The King Snake (L. getula) is closely related to the Milk Snake, both belonging to the genus Lampropeltis along with another four species and a total of 45 sub-species. There are in total eight subspecies of King snakes that can be found throughout the North and South American continents, and inhabit all kinds of environments from deserts to swamps, farmlands to forests and grasslands to the rocky foothills of the Andes Mountains.
King snakes are a very popular choice as a pet for their beautiful colourations, calm and tolerant behaviour and resilient, hardy nature appealing to both the beginner and the experienced herpetoculturist. Widely available around the world through your local pet shop, large breeding programmes have produced multitudes of colour and pattern morphs so there should never be a reason to buy a wild-caught specimen.
|Pet Reptile (Lampropeltis getula) Care Information|
|Years to Maturity:|
|Housing, Feeding and Climate of Lampropeltis getula|
|Reptile Lighting:||Are there any special reptile lighting requirements?|
|Breeding Lampropeltis getula|
|What are the reptile health concerns? Is pet insurance recommended? Is reptile health a common problem?|
|Recommended Pet Supplies for Lampropeltis getula|
nb. All of these can be purchased from an online pet store
Choosing a Kingsnake
- Firm rounded body.
- Clear eyes (may be a little cloudy if about to shed). There should be no sign of discharge.
- No evidence of mites - check especially around the head and eyes, check for faint specks on body and check your hands after handling the snake
- The snake should not have to open its mouth to breathe and should not appear as if it is gasping for breath.
- The inside of the mouth should be a uniform pink - reddened areas or cheesy looking matter may indicate mouth rot.
- Shiny smooth skin with no scabs or sores.
- Clean vent with no swelling in area
- Should move smoothly with no tremors
If you are unsure about the health of a snake, you can ask the vendor for a demonstration feeding, usually on pre-killed mice. If your new snake appears distressed or overly active, be patient but not ignorant, snakes will be agitated until they settle in to their new environments but if the problem persists it may be necessary to seek veterinary advice.
Healthy adult King snakes range in size from three to seven feet depending on the individual sub-species. There are many morphs all varying in colourations and patterns, however, most follow their most famous attribitute of mimicing the much more dangerous Coral snake. Both snakes have red, black and yellow bands of colour, however, the King snake has its black bands touching the red bands whereas the coral snake has the yellow bands touching the red. King snakes have been known to live upto 25 years of age in captivity.
King snakes are renowned for their skill in escaping from their enclosures and passing through inconceivably small gaps. Therefore a high quality enclosure is a necessity. King snakes will take advantage of any weakness in the structure of their habitat, and if there is a weakness you can be sure that your King snake will find it.
Adult King snakes require large enclosures, and it is recommended that you provide a volume of atleast 65 gallons. King snakes love to climb so consideration must be given to the vertical dimension of your habitat. A high-sided enclosure combined with a variety of tree branches and other obstacles will keep your snake sufficiently entertained. However, do not sacrifice floorspace in the search for height, as King snakes require enough room to fully stretch their bodies. They do this to reduce the risk of respiratory infections to which this genus is particularly vulnerable due to its single-lung arrangement.
Whatever the size of your snake, a comfortable hiding place is an absolute necessity. The provision of a hiding place will help the snake feel safe and secure, and is essential in preventing stress. A hiding place should not be too large and obviously, not too small. The snake should be accommodated comfortably within the space with freedom of movement, however, the space should be small enough to create a feeling of security. Hence, the size of the hiding place will have to be adjusted continuously to provide sufficient space for a growing snake.
In the early years, the easiest option would be to modify existing household objects such as plastice trays/boxes or to simply use cardboard boxes that can be handily disposed off if they become soiled. In later years, it may be necessary to build purpose made shelters within the vivarium itself.
A popular choice amongst experienced keepers is to have the main platform for your snakes enclosure comprised of decking material and slightly raised a few inches above the true floor that would be covered in a durable and waterproof material such as linoleum. The reason for this is that any urine can run through the gaps in the decking and onto the waterproof linoleum beneath. This makes for an easier maintenance routine as the linoleum can be removed and cleaned relatively easily, and your beautiful snake is kept as far away as possible from its own excretions for obvious health reasons.
A layer of substrate should be added on top of the decking to provide a comfortable home for your King snake. Firstly, Cedar is not an option. Cedar is toxic to these animals and should be avoided at all costs. Similarily, wood chips although safe enough, if used then the animal should be fed on a different surface to prevent them from swallowing shavings which can lead to dangerous intestinal blockages. Further to this, wood chips can hold mites, which can be potentialy fatal for any snake.
Newspaper cuttings are an option, however, as many proud owners of albino specimens will tell you, the ink will quickly transfer on to your python. Leaving a less than desired affect. Astroturf is an excellent option that can be cleaned and disinfected easily enough and also proves to be amongst the most attractive options. Rubber mats are by far the most practical solution, being durable, relatively cheap and waterproof, and they can be used year after year with no degradation in quality.
It is recommended that until you realise the health condition of your new snake, you begin with simple paper towels. This will enable you to easily monitor the condition of the snaeks faeces and detect any mites or other intruders. After a few months you can then start to evolve your snakes enclosure with more interesting and attractive substrates, although these do require more maintenance so be sure to find a happy balance between the complexity of your snakes environment and how much time you can devote to regular cleaning.
King snakes are often exposed to varying temperatures in their natural habitat due to their extensive distribution throughout the americas, and individuals will adopt a lifestyle best-suited to surviving these conditions. In captivity, it is recommended that King snakes be provided with an ambient daytime temperature of 24-30°C (76-86°F). Nighttime conditions should be allowed to drop to the low 20's°C (70°F).
Snakes, as in the case of most animals should have the seasonal changes recreated as best as possible. This can be achieved by making gradual, subtle changes to the temperature and lighting conditions as the months progress. Summer time conditions should be as above, with winter temperatures reduced gradually to approximately 22-25°C (71.6-75°F). For changing lighting conditions please refer to the Lighting conditions sub-section further down this article.
To achieve these demanding conditions, a range of appliances are available. Specially designed heating pads for this purpose are available on the market and help to maintain consistent ambient air temperatures within the enclosure. Traditional incandescant light bulbs can be used in co-operation with these pads to provide your python with a suitable basking spot.
Heating pads can be placed under half the enclosure, or inside under half the substrate. Do not put a heat pad into contact with substrate made with paper or shavings, as combustion can occur.
Incandescent and other heat lights are impractical as the sole source of heat for two reasons: because they have to be turned off at night to reproduce night conditions they allow too great a drop in temperature. With a large enough enclosure, you can use a white light heat source for daytime, and a radiant heat source, such as a ceramic heating element (CHE) or [[nocturnal reptile bulb]] for night. Radiant heat from below can be supplemented with a non-light emitting heat source such as a CHE. If the ambient room air temperature is always warm (in the low to mid part of the gradient required), then you may be able to make do with only one heat source.
The temperature conditions within the enclosure should be monitored at all times with the use of multiple thermometers. Place one at each temperature zone, so one at substrate level, one at any basking spot and one at a higher level amongst any tree branches or any other climbing obstacles you have provided.
However, the temperature range is more important to a King snake than the humidity level. Most experienced keepers claim that simply keeping a large water dish inside the enclosure at all times is sufficient. The evaporating water will keep the environment at the desired humidity.
Like most snakes, Kings like to soak their bodies in water, so the dish must be large enough to accommodate it's whole body. Snakes will frequently defecate in water, so it is very important that the dish be cleaned and replensished daily. As King snakes are not too fussy when it comes too humidity, it is safer to stay slightly on the drier side, as excessive moisture will provide optimum conditions for molds and bacteria to strive.
It may be necessary to increase humidity slightly during your snakes shedding process especially if your pet seems to be struggling. This can be done simply by making a humid area by putting damp moss or a wet rag in a hiding spot to maintain a localized humidity level.
It is important to keep the substrate and bottom of the tank dry and clean because if the tank is too damp it can cause bacterial and respiratory infections.
Additional light is not necessary if temperatures can be maintained with a heat pad. Milk snakes are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. They do not like bright light.
If lighting is necessary in order to maintain temperatures, you should use blue, red or black coloured lights to reduce the brightness within the enclosure. If no other option is available, low wattage incandescent lights can be used if the snake has adequate hiding areas and the lights are turned off in the evening. As with the other heat sources, temperatures should be monitored with an accurate thermometer.
It is highly recommended that you feed your snake pre-killed food to reduce the risk of exposing your python to live prey in a relatively small environment.
Hatchlings can be fed on 1-2 day old pinkie mice. It is recommended to freeze all prey items to help kill any bacteria and contaminations, then make sure to defrost thoroughly. Feed one to two mice every two to seven days, depending upon growth rate desired. Generally speaking, a snake will grow faster being fed several small prey items a couple of times a week compared to one big meal once a week. The smaller prey are more digestible than the larger prey, so the snake is getting more nutrition from them.
Juveniles can be fed larger mice one or more times a week. King snakes can be tempted with food that is upto the diameter of the largest part of the snakes body. You will find that they have an increased appetite in the spring and summer, and decreasing during the autumn/fall. Many will stop feeding altogether during the winter months even though they may still be somewhat active.
Adult size is generally reached within three years at which time the amount and rate of feeding can be reduced. Feed adult mice or young pink rats, exact amounts will have to be determined depending on the snakes charachteristics i.e. gaining excessive weight.
Many experienced keepers use a seperate enclosure at feeding time to segregate the emotions associated with food and to reduce the risk of being bitten when approaching the snake within its usual environment. This method also has its health benefits as left over food is not being left within the primary enclosure.
If you have any problems feeding your snake please refer to our snake feeding problem page for further information.
Handling Your Snake
It is always suggested to allow your snake a couple of days to settle in, before you start picking it up and handling it. When you do pick it up, do so gently, it may move from you and it may anoint you with a smelly musky substance from it's vent. Be gentle but persistent. Daily contact will begin to establish a level of trust and confidence between you and your snake. When it is comfortable with you, you can begin taking it around the house.
Don't get overconfident, given an oppurtunity your snake will make a run for it! Always be gentle, and try to avoid sudden movements. If the snake wraps around your arm or neck, you can unwind it by gently grasping it by the tail and unwrapping it from around you. If you start at the head, you will find that your snake may be stronger than you are and may repay your efforts with a warning bite...so start with the tail!
There are generally two types of bites: a strike and a feeding bite.
A strike is a warning that you have exceeded the bounds of what the snake will tolerate. It will shoot out, mouth open, then retract just as quickly, leaving you with a series of teeth marks.
A feeding bite is just that: they think they have prey, and are not going to let go; the more you move around, the more they try to 'kill' your hand. The easiest and fastest way to disengage a snake's mouth from your body is with grain (not rubbing) alcohol; in a school setting, you can use Listerine or, if none is available, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. The latter can be toxic, so you must make sure that the snake's mouth is not flooded with it. Always tilt the snake's head downwards so that the fluid does not run up into its nose; from there it can get into its respiratory tract, causing infections. Compressed air can also be an effective way to coax a snake into releasing their bite. A quick burst or two into the mouth (not the nose or eyes) should do the trick, but long sprays must be avoided as they can cause frost bite both to the snake's mouth and to the person's skin.
Wash bites thoroughly with soap and water. Apply povidone-iodine (Betadine) or hydrogen peroxide, and let dry. Then apply a topical broad spectrum antibiotic ointment. Do not bandage. It should be noted that a snake will always signal when it is going to strike or bite; you just need to learn new body language. Once you see the snake stiffen and slowly retract, head held slightly above the ground or body, be alert and ready to move.
Regular visits to a veterinarian reptile specialist is essential especially for new-born and juvenile specimens. A sample of faeces should be taken and sealed in an appropriate container, noted with details such as the time and date. The vet will then screen the matter for parasites and signs of infestations and infecions that can prove fatal to your pet. This practice is not only for the sake of your snake, most parasites that can infest snakes and reptiles are easily transmitted to humans and can prove equally if not more devastating.