One of many species of kingsnakes, prairie kingsnakes are nothing new in the reptile trade. They are common pets but less commonly sold in pet shops. Most prairie kingsnakes must be purchased from private breeders.
These snakes are simple and beautiful, with an interesting patterns and distinct markings. They are easy to care for and suitable for beginners and intermediate keepers alike, which is likely what makes them so popular despite being less widely available than other species of snakes.
Before purchasing your own prairie kingsnake, it’s vital to understand the ins and outs of their care.
Today, we’re diving into exactly that. We’ll discuss all aspects of their care and happiness.
|Common Name:||Prairie kingsnake|
|Scientific Name:||Lampropeltis calligaster|
|Natural Habitat:||Southeastern United States|
|Adult Size:||3 – 4 ft|
|Enclosure Size:||3’x 2′ x 2′|
The prairie kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) is a non-venomous constrictor species that hails primarily from the Southeastern and midwestern portions of the United States. The snake is also known as the yellow-bellied kingsnake — a nickname given due to the bright yellow hue of their underside.
Prairie kingsnakes reach a small to medium size, most averaging a length of 3.5 feet from snout to tail. In terms of enclosures, these curious snakes require an enclosure that’s long enough for them to stretch out in, a heat source, fresh water, and plenty of loose substrate in which they can burrow and feel safe.
Like most other snake species, prairie kingsnakes are carnivores that thrive off a diet of mice, rats, and other small-medium prey items that can be sourced from reputable merchants. They are peaceful, easy-to-handle snakes that are generally fairly friendly towards their human companions.
While kingsnakes are easy to take care of, there are certain standards that must be met when discussing appropriate housing for the species.
Since prairie kingsnakes aren’t an overly large species of snake, you can get away with housing them in enclosures that are a bit smaller than those of other snakes. However, it’s important to keep in mind that guidelines for enclosure sizes are just that — guidelines. You must use your good judgment and do research before deciding on the appropriate enclosure for your specific reptile.
In general, though, since kingsnakes rarely exceed 4ft in length, a 3-foot enclosure is a safe bet for an adult. Juveniles can be housed in smaller enclosures, such as 20-long or 30-gallon breeder terrariums.
To make deciphering your snake’s enclosure needs easier, consider this rule of thumb: your snake’s entire length should be able to stretch around two of your enclosure’s sides.
Prairie kingsnakes require moderate humidity levels. At any given time, their enclosures should sit between 40 and 55% humidity, with humidity going up slightly at night the same way it would in their natural habitat.
The appropriate humidity can be achieved by frequently misting your snake’s enclosure, by using a misting system, and by covering the top of your enclosure if it has an open-air mesh lid. A large water dish on the warm side of the enclosure can help raise humidity levels, too.
In addition, you can also provide a humidity box for your snake to spend time in if you’re concerned that their enclosure is too dry.
Humidity boxes are small containers that have only a single door and that are filled with material such as damp sphagnum moss. The purpose of humidity boxes is to give the snake an area in which the humidity is higher than the rest of the enclosure. They are particularly useful during shedding, as snakes benefit from high humidity levels during this time. Your humidity box should be placed on the warm side of the enclosure and its substrate should be monitored to ensure that it stays damp but does not get moldy.
Kingsnakes are cold-blooded, which means they require their surroundings to be sufficiently hot or cold to regulate their internal body temperature. Because of this, your snake needs a temperature gradient within the enclosure, going from cooler to hotter.
On the cool side of the enclosure, aim for somewhere within the 70-75-degree range. The hot end of the enclosure should fall between 84 and 88 degrees, and the space in between the two extremes should fall somewhere between those ranges.
A temperature gradient like this can be achieved by placing the heating source or sources at one end of the enclosure, which will make that end naturally warmer than the rest of the space.
At night, the temperatures on both the hot and cold side can drop a degree or two. Just be sure that the warm end is still within the range that’s considered to be safe for the cool end otherwise your snake may get too cold.
Prairie kingsnakes thrive in enclosures that are chalked full of decor and fun things to explore. Even though they may not use their decor as often as other species, having it can make them feel safe and comfortable, as well as encourage the growth of any natural curiosity they may have.
One area in which you shouldn’t be stingy with when it comes to enrichment is the substrate. Prairie kingsnakes like to burrow, and as such, prefer an enclosure to have substrate that’s deep enough for them to make tunnels and fully nestle into.
The substrate you choose should be loose but still hold tunnels well. Aspen bedding specifically designed for snakes is a good choice, but there are other options on the market.
In addition, of course, you’ll also want to add fun decor items like rocks, sticks and twigs, vines, and foliage. The foliage of your choosing can be live or artificial. However, be aware that many live plants are too delicate to hold up to the weight of a snake’s body slithering across them and are likely going to be crushed if your snake decides to go exploring.
Caves and hides should be included, as well. In fact, you should have at least two hides — one on the hot end of the enclosure and one on the cold end. You may have more hides than just two, though, as long as you have the space.
The breeding season of prairie kingsnakes starts during the springtime, which is when prairie kingsnakes in their natural habitat come out of winter dormancy. Females can lay anywhere from 5 to 18 eggs, with the eggs hatching 7-11 weeks later.
In order to breed a male and female snake in captivity, both need to be healthy and old enough to breed. Breeding should be done under supervision as these snakes have a tendency to cannibalize their mates. Once breeding has been successful and the snakes have separated (which may take several hours), you’ll need to remove one of the adults.
A gravid (pregnant) prairie kingsnake will need a spacious box lined with a damp substrate to lay her eggs in. The egg-laying process will take place 1 to 2 weeks after copulation. Once the eggs have been laid, remove them.
Resist the urge to turn or separate the eggs. Doing so could harm the shells or cause the embryo inside to separate, which effectively terminates that egg’s viability. The eggs should be incubated with high humidity at a temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hatchlings should be promptly separated and housed in their own enclosures.
Prairie kingsnakes are carnivores. They do well on a diet of small rodents and mammals including rats, gerbils, hamsters, and chicks. Young kingsnakes need to eat more frequently than adults — it’s recommended to feed a juvenile once per week minimum and adults once every two weeks or so.
Of course, this depends on how large of prey items you’re offering. If the items are small, you may want to feed more often regardless of age.
When choosing a prey item, choose one that is no thicker than the width of the thickest part of your snake’s body.
Like all living beings, prairie snakes are prone to the adverse effects of dehydration. Dehydration occurs when the snake in question isn’t taking enough fluid into its body. Symptoms can include trouble shedding, constipation, skin that appears wrinkly or dry, and lethargy.
There are a number of stressors that your snake may face. Two of the most common include too much handling and poor husbandry, which means incorrect temperatures and humidity levels, as well as a lack of places to hide and enrichment.
Known as dysecdysis, abnormal shedding is an all-encompassing term that includes a number of issues relating to the shedding process of reptiles. Trouble shedding can be a result of dehydration, improper husbandry, or other illnesses and can progress into being an illness all of its own if left untreated for too long.
A buildup of stuck shed on your snake can result in problems with blood circulation. If a stuck shed persists on the eye caps, your snake can go blind, while if it builds up on the tip of the tail, you run the risk of the tip of the tail dying and falling off.
Abnormal shedding includes shed that comes off in pieces and stuck shed among other issues.
Mites are a common issue among reptiles and mammals alike. Mites are irritating to your snake and, in large numbers, can cause anemia and dehydration since they feed on blood. Mites can be obtained from contaminated decor and bedding or by close contact with infected reptiles. They can also be transferred from animal to animal by human hands and clothing.
Snake mites live under your snake’s scales and can often be seen crawling. Typically, mites can be found lodged under the scales of your snake’s chin and around their eyes but they can be anywhere on the body.
Symptoms of mites can include weight loss, lethargy, and unusual soaking in water.
Scale rot tends to occur when your snake is exposed to dirty and/or wet environments for extended periods of time. It appears as the darkening of your snake’s scales. When this disease appears, it will look as if your snake’s scales are rotting, hence the name “scale rot”.
Prairie kingsnakes are no more dangerous than any other non-venomous snake in the pet trade. With regular handling and adequate care, they can be incredibly docile and are slow to bite.
No. Prairie kingsnakes have cannibalistic tendencies and, as such, should be kept in their separate enclosures. They must be separated as soon as they hatched and only introduced for mating purposes, being separated again after copulation.
No. Prairie kingsnakes do not require any special lighting to thrive. However, the addition of a UV light source won’t harm your snake in any way. Just be sure to turn off your UV lighting at night as to not disrupt your snake’s natural feeding habits and sleep/wake cycles.
Cedar should never be used as a substrate. It contains toxic oils that can be released and harm your snake. Opt for aspen shavings instead.
Prairie kingsnakes are unique, exciting reptiles that make great pets. They are easy to care for and don’t require much in the way of specialized care. Their general heat, humidity, lighting, and food requirements are the same as or similar to many other popular species including various boas and ball pythons, making them a great starting point for beginners who have an interest in other species.