With their dark brown-black bodies and blue iridescence, Mexican Black King Snakes are certainly memorable. They are also easy to keep and tolerate handling well. It’s not surprising that Mexican Black King Snakes are very popular in the pet trade.
Mexican Black King Snakes are very good snakes for novices. They have a few environmental requirements which you must meet if you want to keep a Mexican Black King Snake. They can tolerate less than ideal conditions but will be happier and healthier if you make the effort to give them the best possible environment.
This article will teach you everything you need to know about your Mexican Black King Snake. You will learn about its native habitat and diet and how you can best reproduce those conditions in your snake’s new home. Armed with this knowledge, you will be ready to enjoy years of companionship with your new Mexican Black King Snake.
Mexican Black King Snakes in the Wild
The Mexican Black King Snake (Lampropeltis nigrita) is native to Mexico’s Sonoran Desert. Its range borders that of the California King Snake (L. californiae) and the Desert King Snake (L. splendida). Many of the King Snakes found in these border regions are hybrids between the different species.
For a long time, biologists thought thease were different subspecies of the Eastern or Common King Snake (Lampropeltis getula). Recent DNA tests have revealed that they are separate but very closely related species. King Snakes get their name because they eat other snakes. (This is why we call the largest and deadliest of ophiophagus snakes the “King Cobra”).
Despite their name, Mexican Black King Snakes are actually a very dark shade of brown. Their blue sheen makes them appear glossy black. While hatchlings may be born with a few white or yellow spots, those quickly fade. A Mexican Black King Snake is dark all over, with gray-black belly scales and onyx-black eyes.
In their native habitat Mexican Black King Snakes are found in rocky and semi-arid brushland and grassland regions. They will burrow into loose soil and are also excellent swimmers. Though they spend most of their time on the ground Mexican Black King Snakes can also climb and will sometimes explore small trees in search of bird nests.
Housing Your Mexican Black King Snake
When they hatch, baby Mexican Black King Snakes are a bit over eight inches long. You can fit them comfortably in a 10-gallon aquarium. But your cute little worm will grow quickly. Within two or three years it will be a stocky snake of 3 to 4 feet long.
A Mexican Black King Snake kept in a cramped container may stop eating – or it may begin eating its own tail! When stressed king snakes may engage in autophagy (self-eating). Forming an ouroboros, it will keep swallowing until it dies. If you see your Mexican Black King Snake tail-biting gently tap its nose to distract it. Then start looking immediately for a bigger container.
Mexican Black King Snakes are curious snakes that love to explore their territory. While you can keep a Mexican Black King Snake in a 2.5-foot cage, it will be much happier and more active in a 3-foot or even a 4-foot cage. The bigger the cage, the more often you will see your Mexican Black King Snake out and about.
Because the Mexican Black King Snake is intelligent and curious, you will need to make sure their cage is tightly secured at all times. If there is a way out of the cage, a Mexican Black King Snake will find it. Avoid using screen tops. Your Mexican Black King will repeatedly poke at the screen in its escape efforts. This can lead to a raw nose and subsequent infections.
Your Mexican Black King Snake will appreciate an enriched environment. Give them a branch or two to climb, hides on both the warm and cool sides, and tubes to crawl through. This will give them exercise and let them explore for something other than an escape.
Clear plastic holiday tree containers are an inexpensive way to give your Mexican Black King Snake a roomy, secure and easy to clean home. Add ventilation by poking a few tiny air holes on each end with a drill or awl. Poke from the inside and when you are done carefully sand away any rough edges with ultrafine sandpaper so your snake does not injure himself.
Keeping snakes together in the same habitat is never a good idea. It is especially bad when you put the Mexican Black King Snake in a container with another snake. Your Mexican Black King will soon be alone in his environment again, and you will be out a snake.
The only time you should put two Mexican Black Kings together is for breeding purposes – and even then you should keep a close eye on things in case one decides they turn their romantic pairing into a dinner date.
Heating a Mexican Black King Snake’s Cage
Though they come from a hot desert, Mexican Black King Snakes are not overly fond of too much heat. Most of the year Mexican Black King Snakes hunt during the day. But in the hottest months, they only come out at night when things cool down and hide in a burrow or under a bush as the morning sun begins warming things up.
Your Mexican Black King Snake will do best in a terrarium with an ambient temperature between 80 and 82. Give them a hot spot between 85 and 90 degrees. Use a reptile thermostat like the Zoo Med ReptiTemp RT-600 Digital Thermostat Controller to ensure things are neither too warm nor too cold.
Heating pads or heat tape on the bottom of the tank will ensure your Mexican Black King Snake always has a warm spot to digest its meals. Do not use “hot rocks,” as they can burn your snake terribly if they malfunction.
A better option is a piece of heat tape across the bottom of a thick 12” square ceramic tile with a thermostat probe attached. Set the thermostat for 90 degrees and place the probe atop the stone. Check this regularly with an infrared thermometer to make sure it is not overheating. Buried in substrate, it will provide your Mexican Black King Snake with a nice basking area.
At night you can let the entire tank drop to a temperature of 75. Deserts get chilly at night, and the Mexican Black King Snake will feel more at home if you provide a nocturnal temperature drop.
Substrate for your Mexican Black King Snake
For a substrate that resembles the Mexican Black King Snake’s wild environment, try a mixture of two parts Exo Terra Plantation Soil and one part play sand. A substrate of 4 inches depth will allow your Mexican Black King Snake to burrow.
While this is good for your Mexican Black King Snake, it will make your habitat more challenging to heat with an undertank heater. You can make up for this by providing PVC pipes or paper towel tubes that will give your snake a nice burrow substitute.
If you use substrate and heat the tank with a halogen heating bulb or ceramic heater, make sure it is safely above the tank so your Mexican Black King Snake doesn’t burn itself exploring.
Avoid substrates with wood chips or 100% sand substrates. Aspen shavings will also work as a substrate. Do not use pine or cedar shavings as their oils are toxic to snakes. Whatever substrate you choose, check it every day and spot-clean any excrement you find. Once a month change the substrate out entirely. Dirty cages can lead to scale rot, infections and other problems.
UV Lighting for Mexican Black King Snakes
Because Mexican Black King Snakes spend a great deal of time in the sun in their local environment, they may benefit from some UV supplementation. A fluorescent UV bulb used 10 to 12 hours a day may lead to a happier and shinier Mexican Black King Snake.
If you do not use UV supplementation for your Mexican Black King Snake, don’t worry too much. Many herpers do not use UV supplement for their snakes and report no issues. For lizards like iguanas and bearded dragons UV supplements are required. For snakes they are optional though they may be beneficial.
Water for your Mexican Black King Snake
Your Mexican Black King Snake should have a shallow water dish which is big enough for it to soak in, and heavy enough that your snake cannot tip it over. Mexican Black King Snakes will soak or even swim in water in their native habitat. Make sure your water is fresh by changing it out every day or two.
A soaking dish will help your Mexican Black King Snake when it is shedding. But if you notice your snake is constantly in their water dish but still has bad sheds, they may have mites. Spray your Mexican Black King Snake and their environment with a mite relief spray like Natural Chemistry Reptile Lizard Spray. If the problem persists consult your veterinarian.
While Mexican Black King Snakes love soaking, they do not love excess humidity. If their surroundings are too damp, they may get lung infections or scale rot. If your snake tips their water dish clean it up as soon as you notice and replace the substrate with dry bedding.
Feeding a Mexican Black King Snake
In its native habitat the Mexican Black King Snake frequently eats rattlesnakes. Their powerful constriction allows King Snakes to take down larger and even venomous snakes. (It helps that Mexican Black King Snakes have a natural resistance to rattlesnake venom).
While they are most famous for gobbling vipers, Mexican Black King Snakes favor a varied diet. They also eat lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs (bird or turtle will do). And if Mexican Black King Snakes encounter each other outside of mating season, the larger snake will eat the smaller.
Your Mexican Black King Snake will do fine on a straight diet of appropriately sized rodents. Feed hatchlings every 5-7 days. An adult Mexican Black King Snake can go 10-14 days or longer between feedings. You can feed your Mexican Black King feeder anoles, chicks or quail eggs if you want to offer some variety.
In the wild, snakes store fat as a guarantee against an unsure food supply. After a meal they may and often do go weeks or even months without eating. Given all the food they want when they want it, captive snakes never burn off that fat. Give your Mexican Black King Snake enough to eat, but don’t overdo it.
While continued anorexia is a sign of stress, don’t worry about an occasional refused meal. Mexican Black King Snakes will often go off their feed during the cooler winter months. So long as your snake is not lethargic or emaciated it will be fine.
Handling Your Mexican Black King Snake
When you first get your baby Mexican Black King Snake, you may be nipped a few times. Hatchling Mexican Black King Snakes are notoriously temperamental. You can’t really blame them. You would be nervous too if you were eight inches long and surrounded by things that wanted to eat you – including your parents!
As your Mexican Black King Snake grows, they will become much easier to handle. Older Mexican Black King Snakes are docile animals and should give you no trouble if you take them out for occasional handling.
While you don’t have to worry about defensive bites, you may still get hit with the occasional feeding strike. Mexican Black King Snakes have healthy appetites and may mistake your hand for food.
One way of dealing with this is by using a snake hook or even a stick to touch your snake gently before you reach in. Do not do this when you are dropping food in the tank. In time your Mexican Black King Snake will come to associate the stick with “not food” and will be far less likely to bite your hand.
Avoid handling your Mexican Black King Snake for 24 to 48 hours after feeding. Give them time to digest their food so they do not regurgitate. Also avoid unnecessary handling when your snake is shedding. Your Mexican Black King Snake cannot see well while in shed and is more likely to strike out in self-defense.
You should handle your Mexican Black King Snake no more than three or four times a week. Make sure you have a gentle but firm grip on them at all times. If your Mexican Black King Snake slips out of your hands they could be under heavy furniture in a matter of seconds.
Mexican Black King Snakes are easy-going and easy to keep. They are also very popular, which means you have many experienced keepers who will be willing to help you if a problem arises. You might not be familiar with the issue, but chances are there are other owners who will be able to offer solutions.
Fauna Classifieds has a forum dedicated to King Snakes and Milk Snakes where you can get advice and show off your snake. Kingsnake.com (as per the name), has several King Snake groups, including one for Mexican King Snake owners.
Thanks for reading and may you have years of joy with your Mexican Black King Snake!