Mexican Black Kingsnake Care

The Mexican black kingsnake is on fire. Not only are they the most popular kingsnake, but they’re also probably the most popular colubrid these days. They’re hardy, docile, and make great pet snakes. If you’re looking for a low maintenance pet snake, the Mexican black kingsnake is king.

Mexican black kingsnake origin

As the name suggests, these snakes are from Mexico. More specifically,  they’re found in the Sonoran Desert in Sinaloa, Mexico. While their range does extend into parts of Arizona, these are intergraded (hybrids) with other kingsnakes such as California Kingsnake and desert kingsnake.

The purest form of this snake is found in Mexico and they’re technically known as the Western Mexican black kingsnake. A look into where these snakes originate from offers an understanding of their biology.

The Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert, including its subregions, covers a large area. While the desert is extremely hot with highs averaging well over 100°F, interaction with cool moist air occurs producing thunderstorms during the summer months. It is during this time that the desert receives most of its rainfall.

Even though it’s a desert, it offers a greatly diverse ecosystem in both plants and animals. The Mexican black kingsnake is found both among rocky outcrops and heavily vegetated areas.

Look at it this way

Snakes surviving desert conditions are often hardy in captivity. Living under such conditions with excessive heat and lack of rain makes such snakes tough. 

Mexican Black Kingsnakes Video

Mexican black kingsnakes are good pets for beginners

The Mexican black kingsnake is a good choice for someone new to snake keeping. The only reservation I have about recommending a Mexican black kingsnake to first-time snake keepers is their hefty price. If you make a mistake in your husbandry, it is undoubtedly a costly one.

For this reason, I highly recommend having the snake’s enclosure and everything it needs ready before buying it. Be completely prepared. I also recommend this to anyone buying any species of snake as a first-time pet.

Click HERE for more snakes that are good for beginners. The article also covers snakes first-time keepers should avoid.

Mexican black kingsnake as pets

Mexican black kingsnake
The Mexican black kingsnake

Mexican black kingsnake care is easy. These are among the easiest snakes to keep as pets. They’re usually not prone to stress, have voracious appetites, and adults are easy to handle. Hatchlings are nervous and flighty but in my opinion, that’s the best time to buy them.

If you’re totally new to snake-keeping, starting out with an established adult is a good idea. You really can’t go wrong with these snakes and there’s less room for error with adults.

Their husbandry is very similar to the California kingsnake and Thayer’s kingsnake. They’re generally hardier and much less delicate than the Arizona mountain kingsnake. One thing which differentiates the Mexican black kingsnake from other kingsnakes is their speed. From my personal observation, these snakes move very quickly as hatchlings.  Watch them closely, especially when placing them on the floor.

Have a temporary holding tub while cleaning the snake’s enclosure

I suggest getting a shoebox or Rubbermaid tub to temporarily hold your snake while performing enclosure maintenance. Once your Mexican black kingsnake is used to you and its new home, they tend to slow down quite a bit. Especially as they get older. As adults, most specimens are very easy to handle.

Mexican Black Kingsnake Facts

  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Docile
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific name: Lampropeltis getula nigrita
  • Constrictor: Yes
  • Average adult size: 3 to 4 feet
  • Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Venom: No
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Stress level: Moderate to low
  • Food: Rodents, lizards
  • Reproduction: Egg laying
  • Breeding level: Easy
  • Average Temperature: 80°H/70°L
  • Humidity: 40 to 60%
  • Habitat: Terrestrial
  • UVB lighting: No, optional
  • Enclosure size: Adult - 3'L x 18"W
  • Average price range: $150 - $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.

Size

These snakes are a medium-sized colubrid averaging out from three to four feet making them a small pet snake. They grow quickly and don’t benefit from excessive feeding, or power feeding. Your snake will live a longer life when not obese. An obese snake is never a healthy one.

When cared for correctly, these snakes live between fifteen to twenty years. That’s a long commitment. Make sure you take this into consideration before buying a Mexican black kingsnake.

Heating and lighting

These snakes don’t need special full-spectrum UVB as lizards do. This is because of the calcium they get from the bones of the rodents they eat. Nevertheless, they still need a day and night cycle. This is easily achieved by setting the enclosure in a room that has light during the day and is completely dark at night.

Never leave your Mexican black kingsnake in total darkness twenty-four hours a day unless during brumation/hibernation. Still, lighting via a UVB bulb is optional if you choose to do so. It adds an aesthetic effect for display animals.

While kingsnakes get their calcium from rodent or lizard bones, it is beneficial to add powdered vitamin D3 supplementation for breeding females.

Provide a warm spot in the enclosure

Providing a warm spot for most snakes is beneficial. This is especially important during digestion which is when I usually see them utilizing the warm spot the most. I use heat tape in snake racks or under the enclosure heat mats. These are always controlled by a thermostat.

Make sure to check the temperature of the enclosure to make sure you reach the target temperature. Never use heat stones or heat rocks placed in the enclosure. These are known for causing burns to snakes and other reptiles. Remember to use a thermostat with any heating device you decide to use.

Temperature and humidity

I keep my snakes at an ambient temperature of 79°F to 80°F degrees. Living in Florida allows me to get away with certain things that I couldn’t in New York. Achieving a safe ambient temperature in Florida is easy. When I lived in New York, it was definitely a challenge, especially during autumn and winter. I keep my hotspot for all my snakes a few degrees higher than the ambient temperature.

While some recommend temperatures as high as 90°F degrees, I find this unnecessary. However, if I still lived in New York, I would raise the warm spot up higher unless the snakes are brumating for spring breeding. How much higher you should raise the heater’s thermostat depends on how cool the ambient temperature in the room is. I still recommend under 90°F. Keep the humidity between 40 and 50% but don’t exceed 60%. Use a hydrometer to monitor humidity levels.

Do Mexican black kingsnakes make good pets?

As far as pet snakes go, the Mexican black kingsnake makes one of the best. Remember though, all snakes are prone to some amount of stress. Stress is the number one killer in snake-keeping. Some snakes stress more than others. It’s okay to handle adults and juveniles, just remember that they need time to be a snake too. This means not over-handling them, giving them a place to hide and not bothering them for 48 hours after they eat. That gives you five days to handle them.

This snake and most snakes, in general, are low maintenance pets. Especially if you keep their enclosure simple. You might choose to set up a nice display enclosure to appreciate its beauty among ornamental plants and stones. That’s perfectly fine too but remember such enclosures take more time to clean. Depending on the substrate you choose determines if spot cleaning is possible.

Handling the Mexican black kingsnake is easy

Handle these snakes approximately twenty to thirty minutes a day. I’d lean more towards ten to twenty. If the snake becomes defensive or goes on a hunger strike, there’s a good chance you’re handling it too much. Always remember to be gentle.

If a hunger strike occurs, discontinue handling until the snake is eating again. Eating is the most important factor in snake-keeping and when a newly acquired snake doesn’t feed, even a seasoned veteran might feel a knot in the pit of their stomach. Especially if you paid a lot of money for it.

Mexican black kingsnake
A true Western Mexican black kingsnake.

Availability

The Mexican black kingsnake has been around a long time in the reptile industry. Not quite the staple that the California kingsnake was in the 1980s and ’90s, but by the late ’90s, the Mexican black kingsnake became more common at reptile shows. I had one back then, I found their slick, black, shiny body especially appealing.

No other black colubrids (black rat snake, black pine snake) could match up to them in beauty. The exception being the eastern indigo

Today this kingsnake is bred at probably the highest rate yet. Hatchlings sell fast making their demand higher. It’s anyone’s guess about why these particular colubrids rose in popularity to such an extent. If you’re looking for a hatchling, keep an eye on the online reptile classifieds daily.

Go to reptiles shows, you might come across one there. To be honest, I’ve been to several reptiles shows the first half of the year and didn’t come across a single specimen. Remember though, the first half of the year isn’t “baby season” like autumn and early winter.

Mexican black kingsnake Price

The price of this kingsnake has risen to very high levels. Back in the late ’90s, these snakes sold for well under $100. Of course, times change and so does the market. In turn, an increase in price isn’t something unheard of.

Some sellers still sell them at fair prices while others are grossly overpriced. I think it’s fair, considering their popularity, to charge $150 for a hatchling. Add $50 shipping when ordering online for a total of $200. Some sellers go well above that.

How long will these prices stay inflated?

Who knows? It depends on if the market gets flooded like with the Brazilian rainbow boas. Prices will then drop or at least level out. Still, it’s hard to predict trends in the reptile industry.

Perhaps they’ll come up with a crazy new morph. It can go up, down, or stay the same. The popularity and availability of the Brazilian rainbow boa may offer a hint to the Mexican black kingsnake’s future.

At the present time, breeding a pair or two of these snakes is not a bad idea.

Western Mexican black kingsnake
While some hatchling Mexican black kingsnakes may have some white spots on their underbelly, they usually disappear and become jet black by adulthood.

Enclosure size for your Mexican black kingsnake

An adult specimen doesn’t need a particularly large enclosure as a bullsnake does. Nevertheless, the Mexican black kingsnake needs a cage size of three feet in length at adulthood. Keep hatchlings and sub-adults in smaller enclosures. Keeping a hatchling in too large of an enclosure is often counterproductive.

I prefer keeping my snakes in rack systems because of the high volume I have. If you choose to go the fish tank route, even a ten-gallon aquarium is a bit large for a hatchling but will suffice. 

I know five-gallon tanks are harder to find and more expensive which is why I never owned one. Other suitable enclosures are available commercially geared more towards keeping a snake, rather than a fish. 

Common alternative enclosures

Many hobbyists keep hatchlings in shoeboxes or something similar. Many breeders often keep their hatchlings in deli cups. While I wouldn’t recommend going this route once you get your snake home, they will survive and even thrive in such small enclosures until they outgrow them.

This is why many breeders choose to feed hatchlings every ten days. For one thing, they save money feeding them less and secondly, they won’t outgrow their small enclosure until they’re sold off. That’s okay for breeders but not recommended for keepers.

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 but you have to stay on top of it. I recommend getting a quality air purifier for a snake’s room.

Choosing the right substrate for your snake

I prefer using paper towels for most of my snakes. Other kinds of snake bedding are only used with those that need certain humidity levels. That’s not the case with the snake we’re talking about here. Paper towels do the trick and offer quick and easy cleanup and replacement.

Whether or not paper towels is aesthetically pleasing is a matter of taste, but they probably won’t look very good in a display setting. Some people use newspaper which isn’t nearly as absorbent as paper towels. While I don’t recommend using newspaper, it’s okay bedding for your snake when it comes to price.

Aspen bedding

Some keepers use aspen bedding. This is good for burrowing when applying a thick enough layer but becomes unpleasant to work with when wet. I usually don’t experience water bowl tipping as often with kingsnakes as I do bullsnakes, but it still occasionally happens.

The simple solution is to use a heavier ceramic water bowl. The only drawback is when the aspen bedding gathers in the water bowl. Clean it regularly.

Other alternative bedding

Other bedding includes AstroTurf, coconut husk nuggets, mulch, crushed walnuts, and even sand. I’m not particularly fond of keeping my snakes on sand unless the species specifically requires it. Coconut husk nuggets are great for humidity control and don’t smell bad. I prefer using this substrate with tropical monitor lizards.

Cypress mulch as reptile bedding
Cypress mulch bedding isn't my first choice for snake bedding. I find it more suitable for monitor lizards.

It still offers the snake a place to burrow but contrary to keeping monitor lizards, I’d keep the coconut nuggets dry. High humidity levels aren’t good for these snakes. 40% to 50% is plenty. Monitor the humidity level with a hydrometer. Too high humidity levels lead to upper respiratory infections and blisters.

I’m not a big fan of keeping any snakes on cypress mulch. The snake may accidentally ingest a sharp sliver of wood while eating. I’ve seen this happen to a ribbon snake while working at a pet store when I was younger. There’s not much you can do for the snake once the wooden sliver is ingested. Cypress mulch is better for medium to larger sized monitor lizards. It retains humidity well.

Feeding and diet

In captivity, these snakes thrive on a diet of rodents. In the wild, the Mexican black kingsnake is an opportunistic predator preying on rodents, lizards, and even other snakes which include venomous species. Yes, this is an impressive snake. These snakes usually feed voraciously so if your Mexican black kingsnake isn’t eating, figure out why and learn how to fix the problem. Luckily, snakes can go a while without eating.

Pinkie mouse sizes
Different sized pinkie mice for differently sized baby snakes. An extremely small hatchling needs extra small pinkie mice. As the snake grows, they move on to larger pinkies. I once had a kingsnake that was so small, I cut the head off an extra small pinkie and offered it until the snake gained some size.

Even so, try to get the snake to feed as soon as possible by running a number of experiments.

Troubleshooting non-feeding black Mexican kingsnake

First, let’s look at stress factors.

Are you over-handling the snake before it had time to acclimate to its new environment?

Keeping the snake in a room with high human traffic can also affect certain snakes negatively.

Does your kingsnake have a good place to hide in its enclosure?

Sometimes, especially after a meal, snakes need quiet time. In the case of a nonfeeding snake, it benefits from having an area in its enclosure where it is completely hidden from eyesight. When the snake feels secure enough, it will resume eating unless it’s sick or injured.

More non-feeding hacks

If you bought a newly hatched specimen, scenting the pinkie mouse with a lizard could induce feeding. Try offering a live pinkie if the snake refuses frozen/thawed.

Temperament

The Mexican black kingsnake is known for having a docile and even temperament like most kingsnakes. In fact, I can’t come up with a single kingsnake species that are particularly nippy which is unlike the rat snake family. I’m referring specifically to the Texas rat snake, a notoriously nippy snake.

The Mexican black kingsnake is an easily handled snake, especially as they get bigger. Hatchlings are nervous and flighty and may defecate on you. They’ll grow out of that stage. Never power-feed them too quicken the growth process. No colubrid hatchlings offer pleasant handling experiences. Give them some time to eat and grow. They grow rather quickly even when fed once a week.

Black Mexican kingsnake bite

While nervous hatchlings vibrate their tails like a rattlesnake, these snakes seldom bite with occasional exceptions. Taking a bite from a Mexican black kingsnake isn’t a big deal. If they’re able to break the skin, thoroughly wash the wound with warm water and soap. It should quickly heal.

If by some chance you develop a secondary infection, go to your doctor. You can also apply antibacterial lotion to the wounded area. In my vast experiences, I simply wash the wound with no further action needed.

Back in the ’90s, I took an accidental food response bite from a large Florida kingsnake. While their teeth aren’t especially long compared to boas, its grasp is surprisingly powerful. He didn’t let go right away either but didn’t constrict me. I’ve kept many kingsnake species over the years and I believe that was the only bite I ever received from one.

Snakebites are part of being a snake owner

For someone who’s been in the hobby for a long time, such bites are trivial. Still, also understand how those new to snake-keeping might find this as a traumatic experience. Just know that it comes with the territory. Sometimes, I go months and even years without a single bite. Just last week, I received two of them. I don’t take it personally.

Mistakes happen and their only legitimate defense (besides secreting an unpleasant smelling musk) is to inflict a nonvenomous bite.

Never take retaliatory measures against a snake that bites you

They don’t understand “punishment” like dogs and it only makes the snake more likely to bite in the future. Actually, the same is said for some dogs but that’s an entirely different issue.

Remember that it’s better to get bit by a kingsnake than a dog or even a cat for that matter. I know someone who ended up being hospitalized last year after receiving a bite from her neighbor’s house cat. A serious infection resulted. I also knew someone who had their face ripped off by a seemingly tame dalmatian dog. She had to get plastic surgery but some light scarring remains.

You’re more likely to get injured from a dog or cat than a nonvenomous colubrid. Taking a bite from a true giant snake such as an adult reticulated python is an entirely different story and isn’t considered part of this article.

Mexican black kingsnake breeding

Like with most snakes far enough from the equator, the Mexican black kingsnake needs a cooling period to stimulate breeding. Surprisingly, even though the snake is from Mexico, winters get chilly although not usually below freezing (L 55°F). Nevertheless, shoot for temperatures between 45°F and 55°F degrees for at least three to four months.

Make sure the snake defecated and hasn’t eaten for at least two to three weeks before slowly lowering the temperature to reach the targeted low. Always have fresh water available for them during brumation. A wine cooler or small refrigerator is sometimes used as a hibernaculum. This also offers total darkness during brumation. Just make sure to open the door once a day for air to exchange. Slowly raise temperatures when brumation is complete.

After they’ve warmed up, offer them food until the snake sheds. Place the male in the enclosure of the female after her first molt. At this time, ovulating females release pheromones inducing reproduction which entices the male. Keep an eye from a distance during the process. Kingsnakes are cannibalistic and one may eat the other instead of mating.

Mexican black kingsnake egg clutch

The female lays her clutch (on average) after sixty days. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Be sure to keep a shoebox in the female’s enclosure filled with moistened vermiculite. Have a hole 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 during the morning, then take it away to avoid accidents.

Egg incubation and clutch size

A healthy adult female Mexican black kingsnake can lay up to two dozen eggs a year. Once the eggs have been laid, carefully take them out without tipping them over. While doing this, mark the top of the egg with a water tip marker and place them in another shoebox full of moist vermiculite.

As an alternative, use an egg-laying substrate product such as HatchRite. Consistently incubate the eggs at about 80°F. Healthy eggs hatch in about two months.

Caring for hatchlings

Attempt to feed the hatchlings after their first molt. Personally, I would first offer them a frozen/thawed pinkie. If they don’t take it, I would offer a live pinkie after two days. If that also fails, I would 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. Do not power feed these snakes and remember, always offer a bowl of clean water for them.

Conclusion 

While I’m not exactly sure why the Mexican black kingsnake has become the most popular of the kingsnake family, they do make extremely good pets that handle nicely as adults. They’re not the only jet black colubrid out there, but they’re the most sought after. Where will the Mexican black kingsnake go from here? Who knows. If we knew the future we’d all be millionaires.

I haven’t considered starting a Mexican black kingsnake breeding project yet because I’m lacking confidence in their future popularity. There was a time when the California kingsnake was the most popular of the kingsnake family. Whatever the future may hold for the reptile industry, owning one or more Mexican black kingsnakes offers an exceptional pet snake that is hardy and doesn’t mind being handled.

Do you have more information on Mexican black kingsnake care or breeding? Tell us about your experience with this magnificent snake in the comments section below. 

Mexican Black Kingsnake

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hi hopefully you see this comment . Hi I’m a new owner of a Mexican black kingsnake. I have a tank 18x36x18 with. A basking light of 75 w. I live in New York . It never reaches 95 f and rarely 90f . It’s a gradient of 80s to 87 f mostly . Should I switch to a higher wattage ?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Ks and thanks for visiting Snake Hacks. Those temperatures are suitable if the ambient temperature in the house is in the upper 70s, like 79°F which is what I keep my house at. I used to live in New York and I know how cool the ambient temperature gets during autumn and winter. If you don’t have plans to brumate (hibernate) your snake through winter and the room temperature drops into the 60s, you have a few options. You can use an under-the-tank heat mat for a section of the enclosure. Make sure the snake has plenty of room to go off the heated area. Another option is a ceramic heat bulb which you can keep on during the night. There are also black and red bulbs for nighttime use. If the snake is cold to the touch, seems lethargic, or regurgitates a meal, an increase in temperature is needed. Otherwise, less is more. You don’t want to overheat the snake either by going too high in wattage. I wouldn’t go higher than 100 w unless the snake is in a room that gets cold during the coming winter. Good luck and I’m sure with your ingenuity, your Mexican black kingsnake will be fine. I keep them myself. They’re a wonderful pet snake.

  2. Avatar

    Thanks soooo much ! This article is super helpful !

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