Tyrannosaurus Pets

Kingsnake Care Sheet

Lampropeltis getula ssp

Kingsnakes are colourful snakes found throughout the US.  They are generally regarded as the ideal starter snake, as their small size, docile nature, and easy care make them a good choice for a first time reptile pet.  They are captive bred in large numbers and a wide range of weird and wonderful colours are now available.  

There are also numerous subspecies which have variable and often striking patterns and colours. 

Kingsnakes are opportunistic feeders and will consume many types of prey in the wild including rodents, eggs, birds, lizards and even other snakes. This makes them very easy to feed in captivity and most have amazing feeding responses. Because of this it is never advisable to house any kingsnake together.

Setting up the starter tank

  • Baby snakes are best kept in small plastic enclosures such as the Exo-Terra large flat faunarium.  These tanks are designed for baby reptiles,  and are escape proof providing the lid has been secured correctly.  Don’t use the small door as the plastic lugs may snap.  The large door is very useful, and can be used for spot cleaning and changing the water.  This tank will last until the snake is between twelve, and eighteen months old.  It will then need to be moved into a 36” adult vivarium.

  • The easiest way to heat the small tank is to use a heat mat placed under the tank.  Unregulated heat mats can reach temperatures in excess of 40’c so it is essential that the heater is controlled by a thermostat.  Normally the sensor for a thermostat comes into the tank to monitor the temperature. However with baby snakes any hole large enough to admit the sensor is a potential escape route.  To prevent this attach the sensor from the thermostat to the heat mat using a good quality tape such as duck tape. The sensor needs to be attached to the black areas on the mat as these are the heat elements.

  • Set the thermostat to 32◦c, this is higher than the temperature that we require but there will be some heat loss through the base of the tank.  This estimate should get the temperatures in the tank close to the desired level.

  • Place a thin layer of substrate on the base of the tank, around 5mm is sufficient.  Put the thermometer on the floor of the tank above the heat mat. The heat mat will only warm the base of the tank not the air, so the thermometer must be on the floor.

  • Leave the tank for two hours.  After this time the temperature on the thermometer should be 28 ◦c - 30◦c, this is in the orange section of the dial. If the temperature on the floor of the tank is not in the desired range please adjust the thermostat.  Leave the tank for another two hours then recheck the temperature.  Keep checking and adjusting until the temperature is correct. If the thermostat is set to maximum and the floor is still not reaching 28◦c, then you may need to raise the mat to touch the base of the tank.  Placing some insulating material such as polystyrene under the mat will also help to raise the temperature.

Setting up the adult tank

  • The adult tank needs to be set up like the diagram above.

  • Unscrew the light fitting from the roof of the vivarium.  Place the silver plate from the guard on the roof and re-attach the fitting.  The holes in the silver plate should match the screw holes for the light fitting.

  • Make a hole in the top corner of the vivarium at the same end as the light fitting.  Feed the thermostat sensor through this and let it hang down to 3” above the floor of the tank.  Place the spot bulb in the fitting and put the mesh part of the guard in place.  Plug the light fitting into the socket on the thermostat.  Plug the thermostat into the mains.

  • Set the dial of the thermostat to 28’c.  The thermostat will allow the bulb to heat the corner of the tank where the sensor is to 28’c.  At the basking spot (1) the temperature should be 28’c – 32’c.  At the cool end of the tank (2) the temperature should be 20’c to 24’c.  When checking the temperature put the thermometer where the snake will sit.  In the hot end this will be on top of the hide, and at the cool end measure the temperature on the floor of the tank.

  • When first setting up the tank leave it running for 2 hours before checking the temperatures.  If both ends of the tank are at the right temperature leave the tank for a further 2 hours to check the temperature is stable.

  • If the temperatures are not correct adjust the dial on the thermostat slightly. Leave the tank for 2 hours and recheck again.  Keep adjusting and checking until the tank temperatures are stable and at the right level.

General Care

  • The snake needs to have two hides, one in the warm end, and the other at the cool end.  When the snake is young, one hide stretching from the warm end to the cool end helps them to settle as they can move from warm to cool without exposing themselves.

  • Keep the water dish at the cool end, this keeps it fresher for longer.  The snake needs access to fresh water daily.  When changing the water have a look around the tank and remove any obvious mess.  If the spot cleaning is done regularly the tank only needs to be fully cleaned out once every four – six weeks, put the animal somewhere safe.  Remove the water dish and any décor.  Remove and throw away the old substrate.  Wipe the tank down with a clean wet cloth.  Dry the tank and put in fresh substrate.  Replace the water dish and décor.  The snake can then be returned to the tank.

  • Don’t use household detergents, and disinfectants as they can be toxic to reptiles.  If the tank needs to be cleaned properly then use a reptile safe pet disinfectant.

  • Baby snakes will shed their skin once every four – six weeks.  When the snake is in shed its colours will become muted, and the snake’s eyes will take on a blue grey sheen.  When the snake is like this they can feel vunerable so it is best to leave them alone.  They may not feed so leave them until next week.

  • After shedding, check the snake over to make sure that no skin is still stuck to them.  This will look like sellotape, or clingfilm wrapped around the animal. With corn snakes it is normally the tip of the tail that causes the problem.

  • When you get your snake home, set up the tank as detailed above.  Put the snake in the tank.  The animal now needs time to settle in.  Leave them alone for one week, then feed them. Leave them another week then feed them again.  Once the snake has fed twice they have settled in and may be handled following the usual rules for handling.

  • When you move your snake into the adult tank it can take them a week to settle in to the new environment.  To help them settle in to the new environment leave them alone for a week.  Once they have fed in their new home you can handle them as before.

  • The only time the snake can be handled in the first two weeks is if it sheds, when it will need to be checked over.

  • All the commonly sold snakes at Tyrannosaurus Pets eat a variety of dead mice and rats.  These are available frozen and must be defrosted before feeding to your snake.  The food must be defrosted steadily to room temperature.  Do not microwave the food, or put it into either hot or cold water.  It is easiest to simply wrap the food in some newspaper or kitchen towel and leave out to thaw.  Pinkies will defrost in around 45 minutes.  Larger prey items take longer.  Ensure that all food has thoroughly defrosted before use.

  • Always an appropriate size pair of feeding tongs to feed your snake, this will stop the snake from accidentally biting you instead of the food.  Hold the mouse in the tongs and wave it in front of the snake.  This should entice the snake to strike for the food.  If the snake has shown no interest in the food after 30 seconds, place the mouse on top of a hide and leave it in the tank over night.  If the snake does not eat in the dark, throw the food away and try again after a week.  Missing one or two weeks is not a problem for a snake, even as a baby, but any longer period may indicate that the animal is either unwell, or not happy with the tank set up.  It is a good idea to fill in a feeding record so you can see how well the snake is eating.

  • Most baby snakes start out eating one pinkie per week.  As your snake grows it needs to be fed larger meals.  If after its finished eating it spends twenty minutes roaming the tank and is active after twelve or twenty four hours, then it is ready to move on to the next stage.  Each stage of food size lasts for around eight weeks.  A much better guide is the snake’s behaviour as detailed above.  The stages are listed below.

  1. 1 pinkie

  2. 2 pinkies

  3. 3 pinkies

  4. 1 fuzzy

  5. 2 fuzzies

  6. 3 fuzzies

  7. 1 small mouse

  8. 2 small mice

  9. 1 adult mouse 

When you are feeding a kingsnake you may need to go to four food items before moving to the next size due to their smaller head. This is not always necessary but it is best to stage the snakes slowly.  

Different types of kingsnake

As mentioned above there are numerous species of kingsnake. Most are small to medium sized snakes and all have similar care.

Californian Kingsnake:Lampropeltis getula californiae

By far the most commonly kept and available kingsnake is the “cali”. These are medium sized kingsnakes often reaching 4 feet in length. They have cream and chocolate bands along their body and some are stark black and white. Calis are very individual animals as far as temperament. Some are docile their entire lives whereas some become aggressive and will seemingly bite anything that moves. This is usually a feeding response rather than actual aggression. Because of this calis are not always the best first snake. However the majority are tame pets that make interesting and long lived captives.

Mexican Black Kingsnake:Lampropeltis getula nigrita

Jet black with white speckles along the chin and belly, these are unmistakable snakes. They are glossy and have very smooth scales. They reach around 4-5 feet and are fairly heavy set. They are easy to care for and feed readily. 

Florida Kingsnake:Lampropeltis getula floridana

These are another medium (4-5 feet) kingsnake found in Florida. They are usually black with yellow freckles. They are generally docile and make fantastic pets. There are subspecies of the Florida kingsnake. They are however not all excepted by every keeper.  “Brooks” kingsnakes are a highly variable subspecies that resemble the normal Florida kingsnakes, they are now available in several colour morphs such as albinos, caramels, jelly, peanut butter, axanthic, and white sided. 

Desert Kingsnake:Lampropeltis getula splendida

Desert Kingsnake CB 2011These are the most visually striking of the commonly kept kingsnakes. They have a creamy base colour with a speckled black or chocolate stripe running down the back. They are large, often to 5 feet and have a fairly heavy build. They are well known for eating snakes in the wild and even venomous species!

Prairie Kingsnake:Lampropeltis calligaster calligaster

Prairie kings are a small (rarely over 3 feet) species which live mainly in burrows or loose leaf litter. They are usually brown with darker saddles. They resemble corn snakes in general pattern but have the rounded head distinct to kingsnakes. They are secretive trough the day but are very active, earl evening. They make great pets and don’t grow very large.

<<Back to Information Sheets

Tyrannosaurus Pets