Lampropeltis mexicana (Kingsnakes) - Information and Proper Care
This article is a part of our "exotic pets series", thus not dedicated to fish, but to Kingsnakes instead! You're welcome to share your experiences at the bottom of this page!
Lampropeltis mexicana are a small group of snakes, collectively known as King snakes and are often an excellent choice for newcomers to snake keeping as they are one of the easier species to care and look after. They can be generally spit into three main subspecies and these are easily identifiable by their vivid markings and colourations.
The three main subspecies are as follows:-
Lampropeltis mexicana greeri
This snake is commonly known as Greer's Kingsnake or Durango Kingsnake and originates from mountain ranges in the Durango area of Mexico. They are non-aggressive but they can be very shy so will require hiding places in the vivarium to make them feel at ease. Their colouration is fantastic, the body colouration consists of a silvery background colouration, this can be s light brown with some specimens and this is saddled with black markings that have a white border, some specimens may also display red centres in the middle of the black markings. Their belly is usually lighter in colouration, sometimes even white ans this is covered with smaller black blotches.
Adult specimens can reach up to 36 inches in length but most remain at about the 30 inch mark.
Lampropeltis mexicana mexicana
The mexicana sub-species are commonly referred to as the San Luis Potosi Kingsnake or the Mexican Kingsnake. They reach the same adult size as the Greer's Kingsnake but have their own original markings that make them stand out. These too are found in the mountain ranges of Mexico but are found over a much more widespread are, they are also a shy species so yet again hiding places should be provided for them in the vivarium.
Their main body colouration is a speckled grey to brown with solid saddles that have a black colouration to red dependant on the individual specimen but as above these are outlined in white. This snake is also non-aggressive so is also ideal for novice snake keepers.
Lampropeltis mexicana thayeri
Commonly known as the Variable Kingsnake, Nuevo Leon Kingsnake or Thayer's Kingsnake. The common name of variable Kingsnake is due to the wide range of colourations and markings that this Kingsnake can display, even batches of young from the same mother can vary a great deal in their markings. They grow slightly larger than the two sub-species above but show the same temperament as the others and are also ideal for novice snake keepers. Some of the many colourations include grey, silver, brown or even mixed body background colours. These two are also found in the mountainous regions of Mexico, namely the Tamaulipas ranges but are much more localised than Lampropeltis mexicana mexicana.
All three of the above sub-species are cared for in the same manner so for the remainder of this article they will be referred to as simply Kingsnake so that which ever species you decide to keep the general information will apply.
Housing your Kingsnake
One of the most popular containers for housing the Kingsnake are glass aquariums but you can compromise and use some of the larger plastic containers now readily available for sale, both of these are suitable and can be easily adapted for the purpose of keeping your snake comfy and secure. The size of the container will depend on the size of the snake, as the snake grows you may need to upgrade the housing to accommodate for the extra room required but don't make the mistake of housing a young snake in a container large enough for an adult specimen, this can make the younger snakes feel insecure. For young snakes a 5-7 gallon container is suitable reaching up to a 30 gallon container for an adult specimen. Whichever container you use, there must be a suitable lid fitted that is secure, unsurprisingly snakes can squeeze through the smallest of gaps. Lids can be made from wooden frames with wire mesh to seal the snake house but make sure that the grade of the mesh is too small for any escapees, with a plastic container you can still use the same lid or use the lid provided with the container and drill small ventilation holes in it, once again making sure that they are escape proof. Either fix the lids with secure hinges and locks or weight the lids down, it has been known for un-weighted lids to be pushed off by the snakes in their attempt for freedom.
At the bottom of the container place newspaper or a commercial reptile substrate that is suitable for snakes, remember that the substrate will need cleaning on a regular basis so quite often newspaper is used for ease of this task, the old newspaper can be simply discarded and replaced with new.
As described in the snake profiles, the Kingsnake likes to hide away, add a suitable box or even another plastic container that is large enough for your snake to hide in comfortably, there are nowadays hideaways available to purchase from reliable suppliers and some of these are very ornate and pleasing to the eye of the keeper.
Although the Kingsnakes originate from mountainous regions which can turn very cool at night, you will need to supply some form of heating in the daytime and then allow the enclosure to cool down naturally through the night hours. Heat mats underneath the enclosure or heating lamps can be used ( if using the lamps ensure that they are covered with a wire mesh to prevent any accidental burns to your snake), the daytime temperature should range from 25-27°C (78-82°F) but one area of the enclosure should be slightly higher than this to allow the snake to bask, the use of a basking lamp will provide this for you.
Whenever using any form of heating it is always best to connect these to a timer, not only will this keep the temperatures constant for the same period of time every day but it will also rule out the chance of the heating being accidentally left on or even left off due to human error.
Feeding your Kingsnake
In the wild King snakes are predators on small mammals etc. and their diet can be easily replicated in captivity. The easiest food to feed them are baby rats or mice, commonly known as “pinkies due to the mice or rats not having developed enough to produce fur on their bodies. Older juveniles rodents can be fed to larger specimens of the snake but make sure that the size of the food can be easily passed through the snake's body, larger food will take longer to digest. Juvenile specimens of the Kingsnake will require more regular meals, twice a week is the normal while larger specimens may be happy with one large meal a week. Keep an eye on your snake to make sure that it does not get thinner and bones are starting to show, if this is the case then feed twice a week the same as you would with juveniles.
To keep feeding costs down, many keepers will breed their own rodents purely for feeding to their Kingsnake, if this does not appeal to you, you can purchase frozen pinkies or even chilled ones, if using frozen, always defrost thoroughly before feeding to your snake. During the cooler winter months you may see less of an appetite but don't worry, this is perfectly normal.
Breeding the Kingsnake
The average age for the Kingsnake to become sexually mature is 3 years, trying to breed before this age will more often than not prove unsuccessful. Sexing the Kingsnake can be difficult unless you are an experienced keeper but it is possible using an exploratory probe. If you are not sure about the sex of your snake get help from someone who has knowledge and they will soon be able to give you an answer. Males tend to go off their food prior to mating whereas the females tend to gourge themselves in preparation for the ardour of mating, this is also a good clue. The mating takes place just after the hibernation period and the first sign that the female is ready can be seen by her shedding her skin around the cage, this is performed in the wild as well as the scent of the skin attracts the males. The male should be kept away from the female until she is ready to breed and once the pair are introduced, mating should occur quickly afterwards. If not separate the pair and try again a few days later.
If the male is willing to breed., he will chase the female, often biting her head or neck are and at the same time trying to lift her tail to reveal her sexual organs. The pair will unite while mating and this can last from 10 minutes up to a few hours dependant on the pair.
If successful, the female's abdomen should start to swell and after about 1 month, she will shed her skin again. A week after the shed, the eggs should be laid and these will need to be placed into an incubator for hatching. When lifting the eggs it is very important that they are not turned over at all, they must be placed in the incubator in the position that they were laid.
A couple of months later, the young juveniles will release themselves from the eggs casing by cutting through the shell with their egg tooth, some of the juveniles may emerge straight away, others may remain in the shells while they consume the yolk sacs, always make sure that any shells are completely empty before removing them.
The juveniles are highly cannibalistic,they need to be placed into individual small containers that have some paper towelling inside and definitely a small water bowl. Use lidded containers with air holes added and now the fun begins!
Some juveniles accept food with no problems at all, others may need a bit of bluffing by offering them pinkies that have lizard scent on them or they may refuse to eat. In time they stubborn specimens will start to accept food and during the first year of their life, expect a large growth rate, this will gradually decrease as the Kingsnake matures.
Kingsnake need to go through a hibernation period every year, this usually takes place from December through to March and is a very important part of their life. Stop all meals 2-3 weeks prior to the hibernation and start to reduce any heating in their home. Place the snake house in a darkened area and al that you need to supply is a source of water. Periodically check on your snake and as the hibernation comes to an end, gradually start to raise the temperature over a 2 week period.
As with all pets, the keepers love to handle their new arrivals, try not to handle the snake until it has had a few days to settle into its new home, initially handling periods should be restricted until the snake becomes comfortable with you and learns to trust you, it is capable of emitting nasty smells from its anal glands if stressed, unpleasant but a warning that it wants to be left alone. Gradually increase the handling periods until the snake is perfectly relaxed with you and settles on your arm with no signs of agitation!
The living conditions for your snake must be kept clean or diseases and infections can arise, if you do suspect any problems with your snake do not hesitate to consult a qualified veterinary practitioner who can offer you advice and if required the correct treatment.
Kingsnakes can live for over 30 years, they are a big commitment so unless you are prepared to look after these reptiles properly, please leave them for someone who has the facilities to do so!