Greyband Kingsnakes

Care Information for the Greyband King Snake

(Lampropeltis alterna)

By Randy Fedak

The following information is based on my experience keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians for the past 37 years. I do not consider this information to the absolute definitive answer to success because quite frankly I learn new things everyday and not only do I learn from other reptile enthusiasts but also from the animals themselves I encourage everyone to read as many texts on the topic as possible to gain different perspectives. It is also wise to check the credibility of your sources if at all possible. Not everything on the Internet is correct!


Growing up in the west I had the opportunity to hunt numerous species of reptiles and amphibians in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. My first field guide, “A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins was published in 1966. Although this guide was published in 1966, Stebbins made no mention of Lampropeltis alterna. To the best of my knowledge the species was first discovered by a gentleman named Flury in 1950 and was thought to be extremely rare. Over the next several years additional specimens were discovered and due to the extreme variations in color and pattern there was much confusion over the classification of this species. It was first thought to be part of the mexicana family and grouped with other snakes now classified as the Durango Mountain King snake (greeri), San Luis Potosi King snake (mexicana), Nuevo Leon King snake (thayeri). Today most reptile enthusiasts classify Greybands as Lampropeltis alterna with basically two color phases-blairi & alterna phase.


Hatchlings are typically 7-10 inches and adults can get as large as 50 inches. Their native range is Southwestern Texas (Big Bend Region) and Northern Mexico across the Chihuahuan Desert.


A typical housing setup for this species should include a minimum floor space of 14” X 21” with floor heating on one end that will allow a temperature gradient for the snake to regulate its own body temperature. The height of the enclosure is less important than the floor space. Exercise is important with this species because they tend to easily put on too much weight if overfed on a mouse diet. A small water bowl, hide box, piece of sterilized wood or rock to assist with shedding, and a secure fitting lid completes the setup.


There are several substrates that will work well with this species as long as the substrate is kept dry and free from unnecessary dust particles. Although they can be raised on pine shavings, I have found that pine shavings usually contain sawdust that can contribute to respiratory problems. Many keepers use Aspen bedding with great success. My personal preference is for a product called CareFresh™ which is basically recycled paper pulp. I find it easy to clean, low dust producing, and it is absorbent.


The natural range of the Greyband Kingsnake is essentially desert and as such they prefer a less humid environment than most kingsnakes. A small water bowl that is allowed to go dry before being half filled will suffice. A temporary increase in humidity just prior to shedding is permissible and sometimes helpful but should by no means be allowed to remain constant.


Greybands are generalist carnivores and opportunistic feeders in the wild. They feed on fledgling birds, lizards, and rodents and probably on an occasional amphibian if one happens to pass their way. The predominant food of hatchlings is lizards of the genus Uma, Scleporous, and Cnemidophorous. In captivity it is not always easy or convenient to provide lizards to feed hatchlings so it is preferable to get them accustomed to eating pinkie mice. Once started on mice they can be raised on them throughout the rest of their lives in captivity with careful attention paid to the size of the mouse fed and the frequency. Generally a single pinkie mouse fed once a week is sufficient. Snakes should not be fed until they have digested their previous meal. It is best not to feed prey items that are greater than 1.5 times the thickness of the snake. Smaller more frequent feedings are preferred over less frequent large meals. Greyband hatchlings are notoriously famous for being reluctant to begin feeding. There are numerous tricks to getting hatchlings to feed. Without going into extreme detail, the normal regimen of methods used to entice feeding consists of the following in order of ease and preference: 1. live pinkie mouse, 2. Washed live pinkie mouse, 3. Freshly killed pinkie mouse, 4. Freshly killed washed pinkie mouse, 5. Thawed frozen pinkie mouse, 6. Washed thawed frozen pinkie mouse, 7. Freshly killed brain slit pinkie mouse, 8. Live washed lizard scented pinkie mouse, 9. Freshly killed lizard scented pinkie mouse, 10. Live small lizard, 11. pinkie pump (force feed). Anyone needing assistance with these methods should consult a local reptile enthusiast or contact me at for further instructions. Force feeding is the least desirable method and should only be attempted when all other methods have failed and if the snake hasn’t eaten for at least four weeks after its first shed. The use of wild caught lizards increases the possibility of the introduction of both ecto and endoparasites. Using frozen thawed lizards helps to minimize parasite contamination.


Rodent diets provide the whole bodied nutrition that is necessary for normal growth and development in King snakes. There is no need for diet supplements. Some breeders have noted better hatch rates of their eggs when they feed their females freshly killed rodents that have been dusted with calcium powder.


Floor heating that provides an 80-90 degree Fahrenheit warm spot for hatchlings provides the ideal temperature range to assure proper digestion and prevent regurgitation. Adults prefer cooler temperatures in the range of 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit.


Greyband Kingsnakes are nocturnal by nature and will usually spend daylight hours secluded inside their hide box. Providing 14-16 hour light cycles for adult breeders is beneficial.


If the general husbandry techniques that are listed above are provided Greyband Kingsnakes are relatively easy snakes to keep. Respiratory problems can occur if they are exposed to high humidity for long periods of time or they are exposed to substrates that contain fine dust. Keeping track of simple behaviors such as feeding, defecating, and shedding can provide a sense of what is normal for a particular animal and it can provide clues to potential problems. The vast majority of illness involving captive bred individuals stems from some type of husbandry issue so whenever there is a problem then you should most definitely review how you are taking care of your snake and what has changed that may have caused the problem. Have there been temperature fluctuations? Drastic changes in humidity? Exposure to some new food item? Exposure to other species? Make sure you review your care practices and try to pinpoint the problem. Most illnesses will require treatment by a qualified veterinarian. The best way to locate a qualified veterinarian is to talk to other people in your area who care for reptiles. They should be able to help you. Try to locate a veterinarian that specializes in exotic animals and has experience handling reptiles. Do not delay in seeking veterinary care if your snake begins to show symptoms such as loss of appetite, wheezing, runny nose, mucous coming from the mouth, failure to thrive, obvious weight loss, constipation, or chronic watery foul smelling stools. Knowing the normal behavior of your snake will allow you to determine if something is wrong and it will also assist you in being able to provide your veterinarian with some clues as to what may be the problem. Be prepared to pay for standard laboratory exams which are often times used to determine bacterial infections and to determine the proper course of treatment. Don’t wait until your snake is extremely ill to take it to the veterinarian. Waiting will only cost you more money in the long run and sick snakes generally don’t recover without assistance. Try to isolate sick animals as soon as possible and always quarantine new animals before introducing them into established collections.

I hope this information will be helpful to you while caring for your new pet. If you have any questions or just want to run a situation or scenario by me don’t hesitate to email me with your questions. I can be contacted at: Good luck and happy herping!

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