Mexican black kingsnakes are stunning reptiles that can also make great pets. And when you see one, it’s easy to understand the appeal!
In this guide we’ll go over everything you should know about Mexican black kingsnake care. Their habitat, size, diet, lifespan, and temperament are just a few of the items we’ll cover!
Table of Contents
The Mexican black kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigrita) is a beginner-friendly reptile with several sought-after traits. It’s a unique snake that belongs to the larger eastern chain kingsnake family. These animals are most known for their ability to resist venom and eat snakes that would otherwise kill most animals!
These creatures are found throughout North America. They’re most prevalent in the Sonoran desert. More specifically, you’ll find them throughout Sinaloa in Mexico and Arizona stateside. Usually, they stick to rocky regions and places with vegetation for hiding.
In captivity, Mexican black kingsnakes do surprisingly well and aren’t too difficult to care for. They adapt well and can even become docile enough to handle. Pair that with their intense coloration, and it’s not hard to see why these pet snakes are such a popular species.
Appearance & Colors
The most distinguishing feature of the Mexican black kingsnake is its color. They are deep brown or pure black all over. Even their bellies are black!
This species is the only one in the Lampropeltis getula family that doesn’t have a pattern. You might notice a few lighter spots under a juvenile’s chin. However, those markings tend to fade away as they approach adulthood, leaving behind pure black beauty!
One remarkable trait can provide a pleasant surprise during the day. Despite the pitch black coloration, the scales have a subtle iridescent finish. In the right lighting conditions, these snakes will reflect a gorgeous blue sheen.
The “standard,” and most popular, Mexican black kingsnakes variety is all black. However, there are many morphs available, too.
This species is a favorite among breeders. Selective breeding has resulted in 50 or so different morphs. You might come across spotted snakes, specimens covered in white splotches, and even striped variants.
Specialty morphs are rare, so expect to pay more for any other color other than pure black.
In terms of body shape, Mexican black kingsnakes are plump and stocky. These snakes are constrictors, so they have muscular builds and don’t rely on length to overcome prey.
Expert Tip: Sexual dimorphism is very subtle. Beyond probing, the easiest way to tell males and females apart is by looking at the tail. After the vent, females have a thinner and shorter tail that gradually tapers to a fine point. Meanwhile, males have a broader tail that suddenly tapers to a blunt end.
Mexican Black Kingsnake Size
The typical Mexican black kingsnake size is between three and five feet when full grown. However, there can be a lot of variety within that range.
Most will stay closer to the four-foot mark as adults. That said, there have also been rare reports of these snakes reaching closer to six feet!
This species has a moderate growth rate. Hatchlings are a mere six to eight inches long. However, they will double in size every year until they reach adulthood.
As constrictors, these snakes have no problem eating prey that’s several times their size. They won’t hesitate to consume large rodents or even other snakes that get in their way!
The average Mexican black kingsnake lifespan is between 20 and 25 years in captivity. That makes this species a rather serious and long term commitment if you’re thinking about owning one as a pet!
There’s no way to guarantee or know how long an individual snake will live. Many factors contribute to life expectancy. In addition to genetics, the quality of care you provide can make all the difference.
Snakes in a perfectly maintained environment are better equipped to fight off disease and stay healthy. Meanwhile, those eating substandard diets and living in inferior habitats are prone to premature death. As an owner, it’s your job to stick to the ideal Mexican black kingsnake care recommendations as much as possible in order to help your pet thrive.
Mexican Black Kingsnake Care
Like any reptile, Mexican black kingsnake care is about meeting their unique environment and dietary needs. These creatures have some specific requirements that you must cover.
However, the good news is that Mexican black kingsnakes aren’t as demanding as other species. If you have any experience with reptile ownership, it should be a walk in the park. Even if you don’t, covering the essentials shouldn’t be difficult with the correct information.
Check out the Mexican black kingsnake care guidelines below.
The first thing you’ll want to do is choose a correctly sized enclosure. If you’re caring for a juvenile or fresh hatchling, a smaller 20-gallon tank will suffice. A smaller habitat will prevent the snake from feeling overwhelmed as it gets used to its new surroundings.
As the snake reaches its adult size, you’ll need an enclosure size of at least 40 gallons. A horizontally oriented enclosure with more floor space is ideal. This snake is primarily terrestrial, so you want to provide as much room to roam as possible.
Aim for a tank that measures around 48 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 16 inches tall.
Expert Tip: The best kind of enclosure is an all-glass or plastic aquarium. Screen-topped habitats struggle to maintain humidity levels. Because of this, it’s best to choose an aquarium with a glass top and adjustable vents. The vents will help you fine-tune the humidity levels to strike the right balance.
What To Put In Their Habitat
Mexican black kingsnakes are an interesting snake species that lives in a pretty varied environment. They’re used to desert-like conditions, but these snakes often venture into vegetative territories to get solace from the sun. As a result, you have a lot of creative liberties when designing the habitat’s interior.
These snakes are adaptable, giving you plenty of options when it comes to their habitat setup.
Starting with the substrate, you can use loose items like coconut coir or soil. Reptile carpets are suitable as well. However, Mexican black kingsnakes like to burrow to cool off, so a particulate material may fare better.
The best option is a sandy soil mix. Sand and soil hold onto moisture well to maintain humidity levels. Plus, it’s loose enough to let your snake burrow.
Whatever you use, avoid pine or cedar shavings. Not only do they have potentially toxic oils, but the particles could cause respiratory irritation.
Once you have the substrate down, add some enrichment items. Place a couple of hiding boxes on opposite sides of the tank. Faux plants are great as well.
A few climbable rocks and logs can be beneficial as well. While they are terrestrial by nature, Mexican black kingsnakes like to climb every once in a while.
Expert Tip: Don’t go overboard with the items you include in their habitat. You don’t want to overstuff the habitat and take away too much room for exploration. Leave plenty of open space so that your snake can move around comfortably.
Temperature & Lighting
Next, you need to provide the optimal heating and lighting details. This is one of the most important parts of Mexican black kingsnake care, so don’t cut corners!
Coming from the hot desert, Mexican black kingsnakes need a toasty place to live. Standard room conditions aren’t going to cut it here!
Set up a complete lighting system with incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. They will do most of the heavy lifting as far as heat goes. You can also install a ceramic heat emitter for nighttime heating.
Ambient temperatures should stay between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Install a thermometer and make sure that temperatures are within that range at all times. Never let the air inside dip below 75 degrees. Otherwise, health problems will become imminent.
Like other pet snakes, Mexican black kingsnakes thermoregulate by moving around. They need a temperature gradient to do that in captivity.
The ambient temperature will serve as the “cool” side. To create a gradient, install a basking light on the opposite end of the tank.
Position the basking light above the enclosure so that the snake can’t touch it, because this lamp will get quite hot! Use the basking lamp to raise temperatures on that one spot to highs of around 90 degrees.
Set all the lights on a timer to automate the day and night cycle. These snakes are most active during the day, so they rely on simulated light to keep their circadian rhythms in check.
Humidity levels between 40 and 60 degrees are ideal. Staying within that acceptable range is paramount. Luckily, Mexican black kingsnakes do just fine with a bit of fluctuation here and there. As long as the humidity doesn’t drastically change, they should be fine.
Invest in a hygrometer to keep an eye on the humidity.
Too much humidity can be just as harmful as too little. If the readings go beyond 60 percent, open up some vents to promote air circulation. Failing to do so might result in mold and fungal growth, as well as potential health issues for your pet.
Expert Tip: If you need to add more moisture into the air, close off vents and consider misting the enclosure. Depending on where you live, you might have to mist daily or install an automatic device. The absorbent substrate you choose should help to prevent quick evaporation.
Mexican black kingsnakes stay hydrated in many ways. They can absorb moisture from the air, which is why proper humidity levels are a must. Alternatively, you might see them lapping up droplets of water on plant leaves.
Another way they stay hydrated is through soaking. Mexican black kingsnakes love to spend time in the water whenever they can. Soaking helps the shedding process and lowers the snake’s body temperature.
To facilitate all those needs, provide a dish of clean water. Install it into the substrate to avoid tipping. The container should be big enough for the entire snake to slither in.
Watch out for messes! Your snake might defecate in the water, leading to some bacterial issues. Spot clean and replace the water supply regularly. It’s also a good idea to wash the entire dish a couple of times a week.
Food & Diet
As mentioned earlier, Mexican black kingsnakes have a pretty unique appetite in the wild. They eat a wide range of animals and can even consume venomous snakes. This species is known for eating rattlesnakes, which are prevalent in the same area they inhabit.
Whenever available, Mexican black kingsnakes also eat birds, lizards, toads, and eggs.
Luckily, you don’t have to worry about sourcing any of that in captivity. These snakes do best when they eat a diet that consists of only mice. Avoid providing live rodents, as they can actually pose safety risks. Thawed frozen mice are best.
Here’s the feeding schedule you should stick to:
- Juveniles will need to eat young pinkies every five days. When they reach one year old, you can graduate to larger mice every seven to 10 days.
- Adults do well eating every 10 to 14 days. In times of shedding, they tend to eat more due to the energy they’re using. In that case, you can feed them weekly.
Expert Tip: Pay close attention to the size of the mouse. While Mexican black kingsnakes can eat prey much bigger than they are, you should avoid it to stay safe. Stick to mice that are as big as the snake’s widest part.
Potential Health Issues
In captivity, reptiles can encounter a wide range of health problems, and Mexican black kingsnakes are no different. They’re not predisposed to any certain diseases, but these snakes can suffer from the usual complications.
Some of the most common health issues to be wary of are mouth rot and respiratory infections. Both are usually a product of improper environmental conditions or bacteria in their habitat.
Maintain temperature settings and humidity levels at all times. To avoid bacteria problems, clean up any mess as it occurs and perform deep sanitation once a month. Use a reptile-safe disinfectant on thorough cleanings to mitigate bacterial issues.
Internal parasites and mites are other issues to be aware of. Typically, the organisms that cause those issues come into the environment inadvertently. You might bring them in when handling your snake.
Parasites can also come in through food or water. The best way to decrease the chances of issues is to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands and disinfect things regularly. Also, make sure to get your feeder mice from reputable sources.
Keep an eye on your snake’s behavior. Sick snakes often exhibit puzzling behaviors. For example, some snakes avoid eating and present symptoms of anorexia. Others might even turn to autocannibalism!
If you notice those signs or any other symptom, take your snake to a vet immediately. Vets who specialize in exotic pets should have no issue diagnosing and treating the problem at hand.
Behavior & Temperament
Mexican black kingsnakes are usually easy-going when it comes to behavior. They make great pets as long as you put in the work to build trust.
When you first bring a snake home, don’t be surprised if it’s shy and somewhat aggressive. Don’t worry, Mexican black kingsnakes are non venomous. They might try to bite you if you push their boundaries, but the bite should cause any severe symptoms.
Just give your snake space, and it will eventually warm up to you.
The Mexican black kingsnake spends its days hunting for food and basking to get warm. The only time you might notice aggressive behavior is when it’s housed with another snake.
This species is known for being cannibalistic. The animal gets territorial and initiates a fight. In many cases, the losing snake will end up in the belly of the winner.
It’s best to keep Mexican black kingsnakes separated to keep the peace and avoid cannibalism.
For the Mexican black kingsnake, early handling is a must. It’s how the snake gets comfortable with human interaction. If you don’t expose the snake to frequent handling, it may have issues with it as an adult. If you plan on handling them in the future (which you likely will), consider this conditioning a part of proper Mexican black kingsnake care.
As mentioned earlier, these snakes can be a little shy and defensive when they’re young. Just be patient and learn how to spot the signs of discomfort.
Mexican black kingsnakes don’t make noise when they feel defensive. Instead, they’ll try to bite you or release a foul-smelling musk. If that happens, put the snake back in its enclosure and give it space.
It takes some time to build trust, but this species usually doesn’t have any issues getting to that point.
When you handle it, let the snake wrap around your hand to find support. As always, wash your hands thoroughly afterward to prevent the spread of any zoonotic diseases.
Mexican black kingsnakes are gorgeous snakes that can also make great pets. We’ve seen a rise in interest when it comes to this species in the last few years, and we don’t anticipate that slowing down.
If you have any questions about Mexican black kingsnake care that we didn’t address in this guide, feel free to ask us directly. Use our contact page and we’ll respond as soon as we can!