California Kingsnake

California kingsnakes are among the easiest snakes to take care of. Due to this, these snakes are very popular as pets, and if you want to adopt one, then you probably want to do so precisely because they are easy to take care of.

With that said, California kingsnakes still require care and proper living conditions. Needless to say, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your snake is living healthily and comfortably.

So what should you do to provide a friendly and safe environment for your California kingsnake?

Find answers to this and many other questions below! 

General California Kingsnake Information

  • California kingsnakes are non-venomous.
  • Most California kingsnake species have vibrant skin patterns.
  • California kingsnakes usually grow up to 2.5-4 feet.
  • In captivity, the lifespan of California kingsnakes is 20-30 years.
  • California kingsnakes are active during the daytime, but in hot weather, they may become nocturnal.
  • California kingsnakes will eat other snakes smaller than them.

California Kingsnake Enclosure

First, you have to buy or build an enclosure for your snake.

Generally, kingsnake enclosures are made from glass, plastic, or wood. Some enclosures may be entirely made from one type of material, while others may combine a few.

Below, let’s talk about the good and bad sides of these commonly used materials. There’s no best here – which material to choose depends on your needs and what resources you have at hand.

Glass

Glass is usually the preferred material since most snake tank heaters available out there – at least in the US – are made with glass in mind. Glass lets heat through relatively easily, and you don’t need a too powerful heater to keep the enclosure sufficient warm.

Another advantage of glass is that it looks pretty nice. While a good-looking snake enclosure won’t necessarily be comfortable for your snake, it would probably be nice if the enclosure had a presentable appearance.

Glass also allows you to easily see through it, which actually is a pretty big benefit, especially given that snakes like to hide.

On the other hand, glass is pretty easy to break and is expensive. Besides, it doesn’t retain heat or humidity well, meaning that glass may not be the best option in colder or drier climates.

Plastic

Next comes plastic. While it’s not as good as glass in terms of looks and visibility, it may actually be a more reasonable option in dry or cold climates since it is better at retaining heat and humidity.

Plastic is also cheaper, so if you are on a tight budget, then you may want to build your California kingsnake’s enclosure from plastic.

With that said, plastic isn’t as heater-friendly – you may have trouble finding heaters designed specifically for plastic enclosures. Besides, plastic may melt if you place the heater badly. Not that glass can’t be damaged by heat, but plastic is much easier to damage than glass.

Plastic also isn’t as easy to see through as glass, which is a pretty major disadvantage compared to glass.

Finally, plastic isn’t the best-looking material out there, though you could make something spectacular out of plastic if you know how.

Wood

You also have wood, which is a good material when it comes to cost. Wood is also easy to find, so if you want to build your California kingsnake’s enclosure on your own, then wood may be the right option.

With that said, wood isn’t the best when it comes to heating and visibility. If you were to make an enclosure entirely from wood, you would have difficulties observing your snake, and you would also have problems with heating since wood doesn’t let through heat as readily as glass.

If you were to use wood, you would want to use it sparingly. Wood can provide your California kingsnake’s enclosure with structural rigidity, but you shouldn’t make the entire terrarium out of wood.

Enclosure Size

Hatchlings and snakes up to 2 feet long should be kept in a 10-20-gallon enclosure. Adult snakes will need up to a 40-gallon enclosure, though you could go even bigger. 

Snake enclosures arguably cannot get too big, but with big enclosures come issues like more difficult cleaning. 

If you won’t be keeping your snake as an adult, then you may not need to go over 20 gallons. Otherwise, either start with 10-20 gallons and move up to 40 or start with 40 from the get-go. 

Enclosure Conditions

Choosing the right enclosure material isn’t quite enough – you also have to make sure that your California kingsnake is provided with proper living conditions. The 5 key things that you should pay attention to are:

  • Temperature.
  • Humidity.
  • Substrate.
  • Lighting.
  • Privacy.

These five points should be maintained with any other snake species as well, but California kingsnakes have their own demands.

Temperature

First comes temperature, and like with any other snake, you need to ensure a temperature gradient in the enclosure. That is, one end of the enclosure should be cooler than the other.

This is done to ensure that your California kingsnake is able to thermally regulate itself. When hot, your snake will be able to go to the cooler side of the enclosure, and when cold, it will move to the warmer end.

It’s usually recommended to keep the warmest side of the enclosure at around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.44 degrees Celsius), while the cool side should be at about 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (21.11-23.89 degrees Celsius).

How to maintain enclosure temperature?

Now, how do you make that one side of the enclosure is warmer than the other?

This is actually pretty easy to do – you just need to move the heating mat (or whatever under-tank heating device you are using) away from the center toward the end that you want to be warmer. You would then measure the temperature at both ends to ensure that the temps are just right.

It’s the easiest to maintain proper enclosure temperatures when the room your snake’s tank is in is set to room temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21.11 degrees Celsius). This is just right for the cool end. And you’d then just put a heating mat closer to the opposite end of the tank to maintain temperatures of around 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be especially careful in summer – you absolutely want not to allow the room temperature to go above 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21.11 degrees Celsius. Otherwise, you may need to start thinking about cooling, which often is more difficult to pull off with snake enclosures than heating.

To maintain enclosure temperatures, you may use heating accessories like heating mats, under-tank-heaters, or any other heater that can be put under the tank. Don’t use heating rocks or other heat sources that your snake could come in contact with.

No matter what kind of a heater you choose, make sure that it has a thermostat – you don’t need too much heat, and without a thermostat, heating pads could very quickly heat up your California kingsnake’s tank to dangerous temperatures.

Do make sure to keep at least one thermometer in the enclosure, or better two – this way, you’ll be able to easily keep an eye on the temperatures both in the cool and warm ends.

Humidity

Then comes humidity, which is actually more important than temperature in some cases. For example, when your snake is shedding, proper humidity levels can prevent issues like fragmentary shedding or incomplete shedding.

The proper humidity level for California kingsnakes is 50-60%, though you may increase it up to 70% temporarily if your snake is having problems with shedding.

How to maintain enclosure humidity?

The most common tool used in maintaining humidity is a water bowl with some freshwater. Some people also recommend placing the water bowl closer to the heater to promote evaporation and thus increase the humidity level in the terrarium.

Alternatively, you may use humidifiers, partially cover the top of the vivarium, or add a second water bowl to increase the humidity inside the enclosure.

To check whether the humidity is where it needs to be, use a device called hygrometer.

Keep in mind that maintaining humidity will be easier in some areas than others. In dry states like California, you may have a harder time maintaining 50%-60% humidity inside the enclosure. In other areas, you won’t have issues with it, while in some, you may even need to combat excessive humidity by keeping the tank’s top open or running a dehumidifier!

Substrate

The substrate is the material covering the floor of your snake’s enclosure. Choosing the right substrate is important since it makes cleaning the cage easier, as well as makes sure that your snake stays healthy.

Generally, the most popular substrate choices for California kingsnakes (and any snake for that matter) are aspen shavings, newspapers, or paper towels. 

The latter two are cheap and are very easy to replace, but they don’t look too nice. Aspen shavings are a little more difficult to maintain, but they look good and allow your snake to burrow. But keep in mind that aspen shavings may be accidentally ingested and that they can retain moisture, thus making maintaining humidity inside the cage more difficult.

Avoid any kind of aromatic woods like pine or cedar since these produce toxic fumes that will quickly accumulate inside the enclosure.

Lighting

Snakes do not require artificial light if there’s enough natural light, and California kingsnakes are no exception. If possible, keep your snake’s enclosure closer to a window, but make sure that the chosen spot never sees the sun – sunlight will heat up the enclosure beyond the temperatures recommended above.

If there’s a spot in your home that is close to natural light, you will have to simulate day/night cycles through artificial lighting. Placing an LED bulb right above the enclosure should do the trick. But keep in mind that artificial lighting will produce heat, and you may have to combat this.

Some people also recommend using UV lighting to make sure that snakes get a daily dose of essential UV light. While California kingsnakes can survive without UV light, installing a UV bulb inside the enclosure may prove beneficial for your snake’s health.

With that said, avoid using UV lights if you have an albino snake.

At night, be sure that there’s no artificial light inside the room where your California kingsnake is kept. Don’t use the red bulbs that are marketed as “nighttime” – these will probably be irritating for your snake. 

If you want to see your snake at night, then you may try to simulate moonlight through very dim lights, but know that no light is the best light.

Privacy

Snakes like privacy, and California kingsnakes are no exception.

The best way to ensure privacy is to provide your snake with at least two hide boxes – one at the warmer end of the tank and the other at the cooler end. This will allow your snake to hide in a comfortably warm or cool location.

You could buy commercially-made hides, or you could build one yourself. You may use anything to make hide boxes for your California kingsnake, be it wood or Lego bricks.

Enclosure Décor

Like with any snake, you should provide your California kingsnake with a nice place to live in. A decorated enclosure will look good to you and may also feel safer and more home-like to your California kingsnake.

You could use anything as décor as long as it doesn’t pose any danger to your kingsnake. Feel free to use branches, twigs, artificial foliage, and anything else you think will make the enclosure look good.

When setting up your snake tank’s décor, make sure to secure the decorative items firmly so that your snake can’t knock them off and harm itself or break the enclosure.

Aside from making the enclosure look and feel nice, décor can actually help your snake with shedding since it will have more surfaces to rub against. Aside from that, crawling around branches and rocks, your California kingsnake will get some exercise.

Feeding

In general, snakes – including California kingsnakes – don’t need complex diets. California kingsnakes, in particular, aren’t picky and very rarely refuse to eat.

With that said, it’s important to know how California kingsnakes should be fed. 

The rules are actually very similar to what you would follow with other snakes. If you’ve ever had any experience with snakes, then you shouldn’t have any issues with your California kingsnake.

Food

In the wild, kingsnakes feed on anything that they can overpower, including small birds, rattlesnakes, and small rodents. This means that California kingsnakes shouldn’t be kept with other snakes since they may just eat them.

When it comes to feeding in captivity, California kingsnakes are most often fed mice of various sizes. California kingsnakes usually don’t get large enough to be fed rats, though this is very individual.

Kingsnakes are fed at least once a week. Younger kingsnakes may need to eat more frequently – once every 5-7 days – while adult snakes may be fed every 10 days or even less frequently.

It’s important to pick properly sized rodents for your snake. As a general rule, the rodent shouldn’t be larger than your snake’s widest part – otherwise, your snake may get overweight or regurgitate the food.

You have two food options to choose from – live mice or frozen-thawed mice. Each has its advantages and disadvantages that are important to consider.

Live rodents

People generally avoid to feed live rodents to their snakes due to a few reasons:

  • Live rodents aren’t as readily available as frozen-thawed rodents since they are more difficult to transport and store.
  • If there are no mice breeders in your area, you would need to breed mice yourself, which is expensive and laborious.
  • Mice will fight back and may severely injure or even kill your California kingsnake.
  • Feeding your snake on live food is associated with suffering and pain for mice.

It’s pretty clear why people aren’t too eager to feed their snakes live food.

With that said, some may argue that it’s good to feed your snake on live mice for variety. This could make your California kingsnake used to live mice, and it would make it easier for you to switch from frozen-thawed rodents to live rodents if necessary.

If you don’t want to feed your California kingsnake on live rodents, you have two options – you will either have to pre-kill mice, or you may switch to frozen-thawed mice.

Frozen-thawed rodents

Frozen-thawed rodents have the following benefits over live rodents:

  • It’s much easier to store and transport frozen rodents. Thanks to this, it’s pretty easy to find frozen rodents no matter where you are, not to mention that it will be easy to store them for you as well.
  • Frozen-thawed rodents do not pose health risks to your California kingsnake unless stored improperly.
  • There is no suffering and pain involved in feeding. Frozen rodents are usually painlessly euthanized.

For most people, frozen-thawed rodents are probably going to be the best option.

Remember that frozen mice need to be thawed before being served to your California kingsnake. Don’t microwave frozen mice – instead, take them out of the cooler a few hours before the meal. If you need to feed your snake quickly, then put the mouse in a plastic bag and place the bag into warm water to assist with thawing.

Water

You need to provide your California kingsnake with water as well.

Serve fresh water to your kingsnake in a deep and sufficiently large water bowl – snakes often soak in water to cool down or to bathe. With this in mind, you should change your snake’s water daily.

Don’t use distilled water since it may lack essential minerals – instead, you could serve dechlorinated tap water to your snake. If the tap water in your area isn’t drinkable, then go for bottled spring water (but not sparkling water).

Feeding Issues

California kingsnakes aren’t the pickiest of eaters, and they rarely refuse a meal. Not only does this mean that you will have very few problems with your kingsnake’s diet, but you will also be able to spot health issues easily since lack of appetite will be a clear signal that something’s wrong.

But while the diet of kingsnakes is simple, improper feeding could cause a wide array of feeding issues in your snake – namely, over/underfeeding and regurgitation.

Overfeeding & underfeeding

It’s difficult to say how much food your California kingsnake should eat and how often. All you have are general guidelines like “mice should be sized the same as your snake’s widest part” and “feed your snake around once a week”.

You won’t find more specific instructions on how to feed California kingsnakes since diet is highly subjective, depending on health, age, size, and physical activity.

With that said, it’s fairly easy to assess how good your California kingsnake’s diet is. Just have a look at your snake!

It’s pretty clear when snakes are overweight or underweight. If your kingsnake looks a bit chubby, then it’s overweight, and you should cut down on the food by giving it mice less frequently. And if it looks skinny, then start giving mice more often.

Keep in mind that it’s easier to overfeed snakes than underfeed. California kingsnakes don’t need to eat too often, and they could go without food for a few weeks. This doesn’t mean that you should allow your snake to stay without food for weeks, but the point is that they can eat less frequently, and giving them too much will lead to obesity. 

Regurgitation

Regurgitation is a big problem for California kingsnakes (and any snake for that matter). It takes plenty of time for snakes to recover their stomach fluids after regurgitation.

With this in mind, you should be very careful with your snake.

First of all, do not overfeed your kingsnake. Aside from excessive weight, overfeeding is likely to cause your snake to regurgitate.

Secondly, don’t handle your kingsnake for around a day after feeding. Your snake needs time to digest the food.

After regurgitation, it’s usually recommended that you don’t feed your snake again for around a week to allow it to recover. Then, you should give food in smaller portions to keep things easier on your kingsnake’s stomach. If you are careful enough, your snake shouldn’t regurgitate again.

If your snake again regurgitates food without apparent reason, then you may want to take it to a vet.

Handling

California kingsnakes should be regularly handled so that they become used to human touch. While California kingsnakes are docile and get used to handling quite easily, you should still be a little careful at the early stages.

If you get a previously-owned snake, then it will probably be already used to human touch. Otherwise, your kingsnake will need to become used to your touch. 

Hatchlings may be very defensive, and it might be difficult for you to handle a newly-born California kingsnake. They will try to attack you, and they may also urinate or defecate on you when you pick them up. This is natural, and you should expect to deal with these kinds of problems with kingsnakes that aren’t used to human touch.

First of all, let your California kingsnake get used to you. Your snake should see you as often as possible so that it understands that you pose no threat.

You may also move your hand inside the enclosure to check the reaction of your California kingsnake. At first, your snake will be cautious or maybe even defensive. But with time, your kingsnake may become curious and feel less threatened.

Once you feel your snake no longer tries to hide from you, you may attempt to pick it up. When picking your snake up, support its body with your hands at its 1/3 and 2/3. 

Being a constrictor, your kingsnake will wrap around your wrist and arm. If you don’t like it, you may carefully unwrap your snake starting from its tail. 

Aside from that, keep in mind that your kingsnake may want to get under your shirt – snakes like covered and dark places. Don’t allow your snake to do so by gently guiding its hand away. 

While handling your snake, don’t dangle your hand or fingers in front of it – your snake may mistake your fingers for food. 

Besides, don’t pull on your snake or tug it since it may become aggressive towards you. 

The first handling sessions shouldn’t be too long – around 5 minutes max. As soon as your snake appears uneasy, put it back into the enclosure. 

As your snake gets used to you, you may increase the duration of the handling sessions up to 15 minutes. 

Remember not to handle your kingsnake before and after feeding. Besides, don’t handle it during shed. 

Shedding

Like many other snakes, California kingsnakes are constantly growing their entire life. And since their skins aren’t as elastic as ours, kingsnakes will shed occasionally to throw away the small and restricting layer of skin.

When young, California kingsnakes will shed more often due to the higher growth rate. As your snake grows, it will shed less and less frequently.

Young kingsnakes may shed several times a month, while adult kingsnakes will shed about once a month. California kingsnakes may also shed more often due to disease, injury, or stress. If you notice that your snake is shedding more often than usual, then it may have some health issues.

The symptoms of an upcoming shed are dull skin and cloudy or blue eyes. These symptoms will be visible for a few days before disappearing. Your snake hasn’t shed yet though – a day or two after the symptoms are gone, your snake will start to shed, which will again take a few days.

In total, it will take around a week for your snake to shed, including the brief period when the symptoms are visible.

If your kingsnake is healthy and if the enclosure conditions are right, your snake shouldn’t have any issues with shedding. 

Shedding issues

Shedding doesn’t always go flawlessly, and you should be ready to deal with whatever issues your California kingsnake may be facing.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to spot that something’s not right. Among the key symptoms of problematic shedding to watch out for are:

 

  • Fragmentary shedding when the skin of the snake doesn’t come off in one piece. Your snake may shed completely even if doing so in patches, but fragmentary shedding isn’t normal. Usually, fragmentary shedding means that the snake’s terrarium is too dry.
  • Patches of skin that haven’t come off, particularly the eye caps.

 

If your California kingsnake is having issues with shedding, then you should first check whether the enclosure humidity is on the right level. If it’s been lower than the recommended 50-60%, then increasing the humidity should do the trick.

If the increase of humidity doesn’t help or if the humidity has been okay in the first place, then you may temporarily increase the enclosure humidity to 70%. In simpler cases, this will help.

If your snake is still unable to shed, then soak it in a large bowl of lukewarm water for 30-60 minutes. This little procedure will loosen the remaining skin and will probably help your snake shed on its own. You may also assist your kingsnake by holding a damp towel and allowing your snake to slither through it.

After your snake has shed, you should check whether there are any remaining patches of skin on its body. If there are, you should remove them by soaking your snake in lukewarm water for 30-60 minutes and taking the flakes off manually.

Pay careful attention to the eye area – the old eye caps should come off as the entire skin does. If they haven’t, then you should remove them as soon as possible since they can cause a vast array of health issues, including eye infection.

To remove the eye caps, you may, for example, turn a piece of scotch tape inside out and gently roll it across the eye caps.

If you for any reason are unable to help your snake shed or if you can’t remove unshed areas of skin, take your kingsnake to a vet. 

Cleaning

Beginners also wonder whether California kingsnakes need to be bathed or cleaned. Well, like with many other snakes, you shouldn’t have to worry about the hygiene of your kingsnake – it will bathe in the provided water bowl occasionally when it feels like it.

If your snake hasn’t bathed for quite a while though, then you could clean it on your own by putting it into a bowl with lukewarm water for a few minutes.

Don’t think that it’s over after bathing your snake – reluctance to bathe may be a symptom of some underlying issue, whether a health issue or improper enclosure conditions. Make sure to check the enclosure or take your kingsnake to a vet to find out what’s wrong.

Enclosure Cleanup

You should also keep a close eye on the condition of your kingsnake’s enclosure.

First of all, you should inspect your California kingsnake’s enclosure for urine or feces. These should be removed immediately, preferably along with the substrate beneath them. If your snake has made a mess in its water bowl, then wash the water bowl and replace the water.

Secondly, check the substrate regularly – if you see any dirty or damp spots on it, you should replace it with fresh substrate.

Aside from these minor procedures, you should also give an occasional deep cleanup to your kingsnake’s enclosure – once a month should be good enough. This is how you do a deep cleanup:

  1. Remove everything from the enclosure.
  2. Make a 5% bleach solution and apply it to the interior and exterior of the enclosure.
  3. Let the enclosure sit for around 15 minutes.
  4. Thoroughly rinse the enclosure out so that no bleach remains on it.
  5. Let the enclosure dry out.
  6. Put everything back in.

FAQ

What diseases do California kingsnakes suffer from?

There are plenty of diseases to keep an eye out for, but among the most common ones are:

  • Scale rot: scale rot is caused by excessive moisture, filthy conditions, and possibly deficiency of vitamin A and C. Among the symptoms of scale rot are flaking scales, foul odor, bruising, fluid-filled blisters, swelling, and reddish/brownish/greenish ulcerations.
  • Respiratory issues: usually caused by excess humidity. Aside from that, respiratory issues may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

 

  • Infectious stomatitis: any teeth or gum disease may generally be called stomatitis. Usually, infectious stomatitis is a sign of an underlying issue. Among the symptoms of stomatitis are excessive salivation, lethargy, and weight loss.

 

Should California kingsnakes be kept with other snakes?

No, California kingsnakes may consume any snake that’s smaller than them. The same applies to any pets. Do not keep California kingsnakes with other snakes unless for breeding.

How much do California kingsnakes cost.?

California kingsnakes usually cost around $70, though some rarer breeds may cost closer to $200.

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