Mexican Black Kingsnakes (commonly referred to as “MBK”s in the snake-keeping community) are medium-sized colubrid snakes native to Mexico and a small area in the southwestern United States.
As you may have guessed, these snakes garner the rest of their name from their beautiful, seemingly black scales. Usually, they are more of a deep, chocolate brown, but gorgeous nonetheless.
Thanks to their captivating allure, MBKs are quite common in captivity and affordable to attain. Some even refer to them as the “poor man’s indigo snake” due to the famous indigo snake’s similar black beauty and hefty price tag.
In addition to the physical appeal of Mexican Black Kingsnakes, they’re enthusiastic rodent eaters and aren’t easy to stress from overhandling – making them perfect candidates as pet snakes for newbies.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about this gorgeous and appealing snake!
What is a Mexican Black Kingsnake? (Overview)
Want a quick yet thorough education on all things Mexican Black Kingsnakes? Consider the overview below…
- Mexican Black Kingsnakes belong to the Colubridae family of snakes. These snakes are non-venomous and use constriction to dispatch their prey. Other common colubrids are corn snakes, garter snakes, water snakes, and hognose snakes.
- Mexican Black Kingsnakes belong to the Lampropeltis genus. Their closest relatives are other well-known kingsnakes like the California kingsnake, the Florida kingsnake, the scarlet kingsnake, and even milk snakes.
- Mexican Black Kingsnakes are a subspecies of Lampropeltis getula, the common kingsnake, or eastern kingsnake. There are nine recognized, unique subspecies of the common kingsnake, including the MBK.
- Mexican Black Kingsnakes are ophiophagous, which also means they are cannibals! The preferred diet of most kingsnakes, including Mexican Black Kingsnakes, is other snakes. The common kingsnake is immune to the venom of other snakes that are native to the same region, like rattlesnakes. Since their serpentine prey is more resistant to asphyxiation, they’ve also evolved a stronger PSI constriction strength, relative to body size, than other colubrids. Kingsnakes are also happy to eat rodents and birds.
- Mexican Black Kingsnakes are native to the Sonoran Desert, including parts of Arizona and California and most of Mexico and northwestern Sinaloa. Their preferred habitats include areas with plenty of rocks and plants for cover. They’re terrestrial in behavior but not opposed to the occasional swimming or climbing adventure.
- Despite their name, Mexican Black Kingsnakes are deep, deep, chocolate brown. The degree to which this can be observed varies based on the individual animal, but the brown hue is much more apparent in sunlight. Also made apparent in sunlight is their fantastic iridescence. Their scales, especially those on their belly, reflect a blue, oyster-like shimmer when viewed from the correct angle. They lack markings or other colors, except youngsters. Hatchlings may have white or yellow specks or rings around their neck and head, but these fade with age and maturity.
- Mexican Black Kingsnakes typically grow to around 40-48 inches in length and 3-4 pounds in weight. Males and females usually attain similar size and girth; there is no sexual dimorphism apparent in this subspecies.
Do Mexican Black Kingsnakes Make Good Pets?
Short answer: Absolutely, positively, yes!!
Mexican Black Kingsnakes are:
- Great eaters
- Not shy
- Tolerate handling
- Easy to come by
- Level-headed and calm
Gorgeous coloration aside, MBKs really do make perfect pets for beginner snake-keepers. They aren’t overly picky about their temperature and humidity. They aren’t shy, don’t easily become stressed, and enjoy exploring while they’re being handled.
Their size is substantial enough that you won’t have to worry about easily hurting them by mistake while they’re also too small to hurt you accidentally.
They’re also happy to eat just about any prey item offered, dead or alive.
However, just like with any species, though, there are a few cons:
- They can’t be housed together because they will eat each other.
- They’re active hunters and explorers that require a substantial enclosure.
- Hatchlings may be nippy, which is true of most snake species.
Behavior & Temperament
Mexican Black Kingsnakes have an overall calm and curious demeanor that is perfect for captivity.
While young, small, and new to the world, they may be nervous and nippy. You would be, too, if you were so pint-sized and saw a giant trying to pick you up! However, confident adult animals rarely bite.
If a Mexican Black Kingsnake does happen to be feeling a little testy, they will usually rapidly vibrate their tail – like a rattlesnake – as a warning before they strike.
Being active daytime hunters, MBKs are fun to watch while they explore their habitat during the day.
You also won’t have to disturb them from their slumber to handle them, like many other common nocturnal species.
While kingsnakes are generally most comfortable on the ground, they often climb rocks, trees, bushes, and go for a swim in the wild. They even like to burrow!
When it comes to habitat and exploration, they’re a jack of all trades.
Mexican Black Kingsnake Care Sheet
Mexican Black Kingsnakes have relatively simple care requirements that are similar to many other North American colubrids.
Still, being ectothermic reptiles, their care requirements differ significantly from dogs, cats, or bunnies.
If their basic needs are not met, they will become sick, so it’s essential to know how to care for your pet.
Diet & Feeding
Mexican Black Kingsnakes THRIVE on a captive diet of pre-killed or frozen, then thawed, mice or rats.
In the wild, they also consume:
- Other rodents
- Other snakes
As your doctor probably tells you every year, the healthiest diet is one with lots of variety.
Offering unique feeders to your pet MBK is enriching and may help bridge nutritional gaps or abundances of a mouse-only diet.
Try offering your MBK:
- Quail eggs
- Chicken eggs
- Baby rabbits
- African soft-furred rats
- Frog legs
- Stillborn hatchling snakes
It’s inadvisable to feed your pet wild-caught prey. You’ll face the risk of introducing disease or parasites to your MBK!
The prey should be about as thick as the thickest part of your snake’s body. After your MBK eats, it should have a barely-noticeable bulge that doesn’t separate the scales.
Pre-killed or frozen/thawed feeders are the safest choice for your Mexican Black Kingsnake. Live prey can bite and scratch your pet, and freezing may help to kill some parasites.
Most MBKs are more than happy to accept dead prey, so live feeding shouldn’t be necessary.
0-12 Months: Every 5 days
1-3 Years: Every 7-10 days
Adults: Every 10-14 days
Snakes that are in blue, or about to shed, generally won’t accept food. Seasonally, they may stop eating when temperatures drop or when it’s breeding season. Males that can smell females, especially, become more interested in finding a mate than eating.
Don’t handle your snake for 48 hours after feeding it.
Enclosure & Habitat
Your Mexican Black Kingsnake will be spending at least 90% of its life in its enclosure.
Since these snakes are active hunters full of curiosity and energy, be sure to invest the time and effort required to create an enriching oasis for your pet.
Adult Enclosure Minimum Dimensions: 36” x 18” x 16” (L x W x H)
This is the equivalent of a 40-gallon aquarium.
You can use a glass or acrylic aquarium or terrarium, or a PVC enclosure.
It may be easier to house your hatchling in a smaller terrarium, so they don’t become stressed from too much open space. A 20-gallon long aquarium works nicely for young MBKs.
Typical household humidity of 40-60% works great for Mexican Black Kingsnakes.
This isn’t an overly sensitive or picky species when it comes to humidity. You shouldn’t need to run a dehumidifier or mister to accommodate your MBK’s needs.
As a form of enrichment, and especially to help with shedding, you may offer your MBK a “humid hide” – any waterproof hide or cave filled with dampened sphagnum moss.
Lighting and Temperature
Like most ectothermic animals, Mexican Black Kingsnake need access to a temperature gradient where they can naturally pick and choose which temperature to occupy and, thus, bring their body to.
Warm Side: 85-88°F.
Basking Spot: 88-90°F.
Cool Side: 78-80°F.
Night-time Temperature Drop (optional): 70-75°F
Recent research suggests that, while they don’t require it, most snakes benefit from supplemental UV lighting. This is especially true for Mexican Black Kingsnakes, which are naturally active during the daytime.
Lighting Schedule (optional): 12 hours light, 12 hours dark
You have many options when it comes to heating and lighting your MBK’s habitat:
- Undertank reptile heating pads and heat tape aren’t ideal as standalone heat sources because they only raise the surface temperature, not the ambient temperature.
- Ceramic heat emitters and radiant heating panels raise the ambient temperature without producing light, so they can be used day and night.
- Incandescent light bulbs produce visible light and heat. They can be used during the day.
- Halogen light bulbs produce visible light, UV rays, and heat. They can only be used during the day.
- Fluorescent light bulbs only produce visible light and UV rays. They don’t produce heat. They can only be used during the day.
Heat rocks are NOT safe or recommended. Also, colored “night-time” heat bulbs are believed to be detrimental to snakes’ vision and mental well-being, since some species can still see red or blue light.
🤓 Expert Tip: Always utilize a thermostat when working with heating equipment. Left unchecked, many of these devices have been known to overheat and kill pet reptiles.
When choosing a substrate, you should keep in mind:
- Enrichment (burrowing)
- Visual appeal
A substrate depth of 3-6″ is excellent for allowing your pet to burrow to its heart’s content.
Aspen shavings are perfect for burrowing and keeping the humidity down if your enclosure doesn’t have adequate ventilation. If it gets wet, it molds quickly.
Coconut coir also allows your snake to burrow, but it may raise the humidity too much in plastic, wood, or PVC enclosures.
Paper towels, newspaper, and butcher block paper are incredibly cost-efficient and sanitary, but they are boring choices from your snake’s perspective.
Many desert snake keepers mix their own substrate with washed play sand and organic topsoil. This keeps the humidity down while also maintaining a natural appearance and allowing your MBK to dig, dig, dig.
Softwood shavings, such as pine and cedar, are dangerous for reptiles.
🤓 Expert Tip: If you purchase your substrate from a pet store that sells live reptiles, consider freezing it for 24 hours before using it to kill any potential hitchhiker snake mites.
Decorations & Accessories
As aforementioned, you’re going to want to give your Mexican Kingsnake plenty of enrichment in their habitat. This will require you to purchase a few other items aside from substrate and lightning alone.
For starters, you’ll need a water bowl that is big enough for your MBK to soak and move around in. Keep it on the cool side of the enclosure to avoid spiking up the humidity.
Additionally, you should also provide at least two hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool side. Your snake should fit snugly inside the hide, with not much empty free space.
You’ll need to upgrade the hides several times in your snake’s life, especially if you get a hatchling.
An additional humid hide is completely optional but great for enrichment and assistance with shedding. Use dampened sphagnum moss.
Also, plant cover, artificial or live, is a MUST to add a sense of realism. If you opt for live plants, try to stick with desert species or plants that won’t raise the overall humidity too much.
Snakes prefer to never be completely exposed. The more plants, the better!
Lastly, your MBK will benefit from the addition of rocks and logs to climb on, burrow under, and rub against when shedding. Just be sure the logs, if real wood, are NOT pine or cedar.
Healthy Captive Kingsnake Lifespan: 25 Years
Most common ailments stem from improper husbandry or indirect exposure to new snakes.
- Snake mites: Snake mites can come from items purchased from pet stores that sell live snakes who are infested with snake mites, or you can carry them in on your hands or clothes after handling infested snakes at a friend’s house or reptile expo. Snake mites are difficult to eradicate, but there are many commercial products available for that purpose.
- Respiratory infection: Often caused by low temperatures or excessively high or low humidity. RIs need to be treated by a veterinarian, with prescribed antibiotics that are typically injected.
- Mouth rot and scale rot: Often caused by poor cleanliness in the enclosure and excessively high humidity. These infections need to be treated by a veterinarian, with prescribed antibiotics that are injected and/or applied to the infected areas.
- Internal Parasites: Hatchlings may be born with parasites, ingested with a carrier (mouse or rat), or obtained from anything that came into contact with an infected snake’s feces, including outdoor plants, your own hands, or used terrarium decor. It’s wise to have your snake’s feces periodically checked for parasites by a veterinarian.
- Anorexia: Anorexia may be secondary to any of the above ailments, any degree of improper husbandry, stress-induced, or seasonal.
Signs your Mexican Black Kingsnake is healthy and happy:
- Active and curious exploration
- Not soaking constantly
- Shedding in one piece
- Eating regularly
- Not losing weight
- Good balance and strength
- Uses both the cool side and warm side of the enclosure
- Breathing is not audible; no rasping, wheezing, mouth gaping, or mucous
- No discolored markings or rough scales
Handling and Bonding
Thanks to their curious and confident personality, many Mexican Black Kingsnakes come to recognize and enjoy their owner’s company.
If your MBK hisses or rattles its tail, it’s probably having a bad day. Leave it alone and try again tomorrow.
🤓 Expert Tip: Some snake keepers are beginning to practice “choice-based handling”. This means only handling your snake when it shows interest in leaving the enclosure after opening the lid or door. MBKs are the PERFECT species for this, since most of them love exploring.
Also, DON’T handle your snake within 48 hours of a meal.
When handling your MBK, don’t grip them tightly. Instead, continuously support your snake, hand over hand, as it slides through your fingers.
Imagine yourself as a tree, not as a human handler. Your job is to support, NOT restrain.
Well, to put it simply…these guys sure are fun to watch and interact with!
Baby Mexican Black Kingsnakes
Mexican Black Kingsnakes breed in March-June, after a 2-3 month dormant period. They then lay a clutch of 6-12 eggs in April-August.
The eggs incubate at around 82°F for 65-80 days. The hatchlings emerge weighing roughly 9-14 grams and measuring 9-13 inches long.
Hatchlings are ready to take their first meal of a pinkie mouse after their first shed, which happens within a week or two.
MBKs reach sexual maturity and adult size at 2-4 years old.
Wrapping Up Mexican Black Kingsnake
Mexican Black Kingsnakes make an amazing pet for snake owners of all experience levels, but especially with first time snake owners.
Their easy husbandry setup and friendly demeanor make them one of the less intimidating snakes to care for that you’ll find.
However, this is not to say just anyone should go out an adopt a Mexican Black Kingsnake…
Because Mexican Black Kingsnakes live to be as old as 20 years, adopting one will be a lifelong commitment and as such, requires serious thought.
But, if you’re willing to commit for 2 decades and are on the search for a friendly, easy to care for, and social snake? Simply look no further than the Mexican Black Kingsnake.