Corn snake babies, while small, can be feisty until tamed down. Many new owners will learn this fact first-hand due to a sudden, unexpected bite.
Baby corn snakes will bite when they feel threatened, or if they smell food on your hand. These scenarios can be mitigated by learning the signs of a defensive snake, and by washing your hands before handling the snake. Corn snakes have small, needle-like teeth and are non-venomous. Bites from baby corn snakes may not even break the skin.
A corn snake is an aglyphous snake, so it has solid teeth designed for gripping before swallowing prey. This species kills via constriction, and thus has no need for venom or venom delivery systems like fangs.
Are Baby Corn Snakes Venomous?
Corn snakes are part of the Pantherophis genus, a group of non-venomous colubrid snakes native to parts of North America. Instead of using venom to immobilize prey, corn snakes use constriction.
A corn snake will bite and latch on to its prey. It will then wrap around and constrict it. A corn snake will not bite unless it is defending itself. Corn snakes will attempt to flee and hide before resorting to biting. This behavior is seen in baby corn snakes as well as juveniles and adults.
Do Corn Snakes Have Fangs?
Venomous snakes have fangs, which are modified teeth designed to pierce flesh and transport venom. Constricting snakes have no need for venom and thus have solid teeth designed for gripping prey.
As mentioned, corns have aglyphous teeth. According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, are teeth without grooves or perforations. Corn snakes, including babies, have 20-30 tiny, barb-like teeth. These teeth are aligned with 4 rows in the top jaw and 2 rows on the bottom jaw.
My Baby Corn Snake Bit Me
Baby corn snake bites will rarely hurt, or even break the skin. Adult corn snake bites have been likened to the faint prick of a needle.
Still, it can be startling for new snake owners to get bitten. If your baby corn snake bites you, resist the urge to yank your hand or arm back. Ripping away from a corn snake bite, if it hasn’t let go, can badly hurt the snake. This happens when a tooth is ripped out.
Pouring water over the snake’s head or spritzing mouthwash into the snake’s mouth may result in the same releasing its grip. Most often, it’s best to simply wait for the snake to let go on its own.
Treating a Corn Snake Bite
Disinfect a snake bite by washing it with water, cleaning with a disinfectant, and applying a band-aid, if necessary. At worst, a bite will result in an abrasion-like wound. Seek a doctor’s advice if any swelling, infection, or other concerning signs emerge.
Baby Corn Snake Keeps Biting Me
Corn snakes are typically docile snakes that will rarely bite unless repeatedly provoked. Baby corn snakes may act differently, as they haven’t been socialized yet.
Normally, if a baby corn snake bites you it is because it’s afraid or it thinks you are food. Here’s how to tell why your snake is biting you:
- If the snake bites you and immediately releases, it’s afraid and acting defensively. This is called a tag bite.
- If the snake bites you and doesn’t let go, it probably thinks you’re food. It may also attempt to constrict your finger, hand, or wrist.
Biting and Letting Go
Every snake will act defensively if given reason to do so. Corn snakes are very mild-mannered, but if startled even the friendliest snake will act out.
A study in Animal Behavior and Cognition noted behavior seen in newborn corn snake hatchlings with nowhere to hide. Mainly, defensive behavior that included retreating, striking, tucking the head under the body, and aggressive bluffing.
When a corn snake tag bites, or bluff bites, it is doing so as a threat display. It’s saying ‘leave me alone’. Breeders or owners of very young corn snakes will see this behavior in a hatchling until it learns that humans won’t hurt it. This will come in time and with the correct handling.
Biting and Holding On
When a corn snake bites and holds on, it probably thinks you are food. This can happen for two reasons:
- Your hand smells like food
- The snake associates you entering its enclosure with food
Thoroughly wash your hands before handling the snake. Snake’s hunt primarily with their fine sense of smell. Additionally, snakes aren’t all that smart. You are way too big for even the largest of corn snakes to eat. But still, if you smell like food, the snake will treat you like food.
It takes months of feedings for the association between entering a snake’s enclosure and food to grow. Essentially, the snake thinks that any time its enclosure is opened means food is coming. It will assume whatever enters its enclosure is then food and strike accordingly.
This can happen more frequently with corn snakes that are highly food motivated. To solve this, ensure that you interact frequently with the snake outside of feedings.
How To Avoid Baby Corn Snake Bites
This involves understanding how to approach and handle your snake. This also includes learning how to read your snake’s body language.
Approaching Your Snake
Corn snakes’ predators are hawks and carnivorous mammals. These animals strike from above. Naturally, if you come at your snake from above it’ll mistake you for a predator if they didn’t already see you coming.
Before opening the enclosure, ensure that your baby corn snake is aware of your presence. Move predictably and smoothly. If you can, breach the enclosure from the side and not from the top.
A snake cannot directly tell you when it wants to be left alone or is afraid. Signs of an afraid and defensive corn snake are if it:
- Rattles its tail
- Bluff or tag strikes
- Flees and hides
- Coils and hides its head
- Rises into a strike pose
- Displays its teeth
Handling a Baby Corn Snake
Handling a baby corn snake correctly will go a long way into building its trust. It is far less likely to bite you if it knows you won’t hurt it.
Handle a baby corn snake by gently picking it up. Support its middle (not head) with your hand and let it move freely. Don’t squeeze or restrain the snake, as this can trigger a fight-or-flight response.
Don’t over handle your pet snake. Limit handling sessions to a maximum of 60-minute blocks twice a week. Even with your body heat, the baby corn snake will get too cold if removed from its enclosure for too long.
Over-handling the snake can stress it out. Juvenile and adult corn snakes can handle more frequent handling sessions.
Are Baby Corn Snakes Aggressive?
Corn snakes are one of the least aggressive snakes. This is why the breed is such a popular pet snake, especially for beginners. However, a baby corn snake fresh out of the egg may act aggressively.
This is just fear. Baby corn snakes have not had enough time being fed or handled by people to learn that we are not a threat. This lesson will come with time and proper handling.
Snakes are not social animals. Companion Animal Care and Welfare made it clear that while a snake will acclimatize to the company of its owner, there is no evidence that snakes enjoy being handled. That said, snakes can benefit from being handled as it builds trust and they’re able to get warmth from your hands.