Not all king snakes are milk snakes, but every milk snake is a king snake. How? There are 25 subspecies of the species of snake that the king snake is, and these are the milk snakes. Having said that, there is talk that as there are so many subspecies, they should be classed as separate species entirely and not a subspecies. Due to these being so closely related, their care is the same and as such we have combined them for this blog. Here we have a look at what you need to look after them, or what you will need if you’re thinking of purchasing one.
The colours and appearance of these snakes vary quite a bit but all of them are banded, these can vary but they do alternate. In the wild these snakes do tend to lean towards the more traditional colours of red, black, white, orange or yellow. However, with breeders looking for new and exciting colour variations and patterns, known as morphs, you can often find incredible looking king and milk snakes for sale, some with spots and even mixtures of spots and stripes.
It is possible for these snakes to reach lengths of 7 feet and can live up to 20 years, making them a decision that you need to carefully think through before purchasing. They are carnivores and should be kept alone as they will eat another if left to their own devices, also frogs and toads, lizards, small mammals and birds are all on the menu.
Both king and milk snakes will need to be kept in a wood vivarium which allows for plenty of ventilation. For ease of cleaning out their home, sliding doors make the easiest option, they are also secure and offer good insulation. As with most pets kept in tanks and cages, the bigger the better as far as space and budget will allow, but the absolute minimum would be a depth and height of around 50cm and a 1m in length.
Provide them with hides, you can build this yourself or purchase something for them and you will need to make sure that there are branches provided in the tank as these snakes do like to climb – make sure they are two times the diameter of your snake’s body. Check your snakes’ tank daily to remove any food that hasn’t been eaten and to remove any droppings. You should be cleaning their tank once a week and using a suitable disinfectant – not only snakes, but reptiles, carry salmonella, so wash your hands after cleaning their tanks and handling them.
You can use different substrates, whichever works best for you, it is recommended that for new snakes paper towels are best to use as you can monitor droppings and cleaning before you have an idea that they are clear of parasites. Make sure whatever you choose as your substrate it is something that is easily cleaned. Aspen shaving, reptile bark and even AstroTurf are things that can be used in your snakes’ tank, make sure that whatever is being removed for cleaning can be replaced. If you do opt to use shavings keep an eye on the likelihood of these being eaten by your snake along with their food, if they are, it may be an idea to change to something else.
These snakes cannot regulate their own temperature and will need a temperature gradient that is not only from one end of the cage to the other but horizontal as well. You will also need to provide hides for your snake at both ends of the vivarium and not just one. During the day your snake should have a gradient temperature between 24 – 30 °C and at night 21 – 23 °C.
Placing tank heaters underneath half of their tank is ideal for these snakes, you should NOT use hot rocks as this can burn the snake. If you want to use heating above the tank, then make sure they have ceramic elements, and not incandescent light bulbs. Whichever heat source you use, keep an eye on it using a thermometer and controlled or changed as and when it needs to be.
To provide humidity for your snake, you can provide them with a dish of water in their tank – they are almost certain to use this as a toilet, so clean it out daily. These snakes do not need humidity that is high, up to 60% maximum is perfect for them. Having said that, if they seem to be struggling during a shed, a misting is recommended, or you could provide them with a humidity box.
King snakes and milk snakes eat a diet in captivity of mice and baby rat. They are constrictors and will suffocate their food before feeding on it. As with all snakes and their food, do not feed them anything that is larger than the width they are at their widest part. If you have recently purchased your snake, start by feeding it once a week and if they are showing ribs or backbone up this to twice a week. These snakes don’t eat as much during the colder months. When you can, feed these snakes pre-killed mice and baby rats to avoid live prey from injuring your snake.