Also known as the Red Rat Snake (Pantherophis guttata
), the Corn Snake is one of North America's most beautifully-colored reptiles, and the world's most popular pet snake. Ideal for beginners yet interesting enough for advanced hobbyists, Corn Snakes are hardy, easy to handle and breed, and can be kept in modestly-sized terrariums. Pets may live over 20 years
Many thousands are captive-bred annually, and hundreds of unique color phases have been developed. Most color morphs bear fanciful names, such as "Creamsicle Corn" or "Sun-Kissed Corn", and differ so greatly from typical specimens that they appear to be of a different species. Hobbyists have also produced interesting hybrids by crossing Corns with King, Gopher and Black Rat Snakes.
Wild Corn Snakes also vary greatly, with background colors ranging from nearly red to orange, yellow and gray. Most are marked with black-edged red, brown or gray blotches.
Corn Snakes are native to the USA, where they range from southern New Jersey to Florida to Texas. A close relative, the Great Plains Rat snake, is found further west and into Mexico. Corn Snakes frequent forest edges, woodlots, overgrown fields and farms, and often take up residence in abandoned buildings. Typical prey for these powerful constrictors includes chipmunks, mice and voles, but they also climb well and take nestling birds and bats.
The name "Corn Snake" may have arisen due to their habit of hunting rodents in corn fields and barns, or to the pattern of the belly scales, which resembles dried "Indian corn".
Hatchlings may be defensive, but most calm down quickly and take well to handling. In fact, Corn Snakes are commonly used as demonstration animals in zoos, nature centers and schools.
Wild Corn Snakes hibernate in the northern part of their range but remain active year-round in the south. Captives sometimes refuse food during the winter, even if kept warm. Hungry Corn Snakes will actively search for food, but otherwise remain in favorite basking and hiding spots.
The Corn Snake was the first US species to be captive bred in large numbers, and remains an excellent introduction to snake breeding. Females produce clutches of 8-26 eggs, sometimes twice yearly, and the 8-11 inch long hatchlings are not difficult to rear.
Setting up the Terrarium
Hatchlings may be raised in 5-10 gallon aquariums. An average-sized adult measures 2.5 to 4 feet in length and may be kept in a 20 gallon long style tank; exceptional individuals may exceed 5 feet and should be given larger quarters. Pairs do best in 30-55 gallon aquariums. The screen top should always be secured with clips or locks, as all snakes are escape artists.
Stout, well-anchored branches or rock ledges can be added as basking sites. Hide a ways
should always be available, as even long-term pets will be stressed if forced to remain in the open.
Newspapers or washable terrarium liners work well as substrates. Douglas fir chips, aspen bedding and dead leaves allow for easy "spot cleaning" and lend a naturalistic touch. However, wood chips can lodge in the mouth and cause wounds during feeding; feed your snake in a bare-bottomed enclosure to prevent this.
Light, Heat and Humidity
Corn Snakes fare best in a temperature range of 77-82°F; night-time temperatures can be allowed to drop to 70°F or so. An incandescent bulb should be used to create a basking spot of 90°F. Large enclosures are necessary if a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) is to be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow snakes to regulate their body temperature by moving from hot to cooler areas.
A ceramic heater
or red/black reptile "night bulb" can be used to provide heat after dark and will also enable you to view your pet's nocturnal activities.
Corn Snakes do not require UVB light. UVA light may be useful in encouraging natural behavior and breeding, but is not essential; bulbs are available from reptile supply outlets.
Adult Corn Snakes readily accept pre-killed mice. Hatchlings can usually handle newborn mice ("pinkies"), but particularly small individuals may need sectioned pinkies for the first few weeks of their lives.
Youngsters should be fed once weekly; adults do fine with a meal each 7-10 days. Vitamin/mineral supplements are not necessary.
Water for drinking and soaking must always be available. Bowls should be filled to a point where they will not overflow when the snake curls up within, as damp conditions will lead to health problems.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Check your snake each day. Since snakes often remain in the same spot without moving for long periods of time, health problems can be difficult to identify. In time, you will learn to recognize slight differences in snake postures, a limp or "un-muscled" appearance is typical of individuals that are unwell. Be sure to check your snake's underside. Animals kept in damp enclosures are susceptible to skin ailments, often indicated by reddened scales.
Mites, Inclusion Body Disease and other ailments may afflict Corn Snakes. Fecal material should be removed as it appears.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations
for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1246 or [email protected]