snake-care

Kingsnake Care Sheet

January 20, 2021

kingsnake care sheet
Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis sp.) are a 3-5’ long, crepuscular, terrestrial snake native to North America and some parts of northern South America. As there are ~45 recognized subspecies of kingsnake, they can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests to deserts and xeric shrublands.
Kingsnakes have robust, but still slender, bodies with smooth scales and small oval heads. Color and pattern vary considerably between subspecies — some are striped, some are spotted, some are colorful, and some are not!
Kingsnakes are one of the most common pet snakes in the US due to their hardiness, manageable size, docile nature, and ease of breeding in captivity. With good care, they are capable of living 20 years or more.

Minimum terrarium size for kingsnakes

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

Of course, larger is always better! Kingsnakes are quite active and need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and climb. 

Cohabitation (keeping multiple kingsnakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as kingsnakes are not a social species, and keeping them together causes unnecessary stress. Kingsnakes are also ophiophagus (snake-eating), so there is the risk of cannibalism.

Do kingsnakes need UVB?

Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for kingsnakes. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits. 

The best UVB bulbs for kingsnakes housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” terrarium are:

For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as 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 placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

All lamps should be on for about 12 hours/day.

Best temperature for kingsnakes

Like other reptiles, kingsnakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.

Specifically speaking, 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 snake with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: a piece of flagstone or stone paver) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. 

The warm hide should be placed directly below the basking surface. 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.

Best humidity levels for kingsnakes

Kingsnakes need an average humidity of 40-60%. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss.  Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.

Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity.

Best substrate for kingsnakes

Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your kingsnake’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! 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.

How to decorate a kingsnake terrarium

An empty terrarium makes for a bored kingsnake, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!

At bare minimum you will need at least two hiding places on the ground and something for it to climb on. However, it’s best to include other items such as:

The more stuff you add, the more functional your enclosure is likely to become!

What to feed to a kingsnake

Kingsnakes are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. 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 no more than 1.5x its width at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.

One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so aside from offering mice and rats, quail, chicks, quail eggs, green anoles, and small snakes can also be used to add diversity to your kingsnake’s diet.

Supplements

Kingsnakes can survive without dietary supplements, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.

Water

Of course, don’t forget a large water bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

How to handle your kingsnake

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, kingsnakes generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! When picking up your kingsnake, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!



*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!


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