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California Kingsnakes


and related kingsnakes
Lampropeltis getula ssp.



General Information


The most commonly kept kingsnakes in captivity is probably the California kingsnake, L. g. californiae found, obviously, in California but also found in a range extending in to Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and even into Utah. These snakes have, for years, been commonly found in the wild but as humans encroach on their habitat and we keep expanding to meet our needs, their numbers may begin to dwindle (as has happened in some areas) and we may see a decline in wild populations. These snakes are ophiophigus (think that’s spelled right,) which means that they eat other snakes. In the wild kingsnakes will hunt down North American venomous snakes, kill them and then eat them. Although these venomous snakes may bite a kingsnake in the process they are immune to the venom. They will also kill and eat other species of snake, including their own, so keeping these snakes together in the same enclosure would be a grave error eventually resulting in the death of at least one of the snakes.

These are generally attractive snakes with a docile, or gentle, disposition. Often considered a beginning level snake for keepers it may rank right behind the corn snake (in our opinion) as the best first snake due to the fact that if they ever do mistake a finger for food or have a “nasty” moment they may actually hang on and chew. This is often a “catastrophic event” when it happens for the first time and scares a lot of young, or inexperienced, keepers but is nothing to be concerned about.

Because of the varieties available on the market today, the kingsnake is easily obtained as captive born babies through adult size. Their price range and lower maintenance makes them ideal for younger keepers. They are easy to handle and make excellent pets.

Size and Life span

The California kingsnake may reach lengths of 5 feet or slightly longer (related species from around the US can get larger) but a common length for these is 3 to 4 feet as adults. These snakes can live for 10 years and longer with 15 being moderately common if all conditions are right. It should be noted that while breeding males may live to these “ripe old ages,” while adult, breeding females may have shorter life spans. We still hesitate to declare this as an absolute truth as we believe diet, care and other factors may be involved in this commonly stated belief.

Requirements

One of the most common questions is "What should I use on the bottom of the cage?" First, let us state the WRONG things to use, namely Cedar and sand. We recommend using paper towels, butcher paper, astroturf or even potting soil. Remember that you will be cleaning this regularly to remove waste and eliminate odor, so sometimes simpler is better. You can make the enclosure as decorative or simple as you want.

Commonly used enclosures include aquariums (must have a secure lid for these escape artists,) plastic shoe/sweater boxes, commercial caging such as Neodosha cages and custom-built caging. Hide boxes are often recommended, as this species is sometimes secretive. Most keepers recommend some form of hiding area on each end of the enclosure so that your snake does not have to decide between covered/uncovered and warm/cool. Lighting can be provided at a 12 on and 12 off cycle to imitate natural conditions. Optimum temperatures are from low 80’s on the cool end to upper 80’s on the warm end to allow the snake to thermoregulate.

Under tank heaters and/or overhead lights can be used individually or together. Remember that even overhead lighting can produce heat. When supplementing heat, remember to keep one side of the tank free of any real heat source so that your snake can regulate its body temperatures naturally. Water should be available at all times not just for drinking but they will also use it to cool off and soak prior to sloughing (shedding) its skin as it grows.

Let us state again that California kingsnakes, like all kingsnakes, should be housed separately. The only time they should occupy the same space is during breeding, which we will cover below.

Feeding

In captivity, kingsnakes should only be fed captive born/raised rodents. While they eat a variety of rodents, birds and lizards in the wild, using these to feed your captive born snake can cause parasites, which can endanger your snakes health and life. Newly hatched kingsnakes feed readily on newborn, or pinky, mice. Adults can be fed adult mice to small rats. We have even used newborn rabbits to feed ours at times and they take these readily. While many baby kingsnakes will only accept live food for the first meal or two, it is advised that pre-killed or thawed food items be offered. This serves 2 purposed; first to keep your movements from being associated with food and second, to eliminate the risk of your snake being bitten by a live rodent and becoming ill or even killed.

Feed your snake food items that are no more than twice as big around as your snake. While they can actually take slightly larger, it is not recommended in captivity and should never be needed as appropriately sized food can be obtained at most any pet store or ordered online from a number of suppliers. Your snake may refuse an occasional meal, often when it can’t see prior to shedding. Don’t force the issue, but rather remove the food item and try again in a few days.

Baby, or neonate, kingsnakes can be fed as often as every 5 days. By the time they are 2 or 3 years old, it is recommended that you feed no more than once a week with smaller items or every 10 to 14 days with larger items. Captive snakes have a tendency to become obese due to lack of exercise and this can actually shorten the lifespan of your snake.

Breeding


California kingsnakes are generally sexually mature after 1 ˝ to 2 years but may take as long as 3. Most if not all, breeders state that there should be a winter brumation (often mistakenly called “hibernation”) period in order to get these snakes to breed. After 2 to 3 months, usually during the winter, both males and females are slowly warmed up and fed 2 or 3 meals prior to introduction. Note that your snakes should be in good health and have good body weight prior to brumation.

The actual breeding is very similar to that for corn snakes. However, it is recommended that kingsnakes not be left overnight or unattended for long periods of time during this process. The actual mating process is basically like all other colubrid species and the female can be removed to her own enclosure once copulation has taken place.

Males may refuse food during this period of time since they often get a single mind-set for breeding. After the breeding period you have chosen, it may be beneficial to completely rinse off your male and clean his enclosure to remove all lingering odor(s) of the female(s). Females will continue to feed regularly though smaller prey items may be needed as the eggs develop and take up more and more room inside of her. Once she lays her eggs (use a laying box for her to deposit them) she will be exhausted and after a day or 2 will need to be fed meals of smaller prey items on a more frequent basis to put size and weight back on her.

The eggs can be incubated in most any sealed container provided that fresh air is allowed in regularly and frequently (3-5 days.) The most commonly used incubation medium is vermiculite that has been moistened so that if you squeeze it tightly between your fingers a drop of water is produced. At an incubation temp of 81to 85 degrees, the eggs will hatch in approximately 55 to 80 days. After hatching, the babies will feed off of the egg nutrients in their stomach and shed once before they are ready for their first meal.

Mutations


This is one of the most variable snakes in captivity due to extensive breeding efforts. Mutations, or morphs, include albino, striped albino, banana, banded, aberrant, melanistic, hypomelanistic, ruby albino, lavender, snow, desert phase, 50/50 (including extremes to 70/30) and numerous other phases that are being bred or introduced each year. This is one of those snakes that allow even beginners a chance to be the first to produce any new variety, just like the corn snake.