The North American corn snake, also known by the scientific name Pantherophis guttatus, is a relatively docile constrictor snake. For this reason, they are very popular pet snakes.
But there is a lot still to learn about these fascinating snakes – such as where they got their name from, how they help farmers out, and how they are spreading across the world.
Fun Facts About Corn Snakes
Perhaps you have a pet corn snake or have seen one in your yard and want to learn more. Let’s explore some interesting corn snake facts:
1. How Corn Snakes Got Their Name
The name “corn snake” might make you think that these snakes eat corn kernels, or because they might be as round as a cob of corn. However, if you have ever seen or fed a corn snake, you know that is not the case. Corn snakes are animals with slender bodies, and they are carnivores, eating rodents. This might make their name seem strange.
Most people guess that corn snakes get their name because they live in cornfields. It’s true that you will often find these snakes near cornfields, because they find a lot of rodents to eat there. However, this too is not the reason behind the corn snake’s name.
Instead, these snakes get their name from their coloring. Again, this might seem strange, because corn snakes are not yellow like the corn you most likely see on the dining room table or in the grocery store. We are talking about a different kind of corn: maize.
Corn snakes have a black and white belly which looks a lot like the fleck-like color pattern seen in kernels of maize corn. This crop is also known as flint corn or Indian corn, and it was the first type of corn that the Native Americans taught early European colonists how to cultivate.
You will still see corn like this in some grocery stores in rural parts of the United States as well as in Thanksgiving holiday decorations. Newcomers to the United States saw these snakes and thought that they looked a lot like maize kernels, and the name stuck.
2. Successful Interbreeding
Snake breeders are particularly fascinated by corn snakes for a rare quality they have: the ability to successfully interbreed.
Now, lots of snake species are bred in captivity. This is a safe way to maintain the pet trade without damaging the numbers of snakes in the wild by capturing lots of extra snakes. Captive breeding also allows for the creation of new scale color patterns.
Ordinarily, a corn snake is a solid orange or brown-yellow color with large red blotches. Breeders of corn snakes have engineered a wide variety of color patterns through selective breeding, including stripes, spots, and even solid coloring.
The more interesting discovery made by breeders is that corn snakes can be bred with other species of snake. When you breed a corn snake with another species of snake, such as a California kingsnake, the resulting snake is a hybrid hatchling.
These hybrid snakes are known in the pet industry by the nickname “jungle corn snake.” They have a wide variety of color patterns. When you breed a corn snake with a Great Plains rat snake, you get a creamsicle corn snake, also commonly called a “rootbeer” snake. Tri-color jungle corn snakes come from breeding Querétaro kingsnakes with corn snakes. Corn snakes bred with any Pituophis species of snake, such as a bullsnake or a pine snake, have hatchlings known by the very cool nickname of “turbo corn snakes.”
Usually, in animal breeding across species, a hybrid animal such as this is infertile. This means that the hatchling normally cannot itself reproduce. However, jungle corn snakes are fertile. Corn snakes are, therefore, among the most successful interbreeding animals in the world.
3. Corn Snakes with Color Mutations
Even among the corn snake species itself, without any interbreeding, there is a much wider variety of color variations than you would expect from the examples you usually see in the wild.
Most corn snakes are bright orange on the dorsal side, with a black and white sort of checkerboard pattern on their belly scales. Hatchling corn snakes do not have as brightly colored scales as adults, but they will grow into their beautiful appearance.
But every now and then, reptile breeders will find a less brightly colored individual. The Journal of Heredity reports that albinism and anerythrism are two color mutations known to occur in corn snake populations.
Corn snakes with albinism have no black pigment in their scales. These snakes are much paler in color than their relatives, just like how albino humans are unusually pale. Albino corn snakes are popular for interbreeding, since they help create the lighter color for creamsicle jungle corn snakes.
On the other hand, corn snakes with anerythrism have no red pigment. These snakes do not look much like a corn snake – you can’t have orange without red. However, despite their differences in appearance, they are all the same species: Pantherophis guttatus.
4. Corn Snakes May Be Moving To Australia
Corn snakes are native to the United States. You’ll find them all throughout the east coast, from southern New Jersey to the Florida Keys. Depending on where you are from, you may be familiar with slight differences in the snakes’ patterns, allowing them to use camouflage to survive in whatever particular neighborhood they live in.
However, these snakes are not only staying in the United States. The illegal pet trade has been spreading them across the world. Researchers at the Taronga Conservation Society in Australia reported that nearly 80 corn snakes had been captured by wildlife organizations between 2002 and 2014 throughout the Sydney region.
While the United States and Australia are very different continents, there are a lot of habitats in Australia which provide the proper living conditions for a corn snake. These snakes seek out lower altitudes and a wide variety of landscapes, including wooded groves, overgrown fields, meadowlands, forest openings, rocky hillsides, pine forests, palmetto flatwoods, grass flatwoods, and tropical hammocks. Of course, a corn snake will also venture into an abandoned building or barn to find the rodents which live there.
The scientists at the Taronga Conservation Society concluded that wild populations had not yet become fully established in Australia, as no large corn snake clusters had been found. These snakes were pets that had either escaped or been purposefully released into the wild. If this keeps up, Australia may have a new invasive species of snake to contend with.
5. Corn Snakes of The Caribbean
Australia isn’t the only island that may be a new home for corn snakes. Humans traveling from the United States to multiple islands in the Caribbean have taken their corn snakes with them and released them into the wild – sometimes accidentally, and sometimes on purpose. Corn snakes now have established populations in the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Grand Cayman.
If you are planning on taking a corn snake with you while you travel, keep in mind that there are often laws about transporting snakes across state or national lines. Also remember that as docile as a snake might be, introducing a new species to a different ecosystem can have unforeseen side effects. There are lots of small rodents, lizards, and birds in the Caribbean which corn snakes are all too happy to eat.
6. A Species Of Special Concern
Given how widely corn snakes are spread – not only in the United States but also across the world – most people consider corn snakes to not be of particular concern regarding conservation efforts. But while corn snakes are not endangered, the state of Florida is keeping an eye on them just in case.
As humans expand and develop Florida’s natural landscape into new homes for humans, corn snakes are losing their habitat in the Florida Keys. Climate change is also altering the snakes’ homes in unexpected ways. Corn snakes are also often taken out of the wild and bred in captivity due to their popularity as pets. For all of these reasons, the Florida government has declared corn snakes to be a Species of Special Concern. This may lead to focused conservation efforts in the future.
7. A Case of Mistaken Identity
Besides the threat of human expansion, corn snakes do not have many natural predators. Animals that eat corn snakes include some birds of prey and the occasional carnivorous mammal. It is more likely for a corn snake to be eaten by a larger species of snake, such as a black racer or an eastern kingsnake. But there is another animal which ends up causing a lot of corn snake death through a common mistake: humans.
Sometimes humans see a corn snake and mistakenly think that they have seen a copperhead snake. The venomous copperhead is a pit viper with a similar sort of blotched scale pattern to the corn snake. However, a copperhead’s scale color is usually not as bright as a corn snake’s scales are.
Unfortunately, this means that a nervous human can easily mistake a harmless corn snake for a venomous threat. A lot of corn snakes are killed because of this misconception. Fortunately, corn snakes are widely populated enough in the wild that these cases of mistaken identity do not put too much of a dent in their numbers.
8. A Corn Snake Is a Helpful Hunter
While some humans are nervous when they see a corn snake, mistaking it for a threat, when a farmer finds a corn snake in their field or barn, they are usually happy to see the snake there. This is because corn snakes keep rodent populations under control.
Rats and mice are notorious for spreading diseases. They also cause a lot of damage to crops and stores when left unchecked. A farmer might try calling an exterminator or bringing in a cat to take care of the rodents. But a corn snake does the job just as well, for free. They are carnivores, eating protein-packed diets of lizards, birds, eggs, bats, and especially rodents.
This means that corn snakes are an essential part of maintaining our nation’s agriculture. For this reason, they are also often referred to as the “red rat snake.” While many people fear snakes, they are actually a helpful member of a local ecosystem. Corn snakes are nature’s exterminators.
9. Both Sexes Are The Same Size
In most species of snakes, you will find significant differences in size between males and females. Usually, the female snake is significantly larger than the male (sexual dimorphism). This is not the case with corn snakes.
Copeia reports finding no significant difference in size between male and female corn snakes. They were similar in both weight and length. When a corn snake hatches, it is usually between 8 and 12 inches in length. As it reaches adulthood, all corn snakes can grow to be between 24 and 72 inches in length.
10. Corn Snakes Sleep When Humans Do
Another thing that sets corn snakes apart from other snakes is their sleep patterns. You probably know that a lot of snakes are nocturnal, or more active at night. This is not true of corn snakes.
Instead, corn snakes are diurnal. This means that just like humans, these snakes sleep at night and are active during the day.
At night, corn snakes hide themselves away inside underground burrows or in holes beneath rocks or tree back. You can also sometimes find them getting a good night’s sleep on a tree branch.
From their uncommon ability to interbreed to their ability to survive across the world, from their unusual daytime activity to their historical name origin, corn snakes are incredibly interesting reptiles.