How to Care for Pet Corn Snakes: Tanks, Food, Shedding and More
Corn snakes are a small-sized colubrid snake that make a good choice for anyone who would like to keep a snake as a pet. They are native to North America and are available in a variety of colours, known as morphs. Corn snakes are generally docile and are easy to tame. They rarely bite and are inquisitive and relatively active, making them a great choice as a pet for adults and children alike.
Corn snakes are bred in a variety of morphs, or colours, which include white, orange, grey, red and striped. Each of these have the same care needs, so it is really just a matter of which you prefer or are most attracted too. You may be able to find a breeder in your area who keeps many morphs so you will be able to see them in the flesh before making a decision on which to buy.
How to Choose a Healthy Corn Snake
When choosing your snake, pick one that has clear eyes and no signs of mites or illness. Make sure it has no cuts or scrapes. A healthy snake should be alert to your presence, bright-eyed and flicking its tongue regularly.
Creating a Home for Your Corn Snake
In the wild, corn snakes can be found in a variety of environments, such as pine forests, grasslands, rocky areas and around farms and grain stores. They spend most of their time on the ground but are able and happy to have the chance to climb as well.
How Big of a Tank Does My Snake Need?
Corn snakes do not need large enclosures to be happy and healthy in captivity, and large open spaces can, in fact, be stressful for them. A medium-sized vivarium or fish tank with a tight-fitting lid is perfectly suitable for most corn snakes. Hatchlings and very small snakes should be housed in a smaller vivarium.
A minimum allowance of approximately 1 square foot of floor spaces for each foot of snake is a good guide when choosing a home for a corn snake. Corn snakes are excellent escape artists, so care should be taken to ensure that the lid to their home is secure; ideally, it should be able to be fastened or held down somehow. Although small, corn snakes are strong and may be able to push off a loose-fitting lid and escape.
Other Enclosure Options
Some people choose to use specially designed plastic vivariums for housing corn snakes, and these are available in many sizes and work well. Really Useful Boxes (RUBs) can also make good homes for corn snakes once some air holes have been drilled. Take care to keep these holes small to prevent your snake from escaping or getting stuck.
These boxes have lids with fasteners on two sides which keep them secure. These types of tubs can also be useful for transporting your snake or as temporary housing while cleaning their main home.
Various substrates are suitable for using with corn snakes. A common choice is aspen shavings, which can be bought online or in pet shops. Aspen shavings cannot be cleaned, so they need to be removed when they are wet or soiled. These can be spot-cleaned as needed, and the entirety of the shavings should replaced every 4–6 weeks.
When using aspen shavings, it is important to feed your snake outside of its home or in a separate container inside. This is due to the fact that the snake may ingest some of the substrate either by accident or because it is stuck to the food. Ingested substrate can cause a snake to become ill. A Tupperware container with air holes and a lid can be used as a feeding container.
Important: Cedar and redwood shavings are toxic and should not be used.
Paper towels such as kitchen rolls can be used in the bottom of your snake’s home. These are easy and cheap to replace when needed. They can also be used under aspen shavings to make cleaning easier.
Many decorations and furnishings can be bought for your snake’s home. These do not have to be specifically designed for snakes as long as they are safe. Branches, rocks and plastic plants make nice additions to a vivarium and also provide a snake with places to climb, explore and hide.
Corn snakes should have several places to hide within their vivarium—one in the warm area and another in the cooler area. These can be specialised reptile hide-outs or can be made using other items such as terracotta plant pots. Corn snakes have a strong instinctive need to hide in order to remain safe; without suitable hiding spots, a snake can quickly become stressed and unhappy. This can lead to them refusing to feed and ill health.
Corn snakes are cold-blooded and so need to obtain heat from their surroundings to stay warm. In the wild, a snake would move in and out of sunny spots as it needed in order to regulate its body temperature. When keeping snakes in captivity, heat mats and bulbs can be used to provide an alternative heat source.
The temperature inside the vivarium should range between 21–30C (70–86F). A heat mat should cover no more than half of the floor space in order to create warm and cooler areas for the snake to move between. A thermostat should be used to monitor and regulate the heat generated.
A light bulb protected by a metal cage can also be used to provide heat. These must be carefully protected to prevent the snake from burning itself, and a thermostat will be required to regulate the temperature. Corn snakes do not require light 24 hours a day, and, in some cases, the snake may become stressed by this constant lighting. Thermometers can be placed at each end of the tank to enable you to keep an eye on the temperature gradient easily.
Corn snakes should be fed on frozen mice, which can be bought online or from many pet shops. The size of the mouse depends on the size of the snake, and mice one and half times the size of the snake's head are appropriate.
- When young, a corn snake will require one pink or fuzzy mouse every 6–7 days.
- As they grow, they will move on to adult-sized mice.
- Once older, corn snakes may feed less, and 7–14 days between feedings is not unusual.
Corn snakes should not be handled directly after feeding as this can cause them to regurgitate the food. If the snake has been fed outside of its vivarium, an appropriate container should be used. This can then be placed inside the vivarium so the snake can return home.
Corn snakes need access to fresh drinking water every day. This can be provided in a solid bowl that the snake is unable to tip over. Snakes may also bathe in their water, especially when they are preparing to shed.
Handling Your Corn Snake
Corn snakes are most active around dawn and dusk. Most are very placid and are easily tamed. When handling your corn snake, care should be taken to support all of its body and not leave it hanging. This will help to make the snake feel comfortable and secure with you.
Short periods of handling a few times a week are all that you need in order for your corn snake to become familiar with you. Some snakes may like to be handled more and some may prefer less or not to be handled at all, depending on their personality.
Like all snakes, corn snakes will shed the outer layer of their skin several times a year throughout their whole lives. When it is preparing to shed, a snake’s behaviour and appearance may change, but this is normal and nothing to worry about:
- The snake may refuse a feed.
- The snake may shy away from being handled as normal.
- The colour of their skin may appear dull.
- Their eyes may change to a blue-grey. This can cause their vision to be poorer than normal, meaning that the snake may feel more insecure and defensive at this time.
Most snakes have no trouble in shedding at all, and it is not necessary to help them. If you wish to help your snake, placing a larger bowl of water into their vivarium will raise the humidity and help loosen their old skin. You may see your snake rubbing its head on rocks or other items in order to start the shedding process. Once their head skin is free, they can then move out of the outer layer as they move.
After a shed, check that all the skin has come away, especially around the eyes and tail tip. If any old skin is left, it can be carefully removed with gentle rubbing or tweezers while bathing the snake in warm water.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2014 Claire