Corn snakes are today a popular pet, and the snake is friendly, non-venomous and is easy to care for even for first time snake owners. These curious snakes come in several bright and appealing colour patterns and were given their name because they are often found in corn fields and barns where corn is stored.
Although its name tends to suggest that the snake dines on corn, these snakes are in reality prowling corn areas in order to catch those mice and rats that do feed on corn. To learn more about caring for corn snakes, read our simple-to-understand corn snake care sheet.
Corn Snake Care Guide
Corn snakes make fine pets and require little care. They are typically docile and can be held, but snake owners are often more drawn to their curious nature and fun personality. Before delving into our easy corn snake care guide, here are some fun facts about this little snake that might be interesting.
- Pantherophis guttatus is their scientific name – no wonder these snakes go by their nickname
- Originally found in the southern states of USA
- Preferred habitat in the wild: fields, barns, storage silos, empty buildings, forested regions and flatwoods
- Potential Adult Size: may grow to 48-72 inches (120-180cm) up to 5 feet in length
- Lifespan: 15 to 20+ years
- Dietary Preferences: carnivorous
History of Corn Snakes
The affable corn snake hails from the United States. It can be found from New Jersey to Florida and over to Texas. Today, these snakes are found in other regions of America. They are a trending pet pick for Americans as well as UK inhabitants.
More interesting facts:
- Many are killed because they are mistaken for copperheads
- Also known as the Red Rat Snake due to their reddish colour that some exhibit
- Non-Venomous – can bite but rarely do
- Most active March to November in the wild
- Nocturnal but hunts at dawn and dusk hours
- Frequently encounter humans crossing the roads in warmer weather
- Has bold checkerboard black/white pattern on underbelly
- A bit secretive in nature – hides well by blending into its surroundings
Where They Get Their Name
This snake’s formal species name comes from the original Latin word “gutta” meaning spotted or dappled – refers to its blotchy patches of colour patterns. Snake experts believe that the corn snake got its descriptive name simply because farmers would find them amidst their corn fields. The truth is that these snake were only there to hunt pesky rodents, like mice, that will eat the corn.
Where and What They Hunt
These secretive snakes find other animal burrows and holes where they hide during the daylight hours. In forested regions, these clever snakes slither behind loose tree bark and often make abandoned outdoor buildings their new abode.
Corn snakes eat small rodents, like mice and smaller rats, and this trait makes these snakes extremely beneficial to farmers and gardeners as they keep the rodent population down. At times, corn snakes will feast on small fish, birds and even frogs.
How Safe Are They to Humans
The almost docile and laid back personality of the corn snake make them safe to be around humans in normal situations. They can bite and do have a strike range as long as their body length. However, these passive snakes rarely bite, and if they do the bite is usually rather harmless. Unlike copperheads and rattlesnakes, the corn stake is not venomous and can be handled gently by their owners.
Characteristics of Corn Snakes
The gorgeous red, orange or brownish colour combination often found on corn snakes gives them their other nickname which is a red rat snake. Some snake breeders have bred these snakes to give them a wider range of colour patterns.
Some of the varieties of corn snakes include:
- Blood Red
- Snow & others
Some snake experts point out that corn snakes really resemble brightly multi-coloured ears of Indian corn making their nickname the perfect choice.
Size and Weight of Fully Grown Corn Snakes
Most captive bred corn snakes will grow to a full adult size of 3 to 5 feet. Occasionally these snakes may be slightly longer or shorter depending on a number of factors. While this might seem like too big of a snake to really hold and cuddle up with, their slender bodies tend to make the snake look and feel much smaller.
The weight of a full grown corn snake should be around 900 grams or just under 2 pounds on average. Corn snakes take approximately 3 to 4 years to reach maximum adult growth, and they tend to live long and healthy lives lasting from 15 to even 20+ years of age.
Are Corn Snakes Nocturnal?
Yes, corn snakes, like other predator creatures, are mostly nocturnal when in their native wild habitats. However, these snakes will tend to be most active at dusk and again at dawn. These are their preferred and instinctive hunting times.
Do Corn Snakes Like to Be Held?
Yes, corn snakes tolerate being handled by their owners if held properly and if the handling sessions don’t last more than an hour. The reason for this rule is that the snake will lose its heat and become too cold.
The snake should be handled at least 1 to 2 times a week and no more than once daily for 10 or 15 minutes allowing the snake to build up its tolerance for being handled over time.
How Do You Take Care of a Corn Snake?
As a responsible pet owner, you will want to provide the proper environment for your corn snake to live a healthy, happy and hopefully long life. Basically, the key is to replicate some of the environmental elements of their native habitats when living in the wild.
Corn snakes tend to live in warmer climates but can survive in some areas that have some changes in seasonal temperatures if they find an ideal place in which to nest. The temperature for a pet corn snake should be set at 26.5° to 29.5°C (80° to 85°F) during the daytime hours and 24° to 26.5°C (75° to 80°F) for night time. Some reptile experts recommend a night time temperature of 21°C (70°F) depending on the snake type and room conditions.
Like all reptiles, your corn snake relies on the warmth it gets in the environment to regulate its body temperature. The enclosure should have a cool side where the temperature is kept lower, and the cage should have a warmer side equipped with a basking light surface on which the snake can rest on to absorb more warmth and light.
There should be a temperature gradient from one side of the housing enclosure to the other. A thermometer designed for reptile enclosures should be used to ensure an accurate temperature setting.
Are Heat Lamps Needed?
While the corn snake is fairly adaptable as far as its temperature range, it helps to have a heat lamp in the tank to ensure both the proper heat and enough daylight. There are mat type heating pads for reptiles that can be placed on the tank floor on the warmer side of the enclosure.
A basking area that is directly under an incandescent bulb during the daylight hours will work perfectly. This surface can be a bit higher in temperature to mimic natural sunlight. There are some special fluorescent bulbs that emit low amounts of UVB light that work too.
Purchase a heating lamp that is easy to control via dial settings. If a pet owner doesn’t want to mess with adjusting the temperature and light controls, an under the tank heating pad should do. Also, consider using a dimming thermostat that automatically controls tank temperatures.
The humidity inside of the enclosure should be kept at 40% to 60%. Aim for about 50% humidity. This can be done by placing a large bowl of water inside of the enclosure. Provide good substrate material as well.
In very arid and dry climates, move the water bowl to the warmer side and mist the tank with a spray bottle filled with distilled water from time-to-time. The proper humidity level is important to facilitate the shedding process and maintain the reptile’s respiratory health. Invest in a hygrometer to keep tabs on the humidity level.
You can buy hygrometers which are combined with thermometers.
Your sun-loving reptile friend needs 10 to 12 hours of sunlight during the day. The basking light is typically kept on during those hours. At night, all lights should be shut off so the snake keeps its natural instinctive day-to-night cycle. To see your snake at night, there are coloured red lamps available that can be used instead.
It is crucial to have the proper housing for your vulnerable pet. There are a number of reptile enclosures and tanks that will do. Corn snakes come from a warmer climate, and they will need some extra housing measures if they will be living in colder climates or in areas with too much/too little humidity levels.
Some snake experts recommend using a wooden vivarium that has glass sliding doors in the front and large air vents to properly vent air from one side of the enclosure. Keep the basking side of the enclosure at a steady temperature to maintain humidity levels and temperature gradient.
The above wooden enclosure should be at least 3 X 2 X 2 feet or larger. For a smaller baby snake, get at least a 10 gallon or bigger reptile terrarium. Older or adult snakes should be placed in a 20 to 40 gallon (36″ x 18″ x 13″H) enclosure to ensure proper room.
The snake should not be longer than 2 times the length of its housing enclosure. Your little guy will need places to hide and climb to help keep him happy and active.
Make sure that whatever enclosure you buy for the housing has a secured frame and tight lid as these slender snakes are well-known to break out of their enclosures.
Provide good layers of substrate materials. These can include cypress mulch, newspaper, aspen shavings, sani-chips, beech woodchips or natural soil/clay mixture. Make sure that this bedding won’t increase the tank’s humidity levels too much. Corn snakes do need some humidity in the air, but too much dampness sets them up for respiratory problems and other health related issues.
Although your corn snake should already have a separate basking area under a heat lamp, it still needs some decorations inside its housing that will absorb heat and radiate it out when the snake lies on top of it.
Add some natural rocks such as slate that are ideal for this purpose. These rocks provide climbing surfaces to keep your curious pet happy and entertained. Adding a few artificial decorative objects, in which your snake can climb, hide or seek shade, is a good idea. Place these items under or around the basking surface.
Note: Always double-check the surface of your decorative items to ensure that the items won’t get too hot which can cause burns if the heating/lighting lamp is positioned too low to the ground or the temperature is set too high.
Attempt to provide lots of shady areas, caves and other hiding places with cork pieces or add taller plants or vines.
Food and Water
Your corn snake will need a large bowl of water placed on the cooler side of the enclosure. The bowl needs to be low enough for the snake to climb in and out easily and wide enough for the snake to submerge itself fully.
It is better to keep your corn snake on a carnivorous diet. For younger hatchlings, feed them frozen thawed pinky mice weekly. As the snake grows, increase the size of the mice accordingly. Warning: Feeding your snake live mice can do damage to their insides if small bones are broken during the feeding process.
When the corn snake is an adult, feed only once every two weeks to keep them from becoming overweight which can cause health complications.
When a male and female corn snake are put together, they will breed if the conditions in their environment are right. The eggs will require an incubator if wanting to hatch the eggs. Be sure to think carefully what you intend to do once those hatchlings are born before allowing the snakes to meet.
Prepare a proper nesting box for your gravid female corn snake. This will need to be large enough for your snake to reposition and turn itself fully around, and the box needs to be readily accessible.
Inside the box, place a carefully prepared mixture of clay and soil. It should be damp enough to hold its form without being so wet that it floods the fragile eggs with too much saturation. There are ready-made mixes available at pet stores.
The eggs should be laid over a moistened substrate material in a closed nesting box. Then incubate the eggs at about 28.25°to 28.75°C (83° to 84°F). Expect them to hatch in 60 days.
Maintenance and Cleaning
Keep your snake’s enclosure spot cleaned at least once daily. Do a thorough cleaning every 4 weeks or so. Purchase reptile safe disinfectant, and remove your pet from the enclosure during the cleaning. Also remove decorative items and bedding.
Spray the disinfectant over all cage surfaces. This works fast in around 30 seconds. Wipe cleaned surfaces with a paper towel and repeat if needed. Do this during the day to ensure the enclosure is warm enough when the heat lamp is off for the night. Replace items and replace bedding material as needed.
Are Corn Snakes Low Maintenance?
Corn snakes are likely the easiest of snakes and require only low maintenance.
There are a few handling tips to remember:
- Allow about 2 weeks for your snake to adjust before handling.
- Start with gentle handling for 5 minutes at first. Wait until the snake is calm before placing it back in the cage.
- Increase handling time to 10 minutes slowly.
- Never handle snakes within 48 hours following a meal. The snake will regurgitate which can be dangerous to its health.
- If your snake’s eyes are cloudy or have a bluish opaque cast, the snake is getting ready to shed. Do not handle during this time as snakes can be antsy and prone to biting.
We hope our corn snake care sheet has helped you determine how to care for your new reptile friend.