King Snake Facts and Care Information
The king snake (Lampropeltis) is one of the most popular pet snakes in the world. Ideal for reptile fans of all skill levels, the king snake is a great starter pet that has an easy temperament and the ability to adapt to a happy lifestyle in captivity. Keep reading to learn more about this beautiful and unique reptile before deciding if the king snake is the right pet for you.
What is a King Snake?
There are 45 different species of king snake, with the California king snake being among the most common in the United States. Native to the Americas, the king snake can be found in the wild all the way from southeastern Canada down to southern Ecuador. They present in several different colors and patterns, but the most recognizable king snakes have a banding pattern that typically consists of light-colored bands and a darker background skin color. While they have been a popular pet snake choice for many years, unlike some other species of snake, the king snake is still inherently wild and does best with gentle handling.
Interesting Facts about the King Snake
What’s in a Name?
With a name like the king snake, it’s easy to think that this species of snake may have once been the favorite of nobility from around the world. But, in reality, the king snake’s name is in reference to their dietary preferences. This is because the king snake is carnivorous and has a habit of feeding upon other snakes, placing it at the top of the food chain in many natural areas.
King Snake Appearance
The king snake has many different presentations when it comes to color and patterning. Some of the different combinations include:
- Vibrant reds and yellows
- Oranges and tans
- Black and white with banding
- Variations of rings, bands, stripes, patches, spots, and speckles
The exact coloring and patterns of a king snake depends on the species, subspecies, locale, and individual genetics. Typically, the king snake ranges in length from 2 to 4 feet when fully grown. Although, some species have been known to grow up to 7 feet in length. For hatchlings, owners can expect them to vary in length from 8 to 13 inches.
The king snake can be found all over North and South America and has the ability to thrive in many varied natural settings including grasslands, forests, deserts, fields, swamps, riverbanks, rocky areas, and even in suburbia. In captivity, it is common for king snakes to live for 20 years or more. However, in the wild, their lifespan is typically much shorter.
Creating a Comfortable Home Habitat
Because the king snake can grow to be upwards of 6 feet in length, they need a larger tank to feel comfortable and happy. Most snake experts would agree that an adult king snake should be in an aquarium or reptile terrarium that is no less than 20-gallons. And because of their intelligence levels, their enclosure must be secured with an escape-proof opening—otherwise, they will likely find a way to break free.
It is also recommended that king snakes live alone or in a breeding group of one male and several adult females. This is because the king snake is known for eating other snakes. Juvenile king snakes should not be kept in the same habitat, as they could kill each other. When they are adult-sized, but no more than 2 feet in length, they can be slowly introduced to potential tank mates but should be fed and kept separately for a few hours each day.
If you plan on keeping your king snake in an area with natural light, they will not require any special lighting. However, keep their enclosure within a safe distance from windows to prevent escapes or overheating. Because snakes thermoregulate, your king snake will need an aquarium or terrarium that allows for differentiating heat patterns. Setup their habitat with under the tank heating that will allow for a warm end and cool end of the tank. Typically, king snakes require a habitat with a high temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a low temperature area of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fresh water is also essential for a healthy indoor king snake habitat. Owners should provide their snakes with a water bowl that is deep enough for snakes to soak in but not so deep that it will easily overflow and get the tank wet. A dry cage is necessary for a comfortable living environment.
What Do King Snakes Eat?
In the wild, king snakes are often at the top of the food chain and are happy to feed on everything from rodents and insects to other snakes. They can generally eat just about any animal or bird that is small enough for them to overpower and swallow whole. In captivity, king snakes should be fed a diet that consists of rodents like small mice. Owners have the option of feeding their snake live or well-thawed out frozen mice but should remember that there is a chance for live mice to inflict defense wounds before being eaten. Adult king snakes should be fed once to twice per week, depending on size.
Does the King Snake Have Natural Predators?
The king snake has few natural predators in the wild. However, they can be overpowered by:
- Other large snakes
- Hawks and owls
- Other carnivorous mammals
- Tarantula spiders
- And more
Do They Shed?
King snakes do shed and shouldn’t be handled when they are in the beginning shedding stages. The best indication that your king snake is about to shed is a “milky” or blue hue to the eyes. After a few days, the eyes will appear clear again and your snake will be able to crawl away from its old skin or slough.
King Snake Temperament
While the king snake does well in captivity, it will never completely lose some of the characteristics that helped to give it such a regal name. It is common for king snakes to take up a defensive stance when being handled and in many cases, they may shake their tails, strikeout or even urinate and defecate on their owners when being picked up. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to be more docile and handled with care. With regular, gentle handling, owners can teach their adult king snakes to enjoy hand-over-hand contact. Just remember to stay away from their faces and apply gentle friction to help slow any forward movement.
King Snake Reproduction
The king snake is an oviparous internal fertilization snake, meaning that it lays eggs instead of giving birth as some other common snakes do. Males often compete for female attention during mating season, causing the male snakes to vibrate uncontrollably. Eggs are then laid about 42 to 63 days after mating, generally between the months of May and August. A typical clutch size for the king snake ranges from 5 to 12 eggs, with hatchlings emerging about 40 to 65 days after being laid. When hatched, baby king snakes are approximately 8 to 13 inches in length.
Because the king snake has many natural variations in colors and patterns, they are a popular snake among breeders. Many snake enthusiasts will selectively breed the king snake to achieve special color patterns, morphs, and albino varieties as well.
The California King Snake
While the king snake can be found all over the Americas, the California king snake (Lampropeltis californiae) is native to California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and much of Baja California in Mexico. In Arizona, it is common for this species of king snake to intergrade with the desert king snake as well as the Mexican Black king snake. One of the other defining characteristics that make the California king snake so interesting is the fact that it has the strongest squeeze in proportion to body size out of any known snake species. In fact, studies suggest that the California king snake’s squeeze power is twice that of a similarly sized python or rat snake. Because of its many different color variations and ease of care, the California king snake is among the most popular snake species in captivity today.
Find the King Snake at the Next Reptile Super Show Near You
We love the king snake for its versatility, ease of care, and innate adaptability. Whether you’re new to the wonderful world of reptiles or a seasoned herpetoculturist, the magnificent king snake is sure to make an impression. Are you interested in exotic snakes for sale near you? Then you should check out the next Reptile Super Show in your area. For more information on our upcoming shows. Feel free to contact us online today and be sure to take a look at our list of upcoming vendors too.