Sonora Mountain King
Species: L. knoblochi
Conservation Status: Some authorities still consider L. knoblochi to be a subspecies of L. pyromelana and the pyromelana complex is widespread with robust populations. This species inhabits mostly remote and difficult to access areas, and they are classified as 'least concern'.
Natural History: These beautiful tri-color kingsnakes can be found in very specific habitat types in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico and in parts of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Mountain kingsnakes are fond of higher altitude forests and woodland. From oak and conifer stands down through rocky canyons and crevices and even occasionally being found in dry grassy lowland environments. Shy snakes by nature, these kingsnakes often emerge in the early morning or evenings to hunt their preferred prey of small lizards. On warm nights they will also emerge to hunt, often pursuing small mammals that are out foraging after the sun recedes. They prefer to avoid exposure and predators by hiding in narrow openings upon rock faces, under fallen trees or debris piles or even taking over abandoned rodent burrows.
When caught in the open or faced with a threat the Mountain Kingsnake relies on its Batesian mimicry to ward off most would be predators. The bold red, black and white colors are easily confused with the bright warning colors displayed by the regions venomous coral snakes, this coupled with hissing and quick strikes are often enough to deter would be predators. This species is fairly small compared to the larger North American kingsnakes in the getula complex and typically top out around 30-36” upon adulthood. In 2011 a study was conducted on the complex and often confusing group of Lampropeltis pyromelana and the numerous sub-species assigned to it. The results recommended that the sub-species and localities found within the range of Mexican range of Sonora/Chihuahua and extreme southwestern United States be elevated to species status as Lampropeltis knoblochi. Whereas the more northerly populations found throughout the central southwestern states be classified as Lampropeltis pyromelana.
Care in Captivity: Mountain kingsnakes represent few issues in captivity. I house my adult animals in spacious rack tubs with a substrate of aspen deep enough to allow burrowing. This is a smaller and less destructive species of kingsnake and can also be maintained in naturalistic and even planted vivariums. Like all colubrid snakes they are excellent escape artists so regardless of what you choose as a habitat ensure it is secure. A basking area warmed with a heat pad, flex watt or lighting system should allow the animal to increase its body temperature to the mid to high 80’s with a cool side of the habitat in the mid to high 70’s. This species can tolerate dry conditions well and care should be taken to ensure good air flow in the habitat and avoid a buildup of humidity and moisture.
I provide my animals with a couple hide areas, typically one in the warm side and one on the cool side. The hide can be as simple as a basic hard plastic burrow or hide box, or naturalistic like cork bark or rock crevices. If you use rocks in any snake habitat ensure they are stable and cannot be dislodged or collapsed while the animal explores. Heavy rocks can easily injure, crush or trap your snake. You can utilize silicone to fasten rocks together and make stable climbing/hiding furniture; give it plenty of time to off gas before placing it in any animal’s habitat. These are very hardy and personable kings, most of the animals I produce take to frozen/thawed extra small pinks readily, but occasionally they require scenting or live prey offerings to get started. When scenting I typically use lizard scent transfer, sometimes it’s as simple as rubbing a pinky mouse vigorously across an anole, other times you need to get a little creative.
Captive Reproduction: Like most North American colubrids the mountain kingsnake benefits greatly from a brief diapause or brumation consisting of a temperature reduction, reduction in photoperiod and absence of prey. These snakes are commonly found basking on warm days even in the middle of winter months so it’s important to keep clean fresh water available during brumation. They will often explore and re-hydrate even on days when you would think it’s too cold for your snakes to be active. I begin fasting my animals in the first couple weeks of November which is followed with a period of steady temperature reduction. By the end of November the adults have an empty digestive tract and are ready to be moved to my cool room. I allow the temperature in this cool room to routinely drop into the high 40’s to low 50’s for a period of about 60 days. I then remove them from the cool room and place them back in their rack enclosures where heat is slowly increased over a period of several days to a week. When they have resumed their normal behavior and seem to be actively exploring and hunting I begin offering prey regularly.
For females I intend to breed I will usually offer a single hopper mouse every few days to help regain any weight loss experienced during brumation and to help build reserves for egg development. I normally wait for the first post brumation shed to pair my females, but if they haven’t shed in the first 2-3 weeks after emerging I begin pairing them every few days. Once several successful copulation's have been witnessed I stop introducing them and return the females to a heavy feeding schedule. A laying box is placed in the habitat and filled with very lightly damp sphagnum moss, the smell and increased localized humidity attracts gravid females to deposit their clutch in this area. Typically 3-7 eggs are deposited approximately 45-55 days after successful paring; the eggs are removed and placed in a container of coarse vermiculite mixed with water at a ratio of 1:1 based on weight. The eggs are incubated at 79-82 degrees for a period of 60-75 days.