How do I take care of my Kingsnake or Milksnake?

King Snakes and Milk Snakes are commonly available as healthy, captive bred animals from a variety of sources. Pet stores, reptile shows, and private breeders are all great places to purchase a king snake or milk snake as a pet.

Trade Name(s)

King snakes are typically referred to as such in the hobby. King snakes are called this because of their habit of eating other snakes in the wild. There is an old wive’s tale that claims Milk Snakes would such milk from dairy cows, hence their common name. This is probably due to their prevalence in barns, due to a higher presence of rodents there.

Family & Scientific Name

Colubridae; Lampropeltis sp. Milk snakes are Lampropeltis triangulum.

Range & Origin

Through most of North and Central America, and into Northern South America

Adult Size

A large adult female king snake may be up to 6 feet in length. Typically, a male is a good 1-1.5 feet shorter than a female. Milk snakes tend to be slightly smaller, but very similar in size.

Life Span

Captive life span of king or milk snakes is typically approximately 10-15 years, although records exist of king snakes surviving in captivity for over 20 years.

Enclosure

When it comes to selecting an enclosure, king snakes and milk snakes are not too picky. Basically, you want an enclosure that retains heat well, does not hold in humidity, and allows for easy viewing of and access to your pet king snake or milk snake. Most importantly, you want the enclosure to be secure, as snakes are excellent escape artists. Standard glass aquariums or Exo Terra Glass Terrariums work well for young corn snakes. If a standard aquarium is used, make sure to use an appropriately sized screen top. A standard 20L glass aquarium (30”x12”) will work well for a young king snake or milk snake, up to about 36″. After your pet king snake or milk snake is longer than that, a 40B (36”x18”) aquarium would work well.

Exo Terra Glass Terrariums are suitable for smaller king snakes or milk snakes.

Substrate

Opinions about king snake and milk snake substrates vary widely. Acceptable substrates run the gamut from reptile bark to reptile carpet. Personally, I prefer to keep king snakes and milk snakes on aspen bedding or a recycled paper bedding. Some keepers even prefer to use newspaper. Spot clean your chosen reptile substrate every day, and replace it every 1-2 months or more often if necessary.

Aspen Bedding is a good substrate choice for king snakes or milk snakes.

Temperature

Temperatures for king snakes and milk snakes are quite easy to maintain with a heating pad. Aim for a basking spot of approximately 85-90F, and a cool end in the high 70s/low 80s. There are several varieties of heating pads available for king and milk snakes – I find Exo Terra’s Rainforest Heat Mat provides the ideal temperature for your pet king snake or milk snake.

At night, the temperature can drop into the high 60s without issue. If the temperature is too low,  a night time heat bulb can be use to raise the temperature.

All temperatures should be routinely monitored to insure your pet king snake or milk snake is getting the heat it needs. Many such products exist on the market for this purpose, including temp guns and digital thermometers.

Temperatures should be carefully monitored in your pet king snake or milk snake’s enclosure.

Lighting

King snakes and milk snakes typically are not very active during the day, and are mostly nocturnal. Therefore, lighting is often not needed for your pet king snake or milk snake. King snakes and milk snakes do require a regular day/night cycle. If your pet king snake or milk snake is not getting this via ambient room lighting or lighting from a window, consider adding a light on a timer.

Social Structure

Generally, king snakes and milk snakes are best housed alone. Milk snakes and king snakes may actually attempt to eat a cage mate that is smaller than they are. The vast majority keepers opt to house their king snakes or milk snakes individually, only introducing them together for mating.

Diet
King snakes and milk snakes are primarily kept on a diet of rodents in captivity. When possible, attempt to feed frozen/thawed mice or rats over live – not only is this more convenient for you, but eliminates the chance a prey animal may harm your pet king snake or milk snake.

King snakes and milk snakes should be provided with a water dish that is large enough for the snake to soak in. This will give plenty of water for the king snake or milk snake to drink, help raise ambient humidity, and aid in shedding.  All tap water used should be treated with a water dechlorinator. Change the water once a day.

Cleaning
King snake or milk snake enclosures should be cleaned frequently with a 5% bleach solution, then be allowed to air dry. King snakes or milk snakes typically go to the bathroom only 1-2 times a week, so spot cleaning frequently is easy. Change the substrate completely every 1-2 months, or more often if needed.

Handling
King snakes and milk snakes are generally very easy to handle. After you have brought a new snake home, allow it to eat successfully several times before regularly handling it. Don’t handle young snakes more than once a week or so. Make sure to wait several days after feeding your snake before handing it – this allows the snake to digest the prey item.

Additional Reading

This care sheet is by no means intended to be the sole source of information concerning king snakes or milk snakes. Josh’s Frogs greatly recommended additional research via literature and online forums. Some great books for information are available on the Josh’s Frogs website.

It’s always a good idea to do as much research as you can, prior to bringing your new pet home.

Conclusion
King snakes and Milk snakes make great reptile pets for beginner, intermediate, or advanced hobbyists. Already desirable for their easy manner and simple care, king snakes and milk snakes are available in a wide variety of color morphs, making them even more desirable.

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