Kingsnake Care Sheet (7 Things to Keep in Mind)

If you like reptiles and are interested in snake ownership, then a king snake (or kingsnake) may be a perfect fit for your new pet. There are many qualities about kingsnakes that make them great pet snakes, even for beginners. These snakes are named after their place in the food chain as they feed on other snakes, but don’t let that put you off. In this kingsnake care sheet we’ll show you what you need to know as a kingsnake owner, and give you some important suggestions for their habitats and feeding. 

Enjoy!

Kingsnake care sheet

There are many species of King snakes, with some of them having beautiful yellow, red and black patterning. However, most species of King snakes have distinct bands that travel down the length of their body. But their looks are hardly the most attractive thing about keeping one as a pet, in this article we will go over what you need to know about taking care of your King snake.

Common name: Kingsnake, also spelled king snake (some common subspecies kept as pets are the Scarlet King snake, the California King snake, the Eastern King snake, and Common King snake)
Scientific name: Lampropeltis spp. 
Range: North and South America; from Southeastern Canada to Ecuador
Lifespan: 10-15 years
Adult size: 2-6 ft
Temperament: Active, curious, docile but can be defensive when stressed

1. Housing 

One of the things that make King snakes easier to care for, is that they do not grow as large as some other popular pets like Pythons. Because they do not grow as large, they do not need an enormous enclosure. Most people will keep their King snake in a glass tank or aquarium, which is pretty standard for most reptiles.

If you start out with a young King snake, then a 20 gallon tank (roughly 30” x 12”) will suffice. However, as they grow, they will need a bit more room. For an adult, you will want at least a 40 gallon tank (roughly 36” x 18”). If possible, it is always better to provide a bigger enclosure over a smaller one.

REPTI ZOO Reptile Glass Terrarium Tank Double Hinge Door with Screen Ventilation Large Reptile Terrarium 36" x 18" x 18"(Knock-Down)

King snakes are semi-arboreal, meaning they spend some of their time climbing. That being said, you should absolutely make sure that there are features in your enclosure that will allow them to climb and explore. It is also very important to make sure that you provide your King snake with a place to hide. 

One crucial aspect of your King snake’s enclosure is a secure lid or top. These snakes have been known to almost effortlessly escape their cages, so it is very important to take extra measures to secure the cage. You can do this by putting locks on the cage or by using clamps.


2. Temperature and lighting  

Being that King snakes are ectotherms, it is very important to make sure their cage is kept at an optimal temperature. In the wild, King snakes tend to live in warmer and somewhat moderate temperatures. The ambient temperature in your enclosure should be between 80 and 85 degrees. However, during the night, it is okay to allow the temperature to drop down to 70-75 degrees.

You should also provide a basking spot in a portion of the enclosure. A basking spot will be a little bit warmer than the rest of the set up and closer to 90 degrees. This basking spot should only be ~90 degrees for 10-12 hours in the day to mimic daylight hours. 

You can achieve these conditions by using various lights that heat from above, or a heat mat that is placed under the cage to heat from below, or both.

In addition to making sure the cage is warm enough, it is also important to make sure that you are using a light bulb that provides UV rays, which actually help to keep reptile’s bones healthy and strong. This UV light should be kept on for 10-12 hours a day, similar to normal daylight hours.


3. Diet and feeding  

One of the things that makes owning a snake convenient is that they do not need to eat as often as other pets. However, the frequency of how often you feed your King snake depends on their age.

For example, younger snakes will need to eat more often as they grow quicker. For snakes under a year old, you should be feeding them once every five to seven days as they grow quickly at this stage. Adult snakes do not need to eat as often and can be fed every ten days to two weeks. 

In the wild, King snakes feed on a variety of different prey types, including frogs, other snakes and rodents. But in captivity, it is most common to feed them mice or rats. You can purchase either live or frozen rats/mice to feed your King snake, but some people are uncomfortable with the idea of giving their snakes live food. Additionally, frozen rats can be more convenient than needing to go to the pet store on a regular basis to pick up live food. 

One important thing to note is that if you do decide to feed your King snake live food, you should never leave your snake and rat/mouse in the same cage unattended. Feeder rats can actually cause severe harm to your snake should they decide to put up a fight. 


4. Substrate  

King snakes are very hearty snakes and are not particularly picky about their substrate. But many keepers recommend using Aspen shavings. You can also use coconut fiber or bark chips. These types of substrate provide a moderately dry habitat and help to create an optimal environment for your King snake.


5. Maintenance

Because they eat so infrequently, snakes defecate infrequently, which makes maintaining their enclosures relatively easy. You should be keeping an eye out on your King snake’s cage after they eat so that you can remove any waste- also known as spot cleaning. This will keep things cleaner and will allow you to go longer in between deep cleans.

It is important to make sure that your snake has fresh water. It is best to replace the water every day if you can, but if not, a couple of times per week should suffice. Be sure to make sure that there is no algae or other gunk building up in the snake’s water dish.

You should completely replace the substrate every two to four months. During this time, you should also wipe down the surfaces of the enclosure with a reptile safe disinfectant. Other household disinfectants can leave toxic or otherwise dangerous residue.  


6. Handling

For most pet owners, it is important to be able to handle and spend time with their pet. Some snakes are more reluctant to be held than others, but generally King snakes are quite content to be handled. 

They are active snakes, so when holding them you might find that they try to climb up your arm or try to get to higher ground to explore. This is one of the many things that makes owning a King snake fun and rewarding!

kingsnake being held

That being said, King snakes have been known to be somewhat bitey. This however, often comes down to the animal being stressed, which can be a result of being handled for too long too often. On the other hand, your King snake may become prone to bite if you are not handling it often enough. You should be handling your King snake a couple of times a week, but no more than once a day. 


7. Other things to know

King snakes are generally very easy to care for, but there are some things that can come up that complicate proper care. For example, this species is prone to respiratory infections- which are somewhat common in captive reptiles.

Respiratory infections come from bad bacteria or sometimes fungus. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to conduct proper maintenance on your King snake’s enclosure. If you notice that your King snake seems to start open-mouth breathing or is wheezing, this is a good sign that you may need to take your pet to the vet.

Luckily, respiratory infections can often be treated with antibiotics. That being said, veterinarian care is not cheap, so make sure to consider this before you decide whether or not a King snake is right for you.


King snakes as pets

California kingsnake in hide

There are many things that make King snakes an attractive choice for a new pet. Overall, King snakes make great pets for anybody that is prepared to provide them with the proper care. They are generally low maintenance and are hearty animals, making them a good place to start for somebody without much experience caring for reptiles. Caring for them is also relatively inexpensive when compared to other, more “needy” animals. 

But you don’t need to be a beginner to get a pet kingsnake, they are also popular pets for more experienced keepers due to their temperament and striking colors and patterns. You will likely be very happy with your decision to get a King snake!

About Jesse

My name is Jesse. I've always been interested in reptiles and have owned many different types in my life. On this blog I share some of the things I've learned over the years and am still learning about reptiles.