Gray-Banded Kingsnake

(Lampropeltis alterna)

Native Range:

The Gray-Banded Kingsnake is found in west Texas and adjacent areas of Mexico. They inhabit extremely hot and dry areas, surviving by spending the majority of their lives underground, emerging only when conditions are suitable.

Size:

6-8" at hatching, adults may approach four feet, but most are between three and four feet in length.

Handling:

These snakes will rarely attempt to bite, although they may do so if restrained. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing, allowing the snake to move through your fingers. Do not allow the snake to dangle unsupported.

Caging:

Any ‘typical’ snake cage can be used, with a fifteen-gallon aquarium being adequate for an adult of all but the largest forms. Hatchlings are sensitive to dehydration and do best in small ‘Critter Keeper’ cages or plastic shoe boxes. Due their secretive nature, be sure to provide adequate hiding areas. Rock cracks and crevices are preferred over larger, more spacious hide houses. Many keepers use small shallow pottery (plant pot drainage saucers) successfully.

Substrate:

A variety of substrates can be used. Aspen bedding, newspaper, and Care Fresh are popular with many keepers. Paper towels may be used for lining baby cages. Keep the substrate clean and dry at all times. As with all reptiles, do NOT use cedar or pine shavings. These items are toxic to reptiles.

Food:

Hatchling Gray-Banded Kingsnakes are notorious for being difficult feeders. In truth, they are easy feeders, we just offer them the wrong food. Frequently, a stubborn hatchling will require a pinkie scented with lizard smell (Sceloporus or Coleonyx sp. are best) before accepting it. More rarely, it will refuse anything but the lizard itself. After a few lizards, it will usually begin to feed on ‘scented’ pinkies, and then on to plain ones. Convincing a tiny hatchling to accept a pinkie mouse requires great patience. Once hatchlings begin accepting pinkie mice, they should be fed about every seven days. Increase the size of the meal as the snake grows. One or two juvenile mice are sufficient every ten or fourteen days to maintain even the largest adult. Often, these very stubborn feeders may be placed into hibernation for six to eight weeks. Upon removal, they often feed voraciously!

Humidity & Water:

Provide clean water in a small dish. Humidity should be kept low, or respiratory problems can result. Due to the variance in cages and home environments, some snakes may experience shedding problems, particularly the tail tip. If this is noticed, provide a small plastic container with lid (cut an access hole in the side) filled with damp sphagnum moss. This will allow the animal to shed properly. Stuck sheds may harden and constrict the blood flow to the tail, causing loss of the tail tip. Many shedding problems can be rectified if noticed quickly simply by placing the snake in a small deli cup overnight with a wet paper towel. Place the cup in a suitable location in the cage.

Heating & Lighting:

Provide a thermal gradient by placing a heat pad under one end of the cage. This should allow the snake to choose from higher temperatures (about 85-90F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 70-75F) at the cooler end. Provide suitable hiding areas at both warm and cool areas, so the snake can feel secure at any temperature. Temperatures below 75F should be avoided. No special lighting is required for these nocturnal animals.

Reproduction:

Although examining the shape of the tail can sometimes determine sex, many adult snakes can only be accurately sexed by ‘probing’. Hatchlings can be sexed by manually everting the hemipenes (a process known as ‘popping’). Probing or popping should only be performed by an experienced individual, as improper technique may result in severe damage or even death. A brumation (hibernation) period of about three months at 50-55F is generally required to induce breeding. Typical clutches consist of five to seven eggs. Incubation takes from 55 to 60 days, at an average temperature of 81F.

Color and Pattern Phases:

Highly variable. Two basic pattern types exist; ‘Blair's’ Phase’ animals are patterned with wide orange bands on a gray to black background, while ‘alterna phase’ snakes have narrow bands, with little or no orange. Often ‘alterna phase’ animals have alternating wide and thin bands, hence the name. In addition, the overall coloration varies from light to dark, leading to such names as ‘light phase Blair's’. Gray-Banded Kingsnakes are quite variable throughout their range, with many areas producing recognizable color and pattern combinations. Therefore, many breeders are striving to obtain ‘locality matched’ pairs which will produce offspring of a known appearance. Typically, these ‘locality snakes’ are more valuable than ‘generics’, with some of the more difficult to collect localities commanding very high prices indeed. Currently, breeders are offering for sale so-called ‘albino alterna’. These are hybrids between Gray-Banded Kingsnakes and albino Queretaro Kingsnakes. They are quite beautiful, but should not be represented as pure alterna, and shouldn‘t be bred into known genetic lineages of Gray-Banded Kingsnakes. Instead, treat them as the novelty snakes they really are.

© 2000 VMS Professional Herpetoculture (http://www.vmsherp.com)