temperature like humans can. So they need to have a range of temperatures from one side to the other which enables to the snake to regulate its temperature as needed.

  • Basking surface: 90-95°F
  • Warm side: 85-90°F
  • Cool side: 75-80°F

Many snake keepers recommend using heat pads, but this is an outdated practice. White light heat lamps mimic the effect of the sun in a kingsnake’s natural habitat. So we recommend using a white heat bulb like the Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot or a Philips/Sylvania 100w halogen flood heat bulb in a dome heat lamp for best results. The exact wattage you will need varies depending on distance to the basking surface, and room temperature, but generally speaking:

  • 12” tall enclosure → 75w
  • 18” tall enclosure → 100w

Using a plug-in lamp dimmer or a dome lamp with a built-in dimmer will help you get your temps just right.

This lamp should be placed on the extreme left or right of the enclosure to create the desired gradient. This gradient can be easily measured by using a temperature gun like the Zoo Med ReptiTemp.

Do not use electric hot rocks!

 

Humidity

Kingsnakes do best with a range of 40-60% humidity. Correct humidity levels help maintain respiratory health as well as facilitate proper shedding.

To help maintain these humidity levels, it’s helpful to place the water bowl on the warm side of the terrarium (as opposed to the cool side) and misting as needed with a spray bottle. It’s also good to provide a humid cave stuffed with damp, clean sphagnum moss.

Keep track of humidity levels with a digital probe hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer and Humidity Gauge. This device is also a helpful backup thermometer to pair with your temperature gun.

 

Feeding Your Kingsnake

Kingsnakes are carnivores, which means that they must eat whole animals in order to get the nutrition their bodies need.

 

Hatchling kingsnakes eat newborn pinkie mice every 5-7 days. As they grow and get older, increase the size of the prey, keeping the prey only a little larger than the snake at its widest point. By adulthood, the kingsnake should be taking 1-2 adult mice every 10-14 days.

Variety in food is key to the health of all reptiles, including snakes. Try to offer as many different kinds of food as you can, like quail eggs, young rats, and Reptilinks.

Water

Keep a large bowl of water in the enclosure at all times, changing the water at least twice weekly. Better yet, replace the water daily if you can. If it gets soiled before then, scrub with an animal-safe disinfectant, rinse, and replace.

Supplements

In theory, whole animals should provide all the nutrition that a snake needs. But in truth, some captive bred feeders have deficiencies which can be passed on to your pet. You can fix this by occasionally dusting the feeder with calcium and multivitamin powder. Repashy Calcium Plus LoD is a good all-in-one solution.

 

Handling Tips

You will need to wait a little while after bringing your new pet home to let it settle in. This usually takes about 2 weeks, but you shouldn’t start handling until it’s eating regularly.

Once your kingsnake is ready for handling, take it slow at first. Start with brief handling sessions (no longer than 5 minutes), and don’t return the snake until it is calm. This teaches your pet how to behave during handling by using basic positive reinforcement. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to 10 minutes, and then gradually up to no more than half an hour.

Handle your kingsnake at least 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily. Snakes do not require social interaction, but handling helps the snake stay tame and is a good opportunity for exercise as well.

Do not handle your kingsnake within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and leads to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can lead to death. Also do not handle if the snake’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that your snake is preparing to shed its skin and can’t see well, making them jumpy and possibly more likely to bite.

Note that young kingsnakes are more “wiggly” and less tolerant of handling than older individuals. Don’t give up! They will calm down with age.

 

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.