Latin name: originally Elaphe guttata (now Pantherophis guttatus)
Corn snakes belong to the Colubrid family, the largest snake family. As hatchlings,they normally measure 20-28cms (8-11in). Adults range from 1-1½ m (3-5ft) with males generally being longer than females. Their lifespan is up to 20 years and they are non venomous.
Facts & Information
Origin: Corn Snakes are native to the South Eastern United States, where they are found in open woods and grassland. They are common around farms and in cornfields, where they help to control rodents.
Benefits of keeping: Corn snakes are hardy and easy to keep. They are docile and even tempered and well-suited to captive conditions. They become tame with regular gentle handling. They do not grow very big compared to other species and are the ideal first snake.
Corn snakes are beautiful, dramatic-looking snakes, they have a background colour of orange, with black-bordered irregular red or rust coloured patches. Their belly is white with black squares on it. However, due to the ease with which they breed in captivity, many colour variations are now available, including blood red corns , striped corns and albino corns.
Housing: It is advisable to start with a small pen such as an Exo Terra Faunarium for a hatchling, as Corn snakes are the “Houdini” of the snake world. They will find a way out of the tiniest hole, so a plastic container is best initially. This can be placed inside an Exo Terra Terrarium or Vivexotic Terrestrial Vivarium to ensure the correct temperature and then move them into the terrarium/Vivarium itself when they grow to about 60cm (2ft) at about 1 year old (see the ‘My Perfect Vivarium‘ web tool for suggestions).
Corn snakes can be housed together but separately is advisable, as males will object to sharing a vivarium with another male. Females can usually be housed together but should be separated for feeding as animals frequently compete for the same food item and may even try to eat each other!
Substrate and Furnishings: Bark or wood shavings are ideal as a substrate. It is a good idea to provide a hide at both the cooler end of the terrarium and the hotter end so as to give the snake a choice of warm security or cooler security. The Exo Terra Snake Cave is perfect for this. If rocks are to be used to decorate the terrarium then ensure that there are no sharp edges, and that they cannot fall and crush your snake. A climbing branch would be appreciated by the snake and artificial plants and other terrarium décor will enhance the appearance of your set-up. Remove all droppings and clean the terrarium on a regular basis to prevent disease.
Heating: Corn snakes need a hot area of about 90 F (32 C) with a background daytime temperature of 80 F (27 C). At night, the temperature should drop to about 70 F (21 C). One of the best methods of heating for Corn snakes is an Exo Terra Heat Mat (should be used with heat mat holder if using in wooden Vivarium). Choose an appropriate size for your terrarium and position towards one end of it. This allows for the required temperature gradient. A digital thermometer should be placed near the hot end and one at the cool end of the terrarium to check the temperatures are correct.
Lighting: Unlike many reptiles, corn snakes do not need special UVA or UVB lighting as they have developed to be mostly nocturnal. In fact too much UV light is detrimental to albinos and can cause eye problems. An incandescent daylight bulb (Daytime Heat Lamp) or a ReptiGlo 2.0 fluorescent tube, set on a timer to give 10-12hours daylight, can be used. (The Reptiglo 2.0 does not have high levels of UVB). A Night Heat Lamp bulb could be used to assist nocturnal viewing if desired.
Humidity: Humidity is not a critical keeping factor, except when the snake is in the run up to sloughing its skin. At that time, try to keep humidity at 60% or higher by giving a light misting once a day with a simple hand sprayer. This will promote a clean, healthy skin slough.
Water: A shallow, heavy bowl of clean water that the snake cannot tip over should be provided. The bowl should be large enough for the snake to soak in. Corn snakes do not soak frequently but they will do so on occasions, especially during a skin slough, and sometimes after feeding.
Diet and Feeding: In the wild, Corn snakes would take a variety of prey items including small mammals, lizards, and birds. In captivity, they almost always accept defrosted mice and young rats, of appropriate size, without a problem. Always purchase an animal with an established feeding regime and don’t be tempted to take on the additional responsibility of an erratic feeder.
Hatchlings should be fed a defrosted pinkie (baby mouse) every four to six days and adults a mouse or young rat no more than once every seven to ten days. The width of the prey item should not exceed about one-and-a-half times the width of the snake’s head. Don’t try to make your snake grow faster by overfeeding as it will become obese and associated health problems may follow. Because of their slow metabolism, an overweight snake will take a very long time to lose excess fat, so it is best to prevent the problem occurring in the first place.
Salmonella: Like all living things, snakes can carry the naturally occurring bacteria Salmonella, which can be acquired by ingestion (via the mouth). Good hygiene is therefore very important when keeping any animal. Remember, you are more likely to acquire Salmonella from raw chicken meat, a stale cream cake or a dog so don’t automatically assume that your snake is the only suspect! Always wash your hands after handling ALL animals.
Shedding: From time to time a snake sheds the entire outer layer of its skin, a process referred to as sloughing. Youngsters go through this process more frequently, about every month to six weeks, than adults, who may only slough three or four times a year. The skin should be sloughed off as a complete skin and if any bits are left on the snake this can kill the new skin underneath and cause future problems. Always check the snake for retained skin, especially the tip of the tail and the “spectacles” (the bit covering the eyes). A gentle bath in warm water will usually free the stuck skin that can then be gently picked off. If in doubt see your local reptile vet or specialist who will be able to advise you.
There are some excellent books on keeping corn snakes and you should purchase one or more of these to read before you buy your pet. You should also consider joining your local reptile society who will be happy to offer help and advice.
Don’t forget to register your new pet with a local Vet. You can find your local Veterinary practice and what species they treat at www.findavet.org.uk. Many general practices now treat reptiles, or they can refer you to a more specialist Vet if required.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Chris Newman, REPTA and The Federation of British Herpetologists in the preparation of this guide.