Image Credit : Mickael Leger Photographie
Lampropeltis getula is a nonvenomous colubrid snake. They have a blunt shaped head that is brown to black with white or cream colored markings. Ground color varies from brown to black with 20-45 white or cream colored crossbands in a chain like pattern.
The belly is mostly brown or black with varying amounts of white or cream colored blotches. Lampropeltis getula are noted for vibrating their tails when disturbed and for discharging musk from glands at the base of the tail, when picked up.
- Scientific name : Lampropeltis getula
- Distribution : Eastern United States
- Average Size : 1.6 m (5.5 ft)
- Life Span : 20 years or more
- Difficulty : Beginner
Lampropeltis getula can be housed in a typical 1.2 x 0.6 x 0.6 meters (4 x 2 x 2 feet) aquarium with no problem for life since some individuals might grow up to 1.8 meters (6 feet). A general rule for size of cage needed for kingsnakes is if the snake crawls around the perimeter (outside) of the cage and covers less than 2/3 the perimeter, the cage is large enough. Be sure to figure on adult size, however, or you will have to buy several cages as the snake grows.
Cage furnishings can be as simple as nothing, or elaborate as you would care to make it. You can use rocks, driftwood, shells, or even potted plants. Whatever furnishings you use, if they are heavy, they need to be directly touching the floor of the cage, and not set on top of a depth of substrate.
If you are going to use “hiding places” put one on each end of the cage. A snake may want to be out of sight and warm, especially after feeding, but if the only “hide” is at the cool end it may select cooler than needed for proper digestion over warm and exposed.
You will want to avoid any chemically treated substances (such as most cat liters), and any wood products with natural oils that could be offensive (such as cedar and redwood chips). If you have a large snake you will want to avoid very fine materials (fine sand, sawdust, etc.) that might work its way up under the large stomach scales (scutes) used for locomotion and irritate the skin. For most of my sub-adult snakes I use kiln dried, reduced dust, pine shavings. With some of my larger kingsnakes I use/have used various pine and aspen products with no problems.
Lighting – Heating
It is recommended to keep your Pantherophis obsoletus in a natural light pattern that mimics normal daytime according to the season.
All snakes, including our kingsnakes, are “cold blooded” and rely on external sources of heat to get their body temperatures to the desired levels. These levels vary at times, so what I have found to be a very good way to accomplish what they want is to use sub floor heat on one end of the cage. I like to see one end of the cage be 29-32 °C (85-90 °F) with the cooler end about a 24°C (75 °F) ambient temperature.
Having the heat “subfloor” allows the snake to sit on the heat source, as they would on warm ground,rocks, etc… in the wild. Watch your snake, if it is always on the cool end, reduce the hot end temperature. If your snake freely moves back and forth, it is telling you you have done well. Avoid “hot rocks”, many have hot spots and the snake can’t warm up evenly. If I could not manage the preferred temperature variances, I would set the overall cage temperatures to 27-29 °C (82-85 °F).
You will want a water bowl large enough that you can add water to a level that when the snake crawls inside to soak, it will not over flow the water from the bowl into your substrate.
Cages should be relatively dry, with the water bowl provided. If condensation forms in the cage, remove the water bowl and only put it in 3-4 days per week. Use the condensation accumulation as your guide. If condensation forms, the water is there too long.
Most kingsnakes captive produced will be eating mice. A baby kingsnake should eat baby (pinky) mice. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the mouse meal so you always see that visible lump in the snake. Most kingsnakes will eat well thawed frozen mice, which makes your purchasing food items a little easier and cleaner.
Some snakes will insist on living prey. Baby mice are defenseless and can’t hurt your snake, but once a mouse or rat reaches the size where it can bite and hurt you, there is a risk it could bite and hurt or kill your snake. When a rodent reaches this size, it is a good idea to “stun” it before putting it in with the snake. We feed adults once a week, and babies we want to grow fast, twice a week, just enough for that lump to show. Usually we get a baby snake to adult size in 2-3 years.
With regular gentle handling kingsnakes will usually get “used to you” and accept regular visits with the new owner. However, at first you have to assume the snake looks at you as a giant predator about to eat it, and may resort to any of several defenses, including holding its ground and striking at you. Some bluff with this strike, others will actually bite if given the chance. They may defecate on you or exude a foul smelling fluid from their scent glands, or they may hold perfectly still, then make a sudden dash for freedom.
Clean as fecal matter is deposited. If the cage smells, clean or replace substrate and disinfect the enclosure.
The snake should shed the skin all in one piece. When a snake is preparing to shed its eyes become opaque (cloudy, gray looking) and you can not see the pupil. This is caused by a fluid secretion lifting and separating the outer layer of skin from the middle layer. When this has been completed (usually a few days at normal warm temperatures) the skin will clear up and you might wonder what happened to the skin.
Within a few days after clearing up, the snake will rub on the interior of the cage and loosen the skin on both the upper and lower jaw. Then it will continue to push until the skin rolls back over the body and turns inside out as the snake crawls out of it. Finally the tail will pull loose, leaving the tail of the shed skin pointing in the direction the snake went. You will want to examine the skin to make sure it is complete, especially that the clear covers over the eyes came off with the skin. If they did not, seek experienced personnel to help you remove them.
Potential Health Problems
If the snake starts the shed process and the skin tears, you might have to help it complete its task. This is critical with baby snakes! If a major portion of the old skin is allowed to dry on the snake, it will die. If the skin does not completely shed, or the complete skin dries on the snake making it look wrinkly, put the snake in a container with ventilation, add enough water to cover one body thickness, put the container back in the cage where it will maintain temperature, and let it soak for 24 hours. If the skin has not been shed after 24 hours, it should be soft enough to easily be peeled by hand.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.