Baby King Snake

Reading Time: 6 mins

Physical Characteristics

The king snake, part of the non-venomous genus Lampropeltis, comprises numerous species and subspecies. These predator snakes play a crucial role in managing populations of rodents, birds, and various other reptiles, including other snakes. Notably, by feeding on venomous snakes, they mitigate the chances of venomous snake bites affecting humans and other creatures.

Baby king snakes, upon hatching, are slim, with an elongated cylindrical body and a tail that narrows down. They have a head marginally broader than their neck and round eyes. Baby king snakes are 8 to 10 inches (about 20 to 25 cm) long and weigh a few grams.  They exhibit a rapid growth rate, mainly during their initial years. Their size can vary from 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters) as they grow.

One fascinating attribute of baby king snakes is their vivid and variable color patterns. Red, black, white, and yellow are the common colors forming bands, stripes, and blotches, serving as effective camouflage. Prominent king snake species include the California king snake, known for its black and white bands, and the Eastern king snake, characterized by black bands on a lighter backdrop.



Habitats

Baby king snakes can inhabit diverse natural environments, contingent on their species and geographical distribution. They are found in forests, grasslands, deserts, and wetlands, often seeking areas rich in cover like rocks, vegetation, and logs, offering concealment and predator protection.

King snakes originate from North and Central America, spreading from southeastern Canada to southern Mexico. Each region has its specific species and subspecies of king snakes, adapted to their habitat's unique conditions. For instance, the California king snake is a common sight in the western US, whereas the Eastern king snake is primarily found in the eastern and southeastern US.



Caring for Baby King Snakes

If you're raising a baby king snake, it's vital to replicate their natural habitat within a secure enclosure that is escape-proof. Enclosures can range from glass terrariums to plastic containers with lockable lids. The size should allow the snake enough room to move and explore, but not too big that the snake struggles to find food or hiding spots.

Substrates like aspen shavings, coconut husk, or cypress mulch are suitable for lining the enclosure's bottom. Include hiding spots like cork bark, half logs, or commercial reptile hides to help the snake feel safe and stress-free. Climbing branches and fake plants can provide extra cover and stimulation.

It's important to maintain a heat gradient in the enclosure, a basking area around 85-90°F (29-32°C), and a cooler area around 70-75°F (21-24°C). You can use a heat lamp or under-tank heating pad to get the right temperature. A small water dish should be available for drinking and occasional soaking.



Feeding Habits

Baby king snakes are meat-eaters and begin their hunt for food soon after hatching. Their menu includes small creatures like lizards, small rodents, nestling birds, and snakes, even the venomous ones. As they grow, their prey size increases, and they may also eat amphibians and bird eggs. To prevent the snake from getting injured during feeding, it's advised to feed pre-killed or frozen-thawed prey. King snakes are known for their strong feeding responses and voracious appetites, which assist in their quick growth and healthy maintenance.



Hunting Techniques

Baby king snakes employ diverse hunting strategies to capture their prey. They primarily are ambush predators, using their camouflage to blend in with their surroundings and await their prey to come within range. Once the prey is close enough, the young king snake strikes quickly, grabbing the prey with its mouth and coiling its body around the victim. Constriction is their principal method of subduing their prey.

The baby king snake continues to tighten its coils around the prey until it stops breathing, after which it begins to swallow the prey whole, starting from the head. Apart from their ambush tactics, baby king snakes also actively forage for prey by exploring their surroundings, employing their keen sense of smell and touch to locate potential food sources. Their forked tongues aid in picking up scent particles in the air, which are then processed by the Jacobson's organ, letting them track prey with remarkable precision.



Reproduction and Life Cycle

King snakes are ready to start their own families when they hit the two to three-year mark. Usually, as the chill of winter leaves and spring blooms, these snakes wake up from their winter slumber, a state we call brumation, which is much like hibernation. Once they've shaken off the sleep, the male king snakes start their search for a mate, tracing the scent trails left by females. When a male finds a female who's ready to mate, he rubs his chin on her back and flicks his tongue in a courting dance. If she's interested, she'll allow him to wrap his tail around hers, lining up their cloacas for the big moment. This act of love can be quick or take several hours, depending on the pair.

After the mating, the female snake has a task of her own. In around a month or two, she'll be ready to lay her eggs. She'll scout out the perfect spot, somewhere hidden and damp with just the right humidity, to lay her brood. The number of eggs can vary a lot, from just three to a whopping 24, depending on the species and the size of the mother. Once the eggs are safely laid, mom's work is done. She leaves the eggs to incubate on their own. The eggs usually take about 50 to 70 days to hatch, depending on how warm and humid their environment is. The perfect hatching conditions? Around 82-85°F (28-29°C) and 70-80% humidity.

Inside the eggs, baby king snakes are growing. When they're ready, they'll use a special tooth to slice open the eggshell and hatch. As soon as they're out, they're on their own, hunting for food and fending for themselves. Within a week or two, they'll shed their skin for the first time and start hunting actively. They grow fast while they're young, but this slows down as they get older. King snakes can live about 10-15 years in the wild, but with a little TLC, they can live up to 20 years or even more in captivity.



During incubation, the embryos within the eggs grow into fully-formed baby king snakes. Once they are ready to hatch, the young snakes use a special egg tooth to slit open the eggshell and emerge from their eggs. After hatching, baby king snakes are completely independent and capable of hunting for food. Typically, king snakes shed their skin for the first time one to two weeks after hatching, and then they begin to actively look for food. As young king snakes grow quickly, their growth rate slows down when they get closer to becoming adults. In the wild, king snakes usually live for about 10-15 years, but if you take good care of them, they can live for 20 years or even more in captivity.



Sources:

"Lampropeltis getula (Common Kingsnake)." Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia. Available at: https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/lamget.htm
Tennant, A., & Bartlett, R. D. (2000). "Snakes of North America: Eastern and Central Regions". Gulf Publishing Company.
Rossi, J. V., & Rossi, R. A. (2003). "Guide to Owning a King Snake". T.F.H. Publications.
Wright, A. H., & Wright, A. A. (1957). "Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada". Comstock Publishing Associates.
Ernst, C. H., & Ernst, E. M. (2003). "Snakes of the United States and Canada". Smithsonian Books.
Burkett, R. D. (2006). "Snake Keeper's Guide". Barron's Educational Series.

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