King snakes are a large family of non-venomous snakes, many of which can make ideal pets. Generally speaking king snakes are very hardy in captivity, grow to a very modest size, and many will become docile enough to handle with ease.
Like any pet reptile, however, keeping your king snake successfully is rather more involved than more traditional pets. In this detailed king snake care sheet we’ll discuss everything the budding snake owner needs to know…
Housing & Cages
While there are a number of different kingsnake species available to hobbyists, their caging requirements are all very similar. Like so many other pet snakes, king snakes are natural escape artists so a major consideration should be security, and the avoidance of any unnecessary gaps. Some popular king snake cage examples include:
Glass terrariums are one of the most attractive options for your king snake. Some of the key benefits include:
- Excellent visibility
- Attractive displays possible
- Lockable front-opening doors for feeding
- Mesh lid for excellent ventilation
- Easy to fit heating
Additionally, it is possible to buy specially-made lighting canopies which fit above the cage, giving you the opportunity to illuminate the cage properly.
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Modified Glass Fish Tanks
Glass fish tanks are probably the easiest cages of all to source, as they are available in almost all decent pet stores. The crucial factor, however, is that you add a suitable, escape-proof lid. An old aquarium hood simply won’t do the trick.
More handy readers may want to turn their hand to building their own fish tank topper, though many keepers end up purchasing a pre-made lid for their king snake, as available from some specialist online retailers.
Critter keepers are available under a range of different brand names. They’re all made from clear plastic, with a tightly-fitting vented lid, often with a trapdoor in the center.
Critter Keepers are easy to keep clean thanks to their design, though be aware that the plastic is easily scratched during cleaning. This can sadly ruin the appearance of these cages over time.
- Rectangular Kritter Keepers have self-locking lids with hinged viewer/ feeder windows
- Capacity: 5.90 GAlarge. Size: 15 3/4-inch large by 9 3/8-inch width by 12 1/2-inch height
- Kritter Keepers have well-ventilated lids in assorted colors
Critter Keepers come in a range of sizes, but larger kingsnakes may outgrow even the largest models, meaning these likely represent suitable housing for hatchlings and youngsters only.
Plastic Storage Boxes
Plastic storage boxes designed for the home have long been used by snake owners and breeders. While they’re certainly not the most attractive housing possible, they do offer king snake owners a range of benefits:
- Range of sizes available
- Very affordable prices
- Easily and quickly wiped clean
- Many have locks to attach the lid
If you opt for a plastic storage box then there are two major considerations. Firstly, you’ll want to add suitable ventilation. This can be achieved by drilling holes in the side and the top, or by cutting out a section of plastic and replacing it with mesh.
The second consideration is how well the lid fits. Some models have a nasty habit of leaving small gaps, through which a baby snake may escape. Always carefully inspect the area where the box joins the lid before placing your kingsnake inside.
Moulded Plastic Vivariums
Moulded plastic vivariums are one of the more expensive options available, but can be worth the investment if you want to create an attractive naturalistic display.
These are typically formed from a single piece of plastic, with recessed areas for lighting and heating equipment. The sliding doors can make access easy for routine maintenance.
Solid Wooden Vivariums
Most kingsnakes are happy in quite an arid environment. This makes them ideal candidates for wooden vivariums, which don’t tend to do as well in moist, humid setups.
Wooden vivariums can be purchased pre-made, or even made from scratch at home. Coming in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors there’s sure to be something to catch your eye.
A real benefit of wooden vivariums for those of us who live in cooler climates is how well they retain heat. It can be a lot cheaper and simpler to heat a wooden vivarium than some other cages if your home gets cold during the winter months.
In terms of size, a good rule-of-thumb is that the length and width of the cage, when added together, should be no less than the total length of your king snake. For hatchlings this means a small plastic storage box of 20-30cm long should be sufficient, whilst adult snakes are likely to require a tank of 60-90cm depending on the exact species you’ve selected.
Temperature & Heating
Being cold-blooded, kingsnakes rely on their environment to provide the warmth they need. In nature king snakes will bask in sunny, warm areas, absorbing the sun’s rays, before slithering off to hunt.
A snake that isn’t kept at the right temperature may go off it’s food, or may suffer from a range of health conditions. Ultimately this can shorten the life of your snake and lead to an untimely death.
For almost all king snake owners it will therefore be necessary to mimic the sun’s warmth in the home. Fortunately there are a range of reptile-heaters that are suitable depending on the cage you’ve selected.
Two of the most popular options are heat mats and ceramic bulbs.
- Placed under or inside the cage
- Provide gentle background warmth
- Don’t penetrate thick substrates or wooden vivariums well
- Cheap to buy and to run
- Easy to install
- Most suitable for warmer homes, or well-insulated vivariums
- UPGRADED DESIGN: Temperature can be adjusted manually. POWERFUL FUNCTION: Helps reptile for daily activity, appetite and metabolism. It can keep reptile tank warm without any harm to your pets and also won't disturb animals sleep pattern.
- Durable material: made of high quality PVC material, its soft surface can be flexible and folded. The heat mat is easy to clean, convenient to use and low energy.
- ENERGY-SAVING: This heater uses a solid state nichrome heating element Which only use 8 watts of electricity and costs only pennies a day to operate. HIGH EFFICIENCY: High-quality heating wire heating, stable performance and long service life.
- Fitted inside the vivarium
- Capable of producing far greater warmth
- Ideal for colder homes
- More expensive to purchase and run
- May be more difficult to fit
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Whatever heater you opt for, it should be attached to a suitable thermostat to carefully control the heat produced.
A basking spot of 25-28’C / 77-82’F should be provided at one end of the vivarium, with the other end remaining cooler. This creates pockets of heat where your kingsnake can bask, together with cooler areas so they can regulate their body temperature as in nature.
A digital thermometer is a smart investment to monitor temperatures, particularly during cold weather, ensuring your chosen heater is doing a proper job.
In contrast to many other popular pet snakes, you may see your king snake out and about during daylight hours.
Experts disagree on whether artificial lighting is strictly necessary. Many claim that unlike many lizards it is unnecessary to provide artificial UV light to kingsnakes. Others point to more natural behaviour, a better appetite and better breeding results when UV light is provided.
It is likely wise to provide some form of UV lighting for your pet. Not only does this have potential health benefits for your snake, but it also makes the cage look amazing. As part of the fun of reptile keeping is observing your pet’s natural behaviour an eye-catching display can make a great focal point in any room.
Whatever you decide about lighting, your snake should be provided with a proper dark period each night with all lights turned off, mimicking a natural day/night rhythm.
Substrate is the material placed on the floor of the cage. It can help to keep the cage clean and fresh-smelling, as well as providing visual appeal and an opportunity for your snake to display natural behaviour.
Every king snake owner has their preferred choice of substrate for their pets. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the most popular options at present:
Newspaper is cheap and can make cleaning easy – just roll it up and dispose of it before replacing it. That said, newspaper tends not to be very absorbent, doesn’t look great, and doesn’t necessarily allow natural burrowing behaviour.
Aspen chippings are absorbent, attractive and permit burrowing activity. For those keepers seeking a naturalistic setup it can work well, though be sure to choose a brand where the dust has been extracted before use.
- Green product made from a renewable resource
- Easy to clean
- 99.9% dust free
Beech chips have been used by snake keepers for years. Like aspen, it can be very attractive, though is harder to burrow into for king snakes. It can quickly become mouldy in response to spilled water or faeces, so routine spot cleaning is necessary.
All of the above can make suitable options depending on your personal tastes. Whatever you choose, be sure to keep the cage clean and hygienic at all times, regularly replacing substrate as it becomes soiled.
I have found that kingsnakes often like to burrow into their substrate. If you opt for aspen or beech chips it can be worthwhile adding a decent depth of substrate to facilitate this. Consider adding a depth that is at least twice the width of your snake. In this way they fully conceal themselves beneath the surface if they so desire.
Kingsnakes appreciate privacy and security in captivity. A kingsnake kept in a sterile environment with nowhere to hide away is unlikely to be happy. The provision of at least one hide is therefore crucial. Your snake should be able to climb inside and fully conceal itself.
Some popular options include:
- Attractive appearance
- Adds a naturalistic feel to the cage
- Use curved pieces to create a “cave”
- Cleaning can be challenging
- Lightweight if burrowed under
- Create a naturalistic forest look in your terrarium
- Great for use as natural hiding places or shelters
- Safe for all reptiles, amphibians and arachnids
- Unattractive but practical design
- Easily wiped clean
- Range of different sizes available
- Lightweight if burrowed under
- Tend to be heavy so take care if your snake burrows
- Easily wiped clean
- Come in a range of naturalistic styles
- Tend to be the most expensive option
- Breakfast cereal boxes laid on their side can work well
- Easily sourced and cheap/free
- Unattractive appearance unsuitable for naturalistic setups
King snakes are natural escape artists, and more than a few kingsnake owners have been unfortunate enough to suffer an escape. Prevention is always better than cure – hunting around your home for an escaped snake is not most people’s idea of fun.
A suitable cage lock can be a worthwhile investment for many cases, especially if using a vivarium with sliding glass doors.
Some king snakes will happily climb branches in their vivarium, though just as many will ignore them entirely.
It can be worth experimenting with branches and pieces of cork bark to see whether your snake uses them. If so, this can provide extra environment enrichment as well as looking attractive in the cage.
King snakes should have access to fresh water at all times.
A ceramic bowl can work well, as plastic bowls are easily tipped over as your snake explores. A low, wide design tends to work best.
Don’t overfill the bowl as some king snakes will soak in their bowl, especially when coming up to change their skin, which can result in spillage.
The water should be changed daily, and the bowl scrubbed out and sterilized with boiling water or reptile-safe detergent once a week.
One of the reasons for king snakes becoming such popular captives is their healthy appetites. When provided with a suitable habitat most king snakes are reliable feeders, readily accepting a range of suitably-sized rodents.
Most hatchlings will start off on mouse pinkies, slowly working their way up to larger mice over a few years.
Please be aware that king snakes have a reputation for cannibalism. For this reason two king snakes should never be kept together, except for small stints if attempting breeding. Otherwise you may find yourself with just one, fat king snake.
Temperament & Handling
King snakes display some fascinating behaviour in captivity, especially if they are unfamiliar with handling. Unlike ball pythons, which can be naturally docile and handleable from hatching, king snakes can be far more nervous. With time, however, most king snakes will grow to accept handling.
A nervous king snake may hiss audibly to try and scare you away. They may also vibrate their tails like a little rattlesnake, or puff themselves up to look bigger than they actually are. In some cases they may even try to strike if they feel threatened.
Only time and patience will resolve such an issue. The crib notes here are that king snakes can become handleable but if you truly want a “silly-tame” snake that you can hold without worry then you might be better considering something like a ball python instead.
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