Monday, March 25, 2013

Why Kingsnakes?

I've mentioned that snakes make great pets before. In case any of you were considering getting a reptile, I figure I'd run down what I know of different species as the information comes to mind. We'll start with the animals I know best: kingsnakes.

Herp stuff!

Herpetology is the study of reptiles, and while it's not necessary to know all this stuff, sometimes it can add to the cool factor to know a bit about your animal. Kingsnakes (scientific name: Lampropeltis) are the largest family in the serpentine order, with 8 species and 48 subspecies. They range throughout the Americas and are extremely hardy, even by colubrid standards. They're called kingsnakes because in the wild they are known to eat other snakes. In fact rattlesnakes are a staple in a common kingsnake's (lampropeltis getula) diet. Of course, when you keep them as pets they do just fine on a diet of rodents


Starter snakes include kings, corns, milks, garters and ball pythons, although there are certainly a lot of snakes out there with training wheels. Of the starter snakes kings, especially Florida and Cal kings, do have a reputation for handing out a bite on a bad day. This is primarily due to their strong feeding response (a good thing) and is only in comparison to snakes which essentially never bite. My kingsnake River has never bitten anyone, even on her bad days. 

Kingsnakes are diurnal (active during the day), generally coming out around dawn and dusk to hunt. Like most snakes they're secretive, but adult kings don't have an obscene amount of predators in the wild, and as a result can be very inquisitive. This makes them a great snake for handling, and it means that as you add things to their enclosure, you'll see all of it used in time. 


As I mentioned before, kingsnakes are hardy, coming from some of the harshest conditions in the country. These little guys are troopers, it takes a lot to throw them off in any permanent way. That being said, proper care is essential for a healthy and happy snake. 

Housing: Babies can live in a small shoebox or tupperware container with adequate ventilation, and may become  stressed if housed in anything larger than a 10 gallon aquarium. Adults should be housed based on size, however a 20 gallon long aquarium is adequate for most species. Bigger is always better

Heating: Use a heatmat with a thermostat (yes, the thermostat is necessary) covering about 1/3 of the bottom of your enclosure, a red heat light (reptiles cannot see red, this helps reduce stress) or a ceramic heat emitter. Any one of these should do, or you can use a combination. Put your heating element on one side of the enclosure, you're aiming for about 85 degrees ambient with a 90 degree hotspot. No special UVB lighting is necessary. DO NOT USE HEAT ROCKS, they can and will burn your reptile. Make sure to invest in a digital thermometer, the needle ones are notoriously inaccurate and slow to adjust to changing conditions. 

Feeding: Kingsnakes can subsist on a diet of frozen-thawed rodents for their entire lives. Appropriate size is equal to or slightly larger than the thickest part of the snake. Unless absolutely necessary (your snake has refused to eat for several months under proper conditions) do not feed your snake live food. Rodents do not take kindly to being eaten, and will fight back. Also make sure fresh, clean, and (if possible) filtered water is available at all times.

Substrate: Primarily a personal choice, most commonly Aspen shavings are used, however newspaper and paper work too. The big thing is to make sure that the substrate is never wet. While kings can tolerate humid conditions, they cannot tolerate wet conditions and are prone to scale rot.

Before you get your snake

Do your research: There's a ton of information out there on how to keep these animals. While this is a great start, keep looking. There are thousands of different ways people keep their animals and I am by no means an expert.

Set up your enclosure: Have your cage set and ready for about a week before you get your snake. Make sure that the heat is staying where it is supposed to be, conditions do not become to wet or humid, and that you are happy with the look of things, once you get your snake into it's new home it will be stressed and you will be leaving it alone for at least 5 days, during which you do not want to be bothering it by constantly changing your surroundings

Find a vet: While it's not ideal, snakes can and do get sick and hurt. This happens to most keepers sooner or later. Not all vets will care for reptiles, so look around and make sure you have somewhere to go in case you need some help. Also browse the forums online and find some home care tips in case of something minor. 

There's obviously a lot more to cover, and there's a lot of information out there. If you're looking to get a snake, don't stop here. Find more caresheets, locate a reputable breeder (I'd recommend BHB Reptiles), and pick the right animal for you!

Keep Flying,

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