Florida Kingsnake Care Guide

Introduction:

Florida kingsnakes (Lampropeltis floridana) are one of the largest and heavy-bodied species in the genus. Having adapted to hunting rodents in the canefields of central to south Florida where they are found, they are a formidable predator and are known to have one of the highest constricting forces amongst all snakes. Adult males are capable of reaching 6.5′ in length, while females tend to stay 5′ or under. Many genetic morphs have been introduced into the hobby, including a couple of line-bred phenotypes. Albino (T-negative & T-positive), axanthic, anerythristic, erythristic, hyper-erythristic, hyper-xanthic, mosaic, whitesided, hyper-chrom (aka “hypo”), peanut butter (true hypomelanism), white cheek, and sugar are the known recessive genes while the jelly is an incomplete dominant gene that occurs with the combination of T-neg albino and peanut butter (true hypomelanistic) animals. Line bred phenotypes include striped, sulfur, Agosta & Fengya flames, and New England axanthics. Many combinations of these line-bred and recessive genes have been produced to date.

What is a “Brooks” King?

Florida kingsnakes have been called “Brooks” kingsnakes in the past when most of the founding stock came from the wilds of South Dade County, specifically alongside the infamous Brooks Canal. The Brooks Canal stock, that produced paler specimens, were called “Brooks Kings” but that is a locality specific name and is not indicative of the species as a whole. The suggested subspecies name Lampropeltis getulus “brooksi” was derived by Thomas Barbour who assumed the paler southern specimens were in fact another new subspecies. This is has proven to be untrue.

Normal het T neg albino and Whitesided Floridana

Enclosure Size:

Reaching lengths of 6.5′ and weighing almost 4.5lbs, their activity level also requires that adequate space and furnishings are provided in all stages of growth. While the average snake breeder relies on plastic tubs and rack systems for raising up hatchlings and juveniles, most adults (especially males) end up in cages to give them more surface area. Being a semi-fossorial species, Florida kingsnakes benefit from having some depth to the substrate or furnishings that provide cover. A hide is almost always necessary. The square area of the enclosure can also be increased by providing some climbing opportunities with branches or by using shelves. The creativity of the keeper can know no bounds in this regard. The more furniture that is provided only ensures a more enriched life for your captive kingsnake. Adult enclosures are 4’x2’x1′ cages that provide lots of opportunity for furniture. Smaller adults can be kept successfully in CB70 or FB70 style tubs (average 3′ in length) and racks, but we highly encourage adding furniture to increase surface area, if at all possible. Pro-Breeder/Keeper ONLY: Some success has been observed by several keepers in regards to communal living but we do not advise this unless you have experience with your animals. A sufficiently large enclosure is also necessary. We do not encourage housing a sexed pair of adults together unless you have kept your animals long enough to observe their individual habits. We do not recommend communal living for hatchlings and juveniles at any point.

Humidity: (60-80%)

South Central Florida averages around 80% humidity for most of the year due to it’s proximity to the coast. Florida kingsnakes thrive best in ambient humidity that is around 80%. That being said, not all keepers are able to provide this indoors if you live anywhere outside of their home range. I have found 90% humidity to be too humid, especially in captive settings, as they give rise to mold and bacterial skin infections. In areas where it is a struggle to maintain an ambient indoor humidity of 80% (in the dry Canadian winters, it gets down to 40%), we have found that giving them a humid hide while choosing an appropriate substrate can help maintain a decent humidity range. We have tested most of our enclosures during the winter and found that keeping it at 60% still gives us healthy animals that don’t have any issues with shedding. Keep in mind that shedding issues are not only caused by inadequate humidity. Florida kings are resilient animals and we have found 60-80% to be a safe range for their humidity requirements.

Mosaic Florida Kingsnake

Temperature: (74F-82F)

Most caresheets found online will prescribe the typical cornsnake style temperature gradients for kingsnakes. After spending some time in the field in south-central Florida, I found that the more fossorial kingsnakes occupied a different niche and that temp fluctuations throughout the Florida daytime heat dictated activity levels that were different from the arboreal ratsnakes from the region. The kingsnakes tended to be more active during the morning and evening when the temps were not peaking during the midday heat of the Florida summers. The ratsnakes however only began foraging closer to the peak hours. Since my observations, I’ve reduced my temperatures to keep them between 74-82F. When I kept the gradient higher at 75-85F, the kings acted very voraciously when it came close to feeding time. While we used to laugh this off as the typical nature of kingsnakes, many people did not enjoy this aspect as they can be sometimes difficult to handle because of their insatiable appetites, due to their metabolism being forced to be higher than necessary. Since reducing the heat by just a few degrees, I’ve found a calmer demeanor amongst all my Florida kings and their appetites still stayed intact, albeit slightly subdued. Digestion timelines were not affected.

Lighting: (UVA/Daylight cycling)

Being a neotropical species, Florida kingsnakes benefit from being provided a daylight cycle. A typical day/night cycle would be 12hrs of daylight and 12hrs of night. For breeding purposes, this can be slightly altered to achieve ovulation in females. We will stick with captive care in this article and focus on breeding parameters at another time. The type of daylight offered can vary from using LED or fluorescent lighting. There is evidence to support that reptiles (including snakes) can detect the UVA spectrum in UV lighting and thus we recommend using a low-level UV light if possible. Since the UVA spectrum is only relevant to affecting the aspect of sight, we do not need high levels that reptiles needing the UVB spectrum would require. UVB lighting is typically necessary for Vitamin D3 synthesis but this has not been proven in snakes to our knowledge. Nevertheless, you may see a difference in activity levels when the UVA spectrum is present. We believe that this may aid in cycling snakes for breeding purposes as well. Being primarily diurnal, kingsnakes do not utilize UV light for sight as much as nocturnal species would but we like to give our snakes the option, as long as proper shelter from UV light is provided in the form of hides.

Mosaic Florida Kingsnake

Diet: (Rodents, Reptiles, Birds)

Kingsnakes are aptly named as they do include a fair amount of reptiles (snakes especially) in their natural diet. Most species have specialized to be snake hunters as well. That being said, Florida kingsnakes have adapted to feed on the rats found in the canefields of Central Florida. Relative to their northern cousin, the Eastern kingsnake (primarily reptilian prey), Florida kings have grown to be thicker bodied while not being as long. Their captive propensity to take rodent prey that is offered is also evidence that their primary focus in their natural diet is rodents found in the canefields of their natural range. This all makes it very easy for the breeder to avoid having to resort to scenting food items. Even though rodents and reptiles are a big part of their natural diet, kingsnakes are also sight hunters that will chase down almost any moving prey. In our collection, we have offered chicks, fish, and frogs with success as well. Although not considered to be a generalist predator, Florida kingsnakes don’t turn down food offerings often. This behavior leads them to sometimes being considered “Trash Can” snakes. Because of this trait, regulating food consumption and activity level is critical for longevity and health. Without keeping a close eye on this, Florida kingsnakes can become obese.

Conclusion:

Florida kingsnakes are one of our top favorite species for several reasons. Ease of care, sturdy appetites, and an active metabolism make this a great terrarium or vivarium subject. While hatchlings may tend to be defensive, the majority of Florida kingsnakes calm down and make great pets if proper husbandry is provided. Their behavior can be downright comical and clown-like when it comes to feeding time especially. Also, having several genetic morphs available ensures the longevity of this species in the hobby and amongst snake collections of the world.

Whitesided Axanthic Florida Kingsnakeq

References:

List of morphs – http://www.sierrasnakes.com/florida-king-morphs-and-history.html
“Brooks King” – http://www.sierrasnakes.com/what-is-a-brooks-king.html
Strongest constriction force – https://www.nature.com/articles/543467c
UV light sensitivity – https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2016/september/study-sheds-light-on-snake-vision.html

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