California Mountain Kingsnake Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name: California Mountain Kingsnake
Scientific Name: Lampropeltis zonata
Life Span: 20 years
Size: 8-12 inches (hatchlings), 6 feet (adults)
Habitat: Woodlands, deserts
Country of Origin: North America

Physical Description

Image Source

Lampropeltis zonata can grow as long as 122.5 centimeters, but some are short having 100 centimeters long. In the middle of their bodies, there are rows of dorsal body scale of 21-23. Their scales are unkeeled and smooth. Their venter has 194-227 ventrals, plus 46-62 subcaudals, and an anal plate that is undivided. On each snake, there are 11 to 13 teeth found on each maxilla.

For the males, there are 45-62 subcaudals, and the length of their tails is 18.2% of the total length of their body. Females have 46-56 subcaudals. It is 17.5% of the total length of their bodies. Superficially, it is hard to distinguish their sexes.

These snakes have a cylindrical and slender body type. It is patterned with black, red, and white bands. The black bands act as a border to the red bands. Both the red and black are extended to the white venter, which speckles with the black marks. The head’s dorsal side is black while the throat and chin are white. The white band is the first band that comes after blackhead. 

There are 7 subspecies. Five occurs in the North of Mexico. Variations are the pattern is evident, particularly their red bands. It is dorsally interrupted as it forms a shape that looks like a wedge blotch found on the side of the black band or the red pigments which are lessened or not seen. Another difference is the width variation of the black bands as well as the number of the body triads. Triad means a red band surrounded by 2 black bands.

It is quite hard to distinguish the subspecies. It is common for an intergradation between their population, and the subspecies range is not continuous.


Currently, there are 7 accepted subspecies

  1. Lampropeltis zonata agalma or San Pedro Mountain Kingsnake
  2. Lampropeltis zonata multifasciata or Coastal Mountain Kingsnake
  3. Lampropeltis zonata pulchra or San Diego Mountain Kingsnake
  4. Lampropeltis zonata zonata or St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake
  5. Lampropeltis zonata multicincta or Sierra Mountain Kingsnake
  6. Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra or San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake
  7. Lampropeltis zonata herrerae or Todos Santos Island Kingsnake

Geographic Range

Lampropeltis zonata, or known as the California mountain kingsnake, ranges from an isolated population in the south-central Washington and adjacent to northern Oregon, to the southwestern parts of Oregon, and the south along the coastals and interior mountains of California in the U.S, to the northern Baja California, Mexico. It is also scattered within the Californian range.


Lampropeltis zonatas are found in various habitats and is even described as a generalist habitat. Their habitats are the woodlands, coniferous forests, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral. In the areas mentioned, there are ample of rocks as well as rotting logs. These inhabit elevations ranging from 3,000 meters above the sea level.


Lampropeltis zonata hatchlings are 6 to 7 inches’, while they exceed 3 feet when they turn adults.


California Mountain Kingsnakes are known as the difficult feeders when given the wrong well. A hatchling might want to eat food with a lizard smell before it takes the food. It might refuse anything except lizards. Then, it can eat the pinkie scented one. Pinkie means a mouse. Giving them food, such as a mouse, needs much patience.

After they accept the mice, start feeding them every 7 days. As they grow, the amount of their meal should be increased. A young mouse is enough for every 10-14 days in order to keep them. They can hibernate for 6 to 8 weeks. After that, they become voracious eaters.

Food Habits

Lampropeltis zonata are active hunters. They make use of their olfaction and sight to find their prey. Small prey is immediately swallowed, while the large ones are constricted before they are eaten. The head is swallowed first most of the time.

Lizards like Gilbert skinks, sagebrush lizards, and western skinks are their common food. Birds like dusky flycatchers and thrushes are also their prey. Other amphibians, including bird and lizard eggs, as well as other snakes, are eaten too.

Their bright color is seen as a tool to hunt. It is conspicuous to the prey species. As a result, the birds attack these snakes like they approach their nest. Then, these snakes follow the directionality and intensity to search for nest or eggs.    


Male California Mountain Kingsnake in the wild tend to find a female mate by following the pheromone trails released by the females.  When in captivity, males get interested in areas where the females have crawled or coiled. When breeding, it starts from April to the early week of June immediately after emerging in spring. Snakes in captive copulate early of March. The females breed every 2nd year only. Their oviposition happens in late May until July.

The average clutch is seven eggs and ranges from two to ten. Their eggs are elongated, white, and adherent. The average length is 42.2 millimeters length and 17.2 millimeters width. The mass is about 6.6 grams. The average incubation period is sixty-two days depending on the temperature of the incubation. The range is from 47-87 days of temperature at 23-29 degrees Celsius.

Sometimes examining their tail can determine their sex, but it can be proven accurately by probing. The hatchlings are sexed by everting the hemipenes manually. It is known as the popping. This process should only be done as an expert or an experienced one. The use of improper methods can lead to death’s snake. Their brumation takes 3 months at 50-55 Fahrenheit. This is required for inducing breeding. The normal clutch has 3 to 5 eggs. Incubation is 55-60 days with 80F as its average temperature.


Lampropeltis zonata is an oviparous type of species. Their eggs are incubated for sixty days on average. When they are hatched, their eggs would measure 20.0-27.2 centimeter length and 5.7-7.7 grams. They have vivid colors like adults. they reach full maturity of 45 cm. That is from their snout to their vent. The total length of the male’s body is 50.7 cm, while females are 54.7 cm.

Behavior and Diet

The California kingsnake is mainly diurnal but can be nocturnal in the hot period. During winter, they stay underground and hibernate. When they are disturbed, they coil and hide their heads and hiss. Then, they rattle tails. They make sounds similar to a rattlesnake. They are harmless. When touched, they bite commonly. Musk and feces and excreted from their cloaca.

They are non-venomous, but they constrict and kill food by suffocation. It pertains to the propensity for hunting and eating like a rattlesnake. California kingsnakes resist rattlesnake’s venom, although they are not immune totally. They also have a strong body to squeeze any snake of any size even bigger than python.

Lampropeltis sonatas are active starting from late March to November. They come out for basking on a warm day. In the summer, they are crepuscular to avoid hot weather. They are also good climbers. One snake was seen coiling itself in an oak tree.


They rarely bite, but they do when they are restrained. Gentle handling, not including squeezing or pinching, will make them move in your hand. Don’t let them dangle without support.


You can use any cage having a 10-gallon aquarium. That is enough for adults. take note that hatchlings have a sensitivity to dehydration, and small cage works best for them. There should be hiding areas provided as they are known for their secretive nature. They prefer crevices and rock cracks more than a spacious one. Many of the keepers make use of a small and shallow pot.


You can use various substrates like newspapers, care fresh, and aspen bedding. For lining the baby cages, use paper towels. Keep their substrate dry and clean always. Don’t use pine shavings or cedar, for these are toxic to them.

1) Aspen Shavings

If there are feces or urine, you can scoop it and replace with your aspen. Remove the substrate immediately. If it is soaked in urine, bacteria will grow and harm your snake. Don’t let them eat these shavings. Remove the shavings once a month, at the very least. Clean and disinfect it before putting a new one. Redwood shavings or cedar are toxic. They should never be used for housing or furniture either.

2) Newspaper

Newspapers are absorbent and inexpensive. Buy unprinted ones. Although printed ones are absorbent, they have inks that can harm your snake. It is good for belly injury and early quarantine stages.

3) Beech Chippings

They are attractive substrates available in your reptile shops. It comes in large, medium, and small grades. It is good for your burrowing snakes.

4) Coco/Orchid Bark

This works well with snakes that need a higher level of humidity. Don’t use this for snakes having problems in the respiratory.

5) Astroturf / Artificial Grass

These are artificial grasses use to cover the floor. It comes in two grades or more. it is flexible and good for disinfecting and cleaning. They can be washed. They are sold in pet shops or supply shops.


In your enclosure, your snake needs:

1) A Place to Hide

Your snakes need a range for hiding. They can get stressed if they don’t have one. You can make a box out of cardboard. Make a hole in it. Flower pots are also a good choice.  You can get them from your pet shops or on the internet. It should be large enough for your snake, not too large or too small. Put two hides. One of the warm and cool side. This will let them adjust their body temperature.

2) A Place to Climb

You can put plastic plants or branches. This will be for resting and climbing. This is also an aid for shedding. It serves as an exercise and activity for them. If you get branches in the wild, you can clean and disinfect in chlorine and let it dry.

3) A Change of Scenery

Snakes like the new environment. Change the layout at least once or twice a month, so they will not get bored. They will protect their territory, which they call their home.

4) A Water Bowl

Snakes need to drink water every day. It should be in a reasonable size. They serve as the bathing ground also when shedding. Clean and disinfect it when they defecate in it.

5) Humidity and Water

In a small dish, put clean water. The humidity should not high, or it will lead to problems in the respiratory. A variety of home environments and cages make them experience problems in shedding, especially the tip of their tail. If this happens, put a plastic container with a cover.

Then fill it with damp sphagnum moss. This will serve as a shed for the snake. A stuck shed hardens and constricts the flow of blood to the tail that causes loss of the tail’s tip. Another way is to put the snake in the deli cup the whole night. Put a wet paper towel. Put the cup in the cage.

Lifespan or Longevity

Lampropeltis zonata’s lifespan in the wild is not known, but in captivity, they can live for over 20 years. The destruction of their habit is a major threat. This is due to urbanization. Removal of rocks in search of this snake and other reptiles is another contributory factor to the decline of their population.

Communication and Perception

These snakes use their sight and smell to find prey that is moving. Males use the trails of the pheromone to find the females when mating season comes. They have a perception of their environment by using their touch, smell, and sight. In addition, they have a primitive type of ear structure that they use to detect vibration.

Another way to communicate is by using the bright coloration they have. It serves as a warning to predators that they should not be eaten. They are not venomous. This mimicry is called Batesian. The Sonoran coral snake is presumed to be the model of California mountain kingsnake for its color.


There are no reported cases of natural predation, but it is certain that these snakes are vulnerable to their predators. Their pattern is a sort of mimicry. Their first act of defense is flight. Then, they crawl if they have the chance. If not, it coils and strikes. It will twist escapes violently when held. Later, it releases fecal matter and mus. Their teeth can cause deep wounds.

Ecosystem Roles

Lampropeltis zonatas are the key predators in their own ecosystem. It regulates prey populations.

Economic Importance for Humans

Lampropeltis zonatas collected for pet trade for their attractive color and pattern and their lack of venom in the body. They are also used in zoos to educate visitors about snakes. Breeding in the captive can lessen the market for animals caught in the wild. These snakes don’t cause harm to people, but when in danger, they flee and strikes when necessary.

Conservation Status

Under California Species of Special Concern, these species are listed. Some of their populations are given protection. Again, the destruction of their habitat plus urbanization and collection of rocks are the threats. Pet trade is also seen as one factor. Despite the given protection to their habitats, steps to illegal collecting of snake are still weak. Let the native population keep undisturbed since captive breeding can supply the demands for pet keepers.

In Captivity

For your baby snakes, you can use a plastic rack of a shoebox. Keep them for the first year. Using thermostat with 84 F, tape it toward the rear. It will heat the cage floor. This is for the snake to thermoregulate. Tape a record card on the lid. The substrate can be fine, kiln pine shaving. Put a water bowl for the babies. Keep the neonates separately. Putting them together, they might kill and eat one.

Give their meal 2-4 meals a week. Rodents should match the size of the babies. There should be a lump in the baby’s body after eating. They will grow fast when getting the meal done. The size matters in terms of their sexual maturity. When they almost reach adult size and get fat, start slowing their food down.

If they accept their meal the whole year, offer them until the first of winter. When they refuse in the winter, let them bromate. Keep the cage dry, but don’t forget to put water. If it is too humid, remove the water bowl or have it covered. Feces cause humidity. Then, you should clean the box.


During breeding, setting the mood is important. Evaluate who are potential breeders. Is their size enough for breeding? After deciding, don’t feed them for the last 2 weeks of October. To digest and excrete all stomach contents, keep them warm. Then keep them in groups. One male in each group and more females.

Separate the adults. Feed them in isolation. Turn the heat off or turn it down. Let it drop to about 50F. some don’t need this low drop. Don’t change in a short time. check them at least once a week. Give them water and check if there are shed problems. If there is, soak them the whole night. Water should be at room temperature. The skin will lose the next morning.

The male can go off feed or never eat when the breeding season starts. If a female is in this situation, entice her by using a young rat. Bear in mind not to keep the males too warm or else they will get sterile. It should also be cool.

At times, they do mating before their first meal for the season, but mating usually happens when the female finished her first shedding. Copulation takes 6-10 minutes or even for hours. Upon withdrawal, there will be a seminal drop of fluid falling off the hemipenes. Oftentimes, the female’s follicles are an indication. There will be soft marbles that bump. If fertilized, it will be eggs.

Nesting and Incubation

These snakes can keep the sperm and have it fertilized after their mating. Females can lay an egg without males. Female’s shedding happens in 45 to 60 days after their copulation. The back of the female’s body is distended. Separate her from others and give her a lay box. Fill it with moss, which is damped. Eggs will be laid after the shedding.

Taken the eggs and put them in the incubator. Retain the position as to how you got them. Remember these three things: proper humidity, the proper temperature at 80-82 F, and good ventilation. They should be dry.

An infertile egg gets sweaty or smelly. Throw out the bad ones. After her laying, check the female. Know her condition for another clutch. Feed her a lot of time with small meals. If she is ready, introduce another male. Getting another male can guarantee fertile eggs more. after laying for 55-75 days, hatching happens next. You can slit them 2-3 days if others have not yet slit. Separate the hatchlings. Keep their records individually. After their shedding, they are prepared to have the first meal. Try if they accept the food.

Common Health Problems, Treatment and Prevention

1) Shedding Complications

For these snakes, shedding is a problem due to their thin skins. Pay attention when it happens. See a vet in case. The shedding process is much more important. Closely monitor them.

Here is what you can do:

  1. Find a container
  2. Put holes on the top for ventilation
  3. Put ½ depth of water based on the snake’s thickness.
  4. Soak the snake. Crawling and lubrication will shed the skin. It can take 24 hours.

2) Infectious Diseases and Parasites

Parasites are another problem. These include mites and ticks. These mites are like fleas in reptiles. They suck blood at night. There will be red, white, or black dots in the snake’s body.

Quarantine your snakes in another room for three to four weeks. Clean the whole environment and the snake, as well. If it has internal parasites, go to a vet for a stool test and give the right treatment. Normally they resist respiratory infections and mouth rot, but when they get stressed, they can have it. Check for red spots in your snake’s gum line or blowing bubbles. They are indications of mouth rot or pneumonia.

How to Care

  1. Prepare an enclosure that is escape-proof. Avoid too big enclosures. A 20-gallon is suited.
  2. For the bedding, reptile bark or aspen is good. They can use it for rubbing or hiding.
  3. Put a dish of water for soaking and drinking.
  4. Let ventilation enter their enclosure.
  5. Check on the temperature. Take note; it should not be too hot or too cold.
  6. Feed your hatchlings with something that they can swallow easily.
  7. Feed them more than once a week.
  8. Increase the amount of food gradually.
  9. Don’t handle them after the regurgitate.
  10. Take them to the vet when you notice some health problems.

Life Stages

First stage: Eggs

The sperms are kept in the female’s oviduct for more than a month. Then, eggs are released after being fertilized. The outer covering is soft. The females guard the eggs until they are hatched.

Second stage: Young Snakes

The juveniles come out of the egg. They bite the cover of the egg with their teeth. It gets nutrition from the yolk. They are also called as the snakelet, but a hatchling is something that has just hatched. They are fed on small rodents or reptiles.

Third stage: Adult Snakes

After juveniles, they turn adult in two to four years. The molting frequency each year is a way to distinguish a young from the older snake. Adults shed one time a year or twice a year at the most.

Availability: Where to Get One?

If you want to get a California Mountain Kingside as a pet, you can visit a pet shop or store in your place or check some sites online to purchase your own.

FAQ Section

What do baby California mountain kingsnakes eat?

California Mountain Kingsnakes are fed with small mice, and as they grow, it can eat smaller rats or adult mice.

How often should I feed my California Mountain kingsnake?

Feed your baby snakes once a week. That is okay until it turns one-year-old. For your adults, feed them less frequently, like one time every 10 days.

Is the California mountain kingsnake poisonous?

They are non-venomous and harmless. Their lack of venom and small jaws prevent them from giving pain or bite.

How long can California king snakes go without eating?

They can go without eating for 6 months, but that depends on their age and health, and you give them food every seven to ten days.

How long do California kingsnakes live?

They can live for over 20 years.

How do you handle a California king snake?

House them together or alone only during the breeding season. Feed them alone and give them mice. Stay away from them until the lump disappears in the mouse. Give them fresh water and handle them gently. Check on their shedding and don’t restrain them.

Are California kingsnakes aggressive?

They are docile compared to other snakes of similar size, but they have a tendency to be anxious. They aren’t aggressive except agitated.

What is a California mountain snake?

It is the Lampropeltis zonata. These are species that are non-venomous and endemic in North America.  It has patterns of black, yellow, and red. This is used to mimic. They are harmless.

How big does a mountain kingsnake get?

For adult snakes, they can grow up to 42 inches.

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