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Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula ssp.

Introduction Various species of kingsnakes can be found throughout the United States with the exception of the northern most states. Depending on the species, they vary in size from only 2 ft up to 6 ft. The habitats that they occupy are as vast as the number of species. They may occupy niches such as humid forests to rocky outcrops, swamps to deserts and mountainous habitat to flat pine forests. Most of them are crepuscular or nocturnal. All are terrestrial, however they may climb small heights in search of a meal. Lizards, snakes, mammals, birds and eggs are all on the menu. The larger species of kingsnakes have a well known habit of including venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes and copperheads in their diet. Not only are they immune to digesting these snakes as well as their venom glands, they are also immune to the bites of these snakes. With the wide selection of species kingsnakes are very popular with hobbyists. For that reason, the vast majority are captive bred and easily available. There are numerous mutations and phases of the California Kingsnake, Grey Banded Kingsnake as well as many others.

Acclimation and Quarantine Quarantine and acclimation enclosures need not be elaborate, but rather sterile and easy to clean. Plastic storage bins are often used for such enclosures as they are easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes, and most provide the security needed new snake. Paper towels, newspapers, or other easily cleaned materials may be used as the substrate. A few simple branches or pieces of pvc can provide climbing opportunities. And a ceramic crock could be used as the water bowl as these are powerful snakes and are likely to tip lighter dishes. A hide of some sort, and foliage should also be incorporated into the quarantine enclosure. This setup should be used until the snake is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing Once the snake is acclimated and feeding well it may be put into a permanent cage. Provide a cage that is relative to their body size. You don't want to put a 12 inch snake in a 5 ft cage, it would simply get lost. Neonates and juveniles can be kept in 10 - 30 gal. tanks. Vertical space is not a necessity as these snakes are mostly terrestrial. A cage that is about 48” x 18” x 20” (L x W x H) such as a 55 gal is an acceptable size cage for an individual or pair. Glass enclosures can be used as well as wooden cages. By far, the best cages are those made of polyethylene or controlled density PVC. These cages usually have only one transparent side and can also withstand moisture or humidity within the habitat. Such cages are also usually inexpensive and attractive. Furnishing the enclosure is of personal preference. Branches can be used in the furnishing of the enclosure, however the snake will stay on the bottom most of the time. Hide boxes should also be placed on each end of the cage to provide the snake with a sense of security as they thermoregulate. Large amounts of foliage should be added to the cage to provide the snake with more places to hide. For substrate, soil, mulch, ground coconut, and sphagnum moss are all acceptable as these will help to retain the proper humidity levels the snake needs to thrive.

Lighting and Heating There should also be a thermal gradient in the cage, so that the snake may choose the area of the cage where it is most comfortable. The warmest extreme of the cage should be between 85 - 95 degrees Fahrenheit , while the cooler side of the cage should be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It is extremely important that the snake is provided with this thermal gradient so they can escape the heat, if it is not provided, your pet may suffer from heat exhaustion and possibly die! At night there should be a slight drop in temperature, preferably of about ten degrees. This will help promote certain natural behaviors for the snake, and will also help to recreate the natural drop in temperature that the snake would experience in the wild. I prefer to use a fluorescent or incandescent bulb during the day to provide light. A heat lamp of appropriate wattage or heat pad should be all that is needed to heat the enclosure. We simply use a heat pad on one end of the cage to provide the proper gradient. Use of thermometers and or temp guns are highly recommended to ensure proper heat gradients. If you choose to use a heat light be sure to place it on one end of the tank and not in the center. By placing it on the end you ensure a hot spot and a cool spot.

Feeding Feeding is straight forward. Rodents of an appropriate size should make up most of the diet. Kingsnakes will also greedily except small chicks and quail and can be offered periodically. The size of the prey item should be relative to that of the snake you are feeding. You should feed hatchlings frequently to ensure rapid growth. A pinky or two twice a week is a good regimen. For adults 1 or 2 small rats once a week will suffice. We recommend feeding be done in an enclosure other than what the snake lives in. By doing this you reduce the likely hood of an aggressive feeding response when you open it's cage. The feeding container can be bear bottom to ensure that the snake only swallows it's food and not any bedding which can lead to a mouth infection or an impaction in the stomach. If you plan on breeding your animals make sure that your female has good body weight before she is bred. Wild caught snakes readily acclimate to captivity and will start feeding with little effort on behalf of the keeper. With that said, there are always exceptions. If you happen to get an exception you can try the following to get it to feed. To entice a reluctant animal to feed I recommend placing the animal in a restricted container such as a deli dish in order to keep the food and it's scent in close proximity to the snake and leave it alone for about 24 hours. As mentioned above, chicks and quail are relished by these snakes and if your specimen refuses to feed on rodent prey, perhaps you should change the menu. If this does not work you can also try a more grisly method in which the skull cap of a frozen thawed prey item is cut open exposing the brain matter and juices. This works with surprising results and most problem feeders cannot resist the smell of brains.

Water A dish of fresh water should always be available. Kingsnakes love the water and can be frequently found soaking in their dishes, especially after a meal. With that said, they will often times defecate in their water dishes so keeping their water dish clean is of utmost importance.