Kingsnakes: The Essential Care Guide
Author: Scarlett Nightshade
Lifespan: 20+ years
Size: Varies among species; typically between 3-6ft.
Habitat and Distribution: Varies among species, but native to the Americas; inhabiting forests, deserts and rocky areas.
Kingsnakes are one of the best snakes for beginners. They are extremely hardy snakes with an incredible feeding response and simple husbandry requirements. While they have a reputation for being a bit overenthusiastic about eating and mistaking fingers as food, this is typically a more common trait for juveniles that can be easily worked out with handling as they grow familiar with their keeper. Overall, they make fantastic lifelong companions and are an excellent choice for novice and veteran keepers alike.
Florida Kingsnake, "Whitesided Ghost" morph
© Creatures of Nightshade
This guide covers the care for the most commonly kept Kingsnake species in captivity. This includes:
L. getula, Common Kingsnake
L. floridana, Florida Kingsnake
L. meansi, Apalachicola Kingsnake
L. californiae, California Kingsnake
L. nigrita, Mexican Black Kingsnake
L. holbrooki, Speckled Kingsnake
L. splendida, Desert Kingsnake
Kingsnakes are hardy snakes that can do well in all enclosure types, including tanks, tubs, racks, and PVC. Kingsnakes are terrestrial snakes, with quite the active and inquisitive nature. That said, they typically make use of every inch offered to them, so having adequate space is important. The outline below lists various enclosure dimensions for each stage of your Kingsnake’s life.
Hatchlings: 10gal. (20in. x 10in. x 12in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 20gal. (30in. x 12in. x 12in.) to 30gal. (36in. x 12in. x 16in.)
Adults: 40gal.+ (48in. x 12in. x 16in.)
Hatchlings: 15qt. (17in. x 11in. x 6in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 32qt. (23in. x 16in. x 6in.) to 106qt. (33in. x 18in. x 13in.)
Adults: 200qt.+ (40in. x 21in. x 17in.)
PVC enclosures are mostly recommended for sub-adults and adults due to their larger size. While you may have a smaller custom-built PVC enclosure made, most commercial sizes are more suitable for sub-adult and adult snakes. The recommended size dimensions for adult Kingsnakes is at least 34in. x 18in. x 9in.
Please remember that there are numerous ways to keep any species of snake. These dimensions are for use as a general guide only. It is up to you as the keeper to decide which size is best suited for your snake.
Substrate and Humidity
Kingsnakes require relatively low humidity, thriving between 50-55%, or 60% while in shed. They also exhibit burrowing behaviors. These needs can be met easily by using aspen shavings or aspen chips as substrate, which can be located at just about any pet store that carries exotic animal supplies. You can also use cypress mulch if your humidity levels are below 45%. Substrate should be at least an inch deep, although 2-3 inches is better for adults so they are able to burrow.
You can use a variety of different heat sources for Kingsnakes depending on your setup. Kingsnakes require a warm spot of around 82-85°F (28-29°C) and a cool spot no cooler than 75°F (24°C). You can achieve this by using a UTH (under tank heater) beneath your tank or tub, heat tape, CHE (ceramic heat emitter), DHP (deep heat projector), or RHP (radiant heat panel). As with most snakes, it is not recommended to use any incandescent, infrared or "night time" bulbs as a source of heat. Whether you use an overhead or under tank heater is up to personal preference, but remember that ALL heating elements must be used in combination with a thermostat.
Diet and Feeding
Hatchling and juvenile Kingsnakes should be fed once every 5-7 days. Hatchlings will typically begin on small pinky mice. The size of the feeder can be easily gauged by simply examining the widest part of your snake’s body and feeding no larger than ½ in. than this size. For hatchlings and juveniles, you can alternatively feed 10% of your snake’s body weight, although this number is not as accurate for sub-adult and adult Kingsnakes. Your snake should be able to ingest the feeder with relative ease. Adult Kingsnakes typically eat one large mouse once every 10-14 days.
Mexican Black Kingsnake (L. nigrita)
© Creatures of Nightshade
Kingsnakes are active and inquisitive snakes that do well with many forms of enrichment. Offering cork bark and rocks are great for textural stimulation. Branches, PVC pipes, and ledges make for good climbing opportunities as long as they are placed relatively low to the ground to prevent your snake from hurting themselves. You can also offer dietary variety by including quail in their diet, if they will take to it. If you feed frozen/thawed, hiding the feeder to encourage hunting behavior is also recommended. They also benefit from time outdoors on a warm, cloudy afternoon. That said, while there are various ways to offer enrichment to your snake, remember to be safe in doing so. Any outdoor items being added to the enclosure should be properly disinfected before use. All rocks and other similar items should be large enough that your snake can not ingest it. Feeding other reptiles to your snake is not advised, regardless of whether they are wild caught or captive bred. Either can carry and easily transmit deadly diseases to your snake.. If you take your snake outside, be sure your lawn is not treated with any toxic chemicals and monitor them closely so they are not captured by a nearby predator.
Your Kingsnake will appreciate a water dish large enough for them to soak in when necessary. Some Kingsnakes prefer to soak in their water dish almost constantly while in shed, while others may avoid soaking altogether. You should also provide at least two hides for your Kingsnake to take refuge in, with one on the warm side and one on the cool side so they can properly thermoregulate. Remember to monitor your husbandry with an appropriate thermometer, thermostat and hygrometer.
In summary, Kingsnakes are very hardy snakes that are easy to care for, making them great for beginner and veteran keepers alike. They make great life-long companions, each having their own unique personality to match. Their iconic presence and predatory status certainly earns them the title of "King"!