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How to Care for Your Kingsnake
Kingnsnakes (Lampropeltis sp.) are a group of small- to medium-sized, terrestrial snakes native to North America and some parts of northern South America. Kingsnakes are incredibly diverse (there are ~45 recognized subspecies!), and they have conquered a wide variety of habitats, from tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests to deserts and xeric shrublands. Although they are generally known as terrestrial, they are also skilled climbers and swimmers.
Kingsnakes are typically 3-5’ long, although it varies by subspecies. They generally have robust but slender bodies, with an oval-shaped head. Color and pattern is highly variable depending on subspecies. Some are striped, some are spotted, some colorful, and others are not!
Kingsnakes are among the most commonly-kept pet snakes in the US, due to their hardiness, and manageable size. This also makes them a good option for first-time reptile keepers. With good care, they are capable of living 20 years or more.
How much space do kingsnakes need?
The minimum acceptable enclosure size for a pet kingsnake depends on how large its subspecies is capable of growing:
- 3’ long or less — 36”L x 18”W x 18”H
- 4-5’ long — 48”L x 24”W x 24”H
This is just the minimum, so using larger dimensions is beneficial and will happily be used!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple kingsnakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as kingsnakes are not a social species, and keeping them together is likely to cause stress. Furthermore, considering that kingsnakes are known ophiophages (snake-eaters), cannibalism is a very real danger.
Do kingsnakes need UVB?
They can survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. UVB gives kingsnakes all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
Kingsnakes do best with low-strength UVB as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for ball pythons housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” enclosure are:
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed close to the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” above the basking area if not. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your kingsnake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
What basking temperatures do kingsnakes need?
Like other reptiles, kingsnakes are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Kingsnakes should have a basking surface temperature between 90-95°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 75-80°F. Surface temperatures can be measured with an infrared thermometer, but air temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your kingsnake by imitating the sun with two halogen heat lamps placed close together one side of the enclosure, positioned over a sturdy basking branch or warm hide. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
If the heat lamp is not enough to get the warm hide to an appropriate temperature, use a heat mat connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide temperature.
What humidity levels do kingsnakes need?
Kingsnakes need an average humidity of 40-60%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometers placed in the middle of the enclosure. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Always having a humid retreat is essential.
Misting your snake’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. If you need more, moisten the substrate by mixing water into it as needed.
What substrate is good for kingsnakes?
Kingsnakes require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to cushion their bodies and help maintain healthy humidity levels. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
Ideally, this substrate should resemble what kingsnakes naturally live on in the wild: soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. We recommend the following substrates for kingsnakes:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a kingsnake terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate, hides, and a water bowl. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
Aside from hiding places, you will also need at least a couple of sturdy branches for your kingsnake to climb on, as well as some live or artificial foliage to provide cover. Additional options include:
What do kingsnakes eat?
Like other snakes, kingsnakes are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake size:
- Hatchlings should be fed once every 5-7 days.
- Juveniles should be fed once every 7-14 days.
- Adults should be fed once every 14-21 days.
Prey items should be around 10% of your snake’s weight and no more than 1.5x its width. Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to approximately 100°F before offering with a pair of soft-tipped tweezers.
Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! Aside from offering mice and rats, quail, chicks, quail eggs, green anoles, and small snakes can also be used to create nutritional variety in your kingsnake’s diet.
Kingsnakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your snake’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.
Your kingsnake should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Provide a water bowl large enough for the snake to soak its entire body if desired. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do kingsnakes like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but kingsnakes generally tolerate handling well. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick up a snake by its tail!