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Thayers King Snake – (Lampropeltis mexicana thayeri)

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The Thayers king snake is a small, gentle species of king snake found in the Tamaulipan desert areas, in habitat very similar to the limestone rock outcroppings of western Texas and New Mexico favored by L. alterna, the Gray-Banded Kingsnake. Although their home is rocky and dry, they are not a true desert species.

They are – as one of the common name suggests – extremely variable in appearance; there are three main types, the milksnake phase, Leonis phase (sometimes known as the Nuevo Leon Mountain Kingsnake), and black, or melanistic, phase. All three can apparently be found in a single clutch, depending on the variability of the parents.

thayers-king-snake

Housing

As they are one of the smaller species of king snake, Thayers are quite happy in a wooden vivarium of 90 to 120cm/3 to 4 feet long. Even quite young snakes can be maintained successfully in a vivarium of this size, as long as they have plenty of hides!
A wooden vivarium with a glass front offers more security for the snake, and conserves heat better.

Heating

Reptiles cannot produce their own body heat, so it is important to keep their environment within a suitable temperature range to help body systems such as digestion and immunity function correctly.

Like all reptiles, Thayers king snakes appreciate a temperature gradient which can be provided in two main ways. A heat mat that is attached to the wall of the vivarium and thermostatically controlled will provide gentle heat, and if this is combined with a small heat bulb there will be a daytime temperature peak similar to what the snake would encounter in the wild.

The other method is to use a ceramic heating element, which must be connected via a thermostat.

The ideal temperature for the warm area in your snake’s vivarium is around 27-31°C (81-91°F). The cool end can be up to 10º cooler.
Like most snakes, Thayers will appreciate a slight night time drop in temperature.

Lighting

A simple 12 hour light cycle is ideal for Thayers king snakes.

UV lighting is not necessary for snakes, although some specialists believe it can be beneficial. If you are able, why not provide UV?

Water

It is important to provide your snake with fresh water every day, in a bowl that is large enough for the snake to submerge in. This may also help your snake shed its skin

Hides And Decor

Thayers king snakes are a shy species that appreciate a large number of hiding places. Any of the dry substrates – with the exception of sand – are suitable, although they do appear to like the substrates that they can burrow in (aspen and lignocel).

Two hides are often recommended, one at the warm end and one at the cool; for shyer species it is better to provide more than this. A choice of several different hides allows the snake to thermoregulate whilst remaining secure. A moist hide (sometimes called a shedding hide or a wet box) is a hollow hide made of resin or plastic that contains damp moss. Placed at the warm end of the vivarium this gives your snake a personal sauna that they will often use when shedding.

Plastic or silk plants are also a good choice, as they offer additional hiding, climbing and exploring options while being very easy to clean and disinfect.

Real plants can be used, but snakes do like to knock them over and dig them up! Unless you are going for a full bio-active habitat, real plants are best avoided.

Feeding

The wild Thayers king snake is a great generalist – they eat lizards, rodents, and other snakes. Even in captivity some do seem to prefer lizards, although even they can be coaxed into eating rodents if the mouse is scented using shed lizard skin.

Feed your snake one defrosted mouse every 1-2 weeks. The mouse should be no bigger than the largest part of the snake. Thayers king snakes can eat mice their entire lives – starting off with pinkies as a hatchling and moving up in size as the animal grows. As these snakes have a narrow head, they often prefer several smaller prey items at a time as adults rather than a large mouse.

As snakes do not use energy to warm their bodies (as mammals do) they need less energy to function. Resist the urge to feed your snake more often or oversized 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.

The simplest feeding technique is to place the defrosted food in the vivarium near the snake and leave it to feed. The other way is to offer the food on some tongs or tweezers to the snake; they will often strike very quickly then constrict the mouse.

Snakes sometimes refuse to feed while shedding.

Maintenance

Spot-clean your snake’s enclosure as necessary, removing waste as soon as possible. Clean and disinfect the water bowl on a weekly basis. Monthly or more frequently if necessary, change the substrate and completely disinfect the vivarium and decor using a safe reptile disinfectant. Rinse the enclosure thoroughly and allow to dry before replacing the cage decorations.

Shedding

Snakes regularly shed their skin as they grow, it normally comes off in one piece and no assistance is required.

The first stage in the process is when the eyes go opaque (cloudy), at this point the snake will not want to feed and will hide away, it is best to leave it to do so. After a few days the eyes will clear again but it won’t shed for another 7 to 10 days.

If the snake has trouble removing the skin it is best to put the snake in a tub with some damp moss to help soften the skin and help by gently rubbing.

Conclusion

Smaller than the more common corn snake, the Thayers king is a keen feeder but not as greedy as its cousin the California king snake! Gentle and docile, this little species is a great starter snake, as well as being something a little bit different for the experienced hobbyist.

Natural Habitat: The Thayers kingsnake is found on the eastern slopes of the Mexican plateaus in Tamaulipas, Mexico

Lifespan: Unknown, but should be comparable to other small king snake species – 10 to 15 years, although with good care it could conceivably be a good deal longer.

Adult Size: Between 90 and 120cm/3 to 4 feet, although usually on the smaller end of this.

Temperament: Gentle and calm, they can however become very tame with regular, careful handling.

Housing: 90 to 120cm/36″ to 48” glass or wood vivarium would be fine for an adult

Temperature Range: 27º to 31º c (81º to 91º f) at the warm end, with the cool end up to 10º cooler. A night time temperature drop is also appreciated, as long as it does not drop below 20ºc/70ºf.

Lighting: Low level UV (recommended but not essential) 12 hour light cycle.

Feeding: Defrosted mouse once weekly, of the appropriate size.

Substrate: Any of the commercially available dry substrates except for sand. Aspen and lignocel appear to be firm favourites.

Décor: Minimum of 3 hides plus a humid hide.

Multiples? Best kept singly, except for breeding.