Kingsnakes and milksnakes are some of the most popular species to be bred in captivity on a large scale. Because of this there is a wide variety of subspecies, localities, and color morphs available in the pet trade. Many have beautiful patterns and colors and can live for over 20 years in captivity. They are easy to handle, easy to breed, and can be kept in relatively small enclosures.
Kingsnakes and milksnakes of the genus Lampropeltis
are native to North, Central, and South America. Within this range they occupy a variety of habitats from forest edges, swamps and canals, prairies, overgrown fields, abandoned buildings, and deserts.
These snakes are powerful constrictors and take a surprising range of prey in the wild including rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, insects, and even other snakes. Some have even evolved immunity to the venom of rattlesnakes and other pit vipers. Because of their cannibalistic tendencies they should never be kept together and only placed together while supervised if they are being bred.
Due to the variable appearance and overlapping ranges of many kingsnakes and milksnakes, identification in the wild can be difficult. Many species and subspecies are known to hybridize naturally in areas where they are found together. Most members of Lampropeltis reach between 2.5 and 4.5 feet in length, though some subspecies are capable of reaching 6 feet or more.
Hatchlings may be defensive, but most calm down quickly and tolerate handling. Some may develop the unusual habit of biting out of curiosity. When handled, a kingsnake may slowly open its mouth and bite the keeper's hand as if sampling to see if it is edible. This behavior never appears aggressive, and the snake may hang on for quite some time before it becomes discouraged. Attempts to dislodge the snake can potentially injure it, so it is best to let the snake release on its own. King and milk snakes may also exhibit strong feeding responses, attempting to eat anything that enters their cage. To avoid this, the snake can be fed in a separate enclosure to avoid the association between opening their cage and being fed.
Setting up the Terrarium
Hatchlings should be raised in small tanks with tightly fitting screen lids
. Tanks ranging from 20 to 50 gallons will accommodate adults. Screen tops should be well secured as these snakes will escape if the chance presents itself.
should be provided, as kingsnakes and milksnakes are secretive will become stressed if no retreats are available. Hides should also be fairly snug to provide a sense of security. The snake should easily be able to touch the sides of its hiding cave while resting inside. Because of this, it is necessary to upgrade the size of your snake's hides as it grows. Tall aquariums and high branches are not necessary, as they rarely climb.
A deep substrate that allows for burrowing is preferable. Douglas fir bark
, and dry soil-like bedding materials are all suitable and easy to clean.
Lighting, Heat, and Humidity
Kingsnakes and milksnakes do not require UVB light. A standard fluorescent bulb or daylight heat bulb
left on for roughly 12 hours per day will fulfill their photoperiod requirements.
Most kingsnakes and milksnakes do best in a temperature range of 72-80°F. An incandescent bulb should be used to provide a basking spot of 85-88°F. If temperatures drop below 70°F at night a red night heat bulb
or undertank heating pad
are recommended to maintain a slightly warmer area in the tank.
Kingsnakes and milksnakes are susceptible to skin disorders when kept in damp cages. Water must always be available, but the substrate should remain clean and dry. Be sure that water dishes
are large enough for the snake to soak in without spilling water over the edges, and that they are heavy enough to prevent them from being toppled by burrowing.
Hatchlings are usually large enough to handle pinky mice and should be fed weekly. Adults eating full grown mice can be fed every 7-10 days. With all snakes, healthy individuals do not require extra supplements in their diet. Kingsnakes and milksnakes will likely eat any time food is offered. Avoid overfeeding your snake - the body should feel firm and muscular, and no skin should be visible between the scales.
Daily care and Maintenance
Snakes should be checked daily for signs of disease such as blisters, mites, or unusual behavior. Fresh water should be given at this time and any waste removed from the enclosure.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations
for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1246 or [email protected]
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