Corn Snake Care

The corn snake is arguably the best pet snake available. Its popularity is only rivaled by the ball python. Like the ball python, the corn snake comes in many interesting morphs and attractive phases. They’re known for their colorful patterns and their even, docile temperament. 

What makes the corn snake special 

Native to the Southeastern US, isolated populations also occur as far north as New Jersey. The corn snake breeds easily in captivity and readily takes frozen/thawed rodents. Both experienced and inexperienced keepers alike enjoy keeping corn snakes. 

While having an extremely docile temperament, they breed readily in captivity. They switch over to frozen/thawed without too much trouble. Their modest size is also advantageous for keepers.

The corn snake is closely related to the rat snake but they don’t grow as large. They’re less likely to musk when being handled. There are an unbelievable amount of morphs while the natural phases are even more beautiful.

Corn Snake | Snake Hacks
A hypomelanistic corn snake, meaning reduction of black pigment.

Diet

Hatchling, wild corn snakes found in southern states may start eating small anoles or geckos. Eventually, rodents become their priority.

Offer rodents as their staple in captivity. The only time snake keepers offer lizards is to get non-feeding hatchlings started. After acclimated, switch them over to lizard-scented pinkies. From there, well-started hatchlings, yearlings, and adults feed eagerly on rodents.

Corn Snake Facts

  • Experience level: Beginner
  • Temperament: Docile
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific name: Pantherophis guttatus
  • Constrictor: Yes
  • Average adult size: 3.5 to 5 feet
  • Lifespan: 15 - 20 years
  • Venom: No
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Stress level: Low
  • Food: Rodents
  • Reproduction: Egg laying
  • Breeding level: Easy
  • Average Temperature: 80°H/70°L
  • Humidity: 40 to 60%
  • Habitat: Terrestrial
  • UVB lighting: No, optional
  • Enclosure size: Adult - 3'L x 18"W
  • Average price range: $10 - $250

Proper snake handling for positive interaction

Gain trust from your snake through gentle handling. Be confident, handle confidently. Always treat your snake with respect. Don't be overly forceful.

Corn snake care

The Corn snake is one of, if not the easiest pet snakes to care for. They remain the number one choice for those new to the hobby. Corn snakes handle well and are usually extremely docile.

These snakes are not prone to stress but always offer a hide box in their enclosure for times when the snake wants privacy. You might notice that while your corn snake handles well, they’re always on the move. This is because a healthy corn snake is very curious.

Price

The price of corn snakes varies greatly from seller to seller. Generally speaking, normal corns go from $12 to $50+, depending on where you buy them from and market availability.

Corn snakes come in a variety of morphs

Corn snakes come in a variety of morphs which are sometimes more pricey. I’ve seen caramel corn snake hatchlings go for as little as $5 and less common morphs may go for just under $200. As you can see, prices vary greatly.

Corn snake bite

Corn snake rarely bites, but if they do, their teeth might break the skin. If lacerations do cause bleeding, wash your hands with warm water and soap. Never “punish” a snake for biting you. It’s cruel because a snake doesn’t understand punishment like a dog does. It also makes the snake more defensive/aggressive. Biting is usually the result of a mistake made by the keeper.

Okeetee corn snake
Hatchling Okeetee corn snake

Average size

Corn snakes are smaller than their closely related brethren, the rat snakes. The corn snake averages between three to five feet as an adult with some specimens occasional reaching six feet. Six-foot corn snakes are somewhat rare. These snakes grow the most during their first two years of life.

Habitat

The corn snakes habitat varies in their native range but they’re found in just about every setting, even the suburbs. They’re nocturnal, especially during the warm summer months so seeing them is rare, but they’re out there.

I came across one in highly-populated, Cocoa Beach, Florida around 10 am during spring. The locals told me they’re loaded with them. The corn snake is not considered endangered on the official US conservation list.

Corn snake enclosure

Keep hatchling corn snakes in small enclosures such as shoe-boxes or plastic cages. Some keep them in ten-gallon fish aquariums. An adult corn snake doesn’t need a huge area of space. A length of three to four feet will suffice.

While babies roughly up to a year are kept in various smaller enclosures, keep adults in enclosures at about 3’L x 18″W in size.

Keep corn snakes separate except during the breeding season

It’s best to keep corn snakes in separate enclosures as yearlings and adults. While cannibalism is extremely rare (but not completely unheard of), the real reason adult corn snakes shouldn’t be kept in the same enclosure is due to the bacteria in their feces. It’s not particularly healthy for one corn snake to be exposed to another’s corn snake’s feces, especially for an extended period.

Generally speaking, this goes for most snake species. Keep them together only when breeding. We all want to do right by our pet snakes and give them the best treatment we possibly can. After all, as a pet, they’re our responsibility.

Cleaning snake enclosures

Keep your snake’s enclosure clean for both its health and to prevent unpleasant odors from forming. Snakes have no hair, therefore, produce no dander. If a snake enclosure smells, it’s due to bacteria buildup and needs proper cleaning.

The way and frequency of cleaning depend on the enclosure, the snake, the substrate, and most obviously, the smell. Spot cleaning is okay as long as all the bacteria is scrapped up in the process. If you still smell an odor, you didn’t get it all. While spot cleaning works in some situations, clean the entire enclosure when necessary.

A more thorough cleaning is required when unfortunate events such as regurgitation occur. Simply scrub down hard on soiled areas and decide by your own sense of smell if you eliminated all odor-causing bacteria. It’s not hard to keep a snake enclosure from smelling, but you have to stay on top of it. I highly recommend quality air purifiers for snake rooms.

Heating 

Keep the ambient temperature at about 80°F and with a warm spot to aid digestion. Nighttime temperatures can drop about ten degrees. Keep humidity levels between 40 to 60%. Corn snakes are hardy snakes, and can safely sustain different temperatures since their natural range extends from New Jersey to the Florida Keys.

Nevertheless, keep their temperature consistent during their active months. The exception is if you choose to cool them down over the winter for spring breeding. Also, as common sense dictates, corn snakes from states with warmer climates are kept a little warmer than those originating from the northern range.

Humidity

Keep humidity levels moderate to low. Raise humidity before a shed if your snake is prone to shedding problems. Offer a branch or something the snake can rub up against during the shedding process. Shedding is a stressful time for snakes so limit handling during this period.

Lifespan

Properly cared for specimens may exceed twenty years in captivity. On average, corn snakes live between 15 to 20 years. Don’t overfeed your snake to achieve optimal longevity. Excessive stress is considered the number one killer in keeping snakes.

Hypomelanistic corn snake
How to Choose a Pet Snake: A Helpful Guide

The temperament of hatchling corn snakes

When corn snakes first hatch out of the egg, they’re known for striking out towards anything that moves. While this includes humans, such behavior soon passes as the corn snake starts growing and begins to understand that rodents are food and we’re not going to hurt them.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve kept more corn snakes than I can remember. I’ve never met an aggressive adult corn snake. Even in the wild, adults are not likely to bite. Still, never pick up any wild snake if you’re not certain what species it is.

Feeding your corn snake 

Some hatchling corn snakes need a rodent-scented lizard to get started. Young corn snakes found naturally in their southern range might feed on small lizards such as skinks, anoles, and fence lizards. Once a young corn snake gets its taste for rodents, it’ll never turn them away.

Don’t power feed your corn snake

Hatchlings can be fed one or two pinkie mice every five days. After a year of age, feed them every seven to ten days. Furthermore, feed an adult corn snake a mouse every seven days.

Alternatively, feed a corn snake every ten to fourteen days when fed a rat pup, or rat. It all depends upon the size of the rat. I prefer to feed most of my snake rats over mice. Stick with mice if your corn snake becomes obese. 

Watch for obesity 

If your corn snake becomes obese, cut back on feeding. You can tell if your snake is obese by its scales. When scales spread apart, the snake is obese to some extent.

In this case, spread meals out over longer periods. Obesity in captive snakes is common. We must remember that snakes are not human and shouldn’t be fed as such. Unfortunately, many snakes feed until they become obese. This is because, in their mind, they don’t know when they’ll eat again. Exercise is good for snakes, so it’s not necessary to feed them just because they’re active. Allow adults at least seven days between meals.

I feed many of my adult snakes frozen/thawed rats as opposed to mice for several reasons. These include: 

  • Better nutrition 
  • The snake grows to its fullest potential 
  • More time between feedings
  • The snakes seem happier 

Yes, rats are more expensive than mice, but you won’t need to feed them as often. When I was younger, I used to feed all my colubrids mice. Once I started going with rats, I never went back completely to mice.

For extremely small colubrids, I offer small pinkie mice. Once they grow big enough, I’ll switch them to rat pinkies. While rats are better, don’t rush your snake to take them. Take it slow and only feed your snake appropriately sized rodents. If the snake becomes obese, switch back over to mice. 

For those choosing mice

In the past, I fed my corn snakes mice exclusively to no ill effect. You can choose not to feed rats to your corn snake. Still, I prefer small rats because I’m more pleased with the results.

It’s a matter of opinion and you’ll find that everyone in the reptile community has one. The most important takeaway here is to never feed your corn snake any kind of rodent that’s too big for it. Regurgitation (or worse) results.

Corn snake breeding

The corn snake is one of the easiest snakes to breed. While these snakes have been known to breed without a cooling period, I still recommend it. By going through a proper cooling period, the female will produce better egg follicles and there’s less chance of becoming egg-bound. 

The most basic rules of breeding colubrids apply to the corn snake. First, only breed specimens who are at least three to four years old. I recommend waiting for four years to prevent having an egg-bound female. Next, make sure potential breeders are well-fed and are of decent body weight.

Stop feeding them at least two weeks before putting them to sleep. After they have passed their last meals, begin brumation by slowly lowering the temperature of the enclosure down to 55 to 60°F.

Artificially cooling down snakes

You might need a refrigerator or wine cooler to do this. In doing so, open the door once a day for air exchange. It’s best to offer an extended cooling period over the winter months. Be sure water is always available during brumation.

Once the snakes have risen from their slumber, make certain that both the male and female have eaten and are back to decent body weight. Introduce the male into the female’s enclosure after her first shed because of the necessary pheromones needed during this time. After copulation occurs, separate the two. Keep the female well-fed and warm while gravid. She may stop feeding altogether as time draws close to egg-laying.

Prepare for the eggs

After six weeks, it’s time to prepare for the eggs. Take a plastic shoebox and make a hole big enough for the snake to easily enter and exit from it. Place moist vermiculite on the bottom of the shoebox and place it in the female’s enclosure. Check back every day for eggs. At this time, it’s best to remove the water bowl so the female doesn’t lay her eggs in it. Any eggs laid in water will kill potential hatchlings. Only offer water for an hour or two a day during this time. 

Once the eggs have been laid, carefully take them out without tipping them over. Mark the top of the egg and place them in another shoebox full of moist vermiculite. As an alternative, use an egg-laying substrate product such as HatchRite. To get a decent mix of males and females, consistently incubate the eggs at about 80°F. The eggs should hatch in about two months.

Caring for hatchling corn snakes

Attempt to feed the hatchlings after their first molt. Personally, I would first offer them a frozen/thawed pinkie. If they don’t take it, I would offer a live pinkie after two days. If that also fails, I would scent the pinkie with a lizard such as an anole or gecko.

Once they’re feeding, continue with the lizard-scented pinkie a few more times before finally offering an unscented pinkie. They should take the unscented pinkie with no problems. If not, you might have to go back to scenting the pinkies for a while.

Only offer hatchlings a meal once a week. After several feedings when the snake is well-started, you can offer them an appropriately sized pinkie every four days, eventually working your way up to fuzzy mice. Once the snake is off pinkies and fuzzies and on mouse hoppers, cut back feeding to once every seven days. Do not power feed these snakes and remember, always offer a bowl of fresh water for them to drink from.

hypomelanistic corn snake

Corn snake availability 

Corn snakes are readily available online, snake shows and many pet shops. Normal phases are affordable while many kinds of morphs are also reasonable.

Does a corn snake mimic a Copperhead?

Unfortunately, wild corn snakes are often killed due to the extreme ignorance of people who confuse them with copperheads. This behavior is extremely bad for the natural ecosystem and humankind in general. For every corn snake killed, more disease-ridden mice and rats continue to spread.

There’s no question that humans are the most dangerous animal on planet earth. While we all have brains, we fail to use them to their fullest potential and that’s a shame. Just because a person doesn’t like a particular animal doesn’t give them the right to kill it. 

Encountering and killing wild snakes

I don’t recommend killing any kind of snake in the wild. If you find a snake and are unsure of the species, turn the opposite direction and walk away. In doing this, you won’t get bit by a snake that might be venomous.

Most venomous bites occur when someone is trying to kill them. If you walk in the opposite direction of a snake, it will never follow you. A snake only bites a human in defense. Snakes do not hunt humans, therefore they won’t chase after us. A wild snake only wants you to leave it alone. That’s what you should do.

Keep in mind

Corn snakes are generally smaller than their close cousins, the North American rat snakes. It’s really not necessary to power feed these snakes and I recommend against it. A yellow rat snake or an Everglades rat snake can take a large rodent without a problem. If you compare the head of a corn snake to a yellow rat snake of the same size, you’ll notice the head of the corn snake is more narrow. This in itself is a hint that they shouldn’t be fed as large of prey as an adult yellow rat snake.

Conclusion

When it comes to getting a pet snake, you can’t do much better than a corn snake, especially if you’re a first-time snake keeper. These snakes are beautiful in their natural forms, but also have a seemingly never-ending line of morphs only rivaled by the ball python.

These snakes generally possess an excellent temperament and captive-bred specimens rarely bite. If a captive bred specimen does bite, it’s most likely the fault of the handler. Like any animal (or human for that matter), we all have our breaking point. Be good to your corn snake and you’ll have a friend for the next twenty years.

These snakes are also extremely easy to care for and breed. Many breed these snakes without even cooling them down during the winter months. This isn’t a practice that I recommend because there’s a chance the female will become egg bound. If that happens, you’ll most likely lose the snake. While many people do this without such problems or issues, I like to give fair warnings. I suggest cooling them down over the winter months to properly prepare them for breeding.

Please feel free to share your comments and experience with corn snakes and their care!

Corn Snakes as Pets

Leave a Reply

Close Menu