California King Snakes make excellent pets, and they are a fairly common snake to own. Especially for first timers. These slithery little fellows are easy to maintain, don’t get too big, and are typically friendly and docile. Whether your a first time snake owner, or a long-time enthusiast, this guide will provide everything you need to know about California King Snake Care.
California King Snakes are GREAT for first time snake owners!
We will cover every aspect of owning and maintaining a California King Snake right here in this post. Fun fact: my first ever snake was a California King! his name was Stanley, and he lived for nearly 20 years. Which is another thing you’ll learn about in this king snake care guide – how long they live, what to expect throughout their lifetime, and more.
Table of Contents
California King Snake Care Sheet Basics
So you’re probably pondering about if California King Snakes make a good pet.
Short answer – yes! California King Snakes make excellent pets. These are excellent beginner snakes, and are easy to maintain. Plus, once they warm up to you, they are typically very social and friendly.
Overall, California King Snakes are great. They come in many different colors and patterns – making them a very visually appealing snake. Also, California Kings don’t grow to be all that big. So you don’t have to worry about them outgrowing you or your children.
This breed of serpent does have a few interesting characteristics that every owner should know about.
Below are some common knowledge facts that each owner should know to ensure proper California King Snake care.
California King Snake Cage Size
Rule of thumb, you’ll need a 20 gallon cage or enclosure for your California King Snake. You can start off smaller if you want – but know that you’ll have to upgrade down the road. Heck, I started my baby Cali King off in a shoe box cage…
Later on, you’ll see our recommended setup. For now, if you’re planning on converting an old fish tank, be sure it’s a long, narrow 20 gallon tank as opposed to a tall, wide one. Also, make sure you have a mesh lid with clamps! King Snakes are known to climb. Rule of thumb – terrarium length should be at least 2/3rds of the length of the snake.
How Long Will a California King Snake Live?
Prepare to take care of your California King Snake for a long time. As most other pet snakes, California King Snakes usually live for 15-20 years. Some even longer. The good news is that maintaining this breed of snake is fairly easy. Once you have the basics down, Cali Kings are easy to care for and maintain.
How big Do California King Snakes Get?
California King Snakes hatch at about 8-12 inches. The good thing about these snakes is that they don’t get too large, but they also aren’t too small. They’re great for a “medium size dog” type of person. Full grown California King Snakes typically grow to between 3-4 feet long. Additionally, California Kings don’t grow too large in girth like more tropical snakes do.
Do Cali King Snakes Need a Heat Lamp?
No, not really. But we do recommend setting up a heated mat on one side of your Cali King Snake cage. These snakes require no special lighting IF they are in a room that has plenty of natural light. On the other hand, if you have your snake in the basement, it will need special lighting made for reptiles. California King Snakes like variety. So whatever heat source you choose, whether it’s a lamp or heated mat, make sure you have one “warm” side and one “cold” side.
What Type of Bedding/Substrate Do They Need?
Substrate is a fancy word for bedding. Most common substrate you find in pet stores will work for California King Snakes. Avoid small bedding like sand or tiny wood chips. You don’t want your new King Snake ingesting any substrate.
Coconut Substrate is probably the best you can get for Cali Kings. It’s large, doesn’t emit odor (never buy substrate with odor), and allows them to burrow. By the way – these guys/gals like to burrow, so make sure whatever substrate you choose is “digable”.
Can My California King Snake have Roommates? (NO)
No! This is perhaps the most important information you’ll need to know about California King Snake care. King Snakes will eat both warm blooded and cold blooded animals. Meaning they will eat rodents, frogs, lizards… and other snakes. King snakes have been known to be cannibals, too. They will eat their own kind. Unless you are an experienced breeder, keep your California King Snake by itself.
California King Snake Cage & Terrarium
So, you’ve decided on a Cali King. But now, you need to figure out what type of enclosure is best for this particular breed.
The good news is that these little fellows don’t need a whole lot of special add-ons to get a proper enclosure created. There are a few basics – including the cage itself, the right bedding, a heat source, a little hidey-cave, and of course, a water bowl. Believe it or not, snakes like to take a dip every now and again Especially when they’re shedding.
Ready to get started with your California King Snake adventure? You’re in the right place. Below is a chart of every piece of your California King caging you’ll need. Plus, we detail out why these products are best for your new elongated pal.
California King Snake Starter Kit & Cage/Terrarium Basics
|REPTIZOO Reptile Glass Terrarium 36x18x18
Reptizoo makes some pretty excellent caging, and this is the perfect size terrarium for a California King Snake.
|ReptiChip Premium Coconut Substrate
I highly suggest you use this substrate for your Cali King. It's perfect in every way - the chips aren't too small, and allow for ample burrowing.
This California King Snake bedding omits no odor, makes for an easy cleanup, and is organically sourced. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, try shredded newspaper. More on that below.
|Zilla Reptile Habitat Décor Shale Rock Den
Speaking of burrowing, California Kings love to be enclosed. It makes them feel safe. Be sure to get your Cali King a proper "Snake Hide". This little cave is perfect for a California King to get all cozy and safe.
|iPower Tank Heat Pad/Digital Thermostat
Snakes like to be warm and cozy. Well, King Snakes actually like to have the option. Be sure to use on one half of your king snake cage. If the cage isn't in a room with natural light, opt for a heat lamp instead.
|Exo Terra Water Dish
California King Snakes like a larger waterbowl. Humans aren't the only creatures who like to take baths. This one should be plenty big enough for a snakey-soak.
The above California King Snake starter kit will get you everything you need for a basic California King snake cage setup. Although these are our most recommended products, there are plenty of other alternatives. In any case, here’s some more info on the cage and the substrate.
We think these two are the most important parts of the California King Snake terrarium setup. If you have to compromise to save some money, we listed out some popular alternatives below.
Water Habits and Best Practices
King snakes, and many other snakes, enjoy clean water and a nice soak every now and again. It’s best practice to change your snake’s water every day.
Also, it’s important to scrub and sanitize your snakes water bowl at least once week. Residue can build up (think red shower mold) pretty quickly in a serpents water bowl. To make sure your snake lives a long, healthy life, make sure their drinking water is fresh and their water bowl is clean.
Why does my California King Snake Sit in the Water Bowl?
There are a few reasons for this behavior:
- Your California King Snake is about to shed. This is totally normal. Usually, when snakes are about to shed their skin, soaking it makes the process a little easier for them. Keep an eye out on your Cali King – if it sits in the water bowl for a while and sheds, you’re good to go. If not… there are other reasons why you’re Cali King is in the water.
- Your Cali King is hot. Do you have a heat lamp on top of your snakes cage/terrarium? it might be too hot. Snakes will turn to the water bowl if they become overheated. A good solution to this problem is opting for a reptile/serpent heating pad and ditching the light. As mentioned, California King Snakes do not need light source if they are in a room with natural light.
- Your snake might have mites. This is usually worst case scenario. To prevent mites, avoid bringing in stones, sticks, and any other outdoor objects into your snakes habitat. If this happens, it’s best to take your snake to a local veterinarian to be evaluated and prescribed a fix.
Hides and Structures for Cali Kings
To ensure proper California King Snake care, you’ll need to make sure it has plenty of places to hide away. This breed of snake enjoys burrowing or a little nook to curl up in.
There are plenty of good solutions for your snake to have a little cave to hide in. Here’s one of our favorite California King Snake hides, and it should do the trick.
Note that it’s especially important to buy the right kind of bedding for your Cali King. They like to burrow as a way to feel comfortable. Meaning – if you choose to go for the more cost effective route of shredded newspaper for bedding, be sure to get your snake a hide.
California King Snake Lighting and Temperature
California King Snake care is pretty easy when it comes to temperature. Unlike other snakes, this breed is versatile and isn’t picky when it comes to how hot or cold it is.
There are some precautions you’ll need to take to make sure your snake is comfortable. California Kings like to have a cool side and a warm side to their enclosure – so be sure not to heat the whole thing.
Also, if you have your California King Snake in a room with plenty of natural light, feel free to skip the heat lamp. Get a heated mat instead and place it under one half of the Cali King’s glass tank.
Although a thermometer isn’t necessary, it’s good to have one side of the tank be around 68-74 degrees and the other side of the tank to be around 82-87 degrees Fahrenheit. That will ensure optimal comfort for your California King Snake.
One word of caution: be careful with direct heat sources in the terrarium (like a heated stone or heated rocks). They are often not high-quality and can damage or irritate your California King Snake.
California King Snake Food & Feeding
In the wild, California King Snakes feed on both cold blooded and warm blooded animals. That means frogs, lizards, fish, rodents, birds, and just any any other small woodland creature you can think of.
They even eat other snakes. In fact, they will eat their own kind – other King Snakes. That is why it’s so important you do not keep your California King Snake with other snakes – even if they’re from the same breed.
For best results when it comes to captive California King Snake care, feed your snake once a week (at least). Once it is full grown, you can scale back to once every 2-3 weeks. Avoid snake obesity (yes this is real) at all costs.
If you buy your California King Snake at a young age, you could have trouble feeding them live mice… or “Pinkies” at this stage. For convenience, you should try your best to make your snake take to frozen mice. That way, you aren’t running around town trying to find a live mouse once a week when it comes feeding time. Plus, live feeder mice still have teeth and claws and can do quite a bit of damage to a California King Snake if caught off guard.
So – here’s the general rule of thumb when feeding your California King Snake:
- Young snake (10-18 inches): start with pinkies
- Maturing young snake (18-26 inches): transition to fuzzies or hoppers
- Nearing full grown Cali King (26-40 inches): Move to adult mice
- Full grown California King Snake (40-60 inches) : Stick with adult mice or move to weaned mice depending on girth and size
Also – it’s important to give your California King Snake time after feeding. Wait until their food baby (or mouse bulge) goes away until handling. During the post-eating bulge phase, California King snakes are vulnerable and will regurgitate their meal as a defense/escape mechanism.
Give it some time, usually a day or so, before handling again.
Why Frozen Mice?
First, convenience. To take proper care of your California King Snake, you need to make sure it’s fed once a week. That’s a lot easier of a task if you have a bag of 25 frozen mice in your freezer.
Believe it or not, you can even get frozen mice on Amazon. Now that’s convenient. See for yourself and check out the above link to explore different frozen mice options.
Second, live mice can be potentially harmful to captive California King Snakes. The little rodents have sharp teeth, and can dig them into a Cali King whilst being constricted.
Handling Your California King Snake
To ensure proper care for your California King Snake, you need to handle it frequently. Try to maintain a healthy relationship with your snake. A good goal to aim for is to handle it 2-3 times per week at least.
Handling them at a young age is important. That said, if you purchase a California King Snake from captivity, chances are you’re going to get a snake that’s used to being held. By the way -we highly recommend purchasing a captive California King Snake as opposed to capturing one in the wild. (More on reasons why below)
Are California King Snakes aggressive?
No, captive Cali Kings are most likely not going to be aggressive. Be sure when you handle this breed that you’re not in a stressful environment. Snakes have a great sense for danger and stress – and they do not like it.
When your California King does not want to be picked up, they will let you know by shaking their tail at you. This is a defense mechanism that is supposed to mimic that of a rattle snake.
When should I not handle my California King Snake?
There are two main times when California Kings should not be handled. here they are:
- Right before, during, or right after shedding. Snakes will typically become more aggressive during shedding time. Consequently, it’s best to leave them alone, let them soak in their water bowl, and successfully shed before handling them again.
- Right before or within ~12 hours after feeding. Simply put: don’t handle your snake around feeding time. If handled too soon after feeding, California King Snakes can become defensive and regurgitate. That’s because they are most vulnerable when they are digesting a recently constricted rodent.
Where to Buy a California King Snake?
Now that you know proper California King Snake care, you can take the plunge into becoming a snake owner. Since this breed is very common as a pet, it’s not very costly. Usually, you can buy a baby California King Snake in the $30-50 range. Yup, that’s all a California King Snake costs.
Not too steep, right?
Now – where to buy them. Lucky for you, this breed will be in most local pet stores that supply snakes. If not, do a few google searches to find a breeder near you. Chances are, they will have this breed since it’s so common.
There aren’t many hoops to jump through like with a dog or cat after purchasing. No need to get it neutered or spayed. That said, if you want to make sure you’re giving the best care to your Cali King, take it to a vet for a checkup. Call first, though – as some vets may not evaluate serpents.
Lastly, avoid capturing and keeping wild snakes as pets. While all snakes are wild animals, ones kept and born in captivity often make for better companions. The reason is because captive bred and raised snakes are typically mite, parasite, and disease free. California King Snake care can be difficult and cumbersome if you catch a wild.
In most cases, wild caught snakes have a high likelihood of having some type of ailment. It’s easiest to avoid wild caught snakes altogether and purchase a California King Snake from a reputable breeder.
Condensed Facts About California King Snakes
- Adult California King Snake Size: Typically 3-4 ft. Specimens can get as large as 6 ft. this is unlikely for snakes in captivity.
- Scientific Name: Lampropeltis getula californiae
- Lifespan: 15-20 years
- Native Location: West coast of the United States (California and neighboring states)
- Are California King Snakes poisonous? No, they are not poisonous
- Temperament: California King Snakes are typically docile and friendly when raised in captivity.