The California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus californiae) originates in the desert, yet can live in many other places, such as woodland, farm land, forests and riversides. Among pet-snake owners, they are very popular. They usually reach four to six feet in length in adulthood. They usually live from 15 to 20 years in captivity, but have been known to live longer. The California Kingsnake is most commonly black with white transverse bands (though yellow bands are recorded in some varieties), with a checkered stomach and black eyes. Kingsnakes usually shed 4 to 6 times a year, at which point they go "opaque". The term "Opaque" means the snake's skin becomes dull and her eyes will turn a milky color. They usually shed in one long piece, which includes their eye scales. Adolescent snakes will shed more than adult snakes because they grow faster. When a kingsnake is preparing to shed, it needs a humid environment to help shed the old skin. While this process is occurring, the snake should be handled as little as possible, as the new skin is not yet mature and could be injured.
This snake is found primarily in California, and gets the name 'king' because in the wild it eats other snakes, including venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes. The toxins in the venom of other snakes has very little effect on the kingsnake, though if the snake is bitten many times by venomous snakes the venom will have harmful effects. It also eats rats, mice, lizards and frogs.
Kingsnakes are active at dawn and dusk, but are primarily nocturnal. This is when their main predators are sleeping, and their prey is awake. In the wild they will often bask in the sun during the day.
Californian kingsnakes are generally not exposed to high humidity in the wild, and in captivity you should not worry about controlling this. A fairly dry environment should be provided, although raising the humidity when the snake is coming up to a slough may aid in shedding its skin properly. It is advisable to place a Tupperware container filled with moist compost or moss in the snake's vivarium so that a humid spot is available.
A hatchling Kingsnake should be offered pinkie mice; and then as the young snake grows, she should be offered larger mice. An adult kingsnake should be fed on large size mice or weanling rats, which are smaller than adult rats. Hatchlings should be fed on a regular basis, every 4-5 days is ideal. Their metabolic rate is very high and as they are growing, they need a large amount of food. Adult kingsnakes need feeding once every 2 weeks on 2 large mice. Exceptions, when they should be fed more, are 1) bringing them out of hibernation, 2) getting them into condition for breeding, or 3) fattening up females for egg production. An egg-laying female should be fed more often than usual, getting 2 large mice every week.
Californian Kingsnakes are relatively easy to handle. They are great snakes for new snake owners as they get used to being handled quite easily and don't move around when being handled as much as some other snakes, like the Corn Snake for example.
It's important to remember that you should always wash your hands before handling any snake. This is because snakes have a very sensitive sense of smell, and if you have handled a pet hamster for example, the snake may mistake your hand for food and strike at you. Although this won't hurt when the snake is young, an adult Californian Kingsnake can draw blood.
Picking up an adult Californian Kingsnake is quite simple. With no jerky or sudden movements, and coming in from the front of the snake, first use one hand to scoop up the snake about a third of the way back from the snake's head. Then use your other hand to support the rest of the snake's body as you raise the snake out of its tank.
Picking up a young Californian Kingsnake can be rather tricky—like most young snakes, young California Kingsnakes are generally both "nippy" and "flighty". They also tend to defecate on the handler in an attempt to escape, but usually stop doing this as they get used to being handled. California Kingsnakes are very fast when young, and are canny escape artists, so it is advised that the handler keep an eye on the snake. But with persistent 20-minute handling sessions a few times a week, the snake will quickly grow accustomed to being handled.
When being held, California Kingsnakes usually wrap themselves around the handler's hand, arm, or neck. When unravelling a snake which has wrapped itself around you, always unravel it by the tail. Unravelling a snake by its head is often difficult as the snake will seem to have a better grip and more strength.
Before handling a snake, remember that it is best not to handle a snake for about twenty-four hours after it has eaten, otherwise the snake may regurgitate its meal in an attempt to escape more quickly. Not only can this cause a lot of stress for the snake, it can also create medical issues. Kingsnakes are generally quite comfortable when being handled, but stress can set in with over-handling.
After handling a snake, or any reptile for that matter, remember to wash your hands thoroughly due to the risk of contracting salmonella.