Keeping Corn Snakes - The Beginner Pet Guide
Corn snakes are one of the most common pet snakes and they belong to the largest family of snakes - the Colubrid family. They’re non venomous and can live for up to 20 years! Adults range from around 1 to 1.5 meters long, but start off as hatchlings around 20 to 28cm long.
Corn snakes can be found in the open woods and grasslands of the South Eastern United States, to where they’re native. They’re often found around farms and cornfields where they help to control the rodent populations. They’re easy to keep and quite hardy - this as well as their length make them great first snakes. They also have a nice disposition that makes them easier to care for. They’re fairly docile and nicely tempered and will become tame with regular gentle handling.
With a base colour of orange overlayed with black bordered irregular red or rusty coloured patches, corn snakes are both beautiful and dramatic. They have a white belly with black squares too, but due to the ease of which they can breed in captivity there’s now many colour variations available including blood red, striped and albino corn snakes!
We advise starting your snake off in a small enclosure when they’re a hatchling - something like an Exo Terra Faunarium. Corn snakes love to do disappearing acts and will escape out of the smallest of holes, so after they’re born a plastic container with a few small air holes is actually best for them until they grow a little. You can place this inside the Exo Terra Terrarium and this will ensure they’ve got the right temperature - then move them to the terrarium itself when they’ve grown.
Corn snakes technically can be housed together but we recommend keeping them separate as male corn snakes will object to sharing a tank with another male. Females on the other hand can be housed together with success but they should be separated at feeding time as they will compete for the same food and it may result in them trying to eat each other.
For a substrate we recommend bark or wood shavings as being ideal such as aspen bedding. The tank will have a cool and warm side that we’ll discuss later, but each of these sides should have their own hide so your snake will feel safe no matter the temperature they’d like to be. You can add a third in the middle that’s higher in humidity if you’d like as this will help with shedding.
We’d recommend buying actual decorations, such as rock or log caves. If you want to add actual rocks then make sure they’re not in a position where they could fall on your snake and make sure there’s no sharp edges on them - snakes need to rub up against decorations to help remove their old skin when they shed, and sharp edges could cut them.
Your snake will enjoy having a climbing branch in there as this will help to mimic their natural environment whilst also improving the aesthetic of your set up. When your snake leaves droppings, which won’t be very frequently, remove it as soon as you notice it and clean the terrarium on a regular schedule to prevent any diseases.
Over to heating now and like we said, your enclosure will need a warm side and a cool side, this is so your snake can regulate their temperature as they don’t produce body heat like humans do. The warm side should be around 80F and the cold side around 70F, you can also provide a basking area of up to 90F for your snake in the hot side too. One of the best ways to heat up the sides of your vivarium is with a heat mat under the substrate. We recommend something like a Exo Terra Heat Mat, and if your vivarium is wooden you’ll need a heat mat holder for it. Make sure you choose a size that’s appropriate for the size of your vivarium and position the mats on either side underneath the substrate to create the desired temperature gradient. Place digital thermometers or heat probes on both the hot side and the cooler side to monitor temperatures and keep them consistent.
Many reptiles require special lighting with UVA or UVB bulbs, but corn snakes are not one of them. This is because they’ve developed over time to be mostly nocturnal animals. In fact, too much UV light can be detrimental especially to albino snakes and can cause them eye problems! We do recommend adding a light source though as this helps them keep their sleep cycle in check - simply add your light to a timer plug and run it between 10 and 12 hours a day.
Humidity isn’t a big deal when keeping pet snakes for the most part. They’ll just need a boost to humidity when they start to shed. When their eyes start to look as if they’re turning blue, this is when you know your snake is about to shed its skin. You can either have a high humidity hide in their enclosure filled with damp moss (but not soggy!) or you can simply spray a light misting into the enclosure once a day with a regular hand sprayer. Keeping them in a humid environment during this time promotes a clean and healthy transition. You should be aiming for around 60% or higher in terms of humidity - if you’ve got a screen topped vivarium this may be difficult to maintain.
For water we recommend using a large, shallow yet heavy bowl for your pet snake. It should be large enough so that they can soak in it, so we’d recommend a heavy porcelain bowl so that they can’t tip it over as they slither in and out. They won’t soak too often but every now and then they like a quick dip, especially if it’s time to shed or just after a feeding.
In the wild, corn snakes thrive on a whole range of prey animals in their diets including small mammals, lizards as well as birds. In captivity though their diet is a whole lot easier - they mainly eat defrosted mice and young rats. This frozen food comes in a range of different sizes and to judge how much you should feed your snake in particular, you’re aiming to feed it one mouse or rat that’s got the same thickness as the middle section of your snake, another rule of thumb is to not feed it something that’s more than one and a half times the width of your snakes head.
Adult snakes should be fed no more than once every 7 to 10 days, if they’re full or don’t feel like feeding they may simply leave their food alone. Young snakes and hatchlings should be fed more often, starting with a pinkie (a baby mouse) and being fed one every four to six days as they’re growing quickly at this age and need the resources to accommodate this. Be careful not to overfeed your snake, as if they become fat there’s a lot of health complications associated with it. Because of their incredibly slow metabolism they will take a long time to lose weight if they do reach this stage.
From time to time a snake sheds the entire outer layer of its skin, a process referred to as sloughing. Youngsters go through this process more frequently, about every month to six weeks, than adults, who may only slough three or four times a year. The skin should be sloughed off as a complete skin and if any bits are left on the snake this can kill the new skin underneath and cause future problems. Always check the snake for retained skin, especially the tip of the tail and the “spectacles” (the bit covering the eyes). A gentle bath in warm water will usually free the stuck skin that can then be gently picked off. If in doubt see your local reptile vet or specialist who will be able to advise you.
There are some excellent books on keeping corn snakes and you should purchase one or more of these to read before you buy your pet. You should also consider joining your local reptile society who will be happy to offer help and advice.