Why is my snake irritable?

Asked August 14, 2017, 5:28 PM EDT

I bought this snake a month ago, a 2 foot male Californian king snake. He didn't eat the first two weeks, I didn't think that was very abnormal, but he started shaking his tail before I got him to eat two mice. But now he has been in striking position and is shaking the end of his tail violently still. The first little mouse I fed him he ate in his own cage. I know you're not supposed to do that but it took him a while to go and eat it. A week later I got him to eat a bigger Mouse in a cardboard box which he ate in 5 minutes. I have them in a 2 x 1 glass tank with sand a rock fake leaves and a water bowl his tank has a heat and humidity meter on it he has a heat pad under his Rock and he has a heat lamp. I feel like she has a perfect environment and he has been eating the I don't know why he's being like this please help me...

Marion County Indiana

1 Response

Thank you for your question. Assuming you have all the environmental requirements satisfied, it sounds like your snake simply has not settled in to its new environment and has not grown accustomed to you.

Even though many species of kingsnakes are popular as pets, most need an adjustment period to get used to you invading their space and handling them. Even if your snake is captive born, it is still a wild animal governed by instincts to help it survive in the wild. In the wild, other animals that are much bigger than you are usually viewed as potential predators. If escape is not possible, then other options for defense are to vibrate your tail and assume a striking position to hopefully encourage your potential predator to look elsewhere for food. They may also discharge musk or defecate when you attempt to handle them.

I recommend you feed your snake in another enclosure separate from the one in which you normally house the snake. This will prevent the snake from ingesting sand with its food. Also, if you feed the snake in its regular enclosure, then it may become excited each time you open the lid, thinking its going to be fed. This can lead to accidental bites when you're just reaching in to pick up the snake to handle it, change water, clean the cage, etc. If you handle the snake on a regular basis, this will get it accustomed to you and make it less likely to feel the need to take defensive action when you put your hand in the aquarium.

After saying all of this, remember that snakes have individual personalities, and although a particular species may have a reputation for having a good disposition in captivity, you may come across an individual of that species that just doesn't like to be handled. I currently have two black ratsnakes (Pantherophis obsoletus). Anybody can handle one of them. It stays very calm, and has never attempted to bite. The other one, while it doesn't usually bite, always vibrates its tail when I pick it up, and usually discharges musk. It's just not a big fan of being handled.

Here's a link to a care fact sheet for the California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) at Reptiles Magazine:


Make sure you're satisfying all the snakes habitat and enviromental needs and then it's probably a case of having a little patience until your snake gets accustomed to you and being handled.

Hope this answers your question, and thank you for contacting Ask an Expert.