California Kingsnakes are one of the most popular pet snakes. They are docile and easy to care for. For someone looking to adopt their first snake this species makes an excellent pet. They are simple to care for, thrive in in a variety of habitat setups and have a peppy personality. Adult size: up to 120 cm. Lifespan varies a lot in captivity but it is normally between 20 and 30 years.
The California Kingsnake is originally from the state of California USA. Interestingly this species of snake is immune to most snake venoms. Because of their immunity they are a predator of many venomous species. They are known as the “king” of snakes and hunt pit vipers.
California Kingsnakes can be found in forests, prairies, deserts and many other ecosystems.
California Kingsnakes spend most of their day hunting for prey. When they catch it they bite down hard and constrict around it. As they are not venomous they rely entirely on their strength to capture prey. As pets are very active and exploratory during the day. In the evening they will often bask and then find a secure hiding place for the night.
They are solitary animals that only interact to mate. An angry will musk a foul smelling combination of feces and oils all over you. However, they must be handled frequently at a young age. Abd without regular handling they may develop an anxious temperament and are more likely to act defensively (e.g. hiss, rattle their tails and strike). Young snakes can be flighty or mildly defensive but with age and frequent handling they usually grow out of it.
In the winter this species will usually find deep holes to burrow in. During this time their metabolism will decrease allowing them to live for four months without feeding.
If they meet another animal in the wild and feel threatened they will hiss, rattle their tails, flatten their heads, coil up, make jerky movements and even strike.
You can try gently picking it up with one hand or scooping with both hands. Either method is typically stress-free. To prevent infection from any zoonotic diseases (e.g. salmonella) always wash your hands after handling.
Hatchlings are born 15 to 20 cm in length. They grow steadily and will double in size each year until they reach their full size.
One of the reasons they make excellent pets is their ability to adapt to new environments. This species thrives in a variety of different habitats from forests to grasslands and even deserts.
Kingsnakes are typically active during the daytime.
As juveniles they can be extremely active but are more docile as adults. They spend most of their time on the ground but occasionally will climb small trees and bushes.
Their enclosure should include a dry substrate and a few logs of varying heights. To replicate their wild habitat you should provide natural décor. This will help to give your snake enrichment and allow for normal behaviors such as exploring, climbing and swimming. Offering plenty of basking and hiding areas is also a good idea.
Hatchlings can live in a 10-gallon tank but adults need a 150 litre wooden vivarium:
- Tank Type: wooden.
- Tank Size: 150 litres.
- Lighting: basking lamp and natural lighting.
- Substrate: aspen.
It is important not to overcrowd their enclosure with too many branches and decorations as they like to spend most of their time on the ground.
A few logs and a rock for a basking spot is all that’s required.
If their tank is too small they will rub their nose on the glass. This is common when the snake is in a small enclosure. Longer tanks with more floor space are better as this species is primarily terrestrial.
Tank Temperature, Heat Gradient and Humidity
At night the entire tank should drop to an ambient temperature of 25°C. A low wattage ceramic heat emitter will help to maintain 25°C. Snakes thermoregulate by moving between warm and cool areas. For this reason, it is important their tank has a temperature gradient:
- The hot side of the enclosure should be 30 – 33°C over a basking surface. This can be achieved using a 75 watt basking bulb over a rock or flat piece of wood in one corner of the tank.
- The ambient temperature should remain 24 – 27°C.
- Their substrate should be dry and not able to absorb moisture. This will help keep their skin clean and healthy.
- Aspen shavings are the best substrate for California Kingsnakes. Aspen shavings closely mimics their wild habitat and do not absorb moisture. Other substrates such as cypress shavings or a pelleted paper bedding are fine too.
- California Kingsnakes need a humidity of around 50% to shed properly. Their enclosure should be misted twice a day to maintain humidity.
You should spot-clean your tank daily to remove feces and any shed.
Every four weeks you should perform a deep clean by changing your snake’s substrate and sanitizing all décor.
This snake is known for its huge appetite and skilled hunting abilities. In the wild these opportunistic hunters will eat:
Interestingly, they will also eat other snakes. This is because they are immune to pit viper venom so are able to kill and eat rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes.
They are a type of constrictor so are very strong and can subdue snakes as large as they are. This species is capable of eating prey much larger than themselves due to its expanding jaw. However, pet snakes should be fed prey roughly the same diameter as the thickest part of their body.
Adults should be fed once every 14 days.
Be aware that they can be eager eaters. You should use caution when feeding them so that you are not mistakenly bitten.
In captivity they thrive on a diet of frozen thawed mice. Frozen thawed rodents are recommended because live prey will fight and can give serious scratches that can lead to an infection. You should thaw their prey just as you would any raw meat. If you forget and are rushed for time, you can also place the bagged rodent in a bowl of warm water (not boiling) to slowly bring the temperature to 37°C.
- Babies should be fed every five days.
- After one year of age feeding should be reduced to every 7 – 10 days.
- Adults should be fed every 10 – 14 days and not during shed.
If your pet refuses the rodent then remove it after two hours and place it in the trash can. Do not re-freeze.
Diet enrichment is always a good idea so you can try feeding the occasional frozen thawed chick.
Snakes can develop health problems or illnesses. However, with the proper husbandry and diet many can be avoided:
- Anorexia or auto cannibalism
- Intestinal parasites
- Mouth rot
- Respiratory infections
Issues like mouth rot, intestinal parasites and respiratory issues are diagnosed and treated by veterinarians because they normally require antibiotics or medicated soaks. Your snake’s behavior is the only diagnosis you will need for mites. They will shed frequently but rarely produce a full shed. In severe cases they may soak for extended periods of time.
Anorexia or auto cannibalism are behavioral problems often seen in stressed snakes.
Kingsnakes have been known to eat themselves due to husbandry issues or infrequent feeding.