California King Snake

  • Common Group: KINGSNAKES
  • Common Name: California King Snake
  • Scientific Name: Lampropeltis g. californiae
  • Distribution: S.W. U.S.A & Baja Calif.
  • Size: 4' - 5'

Natural History

California king snakes are a highly variable species that make hardy, long lived pets. In the wild, they inhabit a variety of habitats ranging from coastal scrub lands to the high deserts. These snakes spend most of their days hiding in refuse piles or in abandoned rodent burrows, emerging at dusk to hunt.

Recommended Reading

Common Kingsnakes

Size and Longevity

Cal kings reach adult size at between 3 and 4 years of age. For most specimens, this amounts to just over 4 feet in length. However, 5 and 6 foot individuals are not unheard of. Luckily, due to their slender build, even a 5 foot king snake is a completely manageable pet.

In captivity, king snakes can live for well over 20 years, with 10 to 15 years being average.


King snakes do best when housed in all glass reptile terrariums, or other enclosures designed specifically for housing snakes. Hatchling snakes, and those up to around 2 feet, can be comfortably kept in a standard 10 to 20 gallon tank. Adults should be given more space, with a cage at least 36" long being appropriate for most adults.

Heating and Lighting

With Cal kings, no special lighting should be necessary. A basic florescent bulb can be used if you wish to enhance viewing of your snakes. As for heating, standard heat bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and under tank heat pads should suffice.

Ambient cage temperatures for king snakes should be in the upper 70's with access to a basking area that reaches 85 to 88 degrees. Nighttime temperatures can safely drop to the mid 70's, with the basking area remaining slightly warmer.

When provided with a naturalistic set up, and a basking spot, these snakes will utilize basking areas and exhibit a wider range of behaviors than in a basic setup. A large cage that incorporates multiple hiding areas, a basking spot, as well as full spectrum lighting will enable you to get the most viewing pleasure out of your animal.

Substrate and Furnishings

Cal kings, being the highly adaptable species that they are, will thrive on nearly any commercially available reptile bedding. Chipped aspen (Sani-Chips) is an ideal choice due to its sterile and dust-free nature. When choosing a bedding for your king snake, avoid anything dusty or drying such as cat litter or sand. Shredded Aspen is another substrate that works well for these active and inquisitive snakes, both allowing them to burrow and holding the shape of those burrows for the snake to continue to reuse.

Provide your snake with a few hiding places within its enclosure. These may include half-logs, cork flats, cork rounds, or pieces of grapewood. Climbing structures such as branches and additional furnishings can be added as needed. These will add to the beauty of your terrarium and also serve as enrichment for your pet.

Fake plants and fake caves add visual interest and variation to your cage that your snake will explore and enjoy.

Water and Humidity

Always provide your king snakes with a clean, shallow bowl of water. The receptacle should be large enough to permit soaking, but huge bowls are not necessary. The water should be checked daily, and replaced if low or fouled.

California king snakes do not require much humidity, and typically fare just fine without any special considerations on the part of the keeper.


King snakes will feed readily on various sized mice for their whole lives. Babies will eat a pinky (newborn) mouse once a week, while adults will eat one large adult mouse on a similar schedule. Very large snakes should be given small rats as opposed to multiple mice for health reasons.


Handling of king snakes is fairly straight forward. Adults are typically calm and easy to work with. Babies can be high-strung and nervous, but this behavior will disappear with regular handling. However, as with any snake, you will want to avoid excessive handling. If your snake has any sudden changes in behavior or appetite, it could be stress-related, and over handling is a prime source of stress among captive snakes.

© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2006