Taking Care of a Kingsnake or Milk Snake as a Pet: A Guide

King Snake by the curb

King and milk snakes are endemic to Central and South America as well as the southernmost regions of Canada and the United States. These placid, non-venomous snakes are stunning. There are 25 subspecies of milk snakes alone, which are one of 45 types of kingsnakes. These snakes are wonderful starting snakes since they are simple to maintain. Their size, color, and pattern variations are vast. Many subspecies have stunning, eye-catching patterns, and some of them even mirror the deadly coral snakes' red, black, and yellow coloration as a kind of defense. One significant distinction is that coral snakes have yellow bands that contact red whereas nonvenomous king and milk snakes have black bands that touch red bands.

Species Overview

Common Name: Kingsnake, milk snake

Scientific Name: Lamproletis genus

Adult Size: 36 to 48 inches long (average adult)

Life Expectancy: 20 to 30 years

Kingsnake and Milk Snake Behavior and Temperament

All varieties of kingsnakes are easy to handle after they get used to you. They are low maintenance, requiring minimal care throughout the week.

This snake seldom attacks; when it does, it typically mistakenly thinks a finger is a piece of prey. A milk or king snake bite is not painful. It will make an effort to get away from you if it feels threatened. It will also rattle the tip of its tail, much like a rattlesnake might, or expel a stinky but harmless musky fragrance from its anal glands.

You can begin handling your snake after letting it adjust for a few days after you bring it home. Be kind and persistent, starting with regular brief interactions to foster trust. The snake should become used to handled quite quickly. Snakes should not be handled right after feeding since doing so may cause them to vomit their meal.

These snakes are constrictors. They may try to wrap themselves around your arm, but they cannot harm you. To unwrap them, start from the tail end as their head tends to be stronger.

Housing Your Kingsnake or Milk Snake

It is crucial to have a safe cage. Kingsnakes are infamous for testing their confines and ejecting themselves through the tiniest of openings. A tightly secured top will be necessary for the enclosure. These snakes may slip through seemingly little cracks. Make sure the top of the cage has no gaps, fractures, or holes.

King and milk snakes should be kept solitary. Kingsnakes might eat other cage mates.

In a 10-gallon aquarium tank, hatchlings or the smaller New Mexico milk snake can live. However, bigger, fully grown snakes (60 inches) would flourish in a larger habitat, such as a 60-gallon tank, whereas medium-sized adult snakes (36 inches) need a 20-gallon tank. King and milk snakes require space since they are quite active. Additionally, snakes with enough space to move around may experience less respiratory illnesses.

Half rounds of bark, commercial rock hides, tipped flower pots, cracked coconut shells, and even cardboard boxes can be utilized as hiding places. You may place pebbles and branches in the cage to give it a more realistic appearance.

You will need to clean the cage entirely at least every 6 months. In between these overhauls, spot clean or scoop out feces, and clean the water bowl every day.

Heat

Being cold-blooded, reptiles must constantly alternate between warmer and colder areas of their habitat in order to maintain a stable body temperature. In their enclosure, maintain a thermal gradient or range of temperatures between 70 and 85 °F (21 and 28 °C) during the day, with a dip to 10 to 15 °F (2 to 5 °C) at night. At either end of the gradient, there should be places to hide.

The majority of owners prefer under-tank heaters, which are installed beneath half of the tank. Use electric hot pebbles sparingly; they can result in burns. For nocturnal animals, radiant heat sources, such as ceramic heat emitters, are preferable to incandescent lamps when employing overhead heating.

Light

Since they are mostly nocturnal, illumination is not necessary as long as your chamber receives enough light to signal the change from night to day. The majority of nocturnal animals don't require ultraviolet light, although a UVB (5.0) fluorescent lamp may be helpful to improve calcium absorption from their diets.

Humidity

King and milk snakes may survive with humidity levels as low as 40 to 60 percent. Use a hygrometer or humidity gauge to monitor the moisture content. A little bowl of water in the cage should usually be plenty. They may benefit from more humidity during shedding. If you see signs that your snake is beginning to shed (filmy skin, milky blue eyes), spray the cage sparingly or give a humidity box. Make a basic humidity box by cutting a hole in the lid of a lidded plastic container big enough for the snake to crawl through and filling it with wet sphagnum moss.

Substrate

The bedding or liner for the bottom of your pet's cage is called a substrate. Paper towels or butcher paper work best for young snakes since they make cleaning easier and let you keep an eye on the excrement.

Reptile bark, mulch, Astroturf, reptile carpeting, and are just examples of the several substrates that may be employed (never use cedar, redwood, or pine). If shavings are used, make sure the snake doesn't eat them together with its meal.

Astroturf or reptile carpeting is the simplest, safest, and most affordable choice. It may be cleaned and used again. On this surface, you can feed the snake without fearing that it will eat the substrate, and you can keep many pieces ready-cut for the cage in case it gets dirty.

Food and Water

Mice or young rats are given to milk and king snakes. In general, feed the snake a mouse that is about the same size as the snake's breadth at its widest point (excluding the head). Feed juveniles (subadult) and hatchlings twice every week. Once a week, adults can be fed adult mice (or weanling rats). Feed the snake twice a week if it is too slender (body not rounded, ribs or backbone visible). Fall and winter are times when many milk and king snakes prefer to consume less.

Feed frozen pre-killed mice from a pet supply provider, just like with other pet snakes, to prevent injury from the prey. If their cage has a safe flooring, thaw frozen mice to room temperature before feeding them in a separate feeding cage (without substrate).

Since snakes often defecate in the water, clean out the dish daily, and refresh with fresh, filtered water.

Common Health Problems

A respiratory illness is the biggest danger to a pet milk or king snake. These snakes can develop colds or pneumonia, which is frequently brought on by an issue with the cage's temperature. Gasping, bubbling, or gurgling at the mouth, as well as mucous around the nose, are possible symptoms.

Handling the snake too soon after feeding may be the cause of food pieces being regurgitated into the cage. It can be, but it's not always an indication of sickness. Other causes of food regurgitation include overly big portions and an overly chilly environment. Take the snake to an exotics vet if regurgitation occurs again.

Choosing Your Kingsnake or Milk Snake

Finding a specimen that was born in captivity should not be too difficult because milk and kingsnakes reproduce pretty easily. A reptile expo is a good place to identify trustworthy local breeders. You can also get recommendations from other snake keepers or an exotics veterinarian. Ensure that your snake already eats pre-killed mice well. Request a feeding demonstration of your snake if you are unsure.

You can expect to pay $30 to $200, depending on the morph (color), the rareness of the variety, and age. Hatchlings usually cost less, since adults are proven eaters and thriving.

A healthy snake will have a solid, rounded body, no nasal discharge, no dusty spots on its body (mites), no open-mouth breathing, pink-colored interior of the mouth (not red or cheesy), glossy, smooth skin (no sores or scabs), clean fecal entrance (vent), and untrembling movement.

A young snake might not be tame, but with patient handling, it should calm down rather well. A snake in distress will wave its body in the air as it tries to get away. Most milk and king snakes will relax after a while and softly wrap their bodies around your hands.

Similar Species to Kingsnakes and Milk Snakes

If king or milk snakes interest you, you may want to look into related species:

Otherwise, check out  that can be your new pet.

CITATION

"Warwick, Clifford. Arena, Phillip. Steedman, Catrina. Spatial considerations for captive snakes. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, vol. 30, pp. 37-48, 2019. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2018.12.006", "Isaza, Natalie and Isaza, Ramiro. Reptile and Amphibian Care in the Animal Shelter. Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff, 2012.  doi:10.1002/9781119421511.ch12", "Hoon-Hanks, Laura L et al. Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Sampling of Serpentovirus (Nidovirus) Infection in Captive Snakes Reveals High Prevalence, Persistent Infection, and Increased Mortality in Pythons and Divergent Serpentovirus Infection in Boas and ColubridsFrontiers in veterinary science, vol. 6, no. 338, 2019. doi:10.3389/fvets.2019.00338", "Common Diseases of Pet Snakes. VCA Animal Hospitals." ;

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