The desert kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula splendida) is native to the southwestern United States and northeastern Mexico. A member of the Colubridae family, this nonvenomous snake grows to an average length of two to three feet and can live up to 20 years in captivity.
With its beautiful patterning and mild temperament, it’s no wonder that so many people are interested in keeping a desert kingsnake as a pet—but don’t let its lovely looks fool you!
The desert kingsnake is one of the most beautiful and popular pet snakes in the United States, but it’s also native to the hottest and driest regions of the American Southwest, making it one of the hardest species to keep in captivity.
But with enough information and dedication, you can give your desert kingsnake the happy, healthy life that it deserves! This guide will teach you everything you need to know about this animal, including its natural habitat, behavior, food, and more!
If you’re an avid snake owner, you’ve probably heard of the Desert Kingsnake, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of owning one, we think it’s about time to give this amazing species a closer look.
Whether you’re planning on purchasing your first Desert Kingsnake or just want to learn more about how to care for your current one, we have what you need to know in this comprehensive species profile and care guide. Keep reading to learn more!
Desert kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula splendida) are common, nonvenomous snakes found throughout much of Mexico and much of America’s southwest. They have a wide array of subspecies and are kept as pets, primarily for their bright colors.
As with all species in Lampropeltis getula, desert kingsnakes tend to be shy but not typically aggressive—though they will readily bite when provoked or handled roughly. Their small size makes them ideal for beginner snake owners, though they do require more attention than many other commonly-kept pet reptiles.
They also require special care considerations due to their high sensitivity to temperature variation and relatively high activity level. This guide is intended to provide you with everything you need to know about keeping desert kingsnakes successfully as pets.
Lampropeltis getula splendida, Lampropeltis getula californiae, and Lampropeltis mexicana (all closely related). Refer to Dave and Tracy Barker’s book Kingsnakes and Milksnakes for more information. Other common names are California kingsnake, red-yellow-and-black kingsnake, ringneck snake and blackhead snake.
Both subspecies of L. g. splendida are sometimes referred to as desert kingsnakes; however, it is best not to use that name because it can be confused with other species of Lampropeltis found in arid habitats in Mexico and Arizona.
These include L. mazatlanica, which was once considered a subspecies of L. getula but is now recognized as a distinct species by some authorities; and L. pyromelana which is found only in Sonora, Mexico.
Desert kingsnakes can reach a length of 6 feet. Females tend to be larger than males. This species has some big scales, with their maximum size coming from their dorsal scales being about 1 inch long! That’s pretty big for any type of snake! Their ventral scales are much smaller, only about half an inch long, which allows them to feel very smooth when touched by hand or even just looked at closely by eye! These scales also allow them to move quickly through sand and other loose soil like they live in, unlike many other types of snakes that need more solid ground.
As far as colors go, these guys have lots of different ones available! They come in black and white, red and white, tan and brown, tan and gray…the list goes on! Some have spots too if you want one that looks like it has polka dots all over it!
Depending on subspecies, desert kingsnakes are between 2 and 6 feet long. This can be a bit of a problem if you live in an apartment with small children and/or pets, or if you’re trying to move your desert kingsnake into its own enclosure in your house.
They don’t get that big, but they do require plenty of room to roam around! We highly recommend providing them with at least 4-5 square feet of floor space in their primary tank. Desert kingsnakes like having multiple hiding spots available, so it’s also a good idea to provide several hide boxes as well.
And remember—they love climbing, so make sure you have some branches for them to climb up and down on! (This is especially important for hatchlings.)
10-25 years. There are many factors that affect their life expectancy, but on average Desert Kingsnakes live 10 to 15 years in captivity. This is actually a long lifespan for a snake. Most live half as long, or even less. If you provide your Desert King with optimal conditions and can afford veterinary care when necessary, they have been known to live into their 20s! I’ve had mine for 6 years now, and he’s still going strong.
They may not live as long as some other species of kingsnake, but it’s likely you will be able to enjoy them for at least 5-10 years before they pass away from old age. If you want an idea of how long your pet might live, there are several ways to predict its longevity.
One way is by looking at its size (adults generally live longer than juveniles), another way is by looking at its weight (heavier snakes tend to live longer). Also, captive-born animals tend to outlive wild-caught ones. Finally, if you know someone who has kept one before, ask them how long theirs lived!
Appearance and temperament
There’s a reason why kingsnakes are such a popular choice for first-time reptile owners—and it has to do with their temperament. Though people sometimes assume that snakes are scary, in reality they make great pets. They’re completely harmless and not very prone to biting, but they also require very little effort on your part.
This makes them ideal for households with small children or families where people work full-time jobs outside of the home. If you want a pet snake that won’t need much attention, you can’t go wrong with an eastern kingsnake.
You might even be able to handle one occasionally! Just remember to wash your hands after handling any reptile (or cleaning its cage) to avoid transmitting bacteria. Reptiles have immune systems that aren’t as strong as ours, so we have to be extra careful when interacting with them.
Reproduction and growth rate
If there is enough humidity and heat, Desert Kingsnakes can breed year-round. Like most snakes, they lay eggs. They give birth to live young. Baby Desert King Snakes are roughly 8–10 inches long at birth and grow quickly, reaching 7–9 feet by their first birthday! As adults, they reach a maximum length of 8–10 feet.
That’s pretty big for a snake! In captivity, they have been known to live up to 20 years. In nature, they have been known to live up to 40 years or more. What an impressive creature!
We highly recommend purchasing a UVB light with your Desert Kingsnake as they require special lighting in order to properly process calcium in their bodies. Also be sure that you provide your pet with hiding spots like rocks, branches, caves, etc., as well as some form of heating such as an under-tank heater (UTH) or basking lamp so that it can thermoregulate itself.
Diseases, parasites, and treatments
There are few diseases or parasites specific to kingsnakes, but any snake can fall victim to a variety of health problems. Reptiles often carry and transmit Salmonella (especially when stressed), so wash your hands before and after handling, always wash your hands before eating, and don’t allow pets to eat raw meat of any kind.
Some snakes have been known to carry salmonellosis in their mouth without showing symptoms themselves, so be sure you know where your snake has been before handling it.
If you do notice anything unusual about your pet’s behavior or appearance, consult with an experienced veterinarian immediately; there is no substitute for professional care. Be sure that any medications prescribed by a vet are used as directed—with reptiles especially, improper use of antibiotics can cause serious side effects down the road.
Diet and nutrition
Desert kingsnakes are omnivores, which means they will eat just about anything. Their natural habitat is a vast arid landscape of rocks and sand. They prefer to live in areas with a temperature ranging from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can adapt to cooler temperatures when necessary (such as winter hibernation).
Unlike other snakes, desert kingsnakes do not need to drink large amounts of water—they absorb it through their food. To keep your snake healthy, feed him or her mice or rats that have been gut-loaded with fresh vegetables and vitamins. A varied diet helps ensure your snake gets all of its nutritional needs met.
Although they tend to be docile, desert kingsnakes can be defensive if threatened. If you plan on handling your snake regularly, make sure you know how to properly handle them so you don’t get bitten! It’s also important to always wash your hands after handling any reptile because some diseases transfer between species.
Habitat and conservation status
Desert kingsnakes can be found throughout much of southern and western North America, from as far north as central Texas and New Mexico south through Mexico and Central America. They are nonvenomous constrictors that can reach lengths of 6 to 10 feet. Desert kingsnakes spend most of their time underground, so they often aren’t seen unless they feel threatened.
When spotted above ground, these snakes are usually dark brown to black in color with lighter-colored bands across their bodies. Because desert kingsnakes live in burrows year-round, it is important to provide them with a substrate deep enough for them to burrow into when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
In captivity, they eat rodents and birds. In nature, they feed on small mammals such as mice and rabbits; however, captive desert kingsnakes should not be fed rodents because wild mice can carry disease.
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