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Black Mexican Kingsnake Care Guide: Tank, Setup & Diet Explained

Known for their dark appearance and their nonvenomous status, the Mexican Black Kingsnake is an excellent choice for beginners. As such consider this article your official Mexican Black Kingsnake Guide.


Introduction

Lampropeltis Getula Nigrita, or The Mexican Black Kingsnake, is a member of the colubrid family of snakes and a subspecies to the common Kingsnake which there currently stands to be reportedly over 10 different variations.

Mexican Black Kingsnakes
Mexican Black Kingsnakes

Due to their lax nature, nonvenomous status, and gorgeous iridescence, this particular snake has become largely sought out by the reptile-keeping community. Because of this boom in popularity, many people wish to know how to care for these gorgeous animals, so here is our Mexican Black Kingsnake Guide.


Do Mexican Black Kingsnakes Make Good Pets?

To answer this question we need to look at it objectively. For a new snake owner, any snake is a challenge, but for someone like myself who has the experience, this wouldn’t be a hard snake to keep and care for.

Each individual snake is different, so you have to make sure you know the personality of your snake very well and know what it likes and doesn’t like. If you are someone who can’t remember to change the water out or who will cut corners. I recommend not getting any reptiles.

Snakes are fickle in some matters, and they can’t tell you when they need something. Sure they can stare at you, but that’s about it. You should check on your snake at least once a day. However, if you are able to manage that and manage what you will read about in the rest of the article, then they make an excellent pet.

Expert Tip: Mexican Black Kingsnakes don’t get into any trouble unless you don’t take proper precautions with keeping the enclosure closed uptight, and they don’t make too much noise. Overall a great pet.

Just try not to have cats with them, as the cats may try to kill the snake, which isn’t good, obviously.


Mexican Black Kingsnake Size

When in the wild, these snakes tend to stay a relatively smaller size. They usually grow to about 90-120 centimeters (or 3-4 feet) long. In the wild, they are often described as being somewhat plump and stocky. But like all other snakes, they look vastly different, and more healthy, in captivity.

Mexican Black Kingsnake Size
Mexican Black Kingsnake Size

When kept by humans, Kingsnakes can reach 1.5 meters in length (or 5 feet). This can be attributed to the fact that they have a much more stable diet in captivity. This can lead to them being pretty heavy too, weighing up to 1.3 kg (or 3 lbs) as an adult.

They aren’t the longest snake in the world, in fact, I have a few that are longer, but they are definitely big snakes that aren’t going to be good for people who believe the myth of the ball python that tried to eat its old owner, (yes that is a myth, I promise, a snake will never eat a human unless it is absolutely desperate for food).


Feeding A Mexican Black Kingsnake

In captivity, this species thrives on an all rodent diet, which consists of mice, rats, and other types of rodents. I personally prefer to feed all my snakes frozen-thawed mice, which essentially means that the mice are dead when they reach the snake. I learned this when I got my ball python Luci and he’s taken them happily and has never been harmed.

Usually feeding life is not only inhumane in my eyes, as I have to watch the mouse go through a slow and painful death for the benefit of my snake (versus being killed painlessly in their sleep), but also dangerous for the snake as the mouse will attempt to defend itself against the snake leading to the snake suffering from bites and scratches.

I strongly recommend feeding frozen-thawed, the nutritional value may go down slightly, but it’s a small price to pay in my book. You can also look into other sources of food like reptilians if feeding mice makes you squeamish. I will warn with these types of products though, your snake may not take them.

To bring back another anecdote from my ball python, he refused reptilians but ball pythons are just picky eaters so I’m not surprised.

The Mexican Black Kingsnake is also known to be an opportunistic feeder so make sure you have a set feeding schedule as they won’t tell you when they are full or not. This species of snake is known as one of the species that suffer from obesity due to overfeeding, so take care to know just how much you are feeding them.

They are also known to beg for food, so make sure you stick to that feeding schedule. How does a snake beg for food you ask? Well, it decides to stare at you from across the room and not stop looking at you and will climb all over its enclosure in an attempt to get your attention. Don’t buy into it.

Another thing that many other reptile keepers tend to do that I personally do not do is that they tend to remove their snakes from their enclosure to feed them. This is all due to the idea that snakes have territories, like cats and dogs, and they will get aggressive if you don’t separate their feeding territory from their enclosure.

I personally have never seen this, and have reason to believe is an old myth. While you can do this if you want I personally never do it for a few key reasons.

The first is that I don’t want my snake getting aggressive when I try to put them back in its enclosure, and the second is that too much movement can cause a snake to throw up its food which is not good at all and can actually hurt the snake really badly. Instead what I do to circumvent this is I have a pattern for feeding.

I have one day a week (or every two weeks depending on the age of the snake as younger snakes need more food), where I feed my snakes. Before I feed them I tap on the glass twice to inform them there is food before serving the mice. Every other day, except the two days after feeding them since I don’t want them to get sick.

I will handle the snake, so they know very well that if I don’t tap on the glass twice first, then there is no food ready for them. A snake will not see you like food, I promise. They don’t want to bite you, they know you provide the food.

Accidents happen, but otherwise, snakes in captivity are pretty good about that, and if they do accidentally mistake you for food it’s because they have peanut brains, not because they actually think you’re food.

Expert Tip: Another thing to note is that a snake will almost never bite the hand that’s holding them because they don’t want to be dropped, so there is also that to think about.


Mexican Black Kingsnake Lifespan

These snakes don’t have the longest lifespan of any captive snake on the planet, but if you get one expect to be in it for the long haul. This species of snake can live anywhere from 20 to 30 years, which is a long time. I do know that some individual snakes have lived beyond this due to proper care, but this isn’t common at all.

So if you decide that this species of snake is for you, make sure you will be able to take care of it or find it a new home, in the long run.


Mexican Black Kingsnake Enclosure

When this species of snake, or really any snake, is young then a 20-gallon tank will do just fine as an enclosure. Having too big of space may make them hard to find and frightened of the large surroundings if not properly decorated. But as the snake grows older, make sure you upgrade the tank size.

Mexican Black Kingsnake Enclosure
Mexican Black Kingsnake Enclosure

The snake should always be able to extend its body almost completely out in one direction or another. By the end of its growth, this snake can be in a tank of 40 gallons or larger. For my larger breeds of snakes, I tend to put them in well-decorated Zoo tanks, as I feel this is more than enough space for them, but not everyone can afford it.

Just know that you may want to invest in a 40-gallon tank as soon as you possibly can. Start with a 20-gallon tank and then increase the size by 10 as you notice the snake is outgrowing its tank. Also, an additional note, the glass of said tank will get splotchy so make sure you clean it often.

In terms of decoration, make sure you have a water bowl, a feeding bowl (if you are planning on feeding the snake in the enclosure and aren’t planning on hand feeding like I do for all my snakes but my milk snake), and multiple hides. These hides should not just be half logs, as they don’t hide the snake well enough and make it feel safe.

What I personally like to do is take plastic leaves and spread them around three of the four sides of the enclosure so the snake feels hidden while one side is open and people can look in.

Then I will put one cave on the cold side of the enclosure and one on the warm side of the enclosure, this way my snakes can stay hidden regardless of if they want to be warm or cold.

In the middle, right under the heat lamp, I provide a plastic tree or log or mini-mountain type structure that will promote basking, so that way the snake can have a place to relax in the light. The same goes for Mexican Black Kingsnakes.

For that basking spot, I recommend something that isn’t too dark of a color as you don’t want to risk burning your snake and make sure you use plastic so they are easier to disinfect.

Expert Tip: It is also advised you have enough rough surfaces in the enclosure to help the snake peel off its shed skin.


Cage and Set-Up

Before you set up your tank, you should do a few key things. First, you should make sure that there is no way for the snake to escape. If you decided on an enclosure with a matching top, make sure that the snake can’t wiggle out through any crevices. Assume that the snake, even though it isn’t, is as smart as a human.

If your enclosure is not securely closed, it will find a way out, and it will be a horrible experience. Everyone loses their snake at some point, even I have (twice) and it isn’t hard to find them, but it’s best to just try to avoid it altogether.

So make sure the tops are sealed, and if it isn’t a top opening enclosure, then make sure the front is latched and what I like to do is, I like to use the twist ties on bread to make sure the front stays closed just in case. Believe it or not, most snake types won’t be able to push past the twist tie.

The daily tasks for maintenance of your enclosure are to check for feces around the enclosure and make sure it is clean. A snake will not poop every day, but it can still poop often enough. You can usually tell when a snake is about to use the bathroom by the mild bloating of its butt.

The water should also be changed out daily if you don’t use a running water system to give your snake water. Even if there is still water in the enclosure, it should still be changed as bugs or bacteria can grow in there.

In terms of substrate, Aspen is the most widely recommended but I also use sand, coconut shavings, and wood chips. I make sure, however, that the woodchips are not toxic. Pine and Cedar are two of these wood types that are considered toxic.

I also try to make sure that whatever I do use in my snake’s enclosure it won’t cling too tightly on the mouse if I drop it as too much-swallowed bedding can cause impaction issues, which is just a hassle in the long run. As I have said, and will probably say throughout this guide, snakes aren’t smart animals.

They will eat dirt, and they will do it with joy even if it’ll cause you thousands in vet bills later. It is highly recommended that the substrate be changed monthly to ensure proper sanitation. When it comes to UVB, you can use it but it may not be needed. There isn’t enough evidence to support that snakes do or do not need UVB.

I tend to use UVB but use a timer to ensure a proper day-night cycle, as constant UVB can cause a lot of damage in the long run.


Tank Temperature, Heat Gradient, and Humidity

There is a period of inactivity that most colubrids incur during the winter months, this is known as brumation. It is very similar to hibernation, where the snake will go into a stasis period and not need food for a few months. In captivity, however, the Mexican Black Kingsnake can remain active all year, unless brumation is induced.

I wouldn’t recommend a novice try to induce brumation unless you absolutely have to, and if you do, consult your veterinarian beforehand to learn the signs of a successful brumation and what to do if you don’t succeed in inducing brumation.

You don’t want your snake starving to death in the winter because you didn’t induce brumation properly. Some scientists say that certain snakes prefer to spend the winter months in brumation, but this may be because of the fact that it is a mere instinct for them, as when winter comes around food becomes scarce.

It’s not due to any higher-order planning. This species requires a gradient in temperature that’s between 21 and 29 degrees Celsius (70-84 degrees Fahrenheit). How I prefer to set this up is to have one side of the enclosure be colder and one side be warmer, with a hide on each side so if the snake wishes to be cooler, it can be.

But if it wants to be warmer it can choose that too. It just overall makes things easier on the snake. On the day the temperature should be a bit higher, which can be accomplished via a heat lamp, and at night the temperature should be lower, which can be accomplished with the heat lamp turned off.

I prefer using an under-tank heater to provide the gradient, as heat rocks can cause burns and heat lamps alone aren’t strong enough. I also use two different thermometers to measure the temperature inside. These thermometers are not the cheap plastic ones that you stick to the wall of the enclosure.

The ones I use instead operate as a thermostat I plug the heater into the thermostat and stick the rubber measuring prong into the substrate and should the temperature rise above the set limit, it will turn off the heat pad and if it goes lower it will turn the heat pad on, thus creating a perfectly controlled temperature set up.

Should the enclosure get too hot or cold, it will also set off an alarm that will inform me immediately. This will allow me to create the perfect gradient. In terms of humidity, I do tend to use the cheap plastic ones to measure this, since this is an easier barometric to measure as a whole.

The humidity should be kept between the range of 40 and 60 percent, which can be accomplished easily through an automated misting system or a spray bottle (what I do). However, I recommend you make sure the substrate isn’t soaking wet, or else the snake may incur scale rot.

Expert Tip: Failure to provide a suitable level of humidity can result in horrific pulmonary infections or even death, so make sure your snake is comfortable.


Mexican Black Kingsnake Temperament

As a snake keeper myself, I can say that what makes a snake easy or difficult to take care of is whether or not they can be described as feisty or not If they are a particularly feisty species of snake, then they aren’t very good to keep as a beginner pet.

For example, the Plains Hognose is also known as the Western Hognose, wouldn’t be that good to keep if you are a novice to snake keeping. Mostly due to the fact they get moody, and while they can’t hurt you too terribly much, people who aren’t used to getting bitten by snakes may not know this.

So now let’s drawback to the Mexican Black Kingsnake. This species is known to spend most of its time in isolation, however, this does not mean you will never see them. They are known to be very curious snakes and enjoy peeking out to view their owners and exploring their enclosures.

The reason for this is mostly that they do require exercise and activity to promote good health, both mental and physical. A larger enclosure is pretty good for them for this reason. If they feel provoked or threatened, they will rattle their tail, trying to replicate a rattlesnake.

I will reiterate that they don’t have a rattle, or any venom for that matter, so there is nothing to worry about. They are doing this to emulate a rattlesnake to try and convince you, the person probably scaring it that they are a very venomous snake when in reality they’re as venomous as the bird sitting in the tree next to your home.

Other species do this as well, such as corn snakes and milk snakes, something I have seen first hand in my milk snake Panacea, and a good sign to me not to pick her up or she’ll bite me(not that her itty bitty teeth can do too much damage anyways).

Kingsnakes don’t tend to strike their owners, but they can if continue to be provoked or agitated during a state of distress. So when that rattling starts it’s best to leave them alone for a bit.

If you are planning to cohabit this snake, I would advise against it. While they may be rather docile with humans, they do eat other snakes in the wild. So it’s best for you just leave them be. Their preferred snack is, in fact, rattlesnakes.


Is the Mexican Black Kingsnake Venomous?

I think I’ve said it often enough, but I will make sure I scream it from the rooftops because people still misconstrued that this species is, in fact venomous. It may have a nasty bite, but it isn’t a venomous snake. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t poisonous.

Is the Mexican Black Kingsnake Venomous
Is the Mexican Black Kingsnake Venomous

You see, the Mexican Black Kingsnake has a strong immunity against the venom of other snakes. Since its diet in the wild oftentimes will be supplemented by Rattlesnakes, they have a very strong immunity built up to these snakes.

So make sure that if there is a wound on a Black Kingsnake, you don’t let it come in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth, or any open wounds of your own. You don’t know how long ago it was that they ate a Rattlesnake. If you are not feeding your Mexican Black Kingsnake with Rattlesnakes though, then you won’t have to worry.

Expert Tip: These snakes are neither venomous nor poisonous. In fact, this snake has been used to try and synthesize antidotes for poisons, so there is an interesting factoid.


How often can you handle a Mexican Black Kingsnake?

So this is a question that I get a lot about all breeds and species of snakes, and it really depends who you ask. In my opinion, if you want a show animal, then you don’t need to handle them at all. If you aren’t planning on moving your snake at all, then don’t worry about it.

You won’t have to hold them really at all. Just invest in a snake hook before you decide this because you will have to move them eventually. But for me, I handle all my snakes daily except after eating. This makes them enjoy human contact and I get to learn more about them.

How often can you handle a Mexican Black Kingsnake?
How often can you handle a Mexican Black Kingsnake?

My snakes all know I’m not a threat and even sometimes communicate they want to be held. In fact, I have learned that some of my snakes enjoy doing things like watching television and that they take a particular interest in my glasses (considering they will steal them off my face without me noticing).

They like sitting on my neck due to how warm it is or in my shirt, and I’ve noticed they particularly enjoy curling up on my stomach when I’m working on my laptop or reading a book. Snakes are lovely to handle and they will become significantly less aggressive the more you handle them, the Mexican Black Kingsnake is no different.

Obviously don’t handle them within the first week or so that you put them in a new enclosure or place, and don’t handle them within 48 hours after eating, but after that, they are very chill animals and you will find that they can be as loving as any other animal.

Proof of this lies in my Ball Python Luci who loathes my mother, who had to watch him for a month and loves me. He would not allow her to hold her but as soon as I came back he slithered his way on his own onto my arm and into my sleeve and is sitting with me now as I’m writing this.

Don’t ever be afraid to hold your snake. But be sure not to push them, as they are living creatures too. I recommend holding them for half an hour to an hour a day.


Conclusion

The Mexican Black Kingsnake is a very pleasant snake to own for those who are capable of taking care of it. Yes, like all snakes, it requires a lot and some individuals may be a bit feisty. But overall, it is nonvenomous, very relaxed, and very easy to care for the snake.

Of course, every snake species is different, and there are so many out there, so if you have any doubts about this particular breed then make sure you research others. If you don’t like how I raise my snakes, that’s fine too.

Do your own research and find out what you prefer. I’m sure you’ll find the perfect combination eventually. Regardless, good luck, and I hope you can find your snake companion soon!

About Rencel Leyran