Breeding corn snakes is an exciting and worthwhile venture. There is so much to learn, but the experience is gratifying. If this is your first time, you may be wondering when, and how, to start feeding your hatchlings.
Hatchling corn snakes should have their first meal after they’ve shed for the first time. This will usually be around a week after hatching. Offer a frozen-thawed pinky mouse, no wider than the thickest part of your snake’s body. If your snake doesn’t accept the meal, you can try chopping the mouse into smaller pieces, or braining it.
We will discuss what you should feed your baby corn snakes, and what foods to avoid. We’ll take an in-depth look at when and how to introduce the first meal, and how often to feed your baby snakes. Finally, we’ll cover any problems you may run into, such as food refusal and regurgitation.
What Do Baby Corn Snakes Eat?
Baby corn snakes, like adults, eat mice. The best food for baby corn snakes is newborn mice, known as “pinkies.” Pinkies are one to two days old, and less than one inch long.
Because they are so small, they make the ideal first food for hatchlings. As your snake grows, you can move on to larger mice.
You can buy frozen pinkies on Amazon by clicking on this link. When it’s time to feed your snake, defrost a pinky by soaking it in a cup of warm (not hot) water, until it is soft. Then, pat it dry until it’s feeding time.
Newborn mice provide all of a corn snake’s nutritional requirements, and they usually take them very well with little coaxing required.
If your corn snake doesn’t seem interested in rodents, you may have better luck with reptiles. If you’re able to acquire small lizards, such as baby anoles, you can offer these to start with. Many wild corn snakes start off eating lizards, and move on to rodents as they age.
You may be wondering: do baby corn snakes eat worms? What about crickets, mealworms, or fish? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
None of these animals feature in a corn snake’s natural diet. They do not provide adequate nutrition, and your baby corn snake will not recognize them as food.
Feeding Baby Corn Snakes for the First Time
Now that you know what your baby corn snakes should be eating, it’s a matter of offering the first meal. But when, and how, do you do it?
When to Offer Food for the First Time
Your baby snakes won’t need a meal as soon as they hatch. Just before coming out of the egg, baby snakes absorb nutrients from the residual yolk left over from their development. This leaves them with enough fat and nutrients to live on for a while.
Wait until the babies have shed their skin for the first time before offering food. This could be anywhere between one and two weeks after hatching. By then, they’ll not only be hungry, but they’ll also have grown a little – meaning they’ll be able to handle a larger meal.
How to Feed a Baby Corn Snake
First, decide what food you’re going to offer your snakes. You’ll need to judge each hatchling corn snake individually, as they won’t all be the same size.
Start with pinky mice. If your snakes are large enough, they may be able to eat one whole. Use the girth of your snake’s body as judgment: it should be about as wide as the mouse. If your snakes are still too small, you may need to chop the pinky into smaller parts.
If you have more than one baby corn snake, separate them into single boxes to prevent them from fighting over food. Use a small box with no distractions, so that the snake will be able to focus on the food. Then, place the defrosted pinky (or pinky part) in the container with the snake.
It may take your snake some time to recognize the meal for what it is, but they should eventually begin to eat. If not, remove the food and try again in a few days.
How Often To Feed Baby Corn Snakes
While your hatchlings are still tiny, it’s best to offer a meal every 4 to 5 days. As your corn snakes are still young, they’ll be growing and shedding rapidly, and they’ll need a lot of fuel to help them accomplish this.
Once you’ve noticed that your snakes are becoming a little less hungry (rejecting meals every so often), you can begin to reduce the feeds to once a week, and eventually once every two weeks.
What to Do If Your Baby Corn Snake Won’t Eat
It’s far from unusual for hatchling snakes of any species to resist eating at first. It can take a while for a newborn snake to get used to eating, particularly if you are offering pre-killed prey.
Fortunately, there are several techniques you can try to entice your baby corn snake into eating.
Often, if you place a dead mouse into your snake’s enclosure, it will go unnoticed. This is because snakes are adapted to hunting live prey. If the mouse isn’t moving, your snake may not recognize it as food.
This is where the tweezers come in. When you offer your snake the food, rather than placing it on the floor of the enclosure, try dangling it in front of your snake using a pair of tweezers. This will grab your snake’s attention.
If the prey that you are trying to use doesn’t smell strongly enough, this may be a reason why your snake is not interested. Snakes rely heavily on their sense of smell to detect prey.
It sounds gruesome, but one potential resolution to this problem is called “braining.” Cut the skull of the pinky mouse open by using a sharp knife or razor blade.
Squeeze gently so that some of the brain matter is exposed. The brain tissue has a very strong smell that your snake will be immediately interested in.
Offering Pinky Parts
Baby corn snakes that are unusually small may refuse a pinky mouse that is too large. A snake generally won’t attempt to eat an animal that is too big for it, and if it does attempt it, it can often lead to regurgitation.
If you chop the pinky mouse into smaller pieces, your snake may be less intimidated by its size, and will be more accepting of it. Cutting the mouse in half is usually sufficient, but you can also offer individual limbs if your snake is tiny.
The final technique to try, before resorting to force-feeding, is offering live prey.
We always recommend that snake owners use frozen-thawed rodents. Live rodents could potentially attack your snake – even a small scratch could become infected and cause problems.
However, if your snake refuses to recognize pre-killed rodents as food, live feeding may be the only option. Fortunately, pinky mice are not as capable of causing injury as their adult counterparts.
When offering live food, always supervise your snake while it’s eating. If the snake refuses to eat, remove the mouse and try again later. Never leave a live rodent alone with your snake.
Force Feeding Baby Corn Snakes
If you’ve tried all of the above tips and your baby corn snake still won’t eat, it may be time to consider force-feeding. However, this should only be attempted as an absolute last resort.
Force-feeding involves gently opening your baby snake’s mouth, and guiding the pinky mouse inside. Usually, there’s no need to insert the mouse all the way down the throat. Most of the time, just having food introduced to the mouth will be enough to entice the snake into eating.
Baby corn snakes are incredibly fragile. You should never attempt to force feed a baby snake unless you have seen it demonstrated first-hand. If you aren’t experienced, you may inadvertently suffocate or hurt your snake.
Before considering force-feeding, take your snake to an experienced breeder. They will be able to judge whether force-feeding is necessary, and if so, show you how to do it. They may recommend the use of a “pinky pump” – a small device used to liquefy pinky mice, to make force-feeding easier.
My Baby Corn Snake Threw Up
Regurgitation is relatively common in snakes, though it can be dangerous. It’s usually brought on by stress, which can have many different triggers.
If your baby corn snake regurgitates a meal, don’t panic. It is important to figure out why it happened, though, so that you can try to prevent it from occurring again. The most common causes of regurgitation in snakes are:
- The meal was too large.
- You are handling your snake too soon after feeding. Always wait at least 48 hours after a meal before picking your snake up.
- Improper husbandry. Be sure to keep a check on the temperature and humidity in your snake’s enclosure. Also, provide suitable hides – being too exposed can cause stress in baby snakes.
Keep a close eye on your snake in the day or so following regurgitation. You may like to take your snake to a veterinarian for a checkup, to be on the safe side.
Do not attempt to feed or handle your snake for at least two weeks after regurgitation. When it’s time to feed again, offer a slightly smaller meal than usual. Use chopped up pinkie parts if you can’t find a small enough mouse.
How Long Can Baby Corn Snakes Go Without Eating?
If it’s taking you a while to convince your corn snake to start eating, don’t worry. Snakes are naturally equipped with the skills necessary to survive long periods without food.
A study in the Zoology journal found that adult snakes can survive for up to 2 years without eating. They do this by slowing down their metabolism, so that they don’t lose weight as quickly.
Of course, hatchling corn snakes are not fully developed, and would not be able to survive quite this long. However, they won’t die from missing one meal. The amount of time your baby corn snake could go without food depends on:
- Your baby corn snake’s activity levels (a more active snake will burn calories more quickly)
- How large your baby corn snake is (bigger snakes have larger fat reserves)
- How much residual yolk your hatchling consumed before emerging from its egg
- The general care you provide to your snake. Incorrect temperatures, for example, may make it harder for your snake to regulate its metabolism.
Be sure to weigh your snake regularly. If weight loss occurs, your best option would be to consult a veterinarian. They will be able to show you how to force feed your snake, and address any medical issues that may be causing the lack of appetite.
How Long Can Baby Corn Snakes Go Without Water?
Snakes are biologically adapted to living without food for a substantial period of time. However, regular water intake is necessary for a snake to stay healthy, especially when they are not eating.
Though an adult snake may be able to go several weeks without drinking, a hatchling corn snake will not fare as well. Hatchlings have less fat stored in their bodies, from which they can draw moisture.
Snakes get a lot of water from their food, so if your hatchling is not eating, keep an eye on their water intake. Always keep a clean dish in your snake’s enclosure, and top it up every day with fresh water.
Even when a snake isn’t eating for whatever reason – it’s shedding, for example – it will usually continue to drink.
You shouldn’t have a problem with your snake avoiding water, but if you do, have your snake examined by an experienced reptile veterinarian. It could be that your snake has a health problem that is causing this behavior.