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Kingsnakes Alive!

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NC Kingsnake
Credit: NC622

I used to catch Kingsnakes as a youngster (This one is a California Kingsnake)

A little background on Kingsnakes

Kingsnakes are one of the most widespread snake species in the United States. They are all nonvenomous and are part of the Colubrid Family and the Genus Lampropeltis.  A very colorful set of sub species, these snakes can range in color from all black (Black Kingsnake Lampropeltis negra) to various patterns of reds, whites, blacks, and grays. Kingsnakes are constrictors which means they grab their prey and then coil tightly around and suffocate it. They are not picky eaters as they will prey on mice, birds, lizards, eggs, and other snakes, which is part of the reason for their name.  They are unique in that they are immune to Rattlesnake venom so they are known to constrict and eat those as well. The variety of their diet is part of what makes them easy to care for as pets.

The majority of these snakes have unique patterns on their skin.  For example, the California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) has a tri-color chain like pattern of red, black and white. Still others have similar colors and patterns such as the Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) and Arizona Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana). These color patterns cause many people to mistake the harmless Kingsnake for the venomous Coral Snake. Notice in the images below two very similar looking snakes.  The first is a harmless Kingsnake, but the second is the very poisonous Coral Snake.  Take a quick glance at the patterns. Can you tell the difference?

California Mountain Kingsnake

California Moutain Kingsnake
Credit: Christopher Russell

Red touches black, good for Jack (or venom lack)

Coral Snake

Coral Snake
Credit: RMPTG02797293

Red touches yellow, kill a fellow (Coral Snake, VENOMOUS)

Kingsnakes as pets

General Care

There is one very important fact about keeping Kingsnakes as pets is that everyone should know.  They should be kept separate as it is likely they may try to eat a cage mate. The care for these snakes regardless of species and subspecies is basically the same.  It should be noted that these snakes do reach considerable sizes of up to six or seven feet long. They also have a fairly long lifespan in captivity of 15-20 years. When choosing your snake, there are some things to consider.  I have been to numerous reptile shows and expos and breeders at the shows pretty much give the same list. First, make sure the eyes are clear with no discharge. Next, check to see that the snake is not struggling in its breathing or if it is breathing with its mouth slightly open. Then, make sure it has shiny smooth skin with no rub spots, scrapes, or sores. Finally, when the snake moves it should move smoothly with no jerks or tremors. Kingsnakes are a fairly docile species. They may not all be calm at first, but they will calm after gentle handling. Another important thing to make sure of is that the snake is readily feeding.  If you are not sure, ask for a demonstration feeding.  The worst thing is taking your new Kingsnake home and have it ignore food and become ill.


A secure cage is very important with any snake.  The tiniest little crack can be a perfect escape route for your pet. The best type of enclosure is one with a latching top.  It may cost a little more, but will be worth the investment. While young Kingsnakes can handle a small cage, adults are active and need room to spread out and move around so be sure your enclosure is appropriate for the size of the snake.  Appropriate living conditions would include indoor-outdoor carpeting, reptile bark, or aspen shavings.  The carpeting makes for easier clean up of the cage. It is very important to keep it clean so it might be a good idea to have multiple pieces of carpeting cut to the cage size for convenience in switching and cleaning. It is also important to have a few hiding places for your snake. Half-round pieces of bark or even cardboard boxes work just fine.

Conditions and Feeding

Reptiles are cold blooded, so the temperature in your snake's environment needs to be kept between about 70 degrees F (night) and 85 degrees F (daytime). Many keepers choose to  install a heating pad on the underneath bottom half of the cage. Do not use hot rocks as they are unpredictable and can burn your pet.  Overhead sources can be infrared light bulbs. A shallow dish of water should be provided which will provide hydration and humidity in the cage. Your snake will need some humidity for shedding its skin.  If you notice it becoming difficult in the shedding then spraying the insides of the cage with water will help. Feeding your snake should be pretty simple.  Kingsnakes will take baby to full grown mice.  It is recommended that you buy pre killed mice at the pet store for feeding. The reason for this is that your snake can become injured from a mouse bite which could become infected eventually killing your pet.  The rule of thumb is to stick to a prey size about the same width of your snake. One feeding per week should be enough.


When handling your pet snake for the first few times, be patient and very gentle.  At first it may try to get away, but you may find that it rests comfortably in your hands because of the warm body heated surface. It should not take too long for your pet to become use to handling.  Allow it to wander through your fingers and do not be alarmed if it wraps itself around your arm or hand.  Remember that Kingnsakes are constrictors and are comfortable wrapping their bodies around something. One thing to keep in mind is that you should not handle your pet snake immediately after feeding.  This can cause an upset stomach and possibly a mess.  Give your snake at least a day for the food to settle before handling again.

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