The Corn and Rat snakes of North America are among the most popular pet snakes in the trade right now. This is due, largely, to their normally docile behavior, ease of keeping and breeding, and attractive colors. The most commonly sold Corn and Rat snakes are The Common Corn snake and the American Rat snake. Together, these two serpents make up the quintessential North American Colubrid.
These two species range throughout North America, specifically on the east coast ranging from New England down into Florida and on the keys. They can be found west to the Mississippi and into Texas. They are typically found in deciduous forests with small bodies of water nearby as well as in corn fields and barns or abandoned houses/sheds/etc.
The snakes in question are, as mentioned, Colubrids and belong to the genus Elaphe.
The corn snake is E. guttata
and the American rat is E. obsoleta.
There are many different subspecies for E. obsoleta
and two subspecies of E. guttata.
Those commonly found in the hobby are E. g. guttata, E. o. obsoleta, E. o. rossallini,
and E. o. quadrivittata.
Corn snakes commonly attain lengths of 4 to 5 feet and American rat snakes attain 5 to 6 feet. They are carnivorous and feed largely on rodents in captivity.
Because these snakes can attain larger sizes, it is recommended that you purchase a large aquarium
or build something for your snake yourself. A minimum dimension of 36" x 18" (L x W) is needed to maintain an adult corn snake while a slightly larger cage should be provided for American rat snakes. Screen tops are necessary to keep the animals inside the aquarium. We recommend having four clips to hold the screen top
onto the cage. Corn and rat snakes are extremely talented escape artists and it would not be good to make it easier for them.
These species are not tropical or desert dwelling. They typically inhabit forests in temperate regions with a definite winter. This means they will need a relatively dry substrate that isn’t sand. A superior choice would be Keeper’s Choice Tropical Red Cypress Mulch
. Other choices are ZooMed’s Reptibark
or ESU’s Jungle Mix
. These are all fine substrates as well.
The substrate should be kept moist but not too moist. A weekly misting will help the animal maintain healthy skin and shed regularly. As the animal enters ecdysis (the name scientists use to describe an animal in a shed phase) misting can increase to once every other day. If you chose to monitor your humidity
(which is never a bad idea) it is good to keep it right around 50% give or take 10%.
Heating & Lighting Requirements
All reptiles are “cold blooded”. Actually, a more correct term would be ectothermic (“ecto”= outside and “thermic”= temperature). This is more descriptive because, in truth, reptiles blood temperature changes with the temperature of their surroundings. This means it is possible for a “cold blooded” animal to have a warmer body than a “warm blooded” animal.
Heating can be provided to a corn or rat snake via an under the tank heater
or heat lights
. Under the tank heaters adhere to the bottom glass of an aquarium and heat it up. This in turn heats the substrate and the snake is heated by the warm substrate. These come in many sizes and are a great choice as they do not get too hot for the animal like heat rocks may.
Heat lights are perhaps the best choice as they are the most versatile. An incandescent light fixture is placed above the aquarium. There are reptile heat bulbs available in different wattages from around 15 watts and up. The higher the wattage the more heat the bulb emits. This is good because you can change the bulb for the different seasons (higher wattage for the winter when it gets cold and lower wattage for the hotter summer months). Many keepers prefer this method.
Lighting refers to the use of fluorescent bulbs
or flood-lamps to emit UVA and UVB rays. These rays are the same as those emitted by the sun and help with vitamin production in the animal’s skin as well as mental health. All reptiles produce an oil in their skins which, when exposed to UVB radiation, becomes a vitamin (vitamin D3) which is necessary to maintain healthy bones and keep calcium levels normal in the bloodstream. The bottom line is that it is best to have a UV bulb over the animal.
Snakes are a very low maintenance pet. Daily water changes and spot cleanings are the only thing that must be done daily. Every couple of days it is important to check the snake and make sure it looks healthy and that there are no sudden changes. Cage cleanings can be done every 3 months by removing the snake (possibly to a Rubbermaid tub with a little water in it, about 4 inches for adult snakes and maybe an inch or two for juveniles, so they can “bathe”), discarding all the old bedding, rinsing out the tank with very mild bleach water solution, let air dry, and then replace bedding. During this process the cage decor should be taken out and hosed off if it is dirty or smelly.
It is a great idea to take notes on important things that may happen. Shed
skins, mating, egg laying, hibernations, and birthdays are all milestones of note. These can come in handy if you ever attempt to breed your snakes or if something strange happens sometime. They are also useful in noting the snakes growth and age.
Corn and American rat snakes should be fed once weekly. They will consume an appropriately sized rodent. If there are no rodents of applicable size available, then you can purchase several smaller rodents and offer those. It is best to offer a larger prey item in smaller numbers than to offer several small prey items. Vitamins and minerals are provided largely by the mouse, however, and occasional supplement (perhaps monthly) will certainly benefit growing snakes or reproductive adults.
It is appropriate to offer the snake its meal in another enclosure because snakes are known to associate their keepers presence with food. If fed in another enclosure, the snake will not become accustomed to eating every time its keeper is near its enclosure. This helps to prevent nips.
When possible, snakes should be offered pre-killed rodents. These can be purchased typically frozen in large quantities. They must be completely thawed before feeding! Thaw the rodents in warm water (only thaw as many as you plan to feed that day and store the rest in the freezer for future use). Thaw them until they are squishy to the touch, at which point they are safe to feed. If a snake will not except frozen thawed rodents at first, try jiggling it in front of the snake holding the rodent by its tail with tongs to avoid being bitten. If this doesn’t work you can try feeding the snake in a brown paper bag with the thawed rodent. Leave it alone in the bag (placed in the cage with the lid on tight in case the snake escapes from the bag) for a few hours and check on it later. If it still hasn’t eaten, remove it from the bag and try live rodents the following day.
Live rodents should never be left in a cage with a snake unattended! If live rodents are not immediately eaten they can attack a snake and cause injuries. This is especially true of stressed snakes which may be reluctant to feed. If these sensitive snakes are attacked they will be less likely to eat later on.