The Florida kingsnake (Lampropeltis g. floridana) hails from the warm grasslands of central and northern Florida. This handsome animal’s typically docile temperament, manageable size and undemanding lifestyle make it a good choice for novice and experienced snake keepers. Because they’re hardy and breed easily in captivity, Florida kingsnakes are readily available commercially, so there’s no need to collect specimens from declining wild populations.
A talented escape artist, your kingsnake needs an enclosure with a tight fitting, securely locking lid. Because an oversized environment may stress the snake, start small and upgrade periodically. Your growing juvenile requires a minimum cage length three-quarters of his length, with a width a third of his length. A hatchling will do well in a 10-gallon aquarium, while young kingsnakes 2 to 3 feet long are fine with 20-gallon containers. At 4 to 5 feet, an adult Florida kingsnake will need a 60-gallon enclosure. These animals are snake-eaters that must be kept singly.
A warm snake is a happy snake. Set the cage on heating pads and add a thermometer to each end of the enclosure. Provide a gradient temperature from one end of the habitat to the other. The ideal daytime temperature range for Florida kingsnakes is between 78 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with lower nighttime temperatures between 72 and 80 F. Never use hot rocks, which even at the lowest settings can burn your snake.
Paint It Black
Simple furnishing is best for your Florida kingsnake’s castle. The easiest substrate to maintain is paper toweling or butcher paper. Other suitable materials include aspen or beech shavings, aquarium gravel and outdoor carpeting. Don’t use cedar, redwood or pine shavings, which are known to be toxic to pet snakes. The substrate must remain dry at all times. Give your snake a heavy, deep water bowl for drinking and soaking. He’ll probably poop in it, so clean and disinfect it daily. The water bowl will provide all the humidity necessary. These animals like privacy, so provide a dark hide box at each end of the temperature gradient. Empty tissue and cereal boxes work well, and you can chuck them when they’re soiled. Color the box at the cool end of the enclosure with non-toxic black paint or markers to keep the flimsy cardboard slightly warmer for comfortable sleeping. Flower pots turned on their sides also make good hidey holes, or you can purchase commercially available hide boxes.
Start Me Up
The best food source for your kingsnake is a freshly killed, captive-bred, disease-free rodent, with store-bought frozen prey running second. Never offer wild-caught rodents, which carry diseases and parasites. Although live newborn, hairless pinkie or slightly older fuzzy mice with closed eyes and little or no hair are acceptable for hatchling kingsnakes, it’s a bad idea to accustom your pet to taking living prey as he may refuse already killed food in the future. To avoid potentially life-threatening injury to your pet, never feed him live rodents that have full hair coats and open eyes. Choose prey with a girth equal in size to the snake’s girth. Soak frozen food in a bowl of warm water to defrost it completely before feeding it to your snake. Start your hatchling on one or two pinkie mice every two to seven days. Offer your growing juvenile larger prey once or twice every seven to 10 days. Start the mature 3-year-old kingsnake with one adult mouse or pinkie rat weekly, and increase the amount if your pet looks too lean. A healthy snake’s body is well rounded with no visible ribs or backbone.
Under My Thumb
Captive-bred Florida kingsnakes are typically mild-mannered, becoming quite tame with regular gentle handling. Give your pet a couple of days to settle into his new digs. Handle him gently every day thereafter to develop confidence and trust between the two of you. A specimen that hasn’t been handled much will be a little nervous and confused, and will attempt to move away from you. Allow him to slip from one hand to the other as he likes. Try not to make sudden movements and don’t be shocked if he christens you with musk during early sessions -- he’ll stop doing that once he settles down. When the kingsnake begins feeling comfortable with you, he’ll wrap around your hand or arm. To remove him, grasp his tail and gently unwrap from that end.
- LLL Reptile: Florida Kingsnake
- Kingsnake: Kingsnakes and Milksnakes
- Anapsid: Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension and Lifestyle
- VMS Herp: A Discussion on Live vs. Frozen Feeder Rodents
- Center for North American Herpetology: The Decline and Extirpation of the Kingsnake in Florida
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Florida’s Nonvenomous Snakes
- Reptile Channel: Florida Kingsnake Species Profile
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images