Corn snakes are usually docile pets. But, in certain circumstances, your corn snake might be aggressive with you. Hissing and biting can be scary for a novice, so taming your corn snake is vital.
Taming a pet corn snake is easy, provided you know how it’s done. You also have to understand a corn snake’s body language. But snakes let you know when they’re unhappy, so it won’t be hard.
- 1 How to Handle an Aggressive Corn Snake
- 2 How Long Does It Take to Tame a Corn Snake?
- 3 Understanding Corn Snake Body Language
- 4 How to Tell If a Corn Snake is Calm
How to Handle an Aggressive Corn Snake
Prepare the area that you’ll be handling the snake. Whichever room that’s in, it has to meet certain basic criteria. If it doesn’t, the snake will be stressed or could escape its enclosure. You have to:
- Clear away any mess that the snake could hide under.
- Shut any other pets out of the room before you take the snake from its enclosure.
- Don’t take your snake from its enclosure when there are other people around. The exception is if the other people own or breed snakes and know how to handle them too.
- Turn off the TV so that the snake doesn’t see any sudden movements.
- Get rid of any children’s toys, or anything else that could move suddenly, from the room.
You also have to time your handling. Wait until the snake has gone to the toilet before handling them, or at least don’t handle them within two days after you feed them.
Also, don’t try to handle them during the blue phase, i.e., before they shed. They are aggressive during this time. And if the snake’s tongue isn’t flicking, it’s likely asleep. Don’t startle the snake.
Once the handling environment is ready, then you can think about the next steps.
1) Purchase Snake Handling Equipment
Handling a corn snake is easy, provided that you a) know how to handle them, and b) have the necessary equipment to handle them. Once your snake is familiar with you, you won’t require handling tools. But to tame them, you do. Here’s what you need:
- A snake hook, like this one from Doc Seward on Amazon. These are used to lift the snake, either to remove it from the enclosure, or put it back inside.
- Snake tongs, like these heavy-duty ones from Anrain. These are a similar type of hook, except they can gently grab as well as lift.
- A snake bag, like this simple one from IClover. These are used to transport the snake from place to place.
- Corn snake restraint equipment. snake restraining tubes are the last resort if you need to handle a snake that refuses to be handled. They aren’t intended for everyday use.
- Sturdy gloves, like these RAPICCA ones made from bite-proof Kevlar. These protect your hands if you’re bitten.
Restraint equipment, while unpleasant to use, is necessary. Imagine that you tried to handle the snake, but it got loose. It refuses to be picked up again, and lashes out when you get anywhere near it. You may need the restraint equipment, travel bag, or hook to get it back in its enclosure.
2) Learn How to Handle Snakes
You can make the most placid snakes angry by not handling them properly. There are many mistakes that beginners make that can be avoided with the most basic training. Here are some of them:
- Hold the snake 1/3 and 2/3rds of the way along its body. This provides the best support.
- Pass the snake from hand to hand gently as it moves to prevent it from getting away.
- Don’t move the snake around quickly when you hold them.
- Don’t grab or squeeze the snake.
Your snake isn’t your friend. You may enjoy handling your pet snake, but the best your snake will do is tolerate you. They don’t need social interaction, with you or other snakes, to be happy.
Snakes also don’t need to be handled for the sake of exercise. Snakes generally don’t need to exercise, so you aren’t doing them a favor by taking them out of their cage.
Also, handling them does nothing to alleviate any ‘boredom’ you imagine the snake feels. Snakes don’t get bored, although they will appear restless if they have nothing to do. When you do start handling your snake, remember these three things, and you should be fine.
3) Get Your Snake Out of Their Enclosure
One issue with defensive corn snakes (or any defensive snake) is cage aggression. While ‘cage aggression’ is the well-known term, it’s a misnomer. Cage defensiveness would be more accurate.
Cage aggression occurs when the snake feels cornered in their enclosure. You will notice it if you reach into the snake’s enclosure when they aren’t familiar with you. The snake will get defensive, start to hiss, or strike straight away.
You can avoid cage aggression by using your snake hook. Place the hook under the snake’s body and lift them slowly, carefully from their cage. Don’t move suddenly and maintain a distance so the snake doesn’t feel threatened.
Then, place the snake somewhere safe. With luck, the snake won’t be as defensive as if you’d reached into the enclosure. You don’t have to handle them immediately, but ensure the snake can’t hide or escape anywhere.
4) Try Picking the Snake Up
Once the snake is out of their enclosure, test their boundaries. The issue may have only been cage aggression. If that’s the case, you can handle them now.
Once they’ve been out for a minute, take them on the hook and bring them closer to you. Gauge how they react. If they still hiss and strike towards you, don’t force them to get any closer to you.
However, you might find that they’re comfortable because they’re in an open space. If so, try putting them on your arm. They may already be tamed.
5) Be Confident When Handling a Snake
One mistake that novice owners make is to appear frightened of the snake. While snakes aren’t social animals, they can tell if you’re scared or if you’re confident. This makes a big difference as the snake will reconsider being aggressive if you are confident.
Ask any breeder or veteran owner and they will tell you the same. Many have stories of a friend or family member that had an aggressive snake. But when the experienced owner handles them confidently, the snake doesn’t give them any problems.
Being afraid has consequences aside from this too. You may accidentally start to shake, for example. The snake is small enough that it seems like a big movement to them. Your shaking will make them more aggressive.
This fear is difficult to overcome, as an aggressive snake (especially an adult) can be quite scary. If you buy RAPICCA snake handling gloves, this won’t be a problem. Even their fiercest bites won’t hurt you.
If you can’t afford gloves, or don’t want to use them, don’t worry. Being bitten by a juvenile corn snake is like being bitten by a hamster. Being bitten by an adult is no worse than being bitten by a cat. It might hurt and bleed a tiny bit, but you’ll be fine.
6) Handle Your Corn Snake Regularly
Once you can take your snake from their enclosure safely, you have to handle them regularly. This is the only way they will realize you aren’t a threat. Regular handling should ideally take place from when the snake is recently hatched.
If that’s not possible, regular handling when an adult will have to do. One to two times per week is optimal. This will ensure that the snake interacts with you regularly, but not enough to cause stress.
Each handling session shouldn’t take longer than an hour. After this time, the snake will start to get cold. Realistically, you can’t handle them this much at first when they’re still aggressive. They will become restless and perhaps defensive if they want you to stop.
How Long Does It Take to Tame a Corn Snake?
This is a tricky question to answer. It depends on why your snake is so aggressive. There are many reasons why a snake will hiss and strike. In no particular order:
- The snake is hungry.
- It thinks that you’re a threat.
- It has an injury or illness that makes it especially defensive.
- Its previous owner/breeder wasn’t good at handling snakes, and made it fear humans.
- The snake was wild-caught.
- The snake is stressed because it lives in an improper environment.
As you can see, many of these can be fixed easily. You can check our corn snake care guide to rectify issues like temperature, humidity, and substrate. Once these are fixed, the snake may go back to normal straight away.
The same applies to injuries. These can usually be cured easily, at home, with proper care. If they can’t, then you can take the snake to a vet. Again, their defensiveness may clear up immediately.
Other issues are ingrained. If a snake is wild-caught, and had lived much of its life outdoors, it will never completely trust people. The same applies if the snake had a previous owner who mistreated it. If that’s the case, the snake may never be fully tame.
However, the snake will be tamed quicker or become tamer if you follow these guidelines.
Understanding Corn Snake Body Language
Once you understand how to tame your corn snake, you have to learn corn snake body language. This is how you will tell your snake’s mood. Male and female corn snakes have similar levels of aggression. Knowing this will enable you to avoid confrontation and only interact with your pet in a positive way.
Corn Snake Hissing
One of the classic signs that a snake is unhappy is that they hiss. However, this snake may not be exactly as you expect from TV or movies.
When a corn snake hisses, it isn’t a drawn-out ‘sss’ sound. It’s difficult to describe: it sounds like the noise a cat makes when it strikes at something.
Corn snakes rarely hiss when threatened. Your snake may still be defensive and unhappy, but not hiss at you. You will likely only hear this noise when your corn snake strikes at you.
Corn Snake Rattling Tail
There are other things they’ll do when threatened, too. The most obvious is that they rattle their tails. Corn snakes don’t have rattles like rattlesnakes. But they do still buzz or vibrate their tails.
When their tail vibrates, it makes a buzzing or rattling noise. This is where the tail rattles against the ground or the enclosure. In the wild, it would rattle among leaves and sound even more impressive.
Corn Snake Striking Position
When a snake feels defensive, it will assume the striking position. This is true of corn snakes as it is of other snakes. The striking position makes them look larger. It also makes it possible for them to strike from a distance. This is the basic striking position:
- The middle and rear sections of their body will be on the ground, coiled up.
- Their top third (including their head) will be raised from the ground
- Their top third will be shaped into an S-shape, like a zig-zag or a concertina
This position may be accompanied by hissing, but usually isn’t. Corn snakes rarely hiss. They rely on their striking position instead.
Corn Snake Striking at Glass
If your corn snake is striking at the glass of their vivarium, this is a bad sign. It shows that they feel so defensive that they strike towards you even when you’re some distance away. Like other kinds of striking, this suggests that they feel threatened.
Striking at the glass of their vivarium looks like what it sounds like. They will sit in a defensive position, pointed towards you. Then they will continually strike the glass until you move away. This will occur when you get close, but not when you aren’t there.
The exact reason this occurs isn’t clear from the behavior. It could be because of temperature, illness, and disease, or anything else.
Corn Snake Aggressive after Feeding
Corn snakes, the same as other species, can be aggressive both before and after feeding. If you put yourself in the position of your snake, you can see why.
Snakes get aggressive before feeding because they’re hungry. If they were in the wild, they would be searching for food and striking regularly. If they came across a threat, they would get it to back off, as it may steal the snake’s food.
They get aggressive after feeding because they’re trying to digest. A snake full of food can’t move as fast, so it has to be defensive. If it has to try and get away, it will regurgitate its food to escape faster. The snake wants to avoid this, so will defend itself instead.
You can avoid this entirely by not handling your snake either before or after feeding. Wait until your snake defecates before handling them again. This is a perfect time, as they aren’t hungry yet.
How to Tell If a Corn Snake is Calm
You can tell if a corn snake is calm through their behavior. A calm snake sniffs by flicking their tongue regularly. This shows that they are awake and curious as to their surroundings. They will sniff your hand, which is their way of getting to know you.
They also don’t display any of the signs above, e.g., rattling or hissing. These behaviors are only shown when the snake is defensive.
Over time, your snake will be far less defensive. You won’t notice them rattling or striking anymore. This is the sign that your corn snake is finally tame.