Desert Kingsnake Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name Desert Kingsnake
Scientific Name Lampropeltis splendida
Captive Lifespan 12 to 20 Years
Size 24 – 60 inches
Mass 50 – 80 oz.
Habitat Forests, grasslands, woodlands, and near water sources
Country of Origin Native to New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas

Physical Description

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The Desert Kingsnake is characterized by a relatively large, slender, muscular body. These snakes are considered moderate to large in size, with adults typically reaching about 1520mm of total length.

Lampropeltis splendida is a robust, fairly active snake. The head is differentiated from the neck, although only slightly. The dorsal scales, typically in rows of 23, 24, or 25 rows, are glossy and smooth.

The number of ventral scales is different in male desert kingsnakes, as compared with females. Males possess between 199 and up to 227 ventral scales, while females possess from 203 to 237 ventral scales.

 While the anal plate in Desert kingsnakes is undivided, the subcaudals, ranging from 45 and up to 62 in males vs. 40 and up to 52 in females, are divided.

The body coloration of Lampropeltis splendida ranges from dark brown to black, with yellow dorsolateral, as well as lateral speckling.

All the way from the head onto the tail, a total of 42 and up to 97 brown or black colored dorsal blotches can be observed. The head of the desert kingsnake is usually colored in dark brown or black, with the distinct yellow speckling extending on the sides of the body and anterior to the eyes zone.

Juvenile desert kingsnakes only have minimal speckling, but their blotches are rather vivid and bold, especially when it comes to Lampropeltis splendida found in southeastern Arizona.


The Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) can be found across North America’s east coast, from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, West Virginia’s eastern parts, Mobile Bay, Alabama, and throughout northern Florida.

The Florida Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana) can be spotted in the wild in the Florida peninsula and in the south to Dade Country.  

The California Kingsnake’s (Lampropeltis getula californiae) natural range is limited to Baja California and southwestern California. The California kingsnake happens to be the only member of the Kingsnakes family that is likely to be confused with the Desert Kingsnake in the 100-mile circle.

The Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki) is native to south-central Alabama, southwestern Illinois, as well as eastern Iowa.

The Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigra) can be observed in its natural habitat east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Outer Banks Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula sticticeps) occupies a restricted range in North Carolina, from Cape Lookout to Cape Hatters.

The Black Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigrita) is known to inhabit northwestern Mexico and southern Arizona.

Kingsnake subspecies have been reported to interbreed in a number of different regions throughout their natural range. It was not until recently that all kingsnakes found in Arizona, except for the mountain kingsnakes, used to be classified as one species (L. getula).

Habitat & Lifespan

Desert kingsnakes often tend to occur in various rural habitats within their natural range. Do not get fooled by the common name of this snake species, as Lampropeltis splendida’s habitat is not dry deserts, but instead, the preferred habitat is within riparian corridors, as well as near water tanks, whether it be naturally formed water bodies or men-made water sources.

Desert kingsnakes do most commonly occupy mesic areas.

Little is known about the lifespan of desert kingsnakes in the wild. However, when it comes to captivity, desert kingsnakes have the reputation of being fairly long-lived, capable of reaching over 20 years of age, provided they are given proper care by their keeper.


If desert snakes are to come face to face with humans, they are known to be quite docile creatures. In general, desert kingsnakes are not aggressive, but instead, they would rather prefer to try to escape if feeling threatened.

In fact, they have a unique “trick” when it comes to staying away from issues with potential intruders or predators, as they will flip over onto their backs, lying motionless, and literally playing dead.

Although desert kingsnakes are most commonly found on the ground, they are very good at climbing. Because of this, desert kingsnakes can be also spotted high up in the trees.


  1. Being impressively strong and agile, desert kingsnakes are also notorious escape artists. Because of this, their enclosure must be 100% escape-proof.
  2. When setting up the enclosure for a captive desert kingsnake, do not use weights to secure the top. Instead, utilize suitable lids that are safely locked in place.
  3. Adult desert kingsnakes require an enclosure that is at least 20-gallon long. However, a larger enclosure within the 29-gallon – 40-gallon range, is strongly recommended for ensuring the reptile’s comfort and well-being, as well as for helping it live up to its fullest potential.
  4. As a rule of thumb, the larger the desert kingsnake, the larger the enclosure that it will need in order to thrive. Caregivers want to keep a desert kingsnake in an enclosure that is not any shorter than ½ the snake’s total body length.
  5. Hatchlings, as well as juvenile desert kingsnakes (as long as they do not exceed 18’’ in length),  can be placed in a 10-gallon enclosure before being transferred to an appropriately-sized one as they grow and mature.
  6. A plastic reptile-specific cage or a commercial-grade aquarium equipped with a locking screen lid will work great. Keepers can also embrace a DIY attitude when setting up the enclosure, as home-made caging can do an excellent job, as long as the size, as well as anti-escape security,  are taken into consideration.
  7. In a pinch, a plastic sweater or shoebox can make a suitable enclosure, as long as proper ventilation is provided by drilling holes in the sides. For displaying a desert kingsnake, though, other home-made enclosures or readily-available aquariums should be utilized.
  8. It is imperative to fill and/or cover any existing gaps, even if they seem fairly small.
  9. When housing desert kingsnakes, remember that floor space is more important than height.
  10. To help reduce stress, do provide at least one (but better yet several) suitable hiding spots, such as cork bark driftwood, reptile hiding hut resins, and/or a commercial-grade reptile shelter, such as a 3 in 1 cave.


  1. Desert kingsnakes will do great in a variety of substrates. For keepers who want to make use of an inexpensive, yet easy to clean substrate, opting for plain paper towels or newspaper makes a good option.
  2. Natural substrates look much better than paper towels or newspapers. Suitable natural substrates include aspen bedding and cypress mulch.
  3. Make sure the depth of the substrate layer is 2-3″.
  4. One of the hiding spots within the desert kingsnake’s enclosure should be well-moistened for serving the purpose of a humidity chamber where the reptile can safely and easily shed its skin. To add moisture within the humidity chamber, sphagnum moss is highly recommended.
  5. Do never use small rocks or sand as these can be ingested by the snake, causing impaction issues.
  6. Do never use pine or cedar, as the oils are very harmful to the snake’s health.
  7. Whatever type of the recommended substrates a keeper may opt for, it is crucial to keep in mind that the very goal is to keep the snake clean, warm, and dry at all times.

Temperature, Lighting & Humidity

  1. Desert kingsnakes require an ambient temperature that falls into the 83 – 87 degrees Fahrenheit range during the day. At night, temperatures can drop down to 68 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Do mind that if the desert kingsnake is kept at cooler temperatures than needed, it can regurgitate, so it is a must to maintain steady temperatures within the optimal range.
  2. To ensure proper body thermoregulation, place a suitable heat source at one of the enclosure. This way, you will be able to create a hot spot that is only a few degrees warmer, as compared with the ambient temperature within the terrarium (i.e., 89 degrees Fahrenheit). The snake will be free to move towards or away from the heat as needed.
  3. Suitable heat sources include reptile lamps or under tank head pads.
  4. To avoid any possible injuries, do not use hot rocks. Also, do not allow any other type of heating to get into direct contact with the snake.
  5. Although not imperative, it is a great idea to provide additional UVB light by using appropriate light bulbs. As a rule of thumb, snakes do not usually require UVB for the purpose of having their Vitamin D requirements in check. However, according to recent evidence on that note, since most snakes do receive UVB and sunlight in their habitat in the wild, UVB lighting can be very beneficial for desert kingsnakes kept in captivity.
  6. For creating a natural day/night photoperiod, caregivers can opt for fluorescent lamps in the correct color spectrum (about 5000K, which is closest to the natural sunlight).
  7. To stay healthy, as well as to shed correctly, desert kingsnakes require proper humidity levels that are maintained within the 50% and up to 75% humidity range. The enclosure can be lightly misted with clean water if the humidity rates are lower than the recommended. However, unless keepers happen to reside in an extremely dry area, placing a large water dish within the enclosure should be enough for keeping humidity rates within the desired range.


The diet of desert kingsnakes in the wild consists of eggs, various small mammals within their range, birds, eggs, and nonetheless, other snakes, including both coral and rattlesnakes.

Eating Habits

Desert kingsnakes are cannibalistic, powerful eater, despite being non-venomous, and not paralyzing their prey prior to eating it. Desert kingsnakes, among other types of kingsnakes, have been observed to first overpower and then devour other snakes, even venomous species such as rattlesnakes as kingsnakes are “immune” to the deadly venom of rattlesnakes.

Throughout their entire captive lifespan, desert kingsnakes can be fed predominantly, if not exclusively, with small rats and mice.

No additional vitamin or mineral supplementation is needed for captive desert kingsnakes, as they are to receive enough Calcium, thanks to rodents being high in Calcium and essential vitamins.

Hatchlings, juvenile, as well as adult captive desert kingsnakes only need to be fed once weekly.

Important Note

When it comes to choosing appropriately-sized food for your desert kingsnake depending on age and size of the specimen, opt for a rat or mouse that is the very same size or only slightly bigger than the snake’s girth.

Feed young desert kingsnakes baby mice every 4 – 7 days. Feed adults appropriately-sized mice every 7 days. For large adult desert kingsnakes, you can feed small rats every 7 days.

As a rule of thumb, sticking with adult mice is better than opting for rats, even when it comes to feeding large desert kingsnakes. That’s because these snakes do not have as large heads as other snakes do. Therefore, they are not naturally used to high levels of stretching needed for swallowing a rat.

It is always best to feed dead rodents. Doing so is safer for the reptile, and more humane for the rodent itself. Defrost frozen mice by placing them in a bag and then placing the bag in warm water. Alternatively, you can simply leave the frozen rodent out until its body is to become soft in the middle.

Once defrosted, simply place the rodent into the desert kingsnake’s enclosure. Mind that sometimes, your desert kingsnake pet might be shy, preferring to eat at night or in its hiding spot.

Using tongs to tease feed a desert kingsnake is fine, although in most cases, these snakes do not really need their food to be wiggled around in order to get the reptile’s appetite triggered.

Sleeping Habits

Desert kingsnakes can be active by night or day. They are neither strictly diurnal nor strictly nocturnal. Desert kingsnakes do not hibernate as long as other types of snakes that occupy colder regions do.

However, desert kingsnakes may go into summer hibernation (aka aestivation) in order to protect themselves from extreme heat and the severe heat-accompanying food shortage.


Captive desert kingsnakes must be provided with a large water bowl, filled with clean, fresh water at all times. Water should be changed almost daily, if not daily.

Also, keepers want to make use of suitable water conditioners for removing both Chloramines, as well as Chlorine, from common tap water.

Alternatively, bottled spring water can be also used. If properly collected (at least 30 minutes after the rain has started), stale rainwater can also do a good job.

Choose a water dish that is heavy for the purpose of preventing tipping.

Development and Reproduction

Desert kingsnakes reach sexual maturity as they become adults at about 3 years of age. Females typically lay 1 and up to 2 clutches of eggs per year. Each clutch is made up of 5 and up to 10 eggs.

Once deposited, eggs need to incubate by being exposed to temperatures within the 82 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit range. Eggs are to hatch in 50 and up to 90 days after being deposited.

How to Breed

1. For breeding desert kingsnakes in captivity, you need at least one male and one female. The pair must be in perfect health, well-fed, large (but not by any chance overweight), and sexually mature. For breeding groups that grant better breeding success, you need two males and four females.

2. Prior to breeding your desert kingsnakes, do not feed them after mid-October. For best results, do not feed them from October 15 to October 30. In the meantime, make sure to keep them warm, so that they can digest and then successfully pass any remaining contents within the stomach.

3. At the beginning of November, right after the no feeding period, put the male and female desert kingsnake together in the same enclosure. For breeding groups, ensure that there are at least one male and at least two females. You can go for more females if you wish to, as long as you are capable of reasonably tracking them.

Important Note

Please, mind, that since desert kingsnakes are cannibalistic, and with a very strong feeding response, it is best to feed each of the snakes in a separate enclosure, and then wait for about 2 hours until the feeding response has faded before you bring the male and female/females back together.

4. Although desert kingsnakes are reported to mate without a brumation period in the wild, many breeders claim that a brumation period for captive breeding purposes highly increases the chances for successful copulation. Because of this, it is recommended to turn the heat within the enclosure down.

5. After allowing the temperatures to drop, breeders want to check on the snakes breeding pair or groups once every week. Make sure to provide clean, fresh water at all times. Keep a close eye for shedding-related issues. If bromating the snakes, the brumation period should proceed from November until the beginning of March.

6. At the beginning of March, it is time to start breeding the snakes. At this point, you want to offer frequent, multiple meals. In some cases, males may totally refuse to eat anything during the entire breeding season, and this should be no problem. However, females must eat in order for the breeding to turn out successful, so in the case, they refuse to, try enticing them with their favorite food items.

7. At this point in the breeding process, it is crucial not to allow male desert kingsnakes to get too warm since if they do so, they are to become sterile. Apart from the warm area where temperatures should be maintained within the 80 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit range, make sure to provide cooler spots, as well.

8. In case you prefer to keep male desert kingsnakes separate from the females, which is actually the safest bet for unexperienced kingsnake breeders, you want to introduce the male into the female’s enclosure every 3 to 4 days. Let the male stay within the female’s enclosure for about 2 -3 hours.

9. Sometimes, desert kingsnakes are to mate before they have ever had their first sufficient meal for the season. However, in most cases, they are to mate after the female has had her first shed for the season.

10. When watching for breeding activity, mind that some desert kingsnakes are known to copulate for as short as about 10 minutes, while others are known to copulate for hours.


  1. As a rule of thumb, as soon as captive desert kingsnakes are to get used to their enclosure, they are fairly easy-going and tolerate handling quite well. Also, they seem to enjoy spending time with their caregivers out of the enclosure.
  2. To handle a desert kingsnake properly, allow it to move about you but always make sure to support its body. Be gentle and do not squeeze or force the animal.
  3. During handling, do not restrain the snake. Also, do not grab it anywhere near the tail’s vent area or near the head. Do never force the snake into one direction or another and always support the body while holding.
  4. Do never handle the reptile shortly after handling rodents or any other animal species, including cats, dogs, reptiles, or amphibians of any kind. Always wash your hands prior to handling your desert kingsnake.
  5. Avoid handling a desert kingsnake when the reptile is soon about to shed its skin. During the skin shedding period, the snake will not be able to see well, so it can be easily stressed.
  6. Mind that baby desert kingsnakes, as well as juveniles, should only be handled for very short periods of time. Also, handling should be very, very gentle, since the young snakes are much more vulnerable to both physical damage and stress than adults.
  7. In the case you get bitten while handling the snake, do not move swiftly, trying to make the reptile release its grip, as this may actually have exactly the opposite effect. Just stand still, and within several seconds, the snake will simply let you go.
  8. If being bitten, and if the caregiver is to pull the snake off or to yank, this can result in double damage. On the one hand, the caregiver may end up with a more painful wound than if he/she was to simply allow the reptile to release the grip. On the other hand, the teeth, or even the jaws of the snake pet, can get broken.
  9. Always wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water every time after handling a desert kingsnake.

How to Treat and Prevent Possible Health Issues

  1. Do not place a desert kingsnake’s enclosure near a window where sunlight shines directly on the terrarium. This can lead to overheat-related issues, which can be as severe as causing the death of the reptile.
  2. Note that temperature control is extremely important as it is thanks to proper temperatures how desert kingsnakes maintain digestion and feeding response alike. Never guess the temperature and humidity rates within the enclosure, but do make sure to use appropriate and accurate devices.
  3. If humidity within the enclosure is too low, shedding problems will inevitably occur. Fortunately, if the humidity levels are quickly adjusted, any further issues can be avoided. If the humidity is too high, your snake pet can develop respiratory infections, blisters, and/or sores.
  4. When preparing to shed skin, desert kingsnakes, like most snakes, will usually stop eating or take only very little food. This is not a reason to worry about the snake’s health and well-being, as the reptile will start feeding normally once it has shed its skin. However, if the reptile does not return to its regular feeding routine shortly after skin shedding, it is best to consult with a qualified herp vet.
  5. In the case, your desert kingsnake does not eat, remove the rodent from the cage as soon as possible.
  6. If feeding live rodents, never leave your desert kingsnake unattended, even only shortly! When rodents are hungry, they are fully capable of biting, attacking or otherwise injuring the snake. There are reported cases of rodents even killing snakes.
  7. Make sure to place all hiding spots on the cooler end of the enclosure.
  8. Utilizing under tank heaters is crucial for the purpose of providing the much-needed belly heat that the reptiles greatly benefit from during food digestion.

Possible Dangers to Humans

Desert kingsnakes are not harmful to humans in general, as they are non-venomous. They may bite if extremely threatened, startled, or if handled improperly, though. Like any other wound, the resulting bite may be painful, but it is not lethal. Do make sure to treat the affected spot immediately and adequately, as to avoid possible infections.

Like all other reptiles, desert kingsnakes may carry Salmonella, and Salmonella can transfer to humans.

It is good to know that in most recorded cases of Salmonella being transferred from reptiles to humans, this has majorly involved turtles and not snakes. As a precaution, do always wash your hands after getting in contact with your desert kingsnake and do not touch your mouth, eyes, or nostrils prior to thoroughly washing your hands.

Do not leave minors unattended with any snake, including a desert kingsnake.

If threatened, kingsnakes are also known to emit a quite unpleasant musk, shaking their tails as they do so.

Availability: How to Get a Desert Kingsnake?

As with all other snakes that one may consider raising in captivity, it is always best to get a desert kingsnake from trustworthy breeders or retailers. Wild-caught desert kingsnakes will be almost inevitably inflicted with parasites. Also, captive-bred desert kingsnakes will be better accustomed to interaction with humans, will be more docile in general, and a guarantee for the snake’s health status can be provided by the retailers/breeders.

When selecting a desert kingsnake, whether from a reputable herp zoo shop, expo, or breeders, check out whether the snake’s body appears strong, somewhat muscular, and without any visible traces of injuries or malnourishment. A healthy dessert kingsnake will be fairly active.

Fun Facts

  1. Kingsnakes, including desert kingsnakes, are known to have a relatively small head, which tends to be difficult to define from their neck. This is an extraordinary adaptation that helps kingsnakes feast on their favorite prey: other snakes!
  2. The first part of the scientific name for desert kingsnakes – “Lampropeltis”- is derived from the Greek word “Lampro,” which translates into “shiny,” and “peltis,” with peltis meaning “shields,” perfectly describing the smooth, shiny scales of these amazing reptiles.
  3. Surprisingly, milk snakes are actually also kingsnakes, even though they are the only one of a total of eight species that do not have the very word “kingsnake” in their common name.

How to Take Care of a Desert Kingsnake

  1. Even though desert kingsnakes are fairly hardy, adaptable, and easy to take care of creatures, this is not an excuse when it comes to keeping the hygiene within the enclosure as high as possible, as by doing so, you will be able to enjoy a long-lived, healthy snake pet. Whenever the snake is to defecate, clean it. Also, clean the entire enclosure weekly.
  2. Apart from ensuring at least one hiding spot, it is a great idea to add a climbing branch, even though this is only optional since with or without climbing opportunities, desert kingsnakes’ well-being is not adversely affected. However, by adding a climbing branch, you will be able to enjoy the curious behavior of your desert kingsnake pet, as these reptiles are known as excellent climbers, especially if they are provided the opportunity to showcase their climbing skills.
  3. When choosing or creating an appropriate hiding spot/spots, make sure the hide is large enough so that the entire desert kingsnake can cozily coil in. Apart from keeping the captive snake away from stress, hides also provide much-needed privacy.

FAQ Section

Are Desert Kingsnakes Poisonous?

Desert kingsnakes are nonvenomous, and hence, they are not poisonous. Even though desert kingsnakes, like all kingsnakes, do feed on venomous snakes, such as cottonmouths, copperheads, and rattlesnakes alike, kingsnakes are resistant to other snake’s venom.

Are Desert Kingsnakes’ Bites Painful?

Fortunately, desert kingsnakes’ bites are not lethal, but whether the bites will be painful or not greatly depends on the size of the snake, as well as the response by the victim. Larger desert kingsnakes can bite more painfully than juveniles. If the bitten person is to struggle, trying to make the snake release its grip, this will only lead to ending up with a more painful wound that will take more time to heal.

Do Desert Kingsnakes Attack Humans?

In general, desert kingsnakes actually tend to avoid humans, and these reptiles would rather try to escape instead of attacking. However, some kingsnake species may be somewhat snappier and bitter than others, since each snake has an individual temperament.

Can Desert Kingsnakes Climb Trees?

Desert kingsnakes are ground dwellers, and that’s exactly why they can be most commonly found on the ground. However, these reptiles are also known to be semi-arboreal, so they can, and they will climb trees if given the opportunity to do so.

Do Desert Kingsnakes Enjoy Being Handled?

Yes, captive desert kingsnakes do enjoy being handled, as long as this is done with proper care, respect, and understanding. Other snakes that enjoy being handled are corn snakes, among others.

How Do Desert Kingsnakes Kill other Snakes?

Named for their astounding ability to overpower and then eat snakes that are sometimes significantly larger than the desert kingsnake itself, all kingsnakes are immune to the venom of other snakes. Similarly to other kingsnakes, desert kingsnakes kill their prey by squeezing it to death, possessing the constriction strength of 182 snakes!

Can Captive Desert Kingsnakes Recognize their Caregiver?

Captive desert kingsnakes are not capable of recognizing their owner in the same sense as a cat or a dog can do. However, desert kingsnakes, like other snakes kept as pets, are estimated to be fully capable of recognizing their caregiver in the sense of somebody who is playing a very important role in the reptile’s life.

Can Desert Kingsnakes Become Attached to their Owner?

Like all snakes, desert kingsnakes are not known to bond with their mates, or to feel any emotional affection to another snake, or another living creature in general, including the owner. However, desert kingsnakes can get attached to their caregiver in the sense of feeling content whenever the owner is around, or exactly the opposite – feeling nervous in the owner’s absence.

Do Desert Kingsnake Pets Show Affection to their Keeper?

Desert kingsnakes do not show affection to their keeper in the very same sense as a dog, or a cat can show affection. However, desert kingsnakes are known to make great pets as once they become familiar with their keeper; they seem to enjoy being handled, as well as to sometimes rest on the keeper for warmth or to climb on the keeper for activity. Snakes get familiar with their owners based on their sense of smell, and not based on emotions.

How Often to Feed my Desert Kingsnake?

Adult desert kingsnakes should be fed with 1 – 2 adult mice every week, and for especially large, mature adults, consider feeding 1 appropriately-sized rat every week. Feed hatchlings with 1 pinkie mouse once a week (or every 5 days). Feed juveniles with 1 hopper-adult mouse once every week.

Can Desert Kingsnakes Hear You Talking?

It is highly probable that desert kingsnakes can hear you talking. It is widely believed that desert kingsnakes, as well as other snakes, can recognize when they are being called by their name, with proper training. This claim is supported by the scientific discovery that snakes hear in the 200 – 300 Hz range, while the human voice typically falls into the 250 Hz range.

Are Desert Kingsnakes Aggressive?

No, desert kingsnakes are not aggressive by nature, at least not when it comes to humans. These creatures are only aggressive when hunting for food, but in the wild, they are known to avoid human interaction and to act rather shy whenever a kingsnake is to encounter a human being.

Are Desert Kingsnakes Suitable Pets for Beginners?

Yes, desert kingsnakes are considered beginner-level care reptiles. Desert kingsnakes are not only beautiful, quite docile, easy to handle and maintain, but they are also very hardy creatures. With their mesmerizing patterns and shiny, brightness radiating scales, keeping desert kingsnakes as pets can be pure, fuss-free pleasure, even for the newbie reptile enthusiasts.

Can You Cohabitate Desert Kingsnakes?

It is strongly recommended that only experienced reptile caregivers are to cohabitate desert kingsnakes. Although not fully impossible, cohabitating these snakes is not advisable. Desert kingsnakes, like all kingsnakes, are cannibalistic and rather solitary, and they are known to kill and eat other snakes sharing their enclosure, so it is best to only cohabitate male and female desert kingsnakes for breeding purposes, unless you happen to be advanced in taking care of multiple kingsnakes residing in a collective terrarium.

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