If you’re breeding corn snakes to sell for profit, they might only be with you for a few months. However, you must provide them with the living environment and conditions that allow them to thrive.
Providing the right thermal conditions for up to 34 baby snakes might seem overwhelming for the novice snake breeder, but it’s not nearly as difficult as it seems. You can nurture your baby corn snakes so that they grow into strong and healthy adults.
This step-by-step guide will provide a detailed overview of the corn snake’s annual breeding cycle. We’ll show you how to brumate and mate your snakes, how to collect and incubate the eggs, how to care for the hatchlings, and how to recuperate your snakes once the breeding season is over.
What Are the Stages of Breeding Corn Snakes?
You’ll need to know what time of year brumation, breeding, and egg-laying occurs. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect and when:
- Brumation – Corn snakes should be cooled over the winter months (1st December to the end of February). Breeding corn snakes without brumation is not recommended.
- Warming – Begin to warm the snakes in late February or early March. Feed them 2-3 meals a week as your snakes need to build their strength back up. Once the male has shed his skin, you’ll know that mating season is imminent. Females take a little longer.
- Mating – Introduce the male to the female. If you want to ensure a rapid mating response, increase humidity slightly. This will ensure the male can easily detect the female’s pheromones.
- Waiting –Take good care of your snakes for 4-6 weeks until the female is ready to lay her eggs.
- Egg Laying – Provide a secluded and humid place for your female to lay her eggs.
- Egg Incubation – Retrieve the eggs gently and place them in a suitable incubator for about 8 weeks. Ensure the temperature is around 78-80 °F (26-27 °C) and humidity is 75-80%.
- Hatching – Await the arrival of your hatchlings. Have suitable enclosures prepared ahead of time to house your new babies.
- Caring for your Adults – It’s important to care for your adults after mating season. Females will need plenty of food to recuperate, but males will not need any more than usual. Perform a thorough physical check to make sure they are both in good health.
The entire process takes the best part of a year. So, after your female has laid her eggs, it won’t be long before your adults are ready to brumate and the process starts over again.
Equipment You Will Need
As a breeder, it’s essential to have the right equipment to hand before you start. As you progress, you may decide to use alternative methods, but the following checklist provides a good ‘beginners’ list of equipment needed to breed corn snakes.
Assuming you’ve already housed your adult snakes, you’ll need the following additional equipment as a breeder:
- Plenty of plastic boxes with lids (reptile boxes or repurposed boxes). One will be used as a ‘nesting box’ for your snake to lay her eggs in, and several will be used to place the eggs in before they are put in the incubator.
- An incubator. If you don’t want to buy an incubator, you could use a glass tank and a heat pad with a thermostat.
- A hygrometer (to measure humidity).
- A specialist incubating medium (e.g., vermiculite, clay)
- A substrate that retains moisture (coconut, aspen shavings, sphagnum moss, etc.)
- A spray-top water bottle (for misting the nesting box, incubating box, and substrate).
- Additional food supply for your hatchlings – you’ll need to have plenty of baby mice. Plan early because shortages sometimes occur during the breeding season.
- Homes for your hatchlings – You could opt for plastic boxes in a rack. However, if you plan to keep any of the babies, set them up in a larger vivarium.
- Small water bowls.
- A diary to monitor progress.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Snake breeding does take a lot of commitment, but many people find it to be a rewarding hobby. If you’re uncertain about whether snake breeding is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you hoping to sell the babies, and if so, are you confident you will sell them? Is there a market for them in your area? Corn snakes can have large clutches, so you need to be prepared to house your snakes while you try to sell them.
- Do you have time to monitor your snakes on a daily basis? Changing water bowls and monitoring humidity levels might only take a few minutes but these duties can seem draining if your hearts not really in it.
- Are you happy to invest in an incubator? Although some snake breeders have found ways to repurpose old equipment into an incubator-of-sorts, it’s advisable for beginners to invest in a purpose-built incubator.
- Breeding can occasionally result in disease or injury so do you have a bit set aside for potential vets bills if this were to happen?
If nothing else, being aware of these pitfalls can help you to be more prepared. For example, do your research to see if there is a market for corn snakes in your area before you commit to anything. Similarly, put some money aside for vets bills, just in case you need it.
How to Breed Corn Snakes
We’ll provide detailed guidance regarding each stage of the breeding process; from brumation to birth. As you become more experienced, you’ll probably learn your own techniques and modifications to the process. For now, let’s cover the basics of breeding corn snakes.
Choosing Corn Snakes to Breed
Corn snakes are very popular in the US, so it would be easy to source a pair for breeding. However, not all snakes are suitable for breeding. At the very least, your snakes should be healthy, sexually mature, and you should avoid cross-breeding. Let’s review these points in a bit more detail:
Check your Snakes are Healthy
Immediately before mating, both snakes should be thoroughly examined. Fatigue, foaming at the mouth, or blistered skin are signs of disease, so these snakes should not be mated.
Both snakes should be a healthy weight and size. The average adult corn snake is 1.6m and 900g. If the snakes are underweight, mating them could result in injury or a sickly clutch.
If your corn snake has a deformity (i.e., spinal problems), or struggles with feeding, keep it as a pet and don’t breed it.
How Old Can Corn Snakes Breed?
Male corn snakes can be bred when they turn 2 and females when they turn 3 years old. They may become sexually mature slightly earlier than this, but it is best to err on the side of caution to prevent injury.
There are hundreds of corn snake morphs (colors); most of which can be mated together safely. Indeed, mating different colors can create very interesting results.
However, some experimenters have created hybrid snakes by mating a corn snake with a California kingsnake. According to ICR, this indicates that these species are more closely related than taxonomists recognize.
While this might be the case, many breeders avoid cross-breeding because it could result in deformity or death (especially if the snake breeder is inexperienced).
What About Inbreeding?
The hundreds of corn snake morphs (colors) created by snake breeders are a product of inbreeding – to one extent or another. Nonetheless, the topic of inbreeding (i.e. breeding a snake with its parent or sibling) has inspired a lot of controversy within the snake world.
Some people are concerned that it is an unethical and unhealthy practice, whereas others say that it’s perfectly OK as long as the handler is experienced and knows how to manage the risks.
For example, ethical breeders can minimize some of the effects of inbreeding by not successively breeding more than 4 generations, and by practicing a process called ‘outcrossing.’
Snakes, as a species, seem less affected by inbreeding than mammals. Also, inbreeding can occur naturally in the wild. However, unless you are breeding corn snakes to create a new morph (i.e. a certain color or characteristic) you should avoid inbreeding because there is a risk of creating deformities.
You might have heard about the bloodred corn snake; this is a type of corn snake produced from line-breeding (inbreeding). They are very bad feeders, and some will die young due to starvation.
Breeding to create a new morph is a specialist hobby and is something people pursue after they have had several years of breeding experience. As such, it’s a good idea to do some additional research on genetics prior to attempting this.
To avoid inbreeding, source your snakes from two different breeders so you don’t end up mating close relatives. Also, keep a record of all snakes you breed so you don’t end up accidentally inbreeding your own.
It should be said that some buyers seek out wild-types (regular-looking corn snakes) that have not been successively line-bred (inbred). So, if you want to sell corn snakes for profit, there is a market for wild-type varieties.
How to Brumate your Corn Snakes
If you want your snakes to have a strong mating response, it’s a good idea to brumate (cool) them over the winter. Brumation is a natural protective behavior similar to hibernation and it appears to support the overall well-being of the snake. So, how do you go about brumating your snakes?
- Stop feeding your snakes from mid-November so they have a chance to clear their stomachs.
- At the beginning of December, you should reduce the core temperature to about 55 °F (13 °C). Don’t let the temperature dip below 50°F (10°C) or rise above 60°F (16°C). Try to reduce the temperature gradually over several days.
- There should be no light entering their vivarium at all. You could move your snakes to a basement or spare room to achieve darkness.
- Do not disturb your snakes unnecessarily but do check on them from time-to-time. They are prone to getting dehydrated so make sure fresh water is available at all times. Do not feed them at all during brumation. They will be unable to digest the food.
- Towards the end of February, start to warm the vivarium up to its normal temperature.
- Wait approximately 3-4 days before feeding your snakes. It’s best to start them on a small meal such as a pinky mouse until they get their appetite back. Over the coming weeks, they will feed voraciously.
Breeding Corn Snakes Without Brumation
Some beginners feel a little overwhelmed by the prospect of brumating their snakes. Others think it is not necessary. So, what’s the truth?
There are some snake breeders who have successfully bred corn snakes without cooling them over the winter period. However, if you don’t brumate your snakes, you increase the risk of finding slugs (unfertilized eggs).
During brumation, the female’s egg follicles develop, and the male’s sperm develops. As such, snakes who have cooled down over the winter are potentially more fertile.
Not only that, they are better feeders and tend to have more energy. So, while brumation might not be compulsory – it is certainly a good idea if you want your snakes to stay healthy and fertile.
How to Mate Corn Snakes
One of the first questions beginners have is; what time of year do snakes mate? This can vary according to the age and size of the snake, but most males will be ready to mate 2-3 weeks after brumation, and females 4-5 weeks after brumation (i.e. beginning of April).
During these 4-5 weeks, it’s important to feed your snakes 2-3 times a week and clean their cages often. You’ll know your snakes are ready to mate when you see the following:
- The males will shed their skin.
- About 2 weeks later, ovulating females will start to swell in their lower halves, and you may be able to see or feel small bumps. The female will then shed her skin (usually about two weeks after the male).
When you see the signs that your snakes are ready to mate, follow these steps:
- Spritz water on the substrate to promote humidity in the vivarium. This will enable the male to easily detect the female’s pheromones.
- Select a male and introduce it to the female in her own vivarium.
- The male will usually show interest within the first few minutes. Cannibalism is rare in corn snakes but not unheard of so do monitor your corn snakes closely.
- If your snakes become intertwined, this is a sign they are mating. They will usually stay this way for 20-30 minutes, but sometimes longer. After this time, remove the male back to his own vivarium.
- Re-introduce the same male for a couple of hours, 2-4 times a week, for the next two weeks.
- You’ll know your snake is gravid when she develops a peak on her spine. This occurs because fat and muscle move up the body to make space for the eggs that are growing inside her.
Can Corn Snakes Have Babies Without Mating?
There are a few snakes that can provide young via parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction), but corn snakes are not one of these species. If your snake is laying eggs but has not mated, she may have laid slugs (infertile eggs).
Also, bear in mind that corn snakes can retain sperm for up to a year so if you obtained her quite recently, she might have mated with another snake in her previous home.
If your female has had slugs, you should check to see if any eggs have been retained as this can sometimes happen. If you can see retained eggs, it’s vital to take your snake to a vet for treatment. Do not attempt to remove retained eggs by yourself as this will cause a lot of pain to your snake.
How Long Are Corn Snakes Pregnant For?
After fertilization, it will be about 4-6 weeks before the female is ready to lay her eggs. This means she will lay her eggs in mid-May or early-June. Look out for your female’s pre-birth shed; this normally happens about 2 weeks before they lay their clutch.
Make sure the humidity is at least 55% to keep your snake hydrated, but don’t leave too much water in the water bowl. If your snake lays her eggs in a full water bowl, the eggs may drown.
Getting Prepared for Egg-Laying
While you’re playing the waiting game, make sure your snake has 1) a suitable nesting box and 2) plenty of food (if she will accept it).
- Nesting Box: A nesting box is essentially a humid hide box. Find a shallow plastic Tupperware box and line it with damp sphagnum moss.
- Food: Try to feed your female 2 times a week, if she will accept it. Some gravid females can be persuaded to eat if you make their portion size smaller (i.e. cut a pinky mouse in half). If your female does accept food she will probably stop feeding about 5-7 days before she lays.
Eggs can be laid any time of the day or night. Once you see the eggs, wait at least 24 hours before trying to remove them. This will ensure she has laid all her eggs and may help to reduce anxiety when removing them.
When removing the eggs, your corn snake is likely to thrash or bite. You’ll want to avoid a fight as much as possible because this may inadvertently damage the eggs. Likewise, when transferring the eggs from the nesting box to the incubating box, be as gentle as possible.
Can Corn Snakes Be Mated Twice a Year?
In many cases, it is not suitable to mate a corn snake more than once a year. For example, females who are breeding for the first year should never be mated more than once in a year.
Females who are in their prime could possibly breed a second time. For example, if the snake quickly accepts a meal very soon after laying her eggs, this signals that she may be healthy enough to bear another clutch.
However, it’s not advisable to attempt this as a beginner because you need to be able to determine if she is healthy enough. With experience, you’ll know if she is a healthy weight and appears to have enough energy. When it comes to your snake’s health, it is better not to push your luck.
How Many Eggs Do Corn Snakes Lay?
This really can vary considerably. Corn snakes lay as few as 2 and as many as 34 eggs, depending on their age, diet, and the conditions in which they are kept.
The average number of eggs per clutch is 12. Young females are likely to produce less than 5 eggs per clutch, and this will increase with age. It’s quite normal for a few eggs in every clutch to be sickly.
Incubating Corn Snake Eggs
Incubating the eggs is a crucial part of the breeding process. With so many eggs to look after, this process can seem a bit daunting.
However, if you break it down into the following steps it will seem much more manageable:
- Find some plastic boxes (Tupperware containers with lids). Clean and disinfect.
- If the containers are airtight when the lid is on, make some very small holes in the lid to allow for airflow.
- Line the boxes with a specialist reptile-laying medium (see below). This should be approximately 1 inch thick. You may need several boxes, depending on how big the clutch is.
- Carefully place the eggs on top of the medium. Some may be clumped together – there is no need to separate them. Put the lids on the containers.
- Place the containers inside an incubator. A great option is the BleuMoo Egg Incubator. This is a reliable, digitally-controlled incubator that will keep your eggs at a consistent temperature and humidity. This incubator has a glass door for easy monitoring and shelves to stack your plastic egg boxes.
- Check your eggs regularly. Provide occasional ventilation by temporarily removing the lids from the plastic boxes for an hour at a time (do this approximately once every 10 days).
Once you’ve set up your incubating system, spend time getting the heat, humidity, and timings right. Let’s review each one in turn.
What Temperature Do You Incubate Corn Snake Eggs?
Eggs should be incubated at 78-80 °F (26-27 °C). Do not exceed 85 °F (30 °C) or allow the temperature to dip below 72 °F (22 °C). If you purchase an incubator, this ensures you’ll be able to sustain a consistent temperature.
How Much Humidity is Required?
Alongside heat, you must monitor humidity. Too humid and your eggs may mold, but too dry and your snakes will almost certainly die.
Most incubators require you to add water, and they will sustain humidity at a set level. The required level for corn snake eggs is approximately 75-80%. If your incubator does not have this function, add a bowl of water to the bottom of it and check humidity regularly with a hygrometer
Also, selecting the correct medium for your egg boxes will help retain humidity.The Pangea Hatch Premium Reptile Egg Incubation Substrate is a particularly good option. This substrate changes color to indicate the level of moisture in it. Not only that, it can be used several times if it is heated after use.
How Long Does It Take for a Corn Snake Egg to Hatch?
Waiting for your eggs to hatch can be a very exciting time. The average clutch will take about 8 weeks to hatch but it can vary quite a lot. Also, eggs may start hatching at different times (sometimes up to a week apart).
Monitoring your Eggs
While you’re waiting for your eggs to hatch, check on them 2-3 times a week. Don’t disturb them for too long at a time, but check for the following issues:
- Are there any rotten eggs? If there are, and they can be easily removed, dispose of these.
- Is there liquid on the shells of the eggs? If so, this indicates there is too much humidity. Take the lid of the egg boxes off to ventilate the eggs. Your incubator may have a setting to turn down the humidity, too.
- Do the shells look very dry? This indicates low humidity. Add more water to the bottom of your incubator.
When you suspect hatching is imminent, monitor your snakes very closely. It’s a good idea to remove hatchlings once they arrive so they don’t damage other eggs.
If there is space in your incubator, place each newborn in its own small plastic box and leave it in the incubator for 24 hours after hatching. This helps to keep it calm and allows it to adjust to its surroundings gradually. It’s best not to mix juvenile corns in the same container.
Do I Need to Buy an Incubator?
This is a question quite a lot of beginners have because incubators can be quite expensive. However, they are worth the investment because they help ensure the temperature remains consistent.
Having said that, it’s a good idea to have a backup method in case your incubator fails or in case you have a particularly large clutch that won’t fit in your incubator.
You can create a make-shift incubator using the following equipment:
- A glass corn snake vivarium – Ideally, this should have a glass lid to maintain humidity. However, if it has a screen-top lid, you can dampen a towel and lay this over half of the screen to retain humidity.
- A reptile heat pad (don’t use heat lights) with a thermostat
- A hygrometer to monitor humidity
- Reptile incubating substrate
- Tupperware boxes – place your eggs in boxes with lids and put them inside the tank.
Set up the tank so the heat mat is covering about half of the base and set the thermostat to 78-80 °F (26-27 °C). As with the previous method, place the eggs in secure egg boxes, and then place the egg boxes inside the tank.
This tank needs to be set up in a dark room where it won’t be unnecessarily disturbed. You’ll also need to monitor the heat and humidity several times a day. As you can see there is more work (and more worry) involved but some snake breeders have managed to make this incubation method work.
How to Care for Newborn Corn snakes
Once your hatchlings arrive, you’ll need to remove them from the incubator. As suggested, it’s good to keep them in there for 24 hours before doing so, but only if you have space to keep them separately.
Although cannibalism is rare in corn snakes, it is possible in juveniles because some have a very good feeding response. After your snake has left the incubator, consider the following:
Babies will usually eat their first meal 2-5 days after being born. Once they have shed for the first time, this signals they are ready to eat. Feed them pinky mice twice a week.
Be patient with your snake if they don’t start feeding immediately. Cutting up their meal may help. Alternatively, dangling a pinky mouse in front of them (with tongs) can help to initiate a feeding response in juvenile snakes.
Provide your snake with a small, shallow water dish. If the water dish is too big, there is a chance they could drown in it. If you see your baby curling up in the water dish, this is a sign they over overheated or there is not enough humidity in their vivarium.
Corn snakes need a thermogradient of 84-86°F (28-30°C) at the higher end, and 68-75°F (20-24°C) at the lower end. If you intend to keep your babies in a rack setup, you can provide heat to one side of the boxes using a heat cable.
If you keep them in a tank, heat can be provided with a reptile heat mat, reptile basking light, and by monitoring ambient temperatures.
Baby snakes shed their skin regularly (about once a fortnight) so they need humidity. To achieve this, place some damp sphagnum moss, coconut substrate or paper in a hide box.
If there is no space for a hide box, place this substrate over one-third of their enclosure. Check humidity often and if it dips below 55%, spritz some water on the substrate.
A lot of breeders keep their baby snakes in small plastic reptile tubs. However, if you are re-purposing a plastic box into a reptile tub, make sure there are some very small ventilation holes in the lid.
Where Should I House My Baby Corn Snakes?
When choosing the correct enclosure, consider how long you’ll be keeping the snake for. If you are going to be selling them quickly, it makes sense to keep them in a rack set-up, but it is important to make sure your snake’s needs are still met in this kind of set-up.
These can be re-purposed from furniture, built yourself from scratch, or custom-made by specialist providers. Essentially, each snake is housed in a plastic box, and these boxes stack on top of each other in racks or drawers.
Heat is provided to one side of each rack using a heat cable. Ventilation must be adequate but equally the racks must fit tightly to prevent escapes. The major benefit of a rack system is the space-saving element, but it can be harder to maintain a thermogradient in this type of set-up.
If you know you will be keeping one or more of your snakes, it makes sense to house the snake in a vivarium from birth. This will provide the snake with more room, and you can easily install UVA/B lighting if you wish.
There will be times when you need to transport or display your snakes. Also, when cleaning your snake’s enclosures, you’ll need somewhere safe to hold them.
Exo Terra Breeding Boxes are perfect for holding and transporting juvenile corn snakes. They measure 16.3” x 10.4” and offer sufficient ventilation for holding a corn snake.
It’s not ideal to keep your snake in one of these for more than a couple of days (unless you can place them in a rack that offers the correct thermal gradient and humidity).
Remember, the average corn snake clutch is about 12 eggs. As a responsible breeder, make sure you’ve got enough kit to house 12 snakes safely.
Caring for Your Adult Corn Snakes
While it’s important to care for the babies, don’t neglect the parents at this time. You’ll want to make sure your adult snakes are strong and healthy before winter approaches. The healthier they are, the more likely they are to breed successfully in subsequent years.
- Do a physical check of each snake; look for signs of extreme fatigue or problems with shedding. Female snakes may be dehydrated and may soak in their water bowl so top this up regularly.
- The female will have lost a lot of weight so feed her two meals per week until 2 weeks prior to brumation.
- Males can be fed less often (about once every 7 days). If they look overweight provide only small, infrequent meals.
- On rare occasions, a female may retain some of her eggs– perhaps because they are too big to pass. If you suspect your snake is retaining eggs it is very important you take her to a vet for examination and treatment. This condition could lead to infection or death. You can contact ARAV (Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians) to find a vet in your area.
- UVA/B lighting – There is some disagreement over whether full-spectrum lighting is necessary for corn snakes or not. Corn snakes do seem to do better when lighting is offered (in 12-hour cycles and not during brumation). Females that are struggling to recuperate after laying eggs may appreciate the warmth and UV rays of a basking light (as opposed to a heat mat). If you don’t want to invest in lighting, you could dust a small amount of vitamin D3 powder on your snake’s food once every couple of months instead.
Checklist for Corn Snake Breeders
Hopefully, this guide has simplified the process of corn snake breeding. If it has convinced you to attempt it yourself, be sure to remember these key points:
- Choose healthy snakes to breed (avoid inbreeding and cross-breeding).
- Brumate your snakes effectively.
- Give your snakes plenty of food between brumation and mating.
- Provide a humid nesting box for your snake.
- Incubate the eggs at the correct temperature and humidity.
- No matter how you house your babies, make sure they have the thermogradient they need for good health. Even if you’re only keeping your babies for a couple of months, this is important to ensure they stay healthy.
- Order plenty of pinky mice before your hatchlings arrive. There may be a shortage of these during the breeding season.
- Feed-up your female snake after she has given birth and check for any retained eggs.
- Keep accurate records so you can prevent accidental inbreeding and demonstrate that you are a responsible breeder.
Above all, it’s important to be prepared. Corn snakes can lay up to 34 eggs per clutch, so you need to have the equipment, food, and patience to look after such a large brood.