California Mountain Kingsnake

(Lampropeltis zonata ssp.)

Native Range:

The California Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) is found in the mountains of California, southern Oregon and northern Baja Mexico. Seven subspecies are currently recognized, although this is subject to debate as several are identical in appearance. Currently accepted subspecies include:

Size:

6-7" at hatching, adult may exceed three feet, but most are smaller.

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 ten-gallon aquarium being adequate for an adult. 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 California Mtn. 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 (Skinks seem to work 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 80F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 70F) 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 65F should be avoided. No special lighting is required for these animals. Many specimens will refuse food during the winter months, an indication that they wish to hibernate. These specimens may be kept at 50-55F for two to three months and will resume feeding when returned to warmer temperatures.

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 three to five eggs. Incubation takes from 55 to 60 days, at an average temperature of 80F.

Color and Pattern Phases:

While a few genetic mutations are known to exist, these are not yet readily available. Due to the confusion among herpetologists over the status of the many subspecies, breeders are attempting to maintain genetically pure strains from known localities. It is likely that the subspecies will change in the very near future, and only snakes with known locality records will then be accepted as specimens of a given subspecies. Try to maintain pure specimens where possible, and identify ‘generics’ as such.

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