California Kingsnake Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name: California Kingsnake
Scientific Name: Lampropeltis getulus
Life Span: More than 20 years
Size: 2 to 6 feet
Habitat: Grasslands, forests, suburbia, and rocky regions in deserts and fields
Country of Origin: North America

Physical Description

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Due to its wide range and extreme popularity as a pet, California Kingsnakes come in a variety of color patterns and morphs. The common California Kingsnake is the member of the “tricolor” group of snake. Most California Kingsnakes have bands from white/yellow and dark brown. Some of the common pattern phases include:

  • Striped – This pattern is typically marked by the light yellow or white stripes seen on the backs of the snakes. 
  • Dark Banded – This kind of California Kingsnake comes with a dark underside and heaps of banding. 
  • Un-banded – This particular phase is marked with lateral stripes and a dark belly. 
  • Desert – the desert phase is marked by the contrasting bands of bright white and dark black. 
  • Coastal – this phase is different from the desert phase as it comes with reddish-brown bands that alternate with yellow or white. 

Aside from the various pattern phases, the breeders also succeeded in creating California Kingsnakes in new colors like banana or high yellow, albinos, lavender, speckled, and many more. 


California Kingsnakes hatch from the eggs at 8-12 inches. Adult snakes can be more than 6 feet long, though their length is often between 3 to 4 feet only. Also, these snakes aren’t heavy or bulky. They look smaller than they are in reality.


California Kingsnakes are somewhat docile compared to other similar snakes. However, these animals tend to be nervous. They don’t show aggressiveness unless they become agitated. 

Some things will tell you that your pet is nervous. You may hear it hissing or see it vibrating its tail faster like what the rattlesnake does and roll itself like a ball. 

Captive-raised adult California Kingsnakes are naturally very calm, but the hatchlings can be nippy. In dealing with nippy babies, let them settle down after handling them gently. The best way to hold a California Kingsnake is to gently hold the snake and let it move between your fingers. Don’t allow the snake to dangle without your support as it can damage their spines. 

Life Span

California Kingsnakes usually live for more than 20 years. The female snakes usually produce fertile eggs in their low teens. 


Across the different ranges, the kingsnakes find the same habitats living in. They live in the grasslands, suburbia, forests, and rocky regions in the deserts and fields. The snakes in wetter regions like the southern and eastern US spend more time all over the riverbanks and swamps. California Kingsnakes are terrestrial, which means they stay mostly inland instead of venturing into trees or water. 

These snakes are also less conspicuous compared to other snakes like the rat snakes. It is because they’re adapted to residing undercover like under the rocks, burrows under the ground, and under the logs. 

The natural range is limited to the western US. Found across California, they also exist in southern Nevada, Utah, southwestern Oregon, and most parts of Arizona. They can be found under the leaf litter, manmade constructions, and other fragments. 


California Kingsnakes are oviparous, which means they lay the eggs which spend little to zero time incubating within the mother. The mating period among these snakes depends on the weather. In warmer climates, these snake mate in early spring while they do it until late spring or summer in colder climates. Generally, the mating season for California Kingsnakes is from March to August. Females usually have not just one clutch of eggs in every mating season. 

Male snakes look for females through a chemical scent. Males will fight against one another to win the females. They will try to beat each other till their heads are flat on the ground. Males usually bite the females in their neck during breeding. 

Female California Kingsnakes lay clutches of 3 to 24 eggs in rotting logs, debris, or other secluded places. Mothers leave the eggs that hatch on their own in the next 2 to 3 months. The baby snakes could be up to one foot long. Their mother won’t take care of them. They need independent from birth. 

California Kingsnakes will be sexually mature at the age of 2 to 4. Their lifespan in the forest is unknown, but in captivity, they can live for 20 to even 30 years. 

Hunting and Feeding

California Kingsnakes are diurnal constrictors that are also skilled and aggressive hunters. Their diet involves lizards, rodents, and birds and their eggs. These snakes are Ophiophagus, too. Meaning, they can eat other snakes. These nonvenomous snakes can kill and consume venomous snakes. 

When hunting, they look for a victim through its scent. When they see it, they will grab the animal using their mouths and begin squeezing. California Kingsnakes might only eat twice or thrice in a month. Their feeding frequency will depend on the size of their food. 

California Kingsnakes can eat any animal or little bird. The captive-raised snakes can eat rodents like mice. You can also provide your pet with live reptile food or softened frozen mice. Live adult rats can inflict the wounds to your pet. Fresh killed is a much better choice than the live ones. 

The mice must leave the lump in California Kingsnakes which s a bit bigger than the snake’s mid-body diameter. Unless you’re sure, don’t touch the snake if you still see the lump in its mid-body. You can handle the snake once that lump disappears. 

Feeding your pet once in a week is enough for keeping it happy and healthy. However, your pet will grow faster once you feed it twice or more every week, if the animal accepts the food. Look after your pet’s feeding routine. Control its diet once it reaches the ideal adult size to prevent obesity. Reduce its food intake if necessary. 

Feeding Frequency

California Kingsnakes are okay with eating once a week, but more frequent feeding sessions usually promote speedier growth. keep in mind that these snakes are not always eager to eat more than once in a week.

If your pet seems overweight, then it’s time to reduce its food intake to just once in a week. Discuss the matter with an exotic veterinarian if you have questions about the snake’s eating habits and general health. 


Give a bowl of fresh water. The bowl should be deep enough and of the perfect size for the snake. If the bowl is half full of water and your pet goes into it, then the water would not overflow inside the cage. 

The enclosure should stay dry as much as possible. If the humidity level increases within the cage that it appears or feels wet, remove the water bowl. Instead, give your pet a bowl of water a couple of days in a week. Don’t forget to clean the water bowl when necessary. 

Temperament and Handling

Although California Kingsnakes are captive bred for a long time, they stay wild by nature. If your pet is new, then be ready as it may take a few defensive moves, shake its tails, and attack you. it might urinate or defecate on you as you try picking it up. This possible behavior is just normal as the snake feels you are a predator. Don’t be discouraged because your pet is just scared. 

With regular and gentle handling, your pet must settle in and become tame. Handle it hand over hand, keeping your hands apart from its face. Whenever you hold it, there should be gentle friction, which is the best method for novices. 


Avoid touching your pet when it’s about to shed. You’ll discover it the moment you see your pet’s eyes have turned into something bluish or milky. A few days later, your pet’s eyes will return to normal and it will crawl out of the whole shed skin. 


California Kingsnakes need a vivarium made of wood. It would be the best enclosure for them. Wood is good for snakes as it acts as a great heat insulator. Therefore, a wooden vivarium will help you control the essential temperatures within your pet’s cage. 

It must have good ventilation, allowing the air to enter and flow out of the cage. Also, it must be at least 860mm or 34 inches in length. There are two major reasons for it: first, California Kingsnakes are big reptiles that can easily grow for up to 1200mm long. 

They need a proportionate span of space to live comfortably and happily. Secondly, this vivarium should have ample length to form a nice temperature gradient. The cage must be warm in one end but have ample distance so that the temperature drops at the enclosure’s cool side. 

Here are various types of enclosures or cages available for California Kingsnakes and other similar-sized snakes:

Glass Cages 

Some enclosures made for snakes look like an aquarium. Technically, these are known terrariums. These enclosures are waterproof for amphibians, fish, aquatic turtles, and many more. Some enclosures of this kind aren’t waterproof. They are intended for hermit crabs, reptiles like snakes, rodents, and many more. 

Plastic Cages

These days, there is a wide array of cages crafted using some sturdy plastic materials. These cages are typically made of solid non-transparent plastic on all sides excluding the front. The front would often acrylic or clear glass for viewing. 

Some plastic cages come with built-in lights and heating unit. Other units have receptacles on the top in which you can install lighting and heating devices. Vision cages are a famous kind of cage in this class.

Rack Systems

Snake breeders often use them to house several snakes. Therefore, rack systems are suitable for advanced California Kingsnakes keepers. 

Homemade Cages

Many keepers prefer to build their enclosures. It is certainly a good choice but only for experienced snake keepers. With adequate experience, you must be able to create a cage that will fit your pet. 


These snakes don’t need special lighting only if the enclosure exposes it to natural light. Make sure not to put the cage in or beside the window in which the sun would shine on the enclosure, or it could become too hot or even fatal for your pet. 

California Kingsnakes thermoregulate in the forest. They move around to find a place where they can maintain the preferred temperature. These snakes are cold-blooded animals. You must have a cool side and a warm side of your enclosure. 

When it comes to heating units, you will find a wide variety of choices. Some people are using lights for heat, yet it is not an energy-efficient and comes with disadvantages. Don’t use “hot rocks” as the warmth can be too centralized and may cause burns. 

You can heat the enclosure in many ways. Your preferred heating tool should match the kind of enclosure you’ve purchased for your pet. Your potential choices are:

Heat Lamps

These can be infrared (red light) or incandescent (white light) lamps mounted above the cage and shine down on it. Use these lamps together with a screen lid. 

Under-Tank Heat Pads

These are adhesive pads that stick to the enclosure’s underside. To use them, you just need to plug in them. With these heat pads, the heat will rise from the ground upward. Hence, it’s a type of “belly heat”. 

Under-Tank Heat Tape

It seems the same as the under-tank heat tape. The only difference is that the under-tank heat tape uses tape strips, not a pad. 

Ceramic Elements

This heating method is quite the same as the heat bulb approach. However, this method requires you to use a ceramic warming element instead of putting a bulb to the reflective hood. These elements will put off the heat without light. 

All those heating options have the following:

  • You can put them to one end of the enclosure, allowing for a great temperature gradient. 
  • You can place a ceramic element or heat lamp at one end of the enclosure. You can do the same thing for the heat tape or pad. 
  • They can be used with the rheostat (something similar to the lamp dimmer). The rheostat will let you control the volume of heat produced by whatever heating method you put on the enclosure. 
  • They are widely available, especially the ceramic elements and bulbs. 
  • All these heating methods produce a similar effect that may differ a bit in some ways. All these methods increase the temperature within the enclosure of your pet in a controllable and manageable way. 
  • They are sufficient types of heating tools that will keep your pet healthy. 

Perhaps, you need to experiment with various heating choices to know the best for your pet. The results may differ depending on the cage you bought for your pet, the kind of substrate inside the cage, the climate in your area, and other essential factors. 


In the daytime, California Kingsnakes need a warm spot for basking. You can provide it for your pet by using a transparent spot bulb in one side of the enclosure. To accomplish the needed basking temperature of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, use a 40-watt basking light within a 3-foot enclosure. 

In the evening, California Kingsnakes need a minimal drop in both total darkness and temperature. Turn off the basking bulb. The ideal nighttime temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit that you can create by using the heat mat. It will radiant heat without light. 

The heat mat must be controlled by an efficient thermostat. The thermostat should automatically turn on the mat in the evening once the temperature within the enclosure drops. Temperatures must be monitored every day by using a thermometer. 


Most commercial substrates and beddings made for reptiles like snakes are widely available. Pick the safest and most ideal substrate for your pet. If the one you choose looks good and does not produce a scent, then that will be okay. 

Feed your pet in another container when the substrate can be swallowed while feeding. Paper towels, newspaper, and indoor carpet are okay. However, if the snake cannot partially burrow in the substrate, consider a hide. You can provide one or two in the enclosure for security. Also, there are some kinds of substrates you have to avoid at all costs. These include pine shavings, cedar shaving, and aquarium gravel. 

Cedar shavings and even pine shavings must be avoided for some health reasons. The oils in cedar shavings can have a bad impact on your California Kingsnakes in the long run. That is one big reason to avoid them. Instead, go for aspen shavings because they are good and safe for your pet. 

Aquarium grave or any kind of gravel for this matter will be financially impractical to use for snakes. For some health reasons, you should replace all the used substrate once every month. 


California Kingsnakes must be kept on the dry substrate to prevent the moisture from accumulating inside the enclosure. While your pet may likely ingest a loose substrate by accident, still you have nothing to worry about if you use coarse beech woodchips. These are great choices because they are also easy to clean, too. 

While California Kingsnakes aren’t arboreal snakes, they want to climb on top of whatever you put in the enclosure to check their environment. The wooden vivarium must be decorated with different wood pieces to let your pet do its favorite activity – climbing. 

You can also decorate the vivarium with synthetic plants to give the enclosure a natural look. Your pet will love its enclosure for sure. Also, there must be a hiding spot at every end of the cage. This will let the snake move freely and thermoregulate without feeling doubtful.

Many cage items fall in one of these categories:

Water Bowls

It is important to give your pet clean drinking water from time to time. You may not spot the snake drinking water in most cases because it tends to be a secretive creature. However, ensure that the water is there in its cage so that it can drink whenever it needs. 


These are exactly what they are. They are pieces of enclosure furniture that can give your snake a perfect spot for hiding and feeling safe. Hides could be as easy or as sumptuous as you like, for as long as they serve one common purpose. They should give your pet a secure and dark place that will keep the animal feeling safe day and night. 

Snake hides can be made stone, ceramic, or plastic. They require regular washing when necessary so that they can last for a long time. A good choice is the plastic drip trays, which are shallow dish-like trays which go underneath the plant pots for catching water runoff. They come in different sizes, and you can buy them in the garden centers. 

Snake Climbs

Your pet is not an arboreal as it spends most of its time on the soil. It loves to climb, which is a good exercise for it. On the other hand, a snake climb is not necessarily a must-buy for the health of your pet. Instead, it can improve the habitat of your snake. 

Providing your snake with something to explore will also provide more usable space inside the enclosure. At the same time, it creates a type of exercise for the snake. Your pet will be happier in that case. 


Humidity must be moderate at 35 to 60 percent with the higher end used throughout the shedding period. Humidity could be monitored with the hygrometer and increase the use of a big water bowl, mister, daily spraying, or fogger. 

Common Health Problems in California Kingsnakes

These snakes are hardy species. Apart from the usual diseases associated with snakes and other typical health concerns, the California Kingsnakes have no special health requisites. However, health problem comes along in some instances. Here are the most common diseases your pet may incur:

Respiratory Infections

Your pet is susceptible to a wide array of respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and colds. More often than not, the cause of these colds is the suboptimal temperature inside the enclosure. 

When your pet holds its head up with its mouth open, or you hear a wheezing sound while the snake breathes, seek help from your trusted veterinary. At times, when the condition is diagnosed and treated early, fixing the temperature gradient within the enclosure can effectively cure the colds. 

Parasites and Infectious Diseases

Infectious stomatitis or mouth rot is the health condition in which you see the cheesy substances all over your pet’s teeth and gums. This is the key symptom of this disease. Mouth rot is due to the debris getting stuck in the mouth of your pet and even striking in the perimeter walls. Bring your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you spot this symptom in your pet. 

Most California Kingsnakes are bred and raised in captivity that reduced the possibility of your new pet experiencing internal parasites. A simple stool sample could help you spot internal parasites in your pet. However, you need to visit your veterinarian to examine and confirm those are parasites. 

External parasites are mites and ticks. Heavy mite infestations appear like crawling red, white, and black dots on your pet and its habitat. The mite infestation could be very dangerous and even deadly. Although, you can treat it with various commercially available products. When dealing with a mite issue, you need to solve the issue right from your pet up to its environment and enclosure. 


These snakes still exist in the forest in most areas. Kindly check for the state laws that regulate capturing and collecting California Kingsnakes from the woods. However, it is better to get your captive-bred and parasite-free kingsnakes with lineage and genetic qualities recorded. You can buy a California Kingsnake at reptile shows, pet shops, online reptile stores, and from breeders. 

How to Care for a California Kingsnake?

California Kingsnakes are extremely adaptable. Many species need a secure source of food comprised of rodents. Although they can grow long, these snakes are slender and easy to manage. This makes them suitable pets even for the novices. 

What’s more interesting about California Kingsnakes is that they are not aggressive. They don’t bite unless you tried to hold them in the wrong way.

In taking care of a California Kingsnake, make sure your pet is getting enough food, a nice enclosure that is wider and longer so that it can climb and have fun, a complete set of accessories. Also, you need to make sure the lighting and humidity needs of this animal are met. 


Why do California Kingsnakes eat their fellow kingsnakes?

California Kingsnakes, as their name implies, meaning they eat other snakes. They are so popular for being predators of Rattlesnakes.

Are California Kingsnakes quiet?

California Kingsnakes are among the more docile species of snakes. However, they may become a bit aggressive and flighty that they bite when feeling threatened or nervous. 

Do California Kingsnakes love to have a company?

California Kingsnakes are typically solitary animals. You will see them in pairs or groups only when they hibernate during winter and the mating season. 

How do California Kingsnakes behave when feel disturbed?

When they feel disturbed or troubled, the California Kingsnakes will normally try to protect themselves by biting. Also, these snakes emit a strong musk scent to discourage humans or predators. 

What does the California Kingsnakes musk scent smell like?

This musk scent emitted by California Kingsnakes smell like the skunk. Many people describe the scent as something as bad as the smell of rotten eggs. 

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