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    California King Snake (Lampropeltis getula californiae)

    Care sheet from NERD
     
    Name: California kingsnake
    Scientific name: Lampropeltis getula californiae
    AKA: "Cal king"

     
    General Information

    Distribution    
    California, western, central, and southern Arizona, southern Nevada & Utah, south to Baja California in Mexico
     
    Wild Status    
    California kingsnakes are not listed as protected, although they are losing much of their habitat in California & many populations are being isolated by development. Roadways invade most of this animal's habitat which results in a high mortality.
     
    Description    
    California kingsnakes are robust colubrids with a small head that is not noticeably wider than the neck. Typical coloration is a banded pattern consisting of alternating black & white, brown & white, or brown & yellow bands.

    These snakes are EXTREMELY cannibalistic and well-known throughout the hobby for their tendency to make a cagemate into a meal. DO NOT house another snake in the same enclosure as your Cal king, as it will eventually attempt to eat the other (and probably succeed).

    Interestingly, wild California kingsnakes frequently eat other snakes, and being immune to rattlesnake venom often include these pit vipers in their diet.

     
     
    Size    
    Hatchlings approximately 8 - 10". Adult size is typically 3 - 4' at maturity. While 5' specimens aren't unknown, they are considered uncommon.
     
    Lifespan    
    California kingsnakes may live 15 years or more in captivity.
     
    Color Mutations    
    Color & pattern mutations of California kingsnakes include albino, striped, albino striped, snow (albino axanthic), spotted, "50/50", banana, desert, ghost and more!

    Captive Maintenance Guidelines

    Difficulty Level    
    Beginner. Easy, an ideal beginner's snake. Hardy, tolerant of handling and tractable enough for children. Forgiving in its requirements and needs. A good snake with which to build the foundation of good husbandry and care habits.
     
    Enclosure    
    Enclosures can be as simple or elaborate as one is capable of caring for. Remember that the more "stuff" you put in a cage, the more "stuff" you have to clean & disinfect on a regular basis.

    That said, there are many different enclosures that work extremely well for California kingsnakes, including but not limited to: plastic sweater boxes (i.e. Rubbermaid), melamine racks, Freedom Breeder cages, and any of the commercially available plastic-type reptile cages, (i.e. those from Vision Herp & other similar manufacturers). Glass aquariums & tanks with screen tops also work quite well for California kingsnakes as they do not require higher humidity. Also refer to our Snake Caging care sheet for more information. Juvenile Cal kings seem to do well in smaller enclosures that make them feel more secure; a small snake in a big cage can become overwhelmed & stressed. Fortunately adult Cal kings do not require exceptionally large or elaborate enclosures. A 36" x 18" x 12" enclosure will more than comfortably house an adult California kingsnake and still allow space for a nice display vivarium.

    No matter what, the enclosure in which you keep your kingsnake must be secure. Colubrids are extremely talented escape artists, and Cal kings are no exception. Ensure that your snake's cage is escape-proof before you start & save yourself the potential stress and heartache of never finding an adventurous snake on the lam. Also remember that ALL enclosures must allow for a proper thermal gradient that the snake can utilize, with a hot spot on one end and a cooler spot on the other.

     
    Substrate    
    There are quite a few substrates that work especially well for kingsnakes, and choosing one is a matter of personal preference for your animal's setup. Newspaper is the cheapest & easiest with regards to cleaning and disinfecting: out with the old, in with the new. Aspen bedding works very well for Cal kings, as it packs down & the snakes seem to enjoy burrowing tunnels through the substrate.
     
    Temperatures & Heating    
    Provide your Cal king with a basking spot of 88-90 F and an ambient (background) temperature of 70 - 75 F. The ambient temperature should not fall below 70 F. It is vitally important to KNOW the temperatures at which you are keeping your snake(s). DO NOT GUESS!! A great way to monitor temps is to use a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer with a probe. Stick the thermometer to the inside of the cage on the cool end and place the probe on the warm end, and you'll have both sides covered at once.
     

    There are several ways to go about heating the enclosure: undercage heating pads, ceramic heat emitters, basking bulbs (both regular daytime & red "night" bulbs) are just a few. Use thermostats, rheostats and/or timers to control your heat source. Do not use hot rocks with snakes as they often heat unevenly over too small of a surface area & can cause serious burns.

     
    Humidity    
    Fortunately California kingsnakes are very low-maintenance regarding humidity requirements. Normal household ambient humidity is fine for this species, however, if incomplete or stuck sheds are observed humidity can be raised slightly by providing a humidity box for the snake. This is as simple as cutting a hole in the top of a tupperware container that is large enough for the snake to fit into comfortably, and packing the container with damp sphagnum moss, giving the snake access to the humidity chamber when it so desires. A humidity box is really only necessary if your snake is experiencing trouble shedding, as an environment that is too damp can quickly cause respiratory problems for California kings.
     
    Lighting    
    Supplemental lighting is not necessary for this species, but if used should run on a 12/12 cycle, meaning 12 hours on & 12 hours off. Continuous bright, overhead lighting is stressful to snakes, especially if a hiding spot is not made available within the enclosure.
     
    Water    
    Always make fresh, water available to your kingsnake in a clean water dish. This is not a species that soaks regularly, so the size of the water bowl is up to you & does not necessarily need to be large enough for the snake to climb into on a regular basis. Ensure that the bowl is not too deep for juvenile animals - 1" or so will suffice. Snakes of many species may defecate in their water bowls from time to time, so be prepared for cleaning, disinfecting & a water change when necessary. It is often beneficial to have a spare water bowl for such occasions, so that one may be used while the other is being cleaned.
     
    Accessories    
    The one cage accessory that will help to keep your California kingsnake happy is a good hide box...maybe even a couple of them. These snakes will utilize a hide spot and the presence of one can help your snake feel more secure in its enclosure. Provide one on each end of your Cal king's enclosure so that it doesn't have to choose between temperature & security. Clay flowerpots, plastic flowerpot trays, cork bark slabs and commercially available hide boxes all work quite well.
     
    Feeding    
    Feed your kingsnake an appropriately sized rodent weekly. By "appropriately sized" we mean prey items that are no bigger around than the snake at its largest point. California kingsnakes can eat mice their entire lives - starting off with pinks & fuzzies as a hatchling & moving up in size as the animal grows. Do not handle your snake for at least a day after feeding, as this can lead to regurgitation. Cal kings have GREAT feeding responses - be aware of this as you are feeding, as sometimes these snakes become overstimulated by the smell of food & may mistakenly bite a keeper in their excitement. Fortunately, due to their voracious appetites, California kingsnakes are generally pretty easy to convert to frozen/thawed or pre-killed rodents (see Snake Feeding caresheet). Never leave a live rodent unattended with ANY snake.
     
    Maintenance    
    Spot-clean your snake's enclosure as necessary. When feces/urates/uneaten prey items are present, remove them as soon as possible. Clean & disinfect the water bowl on a weekly basis. Depending on cage conditions, remove all substrate & cage furniture and completely disinfect using a 5% bleach solution approximately every 30 days. Rinse the enclosure thoroughly and allow to dry before replacing cage furniture & your snake.

    Basic Reproductive Info
    California kingsnakes reach sexual maturity anywhere from 18 months to 3 years of age. Breeding season in captivity typically ranges from November to May, starting with a brumation period where the snakes are subjected to temperatures from 45 - 55 F for 60 - 90 days. Stop all feeding at least 2 weeks prior to brumation. Animals should be well established and in excellent condition before any breeding is attempted. After 2 to 3 months, both males and females are slowly warmed back up and fed 2 or 3 meals prior to introduction. Introduce the female into the male's cage. Females typically shed 14-20+ days after ovulation; eggs are typically laid within 30 days of post-ovulation shed. Clutch size for Cal kings ranges from 6 - 12+ eggs, and females may lay more than one clutch per year. At incubation temperatures of 82 - 85F (optimal), these eggs take an average of 65 days to hatch.

    Notes/Comments
    Despite their cannibalistic tendencies, California kingsnakes are one of the best "beginner" snakes available in herpetoculture today. They are attractive, low-maintenance colubrids that grow into large, robust captives when properly cared for. These tractable serpents have frequently been the beginning of a growing fascination with snakekeeping for many herpers. There are myriad morphs of the California kingsnake being bred on a yearly basis, eliminating the need for wild-caught specimens. Cal kings are an excellent choice for the beginning herpetoculturist and can make a very nice display animal.

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