Arizona Mountain Kingsnakes as Pets

The Arizona mountain kingsnake is a crown jewel among snake-keepers. With their beautiful colors and pattern compiled with an even temperament, they are an excellent, yet somewhat delicate pet snake.

Perhaps not the best snake for beginners, the Arizona mountain kingsnake is sometimes a finicky, light eater. When feeding issues occur, understand that it’s nothing to panic over. Simply try again next week. While I regularly handle adults, I seldom handle hatchlings. Always allow forty-eight hours to pass before handling after a meal.

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake Facts

  • Experience level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Docile
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific name: Lampropeltis pyromelana
  • Constrictor: Yes
  • Average adult size: 3 feet
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Venom: No
  • Hardiness: Delicate
  • Stress level: Moderate
  • Food: Small rodents
  • Reproduction: Egg laying
  • Breeding level: Somewhat difficult
  • Average Temperature: 78°H/70°L
  • Humidity: 40 to 60%
  • Habitat: Terrestrial
  • UVB lighting: No, optional
  • Enclosure size: Adult - 3'L x 18"W
  • Average price range: $125 - $300

Proper snake handling for positive interaction

Gain trust from your snake through gentle handling. Be confident, handle confidently. Always treat your snake with respect. Don't be overly forceful.

From the Arizona mountains 

As the name implies, the Arizona mountain kingsnake originates from the mountains of Arizona. Field herpers consider them the holy grail of snakes found in Arizona. Their range also extends into Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.

The Arizona mountain kingsnake experience shorter summers and longer brumation periods. Keep in mind that if you skip over winter dormancy, the snake will stop feeding on its own at certain times of the years due to confusion. Winter dormancy is a must if you intend to successfully breed these snakes.

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake Video

Arizona mountain kingsnake care

While the Arizona mountain kingsnake is somewhat delicate compared to other kingsnake species, their care isn’t difficult. Set them up in an enclosure which includes a place to retreat, and a hide box. Place them in an area that doesn’t get much traffic.

Handle these snakes gently yet be firm in your grasp. Babies wiggle about with warning and it’s easy to accidentally drop them. Although these snakes use a powerful musk to discourage predators, pet Arizona mountain kingsnakes rarely use it on their keepers.

Habitat and setup

These snakes are found in piled rocky areas, inside tree trunks, and among vegetation in mountainous areas. They’re often found nearby water.

Set them up dry with low-end humidity. Raise humidity a bit before a shed. I use paper towels as a substrate which works fine. I triple layer the towels so the snake crawls in between them for an extra sense of security. Aspen bedding and cypress mulch are other options.

Make sure a bowl of fresh water is always available. If the snake should tip over the water bowl, don’t allow water to stand. Dry it up as soon as possible and use a heavier bowl that the snake can’t easily tip.

Enclosure size

While babies roughly up to a year are kept in various smaller enclosures, keep adults in enclosures at about 3’L x 18″W in size. Not all specimens in this species grow to their full potential. Such snakes are kept in slightly smaller enclosures length-wise. I have mine in a rack system which they thrive in.

Keep hatchlings in small, escape-proof containers or enclosures before moving them into a snake rack system. Babies are great escape artists. While I’ve had all my hatchlings escape at one time or another, luckily, they eventually came back.

Heating and humidity

Keep the ambient temperature at about 78°F with a warm spot to aid digestion. Nighttime temperatures can drop about ten degrees. Keep humidity levels between 40 to 60%. While I keep my Arizona mountain kingsnakes in racks, I usually don’t use heat tape with them.

I live in Florida. Even the coolest months are still warm enough for this species of snake. In the event of an unseasonably cold winter, I set the thermostat modestly. I find they do better when kept at room temperature than overheating them with external heat sources.

Cleaning snake enclosures

Keep your snake’s enclosure clean for both its health and to prevent unpleasant odors from forming. Snakes have no hair, therefore, produce no dander. If a snake enclosure smells, it’s due to bacteria buildup and needs proper cleaning.

The way and frequency of cleaning depend on the enclosure, the snake, the substrate, and most obviously, the smell. Spot cleaning is okay as long as all the bacteria is scrapped up in the process. If you still smell an odor, you didn’t get it all. While spot cleaning works in some situations, clean the entire enclosure when necessary.

A more thorough cleaning is required when unfortunate events such as regurgitation occur. Simply scrub down hard on soiled areas and decide by your own sense of smell if you eliminated all odor-causing bacteria. It’s not hard to keep a snake enclosure from smelling when you have to stay on top of it.

I highly recommend high-quality air purifiers for snake rooms.

Growth rate

How often a snake eats and meal size determines a snakes growth rate. I don’t recommend power feeding or overfeeding these snakes. It’ll surely lead to regurgitation.

Remember, these are delicate kingsnakes and excessive regurgitation is not good for them.

These snakes don’t grow especially fast compared to rat snakes. They’re also picky eaters sometimes refusing meals for no clear reason. Don’t worry, it’s normal behavior for them. Try again in another week.

Size

These snakes don’t get particularly big. They stay a manageable size their entire life and never need a large enclosure. Adult Arizona mountain kingsnakes range from three to a little over four feet. The average is three feet. They’re encircled by at least forty rings of white, black, and red bands.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of the Arizona mountain kingsnake is about fifteen years. Today, with captive breeding and the available resources and knowledge readily at our disposal, I expect their lifespan to raise by possibly another five years. Take good care of your snakes, don’t overfeed, cut their stress and captive lifespans will expand.

Pricing and availability

The Arizona mountain kingsnake isn’t as common as other kingsnakes but they’re fairly easy to get at reptile shows and through the internet. Their price is on the rise, especially over the past few years. At the time of this writing, they’re going from $250 to $375 on average.

Reduced black in their patterns significantly raises the price. In my opinion, these snakes are well worth it. They’re my favorite kingsnake. Even more so than the gray-banded or Mexican black kingsnake. As crazy as that might sound, there’s just something about the Arizona mountain kingsnake that I like.

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake

Temperament

Over these many years of snake-keeping, I’ve owned many Arizona mountain kingsnakes. I’ve yet to get bitten by one of them. Neither by food response, or post-shed accidents. Not even one single bite.

I cannot say the same for the corn snake. While the corn snake is known for having the best temperament of all pet snakes, I’ve taken a few hits over the years. Not the case with the Arizona mountain kingsnake. They’re always an absolute pleasure to work with.

These are often shy snakes

While I don’t find these snakes particularly prone to stress, they’re a bit shyer than other kingsnake species. It’s always a good idea to keep a hide box in a snake enclosure for when it needs some privacy. This goes other kingsnakes too.

Enclosures placed in high traffic areas may cause the snake to feed less than you’d like, so keep that in mind. They’re not as hardy as the California, or Florida kingsnake who eagerly chow down whatever is in front of them.

House them separately to prevent cannibalism 

Like all kingsnakes, the Arizona mountain kingsnake should always be housed separately so cannibalism doesn’t occur. These snakes are more pricey than many other types of kingsnake. Their price parallels the Mexican black kingsnake which is sometimes overpriced, in my opinion.

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake

Diet and feeding

The Arizona mountain kingsnake is somewhat of a delicate snake. Don’t be surprised if your specimen skips a meal or two on occasion. Fasting is normal and usually not a sign of anything to worry about.

Arizona Mountain Kingsnake
A yearling female Arizona mountain kingsnake

In their natural habitat, they feed on lizards as their main found source. Not to fret, with some patience they switch over to rodents. They’re certainly not as hard to switch over as the gray-banded kingsnake.

Nevertheless, scent a pinkie with a lizard to get them over to rodents. Store lizards in the freezer for future use. After a few feedings, the snake should take small rodents without the smell of lizards.

Under no condition should the Arizona mountain kingsnake be power-fed

Overfeeding almost certainly leads to regurgitation. As I stated earlier, these snakes are delicate. If your Arizona mountain kingsnake regurgitates a meal for any reason, allow at least ten days to pass before offering it another meal. The digestive enzymes in the gut of the snake need time to replenish themselves.

Offer Arizona mountain kingsnakes an appropriately sized rodent every seven to ten days. They may stop feeding for a month at a time for no clear reason. Their biological clock could be responsible for this fasting behavior. To get an adult feeding again, offer a pinkie instead of an adult mouse.

Arizona mountain kingsnake
Arizona Mountain Kingsnake

Shedding 

I’ve never experienced any specific shedding problems with any Arizona mountain kingsnake. They aren’t usually prone to poor shedding or especially sensitive to low humidity. Dehydration has never been an issue for any of mine.

While delicate, these snakes rarely get ill. Try to avoid feeding them before an impending shed. Feeding can resume as soon as shedding is complete.

In the case of poor shedding, a simple humidity box should do the trick

I often find these snakes tipping over their water bowl during a shed. Sometimes I wonder if this is by accident, or if they intentionally tip the bowl over so the water can aid them in the shedding process.

Breeding the Arizona mountain kingsnake

Be sure to supplement female Arizona mountain kingsnakes with vitamin D3 before becoming gravid. Continue vitamin D3 supplementation during pregnancy if the snake continues to accept food. The reason for vitamin D3 supplementation is to mirror their diet of lizards under natural conditions. Lizards are a bit higher in calcium than mice.

Arizona mountain kingsnakes tend to lay smaller clutches only once a year. Some keepers choose to breed them every second year as opposed to annually. I think these snakes lay only one clutch a year because of the short summer experienced in the wild.

These snakes need a cooling period low at around 45°F

Remember, these are mountain snakes who endure long, cold winters. Make sure the snake defecated and hasn’t eaten for at least two weeks before slowly lowering the temperature to reach your target low. Always have fresh water available to them during the entire ordeal. 

Dormancy duration

Keep them asleep for three to four months. Slowly raise temperatures when brumation is complete. A wine cooler or small refrigerator is sometimes used as a hibernaculum. Just make sure to open the door once a day for air to exchange.

After they’ve warmed up, offer them food until they shed

Place the male in the female’s enclosure after their first molt. At this time, ovulating females release pheromones inducing reproduction with the male. Keep a distant eye on the process. Kingsnakes are cannibalistic and one may eat the other instead of mating.

The female produces anywhere from four to twenty oval-shapes eggs which on average hatch-time after sixty days. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, so be sure to keep a shoebox in the female’s enclosure filled with moistened vermiculite. Have a hole big enough for the snake to crawl in and out of.

Check back several times a day to make sure she doesn’t lay her eggs in the water. When the time draws near, only offer water for an hour or two, then take it away to avoid such accidents. Like most other snakes, these reach sexually mature in three to four years.

Caring for hatchlings

Attempt to feed the hatchlings after their first molt. First, offer them a frozen/thawed pinkie. If they don’t take it, offer a live pinkie after two days. If that also fails, scent the pinkie with a lizard such as an anole or gecko.

Once they’re feeding, continue with the lizard scented pinkie a few more times before finally offering an unscented pinkie. They should take the unscented pinkie with no problems. If not, you might have to go back to scenting the pinkies for a while.

Only offer hatchlings a meal once a week

After several feedings and the snake is well-started, you can offer them an appropriately sized pinkie every four days eventually working your way up to fuzzy mice.

Once the snake is off pinkies and fuzzies and on mouse hoppers, cut back feeding to once every seven days. Don’t power feed these snakes and remember, always offer a bowl of fresh water for them.

Similar species to the Arizona mountain kingsnake

I find the Arizona mountain kingsnakes distinct from all other kingsnake species. Especially when their black coloring blends over the bands. Not all Arizona mountain kingsnakes are of the high black variety but many are.

Despite standing out among their peers, similar species do exist. It comes down to location.

Variable Kingsnake
This variation of the Thayers kingsnake has a blacker head.

Knoblochi mountain kingsnake

This beautiful specimen is also known as the Sonoran mountain kingsnake or Chihuahuan mountain kingsnake. They’re found south of the Arizona mountain kingsnakes range. I wouldn’t mind keeping up a pair of these for myself.

California mountain kingsnake

Don’t confuse this species with the typical banded, coastal or desert California kingsnake. This is the California mountain kingsnake. It shares a similar pattern to the Arizona mountain kingsnake. An absolutely gorgeous species of snake that’s rarely offered for sale. They would make a great new breeding project.

Thayer’s kingsnake: This is an interesting species that I’ve recently been getting into. The variable kingsnake is aptly named. While one phase looks like the Arizona mountain kingsnake, the black head is a dead giveaway. They come in at least three variations or phases. 

Ruthven’s kingsnake: Another similar species. Their numbers are decreasing in the wild but occasionally come across them in the online classifieds. 

The Arizona mountain kingsnake and mimicry 

Like many other kingsnake and milksnake species, the Arizona mountain kingsnake is a coral snake mimic. The western coral snake in this particular case. This is mainly due to its pattern and colors.

While those experienced with snakes find themselves desensitized to the issue, it’s always good to educate those who dislike snakes indiscriminately.

The venomous coral snake

Coral snakes are a highly venomous species of snake related to cobras. They’re not especially aggressive and bites are rare because they spend most of their time under forest litter.

Eastern coral snake
An eastern coral snake found near Dunnellon, Florida.

In order for this snake to deliver a venomous bite, it must chew as opposed to how vipers envenom prey or threats. 

It’s easier for vipers to disperse venom into potential threats. That doesn’t mean you should freely handle a coral snake or any other venomous species. If you don’t know what species you’re dealing with, walk the other way. I promise the snake will not follow you home.

Kingsnake eat venomous snakes in the wild

They also take out rattlesnakes including those bigger than themselves. It’s best to leave wild snakes alone as opposed to killing them. This includes when driving down the highway.

Please don’t purposely run snakes over. It’s unnecessary and quite frankly, wrong. You’re damaging the ecosystem with every snake you kill and if that’s not enough, karma looms in all our futures. 

Just remember when red touches black, it’s non-venomous. Don’t go by the color of the nose being black because that’s not always the case.

Conclusion

The Arizona mountain kingsnake is a beautiful animal with attractive coloring and a wonderful temperament to match. On the other hand, they’re more delicate than most kingsnake and milk snake species. To be more specific, these snakes are finicky eaters so don’t expect the appetite of a Mexican or Florida kingsnake. I think this is due to the high altitudes they’re found at and the short summers and feeding seasons which are instinctively programmed in their heads.

If you keep the Arizona mountain kingsnake, be sure not to overfeed it and keep food items small. If you find your adult Arizona mountain kingsnake only takes pinkie mice, add a quality vitamin D3 calcium powder supplement to it by simply dipping it in the powder. The snake should still take it without any issues. This makes up for the pinkie mouse’s lack of bones. Some adults take only hopper mice at the most.

Still, they’re one of my favorite species of snake and definitely worth keeping. Just don’t panic over sporadic hunger strikes, they seem normal for this species.

Do you have useful Arizona mountain kingsnake husbandry tips? We’d love to hear them in our comments section below. Tell us about your experience with the Arizona mountain kingsnake!

Arizona Mountain Kingsnakes as Pets

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Like to sell my Arizona Mountain King Snake…how and who do I talk to ?

    1. Avatar

      Michael Gorczyca – I am interested in an Arizona Mountain. Send me photos and asking price.

      1. Avatar

        Hi Michael and thanks for your interest! I have no babies for sale at this time. When I do, I’ll contact you at the email you provided and send you pictures along with prices. Thanks again for visiting Snake Hacks, I really appreciate it!

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