The California Mountain Kingsnake
Kalifornien Königsnatter (German)
Species: Lampropeltis californiae.
The California mountain kingsnake is endemic to North America. In the USA it can be found in California, Nevada and Arizona, and it also lives in Mexico.
It is a terrestrial species. This snake is mostly found in the woodland, in meadows and fields, in the mountains and in the outskirts of villages and towns. The California mountain kingsnake is a good swimmer and climber.
This species can be found in a wide variety of terrains, from sandy dunes near the coasts to forests, scrubs, savannahs and deserts. It can climb up to 2160 m above the sea level (in Sierra Nevada). It is often seen in the fields, by the roads, in waste deposits, in the farms.
In the northern part of their habitat and in the mountains the California mountain kingsnake is active from April to October, and in the south – throughout the year. Like many other species, their activity hours are seasonal: in summer they are nocturnal and in spring and autumn they can be often found on the surface at daytime. The kingsnake spends the winter in caves or deep holes made by different animals where the temperature doesn’t fall below the freezing point. They dig holes very rarely. These snakes often spend winters together with their specimes and other kinds of snakes.
The average length of the California mountain kingsnake is from 75 to 110 cm. Some specimens reach 180 cm.
In the wild there are three main types of colouring: snakes with banded pattern (black or brown bands are followed by white or yellow bands), snakes with yellow or white stripe along the spine on the black or brown background and almost one-coloured black snakes. More rarely albinos and yellow-coloured specimens can be found. Morphs of various colours have been bred in captivity.
Males and females look similar. In order to find out the sex of a young snake, you can press on the lower part of the tail with your thumb moving towards cloaca. It is not the most precise method but if you succeed in taking hemipenis from the pocket, you will know that it is a male
On the upper jaw there are two venomous fangs with canals. When the snake bites, the muscle presses against the venom gland and the venom moves upwards through the canal. The venom of the California mountain kingsnake affects the nervous system of the victim and causes paralysis.
This is a diurnal snake but it doesn’t like the heat, so it spends the hottest time of the day in its hole and hunts in the late evening. The California mountain kingsnake is dangerous for people, it attacks without any warning signals. But normally it cannot bit through the skin with its venomous fangs.
If the kingsnake feels cornered, it coils, straightens its neck and quickly knocks with its tail on different objects.
When it is scared, it can emit malodorous liquid from its cloaca.
The bites of the California mountain kingsnake are not very dangerous, it has very short teeth that leave only shallow cuts and scratches.
The California mountain kingsnake needs a large tank, starting from 65х50х40 cm. Those snakes should be kept alone since they are prone to cannibalism. For heating it is best to use a heat mat or heat cord. For substrate you can use coconut husks or small gravel, sand, turf. This species can even do without substrate, on a mat made of artificial grass or just on newspapers. The snake will need a water bowl to drink and to bathe in; the water has to be changed daily. The water is necessary during shedding. Also you can install several logs for climbing. If you want to use plants, it is best to have the artificial ones.
The ambient temperature has to be from 24 to 26 degrees at daytime and from 22 to 24 degrees at night.
The air humidity has to be about 70 %, so you will have to mist daily.
The light is not necessary.
In the wild the California mountain kingsnake eats small mammals, birds, lizards, snakes including the venomous ones, and frogs. Sometimes they attack their own specimens.
In captivity the California mountain kingsnake eats mainly mice and small rats. For variety you can feed them with lizards, snakes and chicken. A female should be fed once every 7-10 days, and a male once every 7-14 days. Before the California mountain kingsnake becomes sexually mature, it should eat once a week, except for the shedding period.
The California mountain kingsnake is poisonous, but its venom is not very dangerous.
This snake has to be kept alone since it often eats other snakes.
It is a beautiful and bright-coloured snake that makes a good pet for those who like venomous reptiles.
It requires live feed.
In captivity the California mountain kingsnake is very prone to getting fungal skin diseases – mycosis. It can arise under improper husbandry and because of abundant dampness of substrate. Mycosis can be treated with antibiotics.
If the snake refuses to eat, it can be caused by stress, unsuitable food, or it can happen that the snake just is not hungry. You should not try and force the food into the snake: they can live without food for a long time without any damage for their health. You should only start worrying if your snake doesn’t eat for several months. Then you need to analyze its living conditions and the menu prior to this situation. You should never try to force-feed the northern death adder, it is very dangerous.
The snake can vomit because of stress, illness or if the prey was too big. Also it can vomit if it was fed during shedding or if the temperature in its enclosure is not suitable. After vomiting you mustn’t feed the snake for 7-10 days, and then you can offer it food taking into account the previous mistakes.
Shedding is not a disease, it is a necessary step in the snake’s growth. Its eyes get milky, their color grows paler and the skin starts coming off. During this time you should be extra careful about the humidity and clean water in the enclosure.
Mites are small parasites that live on the snake’s skin. They stick on the snake’s body between the scales and suck its blood. This can make the snake lethargic and it can turn down the food. To get rid of mites you need to use the weak solution of the same medicine which is used against ticks on cats and dogs. You will also have to disinfect the whole enclosure.
Respiratory diseases are usually caused by potentially pathogenic bacteria if the immune system of the snake doesn’t function properly either due to a stress or to unsuitable living conditions. The symptoms include gasping, open mouth, runny nose. These diseases are treated by the injections of antibiotic called Baytril.
The California mountain kingsnake is an egg-laying species. Before putting the snake together for mating, you should organize for them a brumation period for 1-2 months. In order to do this, you should stop feeding the snakes and gradually decrease the temperature in the enclosure to 12-15 degrees. After 1-2 months you should gradually increase the temperature back to normal, and once it reaches 24-25 degrees, you can start feeding the snakes. The California mountain kingsnake becomes sexually mature at the age of 3-4 years, once it reaches 70 cm. The pregnancy lasts for 45-60 days. Then the female lays 5-12 eggs in holes, under stones or logs. Depending on the temperature, the incubation period lasts for 47-81 days, the hatchlings are about 30 cm long and they can start eating immediately.
Average life span in captivity is up to 33 years.