Desert King Snake

Lampropeltis splendida

Desert King Snake Care                                    


Desert King Snakes are a diurnal snake found across Texas, Arizona and New Mexico in woodland, rocky scrub, open fields, suburban areas and many other habitats as long as there is sufficient prey and shelter. The name King Snake comes from the ability to eat other snakes including rattlesnakes; Desert Kings are naturally impervious to the venom of rattlesnakes, which they consume regularly, but are not totally immune. As well as snakes they will also eat rodents, birds, reptiles and amphibians – they are great generalists, adapted to make the most of whatever food is available. In captivity they are notorious for an ability and willingness to eat anything!


Desert kingsnakes are yellow and black, most of the scales being a glossy black or very dark brown. The pale yellow or white speckles on the back form a cross banded pattern, and the belly scales are edged with white. They are a moderate to large king snake species, with most specimens ranging between 120cm (4’) and 150cm (5’), although they can grow up to 180cm (6’) and possibly slightly larger.


We have found, over the years, that it works perfectly well to place a hatchling into an adult sized enclosure, provided that there are sufficient hides to allow the baby snake to feel safe. (A good rule of thumb is that if the snake can move from one side of the enclosure to the other without showing itself, you have enough hides.) A 90cm (3’) vivarium can be used, but a 120cm (4’) is much better, as these are robust and active snakes that appreciate a good bit of space.


King snakes should be kept separately as they are ophiophagus (snake eaters!)


King snakes require a temperature gradient of 25°C to 30°C during the day; this can be achieved by using a deep heat projector and a basking light on thermostats mounted at one side of the vivarium to create a warmer side – always check your temperatures with a good quality digital thermometer, never guess. At night the temperature should drop to around 20°C to 25°C. Although it has always been assumed that snakes do not need UV lighting, it is always a good idea to provide it. Low output T5 UV tubes are now available that can mimic the levels of UV that they would be exposed to in the wild, and we have found that when it is provided they will definitely use it.


The snake will require hides in the vivarium so that it can feel secure. By having several in different areas of the vivarium the snake will be able to choose the one that is at the best temperature. A humid hide is also recommended, hollow hides with a damp moss inside which snakes will often use when they are shedding their skin. Plastic plants are also good to use, as these look very attractive in the vivarium as well as offering privacy. Live plants can work as part of a bioactive setup, but most plants will be flattened or dug up by a curious snake.


Feed your snake one defrosted mouse weekly, which should be no bigger than the largest part of the snake. King snakes can eat mice their entire lives, although they do appreciate a little variety and can be offered gerbils, hamsters, rats and chicks as they mature. Kings are notoriously greedy! Resist the urge to feed your snake more often or larger prey as this can lead to the snake growing too fast, which can result in the head of the snake not growing at the same speed as the rest of the body. Obesity can also be a problem. If a snake is overfed they have no reason to move around their vivarium and this is detrimental to their health.


Animal Information

  • Common name: Desert King Snake
  • Scientific Name: Lampropeltis splendida
  • Location: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico
  • Habitat (wild): Open woodland, rocky scrub, grassland, farmland
  • Captive environment: Dry tropical vivarium, UVB optional 
  • Preferred temperature range: Daytime hot spot of 32ºc under the basking light, background ambient of 30ºc, cool end of 25º. Temperature can drop to 20ºc at night.
  • UVB Lighting: 5% or 7% T5 strip light
  • Ferguson Zone: Zone 2
  • Substrate: Wood chip, aspen, or lignocel
  • Lifespan: 10 to 15 years, but can be considerably longer – over 20 years in some cases.