Caring for a Mexican black kingsnake is an interesting and rewarding experience. There’s so much new information to learn and understand that it can feel a little overwhelming for beginners.
The average price of a Mexican black kingsnake is between $100 and $200. We’ve covered everything that you need to know in this comprehensive Mexican black kingsnakes pet care guide. That includes handling info, what to feed your snake, tank size, and setup.
- 1 What Does a Mexican Black Kingsnake Look Like?
- 2 Mexican Black Kingsnake Natural Habitat
- 3 How to Care for a Mexican Black Kingsnake
- 4 Mexican Black Kingsnake Tank Size and Setup
- 5 Health Conditions
- 6 Feeding Schedule
- 7 Handling Information
- 8 Are Mexican Black Kingsnakes Aggressive?
- 9 Breeding Mexican Black Kingsnakes
What Does a Mexican Black Kingsnake Look Like?
They are a deep and shiny black color, with hints of chocolate. They are the same color over their entire body: head and tail, top and underside. Unlike jet black snakes, like the Eastern indigo snake, these snakes are more a dark brown.
As juveniles, they may have small yellow spots on some of their scales. They may also have white dots under their chin. These spots fade away gradually, each time the snake sheds its skin. Aside from that, their color is uniform. Their eyes are small, rounded, and dark brown/black.
The Mexican black kingsnake is slender for its length. It grows on average to between three and four feet. The biggest specimens will reach five feet, both in the wild and in captivity.
Their head is the same width as their neck. Their midsection is slightly wider than their neck, but not by much. Their tail tapers away to a thin end.
Mexican Black Kingsnake Natural Habitat
The Mexican black kingsnake lives in Mexico and Arizona. In terms of habitat, they enjoy both rocky areas and lush vegetation. Here’s some information on how snakes adapt to the desert.
They’re most common in the Sonoran Desert. The region is harsh and hot, but is full of life. It has several sub-regions. Some are rocky scrubland, but others are classic sand dunes. Wherever you go, though, the heat and bright sunlight come with you.
Mexican black kingsnakes are happy here because of the plentiful mice and shrews they can find. Tiny mammals like these are the primary food source for almost all U.S. constrictors.
They’ve also adapted to the desert by learning how to hide in mammal burrows. When it gets too hot, these snakes will find an empty burrow and hide in the cool shade. They’ll wait until it cools down in order to hunt for food.
How to Care for a Mexican Black Kingsnake
The main consideration when caring for any snake is their enclosure. If you set up their enclosure wrong, the snake is likely to experience health problems. These stem from you not replicating their natural environment well enough.
You have to get everything right, from the size of the enclosure and the material it’s made from, to the substrate you use, the humidity and temperature levels, and even lighting. Below you can find out more about each of these factors and why they’re so important.
Mexican Black Kingsnake Care Sheet
|Healthy Length and Width||3-5 feet|
|Ambient Temperature||75-80 degrees|
|Basking Temperature||88-90 degrees|
|Cage Substrate Material (Bedding)||Aspen shavings|
|Cage Lighting Required?||No, if they have natural light|
|Juvenile Feeding Frequency||2-4 times per week|
|Juvenile Portion Size||1 pinky or fuzzy, depending on snake size|
|Adult Feeding Frequency||10-14 days|
|Adult Portion Size||Enough to leave a small lump in their stomach|
Mexican Black Kingsnake Tank Size and Setup
A snake’s enclosure has to be the right size. If it’s too small, it will be cramped, and get restless and bored. If it’s too big, it will feel intimidated by the open space, and will get stressed.
This presents a problem to a snake owner. It means you have to have several enclosures. The first is for when the snake is a juvenile, and the second is for when they are an adult. You may also want a third for hatchlings.
If you buy your king snake as a tiny hatchling, consider keeping them in a plastic tub. These are small, but are perfect if you have several snakes and not much room. Breeders use small tubs to house hatchlings before selling them on. A small Tupperware tub is fine.
A juvenile should have a ten-gallon tank. An adult should have a twenty-gallon tank. As a general rule, the snake shouldn’t be any more than twice as long as their enclosure.
Any smaller and they would be too cramped to move freely. Plastic is an ideal choice as it holds onto both moisture and heat, and also lets in light.
An adult’s tank should also contain some enrichment so that your pet doesn’t get too bored. Kingsnakes aren’t arboreal snakes, but you can still have a branch and some foliage for cover. You should also have at least one hide for them.
Because they originate from a desert environment, Mexican black kingsnakes require their cage to be warm. It should be a lot warmer than room temperature. If you don’t heat their cage correctly, your snake will become too cold and experience health issues:
- Too low and they can’t digest their food. They’ll regurgitate it before they can digest it.
- Too high and bacteria will flourish. This causes mouth rot and scale rot. If it gets even higher, the temperature can also cause neurological issues.
All pet snakes require a cage that has a cool side and a warm side. This is because snakes are cold-blooded, i.e., they don’t produce their own body heat. They have to regulate their temperature by moving to warmer or cooler parts of their environment.
The ambient temperature in the enclosure should be between 75-80 degrees. Their basking spot should reach 88-90 degrees. All of the heating and lighting should be on the warmer side of their enclosure. At night, you can allow the ambient temperature to drop to 72 degrees.
There are several ways to heat your Mexican black kingsnake’s cage. The most common is perhaps the heat mat or heat pad. This sits underneath one half of the cage. It’s like a mouse mat that gets warm. They usually have a gauge that allows you to control the temperature.
Heat tape is similar to a heat mat. But instead of being one pad, it’s a long roll of non-sticky plastic. Breeders use heat tape in stack setups to provide warmth to lots of snakes in different enclosures.
You could also use a ceramic heat bulb. These warm up like a regular light bulb, but don’t emit light. They only give off heat. Or, you could use a regular light bulb, because these give off heat too. These double as a form of lighting too, which can be useful.
You also have to provide places that the snake can cool down. You can do this with hides. Hides provide a space that the snake can escape into the shade, like they do in the wild. If you want one hide, put it on the cool side of the enclosure. You could also have two, one on each side.
Hides double as a way of helping your snake shed, because you can put a damp paper towel inside for the snake to sit on. This is a ‘moist hide,’ and helps the snake loosen their skin before shedding.
Maintaining humidity is vital for your snake’s health. If it’s too low, the snake will have trouble shedding. Instead of their skin coming off in one go, it will come off in chunks. This can cause them stress, or even sepsis if the skin on their tail cuts off their circulation.
High humidity will cause problems too. If it’s too high, your snake will experience respiratory infections because of excess bacteria. Humidity encourages bacteria in their substrate. And if their substrate is wet, it will cause scale rot on the snake’s underside. This can kill them.
A kingsnake needs humidity of between 40 and 60%. It’s best to keep them solidly in the middle of that range, at around 50%. When the snake enters the blue phase, and until they shed, you can up this to 60% to help them out.
You’ll need a hygrometer (humidity meter) to check the humidity level in their enclosure. These are cheap and effective, and perform such an important role that you can’t go without one.
There are several ways of upping the humidity in a snake’s enclosure. The most common are:
- Using a spray bottle. When you notice the humidity is too low, give the cage a quick spray.
- Using an automatic misting system. Like spray bottles, but they work automatically.
- Sitting a bowl of water inside their enclosure. Bodies of water evaporate over time, which increases humidity.
- Keeping them in a room that’s already humid. If a room is humid, e.g., because of a washing machine and dryer, this may be a good place to keep the snake’s cage.
A bowl of water is an especially good addition to a kingsnake’s enclosure. All snake species know that before they shed, they need to up the moisture level in their skin. So, by instinct, they’ll go and sit in a body of water like a puddle to prepare.
Not only that, but it maintains higher humidity levels just by being there. The water inside will evaporate quickly, especially if there’s a light pointed generally towards it. This will mean you don’t have to spray the snake’s cage all the time.
Your snake will sit in the bowl for fifteen minutes or so before they try to shed. There’s no need to monitor them if you buy a shallow bowl that has an accessible exit. Change the water in their bowl daily, and scrub the bowl weekly to prevent bacteria build-up.
Bedding and Substrate
Different king snake species require different substrates. The type depends on the snake’s natural habitat. Florida king snakes require a substrate that can get a little moist, as they live in tropical surroundings.
A Mexican black king snake lives in a rocky desert environment. They should, therefore, be housed in a dry substrate. Aspen shavings, cypress mulch and paper are fine. Don’t allow their substrate to get too wet before changing it.
You should use enough that your snake can burrow. Mexican black king snakes regulate their temperature by alternating between burrowing and basking. So, between one and two inches is optimal.
Snakes generally don’t need lighting. Keep them in a room with a window so that they have access to natural light. That’s more than enough for any pet snake.
However, there are certain situations where it would be beneficial to provide lighting for your snake. These situations include:
- If your snake is in a wooden enclosure. These normally have three wooden sides, so don’t allow much light in.
- If your snake’s enclosure is in a room with no windows.
- If you live in a part of the world that has dramatically different amounts of daylight. This only applies in the far north or far south of the world.
When a snake doesn’t have access to sunlight, it can affect them. They tell the movement of the seasons from both sunlight and warmth. Because you keep them at the same temperature throughout the year, sunlight becomes their only sign of the season.
Without being able to tell the season, this has knock-on effects on breeding, feeding and more. So, if you don’t have a suitable place to put them to get sunlight, consider including a light for them.
They don’t need anything special. A basking lamp would kill two birds with one stone by providing warmth, too. Failing that, a basic light bulb is fine. Ensure they can’t physically touch it by placing a mesh cage around the bulb, or keeping it on the outside of the tank.
Cleaning the Enclosure
Cleaning is easy. Spot cleaning involves checking on your snake every day to see if they went to the toilet or spilled their water. If they did, get rid of the soiled part of the substrate.
At least once a month, disinfect the enclosure. Take the snake out and keep them in a tub while you disinfect. Follow the instructions with your cleaning solution. Clean everything that can be safely sprayed. Put in fresh substrate afterward.
There are health conditions that these snakes can experience. The most common are mites and ticks. These feed on the snake’s blood. They can be killed with a mite spray.
Respiratory infections are like colds and flu. They cause difficulty in breathing. It’s caused by a bacterial or viral infection, so many require antibiotics. Your snake may also experience mouth rot, scale rot and regurgitation/vomiting.
Almost all snakes are carnivores. They eat nothing but meat, although the kind of meat varies depending on species. The only exceptions are egg-eating snakes.
In the wild, Mexican black kingsnakes eat a varied diet. They will eat any animal that’s small enough for them to overpower, like rodents, amphibians, small birds, and other snakes.
However, despite naturally eating a varied diet, they don’t need to. Like other snakes they can survive on only a rodent diet. When you keep one, this will be the easiest diet for you to feed them.
Mexican Black Kingsnake Meal Plan
Before we go into more depth about what to feed, and not to feed, a kingsnake, here’s a meal plan that covers everything from hatching to adulthood.
|Just hatched||No food||No food|
|7-10 days||1 pinky||Once|
|First two months||1 pinky||2 to 4 times per week|
|2-4 months||1 fuzzy||2 to 4 times per week|
|4 months to 1 year||1-2 fuzzies||2 times per week|
|1 year+||Large mice, i.e. adults||10-14 days|
What to Feed a Juvenile
A juvenile Mexican black king snake can start feeding on rodents from its first feed. Its first feed should be a week or ten days after it hatches. If it doesn’t bite at first, try again the next day.
The easiest way to feed any snake is by buying frozen rodents in bulk. A rodent contains every nutrient that a king snake (and many other species) needs. These rodents come in several sizes.
The smallest, and therefore the most appropriate for juveniles, is the pinky. Pinkies are tiny mice pups that are killed and frozen at about a day old. Feeding the snake once every five to seven days is fine. Portion size is one pinky.
The first year of their development is when they grow more than any other point of their life. As the snake grows, you should increase their portion size. The next size up of rodent is fuzzy. As the snake grows up, you can either feed them two pinkies or one fuzzy/adult mouse.
What to Feed an Adult
An adult kingsnake should eat a larger portion, but on a more infrequent basis. They should eat two mice once every ten days to two weeks. The portion should be enough to leave a small lump in their stomach, which is in their middle.
However, each snake is different. Some will eat more frequently than others, others less frequently. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on when the snake defecates.
It’s a sign that they’re ready to feed again. Try feeding them two days after they go to the toilet, and they will almost always accept the meal.
Healthy Size and Weight
The length of a Mexican black king snake should be between three and five feet. A healthy snake will weigh between three and four pounds. If you’re unsure whether your snake is a healthy size and weight, assess them using the following scale:
- If a snake is underweight, their spine will show up along their back, and their sides will be slightly caved in. Their cross section will look like a triangle.
- If a snake is overweight, their spine won’t show. Their sides will bulge out so that their cross section looks like a circle or an oval. Their neck will become chubby, and their middle will become much fatter.
- If a snake is an optimal weight, their underside will be flat against the ground but their top will be curved. Their middle will be a little wider than their neck, but not by much.
It’s normally easy to tell whether a snake is underweight or overweight. But if you can’t, you can take them to a vet. They will identify whether the snake is too heavy or too thin. They can also spot any other conditions you might not have recognized yet.
Experienced snake owners know that handling guidelines apply to almost any species. The ‘trick’ is to understand your snake and its needs.
Below, we’ll first detail a step by step guide on how to handle a Mexican black kingsnake. Then, we’ll give a list of important do’s and don’ts that are fundamental to proper handling.
Start by getting your pet used to you. Stand next to their enclosure without making any sudden movements. Reach your hand inside the enclosure and gauge their reaction.
If they get defensive, withdraw your hand. If they flick their tongue towards you, they’re sniffing you and checking whether you’re a threat.
- If they’re comfortable with you, pick them up and move them out of the enclosure.
- If they aren’t comfortable, try again tomorrow. If they still aren’t, take them out of the enclosure with a snake hook instead.
Hold them gently but securely. They won’t feel slimy or sticky, because snakes are smooth and muscular. You will quickly get used to the way they feel in your hands. As they grow older they will be surprisingly heavy, but juveniles are light.
The snake will try slithering up your arm or away from you. This isn’t a sign that they don’t like you. They are trying to explore. Allow them to move freely, without allowing them to drop.
How long should you handle a pet snake for? The limit may be between fifteen minutes and two hours. Your snake will ‘let you know’ by getting visibly frustrated and wanting to get away from you.
Do’s and Don’ts of Handling
You should support a king snake under their body when you handle them. They aren’t an arboreal snake, which means that they don’t sit or live in trees.
Snakes that do are better at climbing along arms, hands, and fingers. You should support them by holding them at 1/3 and 2/3rds of the way along their body.
Aside from that, treat the snake with respect at all times. Try to imagine what handling is like for them. They don’t like any sudden movement, especially through the air. They don’t like being squeezed, either.
- Don’t handle them when they’re expecting to be fed. They will associate your hands with food.
- Don’t reach in and pull them from their enclosure if they’re clearly scared. Instead, use tongs. Over time they will become comfortable and you can take them directly from their enclosure.
- Do handle them twice a week. More than this and they will become too stressed. Less than this and they won’t get used to you.
- Do spend lots of time with them that isn’t handling or feeding.
Snakes do not enjoy handling in the same way that you do. You enjoy handling them because you like spending time with your pet.
Are Mexican Black Kingsnakes Aggressive?
Not many species of pet snake are known to be aggressive. The only ones that are, are those that are caught from the wild. Captive-bred snakes are not aggressive, because they’re used to people.
However, any snake can become ‘cage aggressive’. This is where the snake gets defensive and lashes out when you try to lift them from their cage/enclosure. This makes handling impossible unless you lift them out with a hook.
Cage aggression usually occurs when you don’t spend time with your snake aside from feeding them. You can prevent it by getting them used to you through regular, non-stressful handling.
Venomous vs. Non-Venomous
So, whether they’re aggressive or not, are they venomous? Mexican black kingsnakes are constrictors. This means that they wrap around their prey to kill it, rather than use venom.
Venomous and non-venomous snakes are biologically different. A venomous snake has features that a non-venomous snake doesn’t. The most obvious is their fangs. These are long and hollow, and can shoot out poison/venom.
They also have venom glands. These are at the back of the head, near the neck. They store small amounts of venom. When the snake contracts the muscles around these glands, the venom squeezes into two ducts that connect to their two fangs. It then shoots out.
There are some snakes that have slightly venomous spit. But these king snakes don’t have that either. Not having venom means they are nowhere near as dangerous as other snake species.
Do Mexican Black Kingsnakes Bite?
If you don’t handle them correctly, they are liable to bite.
All snakes will bite if you push them enough. They do so because it’s their only form of self-defense, even if they don’t have venom. But constrictors are far less likely to defend themselves by biting, so king snakes will only bite if you don’t know how to handle them.
Caring for Bites
If you’ve been bitten, don’t be alarmed. Hold the snake where their neck and head meet. Push downwards, towards the bite site, without hurting the snake. This will make their teeth disengage. Put them slowly back into their enclosure, using a hook if necessary.
Rinse and then clean the bite mark with regular disinfectant. Apply a bandage to prevent infection. If infection does occur, repeat the washing process, and start a course of antibiotics.
Breeding Mexican Black Kingsnakes
Buy everything you’ll need to care for them. This means you’ll need small tubs as enclosures, lots of substrate, and lots of food. You’ll also need heat tape and a way of stacking and storing all the tubs.
Pick your male and female with care. Unrelated snakes are best, but breeding related snakes (line breeding) is usually fine if you’re not using morphs. Snakes with morphs often have other mutated genes which can cause problems when inbreeding.
When you’re buying them, get confirmation that you’re buying males and females. You can do this by having the snake sexed. If you don’t know how, ask the breeder to do it for you. It involves checking whether the male has hemipenes by ‘popping’ them.
Don’t use wild-caught snakes, only captive-bred ones. Check them for mites, ticks, and potentially infectious conditions before breeding too. Ideally, you should have more than one male and female. Groups of two males to four females work best.
It’s also best to buy juvenile snakes, and grow them, rather than buy adults. Adults for sale aren’t always fertile, even if they’re advertised as such. Breeders don’t tend to sell successful breeders because more money can be made through their offspring.
If you do buy juveniles, wait until they’re physically ready to breed. This means waiting until they’re at least three and a half feet, and 300g minimum for females. They will reach this size and weight after around three years.
The first step is temperature cycling Mexican black kingsnakes. Cycling is where you first cool the snake’s environment before warming it up again. This simulates winter and spring. Spring is when snakes breed in the wild, so cycling gets them in the mood.
You should cycle them at the end of October. Wait until your snake goes to the toilet. Then, lower the temperature to sixty degrees. Do so gradually over the course of a week.
At the beginning of March, raise the temperature again, slowly. Keep the temperature of their basking spot at 85 degrees max until the summer.
During this time the snakes won’t want to feed. That’s natural. They can’t digest in cooler temperatures. This won’t hurt them, because it’s what they do in the wild.
Introducing the Snakes
Once they’ve been temperature cycled, you should feed the snakes. Offer them as much food as they want, because they’ll be hungry. They may also shed at this time. Offer them food even if they’re shedding (although they may not want it).
Start by putting the females all in one enclosure. Only place females of the same size together. If one snake is substantially smaller, there’s a chance that a larger one will eat her. Then, introduce the male for a few hours. Watch to see if they breed. You’ll notice breeding activity easily:
- The male will start by sniffing the female’s body. He does this by flicking his tongue.
- He will then try and slide on top of the female’s back.
- From here, he will wrap his tail around hers. His hemipenes will evert, meaning they’ll pop out naturally. He will then try and lift the female’s tail to find her cloaca.
At this point, he will try for a ‘cloacal kiss’. That means he will try to put his hemipene inside the female’s cloaca, which is how snakes have sex. This will take around ten minutes, but can take hours, depending on the snake. He will leave behind a cloacal plug, which stops other males from breeding.
If they don’t breed at first, don’t worry. They often don’t. After a few hours, take him out of the enclosure. Reintroduce him again two or three days later. For maximum effect, continue until all the females have bred with the male/males.
Egg Laying Box
The female will then hold onto the male’s sperm. She may use it straight away to fertilize her eggs, but can wait for a year or more.
Two months after successfully mating, the female will shed. Her eggs will start growing inside her at this point. They will make her back end swell up. When you notice this, provide her with a special box to lay her eggs in. This box should:
- Be more humid than usual. Eggs require high levels of humidity. It also helps the laying process.
- Contain a substrate that holds onto moisture well, e.g. sphagnum moss.
- Be small and secure enough that the female feels safe inside.
Wait until the female sheds before putting her into the box. She will then lay her eggs around a week afterward. A Mexican black kingsnake’s average clutch size is around nine eggs, but it’s not a bad sign if they don’t produce that many.
At this point, create your egg box. This should be a small Tupperware tub. Fill it with a layer of vermiculite and give the substrate a spray. Make small indentations for each egg, with your thumb, so that they don’t roll around.
Carefully mark the eggs with a marker. Place a dot at the top of the egg, the part that’s facing upwards. Pick them up without damaging them, and place them in the egg box, with the dot still facing up.
Incubation of Eggs
Set up your incubator. Allow it to reach the appropriate temperature before putting the eggs inside. Place the egg box inside, and spray them whenever necessary. Leave the lid slightly off to encourage ventilation, or have a couple of air holes in the lid.
The humidity should be near 100% at all times. The temperature should be between 80 and 82 degrees, and shouldn’t vary. Don’t unplug the incubator or change the temperature at any point. You might want to hook it up to a generator just in case.
The eggs should start hatching after 55 to 75 days. Contrary to what some breeders say, there’s no need to ‘pip’ the eggs, i.e. cut them before hatching.
Caring for Baby Mexican Black Kingsnakes
If you want to run a breeding program, you should have a stack. These can contain lots of small boxes stacked on top of each other. Small plastic Tupperware tubs are fine. Line them with a cheap but suitable substrate like Aspen shavings.
Use heat tape to maintain temperature, and spray regularly to maintain humidity. Attach a piece of paper to the top of each tub. On this piece of paper, write a record of everything about the snake, i.e. male/female, when they were hatched, and whether they’re eating yet.
If you’re worried about overfeeding, don’t be. This is a crucial period in a snake’s development, during which they grow more than any other time. You can feed them three, even four times a week with no negative effects.