Corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) are medium-sized, non-venomous constrictors. Corns are ideal beginner snakes due to their relaxed and easy-going temperament. It’s this that has made them one of the most popular pet snakes in America, second only to the ball python.
Not only do corn snakes have attractive colors, but they also have placid temperaments. Newly hatched corn snakes are approximately 10 to 14 inches long, but they can grow to be up to 5.5 feet long as adults. Their needs are easy to meet in captivity, so there’s no need to worry about biting or aggressive constricting.
In the wild, the average life expectancy of a corn snake is just 6 to 8 years. However, depending on how well they’re cared for as pets, captive corns can live anywhere from 15 to 20 years, according to Europe PMC. Captive-bred corns are much healthier and don’t face a threat from predators.
Tips for Choosing a Pet Corn Snake
In this section, you’ll find detailed guidance that will help you to pick out a healthy corn snake as a pet. According to the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, a healthy corn should have the following traits.
Snake Should Be Active And Alert
How can you tell if a corn snake is active and alert? Look at how the snake moves. The snake’s movements should be cautious but deliberate. It should also stick out its tongue frequently to explore new surroundings.
Next, check the eyes, which should be clear and bright, unless the snake is about to shed its skin.
Skin And Scales Should Be Healthy
You should check that the snake’s scales are both clear and shiny. Next, you should examine the body for anything unusual.
To do this, you need to run your fingers down the snake’s entire body from tip to tail. Look for any lumps, bumps or kinking (which is a sign of bad genetics) and check for scars or wounds from injuries and fighting.
Once you have checked for lumps, scars, and wounds you should then look closely for external parasites and bits of unshed skin.
Mites are the main concern here. They are typically red or black and they look like tiny pepper granules. If a snake has mites, you’ll find them either hiding in between scales or just wandering slowly around on the snake’s body. The best places to spot them are in the scales around the eyes, under the chin or they may even appear on your hands after handling.
Ticks are also something you should be checking for. Ticks are far less common than mites on corn snakes, and they are easier to spot as they are bigger and flatter than mites.
If the outside of the snake’s body looks healthy, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Body Should Be Muscular And Taut
Gently probe and feel the body of the snake. You want to check that the snake’s body is firm, strong, and resistant to your touch.
Check that there are no soft or mushy parts, especially at the rear end and underneath the snake’s belly. The corn snake should also have a round body shape (not concave).
Snake’s Breathing Should Be Regular with No Anomalies
Check the snake’s mouth for bubbles or signs of discharge and listen closely to its breathing. If you hear any whistling, crackling or gurgling then it’s likely that the snake has a respiratory issue (RI).
You should also check that the snake’s mouth closes properly and is free from wounds or any other signs of mouth rot (also known as ulcerative stomatitis). Common signs include scabs, bleeding, and sores.
Snake’s Stools Should Look Normal
You need to look at the snake’s excrement. This should be mostly brown-black and solid with some yellow mucus, and maybe a bit of clear mucus.
Is a Hatchling or Juvenile Better?
Most people want a baby corn snake to rear. If you opt for a hatchling, you get to raise your snake from scratch and, therefore, don’t have to worry about its past health problems, etc. But there are some disadvantages.
Hatchlings can get stressed if they are over-handled. This is important to consider if you have children, as they are probably going to find it difficult to stay away from the newest addition to the family.
Corn snake hatchlings can be a little aggressive until they get to know you, so if you have your heart set on a younger snake then you’re going to need a little patience and self-restraint.
Overhandling a baby corn snake can cause feeding issues. Given too much attention, your corn snake may become too shy to feed or may regurgitate its meals after a couple of days.
It’s not a regular occurrence, but if handled too much, some corn snakes can also become very stubborn when it comes to their food choices.
Hatchlings also eat more. Bi-weekly feedings are sometimes needed for very young snakes, who can easily eat 2 to 3 times that of an adult.
What’s The Best Corn Snake Color Morph?
Most corn snakes look their absolute best in the juvenile stage, so you can easily choose a snake that you find aesthetically pleasing.
A corn snake’s colors will still darken and change with age. In fact, fading colors is one of the methods that are used to tell the age of a snake.
There are many beautiful corn snake color combinations. Morphs are accomplished through selective breeding, and their scarcity determines how much a snake cost.
Here are some corn snake morphs (with pictures and indicative prices).
Corn Snake Enclosure Setup
We’ll now answer the common questions that new corn snake owners have about how to house their snakes. So, let’s explore how to create an optimal environment for your new pet corn snake.
What Kind of Tank Should I Buy?
It’s important to keep your corn snake in an enclosure that is escape-proof, smooth-sided, and watertight. Corn snakes are good climbers and will make a break for freedom if you afford them the opportunity.
Plastic is recommended, but a wooden enclosure would also work well. Glass enclosures look very attractive, but glass is a poor conductor of heat and doesn’t hold onto humidity well.
Young hatchlings can be safely kept in a 10-gallon tank or enclosure and most adult corn snakes will be fine in a 20 to 30-gallon tank.
But slightly larger tanks are preferred to allow for increased mobility and activity, as well as providing adequate space for equipment and room needed to control the temperature and humidity.
An enclosure that’s too big will make your snake feel vulnerable and stressed. To ensure that you get the very best size for your corn snake, you should measure the total length of your snake and look for a terrarium that is a little bit longer than your snake in both length and width.
Read our complete guide to choosing a corn snake enclosure.
What Should I Put in The Tank?
Corn snakes like to burrow, so bedding that allows them to partake in this natural behavior is going to be a good choice. You can find out more about corn snake substrates in this guide. Here’s what’s suggested:
- Paper pulp
- Cypress mulch
- Aspen shavings
Corn snakes are timid by nature and so they like to have a place to hide. For this reason, you should include a hide box in your set up. A cardboard box or a plant pot with a hole in the top or in the side should do the job nicely.
Corn snakes that don’t have a safe hiding spot can become quite stressed, so it’s important to provide one to keep your pet happy and to minimize the risk of any stress-related health issues.
As well as helping to keep the environment humid (50% to 60% humidity is ideal for corn snakes) putting in a tub or small pool of water allows your corn snake to bask, bathe, drink, and control its body temperature.
You may also want to fix a moist sponge to the lid of the hide box to help your corn snake to stay humid. Once you have a substrate, hide box and water source, you can add a few stones, branches or plants too.
Here are some other forms of enrichment for snakes.
What To Do About Heating And Lighting
Like all reptiles, corn snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded) which means that they must obtain body heat from their environment.
According to the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Breeding, corn snakes thrive in a temperature range of 22 to 32 degrees Celsius or 72 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. All snakes need a ‘thermal gradient.’
You want one end of the tank to be on the cooler end of this scale (22 degrees) and the other on the hotter (32 or 33 degrees).
Having an appropriate heat source in the vivarium is necessary so that your corn snake can regulate its body temperature in order to keep its digestive and immune systems healthy and functioning well.
Note: Heat rocks can burn a snake’s belly. They should be avoided.
What Should I Feed My Corn Snake?
Corn snakes are strict carnivores. In the wild, they eat mice, rats, lizards, tree-frogs, and birds’ eggs. In captivity, most corn snakes are fed frozen-thawed mice known as pinkies.
You must feed them prey that’s under twice the diameter of their mid-body girth. The first time you feed your snake, you should make sure that the prey is even smaller. The prey should be half the size of their usual prey.
If you do decide to offer live prey, be aware that you must always watch the encounter. Snakes can easily be harmed by struggling prey and they may also ignore it if they are not hungry, which can result in the prey biting or otherwise harming the snake.
Also, live prey carries with it the danger of passing on harmful parasites, a threat that frozen-thawed food virtually eliminates.
To minimize the risk of bacteria when feeding frozen food, you should place it in a sealed plastic bag and rapidly thaw it out using hot water.
Frozen rodents that have been stored for more than 6 months will lose some of the nutrient content, so you should try to use them within this timeframe.
Where you feed your corn snake is important too. For example, if the substrate that you use has small particles that could easily be ingested during feeding, you might want to consider using a separate tank just for feeding. Swallowing substrate can lead to constipation.
How Often Should I Feed My Corn Snake?
How often you should feed your snake depends on its age. Hatchlings and juveniles should be fed every 5 to 7 days, while adults’ needs may vary. Females who are breeding will also require more food.
It’s normal for corn snakes to hide away for a few days after eating while they digest their food. After that, they should poop. At which point they might become interested in food again.
How To Handle a Corn Snake
Corn snakes are one of the easiest snakes to handle, which is what makes them such great pets for beginners. These snakes are patient and sturdy enough to endure regular handling, unlike other species of snakes that would typically become easily stressed if handled too much.
When you first bring home a corn snake, you should wait for two weeks before you attempt to handle it regularly. After these two weeks, you should take it slowly and handle your snake only for a few minutes at a time, two to three times a week.
When you first handle a corn snake, make sure you don’t put the snake back in their vivarium until it has had a chance to calm down. Doing so will teach the snake how you want it to behave.
Once your snake calms down sooner after handling, you can increase the amount of time you hold it. Slowly increase the amount of time you hold the snake, but never exceed an hour or the snake will become too cold.
Do Corn Snakes Bite?
Avoid holding your corn snake for 48 hours after they’ve been fed. Handling your snake during this time can cause regurgitation or kill your snake. There’s no significant temperament difference between male and female corn snakes.
You should also avoid handling your snake if it’s about to shed. The corn snake will have bluish-looking cloudy eyes at this time. Because of this, the snake will not be able to see which will make it defensive and extra sensitive to your touch and sudden movements.
If your snake strikes and doesn’t release, resist the urge to remove it quickly since doing so can remove its teeth. Yes, snakes do have teeth. Instead, have some cold water ready and pour it over the snake’s head. This will cause it to release you immediately without any undue harm.
Do Corn Snakes Make Good Pets?
Every snake is unique. Some snakes don’t mind being handled; others are more prone to biting due to their temperament or being handled too much.
Corn snakes have seen an increase in popularity over the years because they are low maintenance and docile by nature. They aren’t venomous, so you aren’t in danger if you were to get bitten.
It’s vital to learn all you can about the corn snake before you decide to get one. They need an ample-sized vivarium or cage, a heat source, water, enrichment, and places they can hide to feel secure.