Prairie Kingsnake Care

The prairie kingsnake is a smaller species of kingsnake. Although secretive and somewhat shy, the prairie kingsnake is usually docile and makes a great pet.

Prairie kingsnake as pets

The prairie kingsnake is underrated. They make wonderful captives that are smart and receptive to their keepers.  They’re also relatively easy to take care for. I place them in the same class as the corn snake. While they’re one of the easiest snake species to care for, they’re certainly not one of the most popular. That’s too bad, they’re great pets and their popularity is beginning to grow as interest continues to increase.

Keep them dry with moderate to low humidity. Always keep a full water bowl in your prairie kingsnakes enclosure. If the snake happens to tip the bowl over, don’t delay in cleaning up the excess moisture. Sometimes too much water along with cool temperatures causes upper respiratory infections. That’s not usually the case with the prairie kingsnake as they’re relatively hardy like most kingsnakes.

Does the prairie kingsnake make a good pet for beginners?

Yes, the prairie kingsnake is hardy, easy to care for, and doesn’t stress easily.

Appearence of the Prairie Kingsnake
Introducing the highly underrated prairie kingsnake.

Size

These snakes average out between three to four feet with smaller specimens being a distinct possibility. Generally speaking, they won’t take up much room and stay manageable their entire lives.

Prairie kingsnake in this video

Care and suitability are similar to other hardy kingsnake species. 

Prairie kingsnake bite

These snakes have smaller heads compared to the rest of their body. They also have small teeth. A prairie kingsnake bite won’t do much damage. Clean wounds with warm water and soap. These snakes are usually quite docile and seldom bite. A great first snake for those new to the hobby.

Prairie Kingsnake Facts

  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Usually docile
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific name: Lampropeltis calligaster
  • Constrictor: Yes
  • Average adult size: 3.5 feet
  • Lifespan: 15 - 20 years
  • Venom: No
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Stress level: Moderate to low
  • Food: Rodents
  • Reproduction: Egg laying
  • Breeding level: Easy
  • Average Temperature: 80°H/70°L
  • Humidity: 40 to 60%
  • Habitat: Terrestrial, burrow
  • UVB lighting: No, optional
  • Enclosure size: Adult - 3'L x 18"W
  • Average price range: $40 - $150

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.

Lifespan

In the wild, estimations suggest these snakes live about ten years or so. In captivity, these snakes might reach fifteen to twenty years. With proper care and further understanding, they may live a bit longer than that.

Prairie kingsnakes have much potential in growing popularity among snake keepers. 

Morphs and price

Albino prairie kingsnake morphs are available and becoming more common. In fact, they’re what sell the most with this species of snake. Don’t underestimate them, normal phases are just as beautiful, especially following a shed.  Albinos typically go for $100 – $150 while normals go between $40 and $50 making them an affordable, great pet snake. Don’t hesitate in buying one.

Substrate

I use paper towels as a substrate for most of my snakes including my prairie kingsnakes. I layer them in three so the snake is able to crawl between the towels and hide when it needs to feel secure. This happens usually after a feeding. There’re other common substrate options to paper towels. Prairie kingsnakes like burrowing so using a substrate such as aspen bedding or cypress mulch are good choices.

Prairie kingsnake as pets
This prairie kingsnake will soon shed.

Cypress mulch is less dusty and far more moisture absorbent than aspen bedding. Once aspen bedding becomes wet, it needs changing out. Paper towels are also absorbent and extremely easy to clean and replace.

They don’t, however, look particularly appealing in the case of a display animals enclosure. I don’t think a prairie kingsnake would make a good display animal anyway, they spend most of their time hiding between meals.

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.

Heating and humidity

Keep the ambient temperature at about 80°F and with a warm spot to aid digestion. Nighttime temperatures can drop about ten degrees. Keep humidity levels between 40 to 60%.

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 highly recommend high-quality air purifiers for snake rooms.

Availability 

The prairie kingsnake managed to elude me for many years. I only scored an albino from a pet shop in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, it had an issue with its digestive system and was sickly. That one didn’t last very long but these things happen.

It wasn’t until last year that I happened to stumble upon four normal phase prairie kingsnakes at a reptile store near Tampa, Florida. I bought them all! Finally, I had my prairie kings, all healthy, eating well and hardy. I’m very happy to have them.

I noticed someone out of California mass-bred them last year. That’s probably where mine originated from. I’m not sure why the prairie kingsnake hasn’t been more popular over the years. Only albinos were occasionally available.

Early memories of the prairie kingsnake

I remember visiting the alligator farm in St. Augustine Florida in the 1980s. While there, I picked up the National Audubon Society’s field guide to reptiles and amphibians of North America. I loved the book and still have it today.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians

It’s still available in most bookstores although it’s in severe need of an update. Much has changed since its original printing.

Since 1979, many invasive species of reptiles have established themselves in the United States, especially in Florida. Burmese pythons, African rock pythons, butterfly agamas, red-headed agamas, tegus, and Nile monitors are just of few invasive species that now call Florida home. None of the species I just mentioned are in the current version of the book. Yes, an update is long overdue.

Prairie kingsnake care sheet
The prairie kingsnake

I remember the flight home from Florida, looking at all the snakes in my fantastic new book. By this time, I already had a corn snake One particular snake in the book attracted my attention, the pattern and colors reminded me of a corn snake.

It was actually a prairie kingsnake and I remember thinking how much I’d like to have one. 

Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would take thirty years. Also, the picture in the book was more appealing than the snake in person.

Appearance 

The prairie kingsnake appears differently than other kingsnakes. The head is peculiarly small compared to other kings. In fact, when it comes to body structure, I think the prairie kingsnake has more in common with the rosy boa. At least to some extent.

Right after a prairie kingsnake shed, its colors are most vibrant. However, it doesn’t take long before the colors fade out. It’s strange how the reds become drab in such a short period. Nothing like the picture in the book by the National Audubon Society.

Diet

Prairie kingsnakes are opportunistic feeders in the wild and have a voracious appetite. Outdoors, they eat various rodents, small lizards, snakes, small birds, bird eggs and more.

Feeding – never a problem

The prairie kingsnake also has a voracious appetite in captivity. Once settled into their new environment, the prairie kingsnake is an aggressive feeder who will never say no. Luckily, these snakes don’t seem prone to regurgitation.

Oddly, as much as the prairie kingsnake consumes, they grow rather slowly. This snake will take anything offered to them so be sure to house them separately. Cannibalism is possible so only during breeding should two specimens be kept in the same enclosure.

Feeding the Prairie Kingsnake
The prairie kingsnake is docile but shy.

Temperament

The prairie kingsnake is shyer than other kingsnakes. Out of the four specimens I keep, only one acts defensively. She rattles her tail and even strikes out at me. The other three specimens are shy but have never attempted to bite. 

While they handle fairly well, they squirm around more than other kings. They’re also unusually slippery. Not in a slimy, wet way, just extremely smooth and toned.

For the most part, the prairie kingsnake is pretty nice. The price for normal phase prairie kings is dirt cheap. I bought mine for $40 each which took me by surprise considering availability has been so limited over the years. Cheap is good in my opinion. This was the first time I ever found the normal phase for sale. The albino morph is much more costly.

Prairie King
Out of my four specimens of Prairie Kings, only one bites.

Shedding? No problem

I haven’t observed any shedding problems with this species. The prairie kingsnake can be kept at different humidity levels without any detriment to their health.

In the case of a retained shed, a simple humidity box does the trick. 

“Little House on the Prairie Kingsnake”

One may think a prairie kingsnake is found on a midwestern prairie. While you may find one there, it could be burrowed somewhere under the soil. Can you take a hint?

Yes, the prairie kingsnake likes to hide underground, especially after a meal. Provide a substrate which allows them to completely submerge themselves along with a hide box. Even paper towels will do if you multi-layer them.

Priaire kingsnake breeding

At the present time, prairie kingsnake breeding is very limited. Few breeders are working with them but it seems more are catching on.

In order for the prairie kingsnake to breed, it needs a cooling period of between three to four months. After the snakes have defecated and their system is completely clear of food, don’t feed them for two weeks.

After that, slowly lower the temperature each day until reaching a target of 55°F. Some keepers have cellars or outside facilities to reach the desired temperature. Others, like myself, have to resort to wine coolers and small refrigerators to meet the same goal. Besides, you have more control over an electric cooling device than counting on winter being cool enough to reach success. Just remember to open the door of the refrigerator once a day for air exchange.

The hibernaculum

Always have a small water bowl in the snake’s enclosure during the entire ordeal. A plastic shoe box makes a great hibernaculum. Make sure it has enough air holes. It’s best to make precise holes in plastic shoeboxes with the help of a soldering iron. Just be sure not to burn yourself with the iron.

After brumation is complete, slowly raise the temperature over a two-week period. After they’ve warmed up, begin feeding them. After the female sheds, it’s time to introduce the male to her enclosure. At this time, the female releases special pheromones necessary to induce copulation.

Prairie kingsnake eggs

After breeding has concluded, separate the snakes and continue to feed the female generously. As the time for eggs approaches, she might lose her appetite. Have a shoebox in the enclosure big enough for her to easily go in and out of. Keep it full of moistened vermiculite.

After she lays her eggs in about 60 days, remove them and place them in your choice of an incubator. Keep the eggs at a consistent 80-82°F. Place the eggs in moistened vermiculite or a commercially available medium such as HatchRite. This takes the guesswork out of keeping moisture at a steady level and I’ve had great success with it.

Also, keep the eggs upright from the original angle they were laid, marking the top with a water-based marker. Wait for your eggs to hatch and you now have baby prairie kingsnakes.

Caring for hatchling prairie kingsnakes

Attempt to feed the hatchlings after their first shed. 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. Don’t power feed these snakes and remember, always offer a bowl of clean water for them.

The mole kingsnake

The prairie kingsnake has much more in common with the mole kingsnake than the Arizona mountain kingsnake. The mole kingsnake is available online more often than the prairie kingsnake, but at a higher price. There has been some success in breeding the mole kingsnake, but there’s a catch. Hatchlings often need to assist feed to get them started out.

This requires patience and experience. They aren’t much different from Arizona mountain kingsnake hatchlings. Both depend on extremely small lizards in the wild and with time, eventually switch them over to rodents. I’d much rather do this with an Arizona mountain kingsnake than a mole kingsnake.

The next big thing? Probably not

Could prairie kingsnakes become the next big trend? I highly doubt it. I enjoy keeping them and waited a very long time to do so. While docile and hardy, these snakes make good pets but they don’t pop in appearance like other kingsnakes.

The low price of normal specimens pretty much tells the tale. I don’t want to sound discouraging or negative because they’re still a really good snake. I’m happy with mine and they’re a great snake for a new keeper.

Conclusion

The prairie kingsnake is a nice snake. Their coloring is most impressive directly after a shed although they darken significantly after a few weeks. They’ll return after the snake sheds again. This is definitely a snake I’d recommend for beginners because of their docile temperament and their ease in handling. 

They also eat well and shouldn’t give you any problems in that department. Although I don’t find these snakes to stress easily, make sure they have a place to hide in their enclosure. While my four specimens were shy for the first six to eight months, they’ve become much bolder and no longer stay hidden except directly following a meal. 

The prairie kingsnake is a rare underrated pet snake which more keepers should check out. If you keep prairie kingsnakes and have more valuable information to add, please include it in the comment section below. 

Prairie Kingsnake Care

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