Corn snakes are native to the U.S. and can be found in the wild in the southeast. If you own or are fascinated by corn snakes, you might think you know everything there is to know about them. But there are lots of facts about corn snakes you may not have heard before.
1) Corn Snakes May Be the Most Popular Pet Snake
Corn snakes are one of the most popular pet snakes. But why are they so popular?
Part of the reason is that they come in many morphs. A morph is a variety of a kind of snake species. While the regular corn snake is orange and red, a morph might be yellow, white, or pink. Or, they may have a different pattern. This makes them a cool and fun pet to have.
Most of the corn snakes kept by owners are morphs rather than ‘originals.’ The two snake species with the most morphs are corn snakes and ball pythons. Morphs may be found in the wild, like albinos, or ‘designer’ meaning the product of two existing morphs.
To see their popularity, head to any regular pet store. They’re one of the most common snakes sold from pet stores—even pet stores that don’t specialize in reptiles.
They are also many owners’ first snake. That’s because they may be found in the wild near where you live. It’s best to get a captive-bred snake rather than one from the wild. But that doesn’t stop many budding owners from catching them.
2) Corn Snakes Are Easy to Look After
Aside from that, corn snakes are easy to care for. They don’t reach a size where they’re difficult for a young owner to handle them. The longest they get is around six feet, but they’re thin for their size.
Also, everything you need for them is easy to find. Their bedding and cage setup can be purchased from a pet shop or online, and isn’t too expensive. They eat rodents, which can be found at pet stores too.
Other snakes have awkward requirements. Tropical snakes, for example, need lots of heat and lots of humidity. This can be difficult to provide in a captive setting. Because corn snakes are from the U.S., their needs are easy to meet here.
3) Corn Snakes Don’t Enjoy Handling
The two most popular pet snakes are corn snakes and ball pythons. It’s no coincidence that both of these snakes are easy to handle. They don’t get defensive provided you handle them correctly.
But even though they won’t necessarily bite you, that doesn’t mean they enjoy handling. Snakes don’t like being touched, although they can learn to tolerate it. Your snake will never be your friend and enjoy ‘cuddles’ like other pets.
To handle a corn snake safely, scoop it up with one hand. Keep one hand underneath their neck near their head, and the other near the tail. This will provide support for your snake. If you make them feel like they’re going to fall, they may get defensive. Other tips include:
- Don’t handle the snake before or after they feed
- Wash your hands before and after you handle a snake
- Don’t approach the snake if they’re in a defensive, S-shape striking position
You’re free to handle your pet snake any way you like. But aside from being cruel to the snake, poor husbandry is painful. You’ll be bitten all the time.
4) How Corn Snakes Got Their Name
Most animal names are descriptive in nature. A reference to their color, a distinctive body part like a crest, or their behavior is the usual source.
Corn snakes are orange and red, so aren’t the color of corn. And, of course, they don’t have any corn-shaped body parts. So, where do corn snakes get their name?
There are two potential sources. The first refers to where they are usually found: near corn or grain silos. Mice, rats and other rodents are attracted to silos like these because there’s so much food to go around.
In turn, the snakes are attracted to where the rodents are. Corn snakes eat rodents, both in the wild and in captivity. It’s only natural that they would congregate where their food source is.
It makes sense that people would notice that they were close to these silos. If anything, they were beneficial. People didn’t want rodents in their grain stores, so corn snakes would have been welcomed instead.
The second is that their belly scales are of the pattern of a head of corn. This is less likely, because it’s usually distinctive body parts or patterns that give an animal their name. The fact that this pattern is on their underside means that it isn’t that distinctive.
5) Corn Snakes Can Be Mistaken for Copperheads
Many people mistake the harmless corn snake for the venomous copperhead. Copperheads are found in the same part of the world that corn snakes are, for a start. But there are a few other reasons why people can mistake them:
- Corn snakes have an orange-red head, while copperheads are known for their red head too.
- Both animals are found in the same kind of habitat.
- Copperheads reach around 3ft. According to the Smithsonian, corn snakes 2-6ft, so they are a similar length.
- When certain people see a snake, they don’t think to identify it. All they see is the red head and think ‘copperhead’.
But corn snakes are entirely harmless. They don’t attack people, and even if they did, they don’t have venom. They kill rodents, which is something that most people approve off, especially on farmland.
So, if you ever see a corn snake in the wild, don’t kill it. It’s best not to disturb it at all. Leave it be, or at most, take a photograph to remember the moment.
6) Corn Snakes are Native U.S. Snakes
Wild corn snakes aren’t as particular about their habitat as other species are. They live across the United States, from New Jersey to the Florida Keys. You can find them as far west as Utah.
As you can imagine, then, they can live in a variety of different habitats. You’ll find them in:
- Overgrown fields
- Farms, both in use and abandoned
- Forests and forest openings
They can also live in mountainous areas, as far up as 6,000 feet. Their versatility helped them spread across much of the southeastern United States, and means they aren’t at threat despite human encroachment.
They are a terrestrial snake, which means they live on the ground. This is as opposed to arboreal snakes, which live in trees. While they don’t live and feed in trees, they can climb them. They hide in undergrowth rather than in trees.
Because they live near densely populated areas, they are some peoples’ first experience of snakes. They can be found relatively easily if you know where to look. That’s also why they’re such a popular pet snake, because you can keep them if you find one in the wild (although it’s a better idea to get a captive-bred one).
7) Corn Snakes Hibernate If It Gets Too Cold
The further north you find corn snakes, the more likely it is that they ‘hibernate.’ Corn snakes go through a process called brumation in the winter. This is the reptile equivalent of hibernation.
During their brumation, the snake will go into hiding. They will find an old mammal burrow, e.g. a rabbit warren. They will head underground because the frost and snow won’t affect them there.
During this time, they will hardly eat unless they’re starving. That’s because snakes need a heat source to digest. They don’t create their own body heat. They need the sun’s warmth to stimulate the digestive bacteria in their gut.
Like other hibernating animals, snakes will be inactive, although they may not be asleep. They will come out occasionally during brumation any time that it gets sunny.
In the spring, they’ll come out again for good. They’ll immediately race to start eating again. The spring is their mating season, so all corn snakes need to regain their strength after the winter.
8) Captive Corn Snakes Live Much Longer
Wild corn snakes may only survive for between six and eight years. The length of their life varies, as you might expect. But because of environmental pressures, they don’t live long.
Captive corn snakes live for much, much longer. If you went out and bought a hatchling today, you could still be taking care of it twenty years from now. The oldest known specimen lived to be thirty-two!
Why is there such a discrepancy? There are two reasons. In the wild, corn snakes face predators like mammals and birds of prey. They can strike at any time, and the snake’s orange-red coloration doesn’t do much to hide it.
Besides that, the snake may face environmental harm. It could be frozen by a harsh winter, or killed in a forest fire. Or, it could be drowned after a period of heavy rain. The wild is a tough place for any animal to be.
People have perfected care for their pets. We know what temperature and humidity to keep these snakes at. We have the technology to maintain that temperature and humidity permanently.
We offer optimal food. We know how to help a snake shed its skin. We have antibiotics that can treat mouth rot, scale rot, and sepsis. And, of course, there are no predators that can attack a captive snake.
All of these factors combine to mean that a captive snake has a much longer life span than a wild one.
9) Corn Snakes are Diurnal
There are three kinds of animal: diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular. Many snake species are nocturnal, meaning that they’re active at night. Many species prefer hunting at night because they hunt using smell, and some, by sensing heat.
Crepuscular snakes are active at dawn and dusk. This provides limited light, and so is slightly safer too. Plus, it’s cooler than during the heat of the midday sun. This is important for snakes that live in deserts.
Corn snakes, though, are diurnal. That means they’re active during the day. Being active during the day has many advantages for a corn snake:
- They can see their prey better when hunting
- They can see any threats nearby
- They can find somewhere to keep warm at night rather than being out in the open
- They can take advantage of the sun’s warmth for energy, or so they can digest
Other snake species have adapted to coming out at night, but not corn snakes. So, if you want to find one, head out during the daytime to try and find one.
10) Corn Snakes Love to Hide
So, if you want to find a wild corn snake, search during the day. But where can you find corn snakes in the wild?
Corn snakes, like many other species, love to hide. Their favorite place to get away from it all is in a burrow. They don’t make their own burrows, because they can’t dig, as they have no hands. Instead, they use old mammal burrows.
Failing that, there are plenty of places they can hide. You may find them under loose bark and fallen leaves, or inside old rotten logs. Or, if you’re in an agricultural part of the country, you may find them in old abandoned farm buildings.
Bring a torch, because you’ll have to search in dark, secretive places to find one.
Corn snakes display this behavior in captivity, too. They frequently burrow to feel more secure even if they have a hide. This may be a sign that your snake’s enclosure makes them feel nervous. Try adding some enrichment, e.g. leaves and branches for them to hide under as well.
11) Corn Snakes Don’t Like Company
Corn snakes are reptiles, like all snake species. If you’ve never owned a reptile pet before, you might be surprised at how different they are to mammals.
One key difference is that most reptiles don’t like company. They are solitary animals in the wild, and won’t share their space with either other males or other females. They don’t form group bonds like many kinds of mammal do, or like we do. If ever two corn snakes do meet, they’ll threaten each other and fight if the other gets too close.
What’s even more surprising is that they don’t have any family bond. When a corn snake female lays her eggs, she leaves them where she lays them, and heads off to live her life. She won’t see them again before they hatch, or take care of them once they do hatch.
The only exception is if it’s mating season. Males will seek out the nearest fertile female. When he finds her, they’ll mate, unless she fights him away. And if there are other males, they’ll fight over her. But there’s no love lost between the mating pair, as they quickly go their separate ways!
This applies in captivity as much as in the wild. You shouldn’t keep corn snakes with other corn snakes. All it does is stress them out.
12) Corn Snakes Eat Rodents
Corn snakes are ‘obligate carnivores.’ This means that snakes can only eat meat, and nothing else. Humans, by contrast, are omnivores: we eat fruit and vegetables, nuts, roots and tubers (like potatoes)—and we can eat meat too.
Snakes can’t eat anything apart from meat. This is due to two reasons. Snakes have a feeding reflex that’s different to ours. A snake will only want to eat after it strikes. This makes it difficult to ‘force’ a snake to eat.
Also, the snake’s digestive system isn’t set up to eat anything but meat. They don’t have molars or eye teeth to chew on grass or vegetables and break them down, which is how herbivores and omnivores eat veg.
Instead, all they have are sharp teeth for grabbing and biting prey. And while they may not be allergic to foods other than meat, their gut isn’t set up to eat vegetables either.
So, both in the wild and in captivity, corn snakes eat rodents. They eat small mice and rats, as well as shrews and anything else nearby. To keep one in captivity, you have to replicate this diet perfectly.
They may also eat birds’ eggs. They have to be small enough for them to bite, so they can get the nutritional food inside. They may also eat the occasional amphibian-like a small frog or toad.
13) Corn Snakes Squeeze Their Prey to Death
Corn snakes are constrictors. That means they kill prey by squeezing it to death. The snake will grab prey in its jaws before coiling its body around it for the kill.
The popular perception is that they suffocate their prey. This isn’t the case. According to the Journal of Experimental Biology, constriction stops the prey’s heart.
When the snake squeezes its prey, it squeezes tight enough that its heart can’t pump blood anymore. The blood is pushed back towards the heart, unable to reach the prey’s extremities. Its blood pressure gets higher and higher because of this, until the prey experiences cardiac arrest.
They don’t possess venom. They don’t have venom glands to produce it, and don’t have hollow fangs to deliver it. That’s why they rely on the power of their muscles to squeeze prey instead.
14) Corn Snakes Can Eat Prey Alive
You might feel that it’s disturbing enough for a snake to squeeze its prey to death. But what’s even worse is that snakes can eat their prey alive.
Some snake species specialize in eating their prey without killing it first. Corn snakes aren’t one of these; they usually kill their prey before eating it. Prey that’s still alive can kick, scratch and bite. And because they’re in the snake’s jaws, the prey can still attack sensitive areas like the eyes. That’s why a corn snake will try to incapacitate its prey as soon as possible.
But even so, it is possible for a corn snake to eat its prey alive. The constriction process may not entirely kill the prey. It may only make it unconscious. Or, if the prey is small enough, the snake may not even wait for it to be completely unconscious before beginning to eat it.
Nature really is cruel sometimes. It’s difficult to imagine the perspective of a prey animal being eaten alive, but it happens every day—and sometimes to the prey of the corn snake, too.
15) Corn Snakes Have Tiny Fangs
When you think of a snake, you likely think of something like a rattlesnake or a cobra. These snakes are big, long, and have huge fangs. But corn snakes don’t have fangs anything like these.
If you were to take a look in a corn snake’s mouth, you might not think they even have any fangs or teeth. That’s because constrictors have different kinds of fangs to venomous snakes.
Venomous snakes have big, long fangs that sink into their prey’s body. The deeper the fangs can reach, the more effective their venom is. But this comes with a trade-off: because the fangs are long and sharp, they’re easy to break, and they regularly do.
Constrictors have completely different fangs. They’re short and still sharp, but thicker than those of a venomous snake too. They have a row at the top of their mouth and a row at the bottom. All the fangs are the same length.
When a constrictor bites down on its prey, there still may be ten seconds before it stops struggling. If a constrictor had lots of long fangs, they would break every time it tried to eat.
So, when you open a corn snake’s mouth, you may not see their fangs at all. They’re so short that they’re hidden by the snake’s gums. If you’re ever bitten by one, though, you’ll definitely feel them.
16) A Corn Snake’s Fangs Point Inwards
Think about the big snake you were picturing earlier: the one with the big fangs. Those fangs point downwards, don’t they? Well, in venomous snakes, they do. But constrictors are different again.
A corn snake’s fangs point inwards, back towards their own throat. This isn’t something you see often. Your own teeth stick straight up or down, of course. And if you picture other wild animals with obvious fangs, like sharks and alligators, their teeth are more or less straight too.
But constrictor snakes’ fangs point inwards. Why? Again, it’s so that they can feed more easily. When a prey item is bitten, it tries to pull away as best it can. But because the snake’s fangs point towards its throat, they sink deeper the more the rodent tries to pull away.
This gives the snake the time it needs to coil around the prey, to kill it. And because their fangs are short, they’re sturdy, too. So even if the rodent tries to pull away, the snake’s teeth won’t break.
17) Corn Snake Bites Can Hurt
Now that you know corn snakes only have short fangs, you might think their bites don’t hurt. But a bite from a corn snake can be painful.
To be clear, they won’t hurt as much as that of a bigger animal like a dog. Instead, their bite is more comparable to that of a cat. So, their bite is more of a shock than anything.
But there are two reasons why their bite can still hurt:
- Fangs point inwards. You can get caught on their teeth. If you tried to pull the snake away from where it bit you, its fangs would sink deeper. Grasp the snake gently behind the head and push down towards the bite. This disengages the fangs so that you can pull them away.
- Bite becomes infected. A snake’s mouth is full of bacteria, and they’re covered in salmonella (hence why you have to wash your hands after handling). This bacteria can enter the wound.
Aside from that, there’s not much more to know about corn snakes. If you’re interested in keeping one as a pet, read our corn snake care guide next.