You might want to know if you should get a male or a female corn snake as a pet. In some species of animals, sexual dimorphism is very significant. So, it makes sense that the gender of corn snakes might also lead to a difference in the appearance or temperament of corn snakes.
Both male and female corn snakes are alike. They are roughly the same size and have similar temperaments. The only gender-related aggression that you might witness is from putting two males together. Individually, both male and female corns are placid beginner snakes.
Let’s look into how aggressive corn snakes are, and what might cause hostility. We’ll then examine the differences between the sexes, and how you can determine a corn snake’s gender.
How Aggressive Are Corn Snakes?
Regardless of sex, corn snakes are one of the most gentle and calm species of snake. They make great starter snakes for first-time owners. They rarely strike or bite at humans, and tolerate handling very well. If we can consider any snake “friendly,” it’s the corn snake.
However, even the gentlest of snakes can display aggression occasionally. There are certain situations in which they may be more likely to become hostile. These include the following:
- When they’re shedding. Corn snakes, like most snakes, shed their skin from time to time. Shedding is a stressful event, during which some corn snakes can be irritable. Avoid handling or feeding your snake while it’s shedding.
- They feel threatened. Your snake may occasionally mistake you for a predator. This is likely to happen if you make any sudden, large movements in front of your snake. When handling your snake, try to move slowly and always be gentle.
- During and after feeding. Of course, snakes are naturally aggressive when presented with prey (food). Don’t put your hands into the vivarium while your snake is feeding. Also, avoid handling them for a minimum of 48 hours after their meal.
- When stressed. Things like changing vivariums, being handled by strangers, meeting other snakes and moving home, can cause stress. During such times, they may act more aggressively due to nerves.
Even if a corn snake does strike at you, it’s no cause for alarm. Their teeth are tiny, and their bites won’t hurt much. They’re non-venomous and won’t cause you harm. Just take it as a sign to leave them alone.
Male vs. Female Corn Snake Temperament
Corn snakes aren’t hostile. While they can be irritable in certain situations, they’re typically docile creatures. But is there a difference between males and female snakes? Does either sex tend to be more aggressive?
Single corn snakes won’t display any gender-related differences in temperament. A male is just as likely as a female to be calm and good-natured. If a corn snake is acting aggressively, it’s probably because it feels threatened or stressed. A tendency toward aggression may be down to a poor upbringing, lack of handling, or heredity.
The only gender-related aggression you might witness will come from housing two male snakes together. In the wild, male corn snakes fight each other for dominance and the right to mate. Two male snakes, forced to live together, may fight out of instinct.
Two females, or one female and one male, are less likely to act aggressively to one another. That being said, corn snakes are not social creatures and prefer to live alone. Housing two corn snakes together will cause stress, regardless of gender. One male or female corn snake residing on its own will be much calmer.
Are Male or Female Corn Snakes Bigger?
So, males and females aren’t likely to differ with regards to aggression levels. But what about the size?
Most species of snake demonstrate some level of sexual size dimorphism. According to research in Animal Behavior, female snakes tend to be larger than males. This goes for most species of snake.
It’s unclear exactly why, though it could have something to do with larger females being able to lay more eggs. In rattlesnakes, however, the males tend to be larger, according to American Zoologist. So, the rule doesn’t apply to every species of snake. But what about corn snakes?
The online corn snake community is divided on this topic. Some people believe that female corn snakes can grow larger than males, whereas others claim that males are the larger sex. However, the truth is there is very little, if any, the size difference between males and females.
According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, an adult corn snake can reach a length between 24 and 72 inches. Both males and females can reach the larger end of that statistic, or stay comparably small. The snake’s living conditions, how often it feeds, and how long it lives can all have an effect. The size that your corn snake reaches will depend on its genetics and environment, not its gender.
How to Determine a Snake’s Gender
So, now you’re familiar with the (almost inconsequential) differences between male and female corn snakes. For the most part, a snake’s gender doesn’t matter, unless you’re planning on breeding them.
If you’d like to find out your snake’s sex, you’ll need to know how to tell them apart. There are two main ways to tell the difference between snake sexes: cloacal probing and cloacal popping.
Although there are more scientific approaches (outlined in Ecology and Evolution), these two methods are sufficient for pet owners. Neither technique is particularly straightforward, so if you’re inexperienced, you’ll need to enlist the help of a herpetologist or vet.
1) Cloacal Probing
Probing is a relatively invasive way of distinguishing a snake’s sex. It involves inserting a sexing probe – a dull metal instrument – into the snake’s cloaca (genital and anal cavity). You can get these probes in kits.
To use this method, lubricate the probe using petroleum jelly or K-Y jelly. Then, find the snake’s cloaca by gently bending the tail. Insert the probe, very gently, into one of the two openings.
Males have much longer cavities than females, called “hemipenis pockets.” In a male snake, the probe will slide down to a depth which exceeds the width of the tail. Females have small, shallow scent glands in the place of hemipenis pockets. In a female snake, the probe will barely penetrate beneath the skin.
Done professionally, probing will not harm the snake in any way. However, you should never attempt it if you aren’t sure how, as you may inadvertently cause injury.
2) Cloacal Popping
Cloacal popping involves placing your thumb on the underside of the tail, near the cloaca, and placing your other thumb on the scale covering the cloacal opening. Then, apply gentle pressure using a rolling or rocking motion. This will result in a male snake everting his hemipenes (the reproductive organs). If no hemipenes are present, it’s a female.
Popping is a less invasive way of sexing your corn snake than using a probe. However, it is only reliable when carried out during the first few weeks after a snake hatches. As male snakes grow, they gain control over their muscles and may not allow you to evert their hemipenes.
Once again, if you’ve never popped a snake before, it’s always best left to the professionals if you’re planning on breeding snakes. It’s easy, especially with younger snakes, to apply too much pressure and cause damage or pain.
Should I Get a Male or Female Corn Snake as a Pet?
While some species of snake demonstrate sexual dimorphism, corn snakes are not one of them. You won’t notice much difference between a male and female, in either temperament or appearance.
When choosing a corn snake, there’s no need to worry about its sex unless you’re planning to breed. Here’s what you should take into consideration:
- Temperament. Handle the snake before you buy. Corn snakes should be placid and gentle-natured. Be on the lookout for nervousness, irritability, and aggression, as this is a bad sign.
- Health. Make sure the snake seems strong, and not too thin. Its ribs and spine should not protrude. Feel the snake’s body for bumps, and parasites such as ticks. Also, listen to its breathing for wheezing or gurgling (which may indicate an infection).
- Snake’s written records. A competent breeder should have notes on its hatch date, preferred food and feeding times, and so on. You should only buy a snake once it’s had its first feed. This is because some hatchlings are non-viable and won’t feed.
All corn snakes are individuals that have slightly different personalities. Corn snakes are calm and docile. Both male and female corn snakes make good pets. If you have an aggressive corn snake, here are some tips to improve the situation.