How to Care for a Pet Corn Snake
Our Bloodred Corn Snake
How to Keep and Look After a Pet Corn Snake
In November 2009, I bought my daughter a corn snake as a pet after doing all my research on the Internet as to which was the best snake to buy for a child. Why opt for a snake? It was my master plan not to create a 'pink, fluffy princess'. I wanted my daughter to be strong, fearless and have the ability to look after herself. With this article, I hope to share with you the ups and downs of having a corn snake as a pet and give an insight into how to care for them.
Corn snakes are the preferred species for children due to their very placid nature and tendency not to bite, in addition, there is no worry that they will outgrow their welcome as other snakes might. Pythons, for example, when you purchase them, are typically 2 feet in length but can grow over 20 feet. At that size, you need two people to handle them safely, and they are probably eating rabbits or chickens rather than mice or rats.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Pet Snake
Before buying your snake its necessary to ask yourself a few questions to make sure that your potential new pet will thrive:
- Do you have someone that could look after the snake if you were away on holiday?
- Can you handle the thought of feeding your snake mice and having a bag of frozen mice in your freezer?
- Can you buy the food easily?
- Can you afford all the equipment necessary to create an environment that your snake will thrive in?
- Make sure you have a reptile vet nearby or one that you are willing to travel to and beware vet bills can be expensive.
If you can not do all of the above, then I would not recommend buying a snake as a pet. We were able to do all the above, so we progressed in buying all the items needed to create a habitat suitable for a snake to live a comfortable healthy life in captivity.
Creating an Ideal Habitat for Your Corn Snake
Here is a list of the items you need to create an ideal habitat for your corn snake:
The first item you need is known as a vivarium (glass tank with doors); for our snake, we opted for a 60 cm x 45 cm x 45 cm enclosure. Snakes are known to be agoraphobic, and I was aware that a large enclosure might cause stress for a baby snake, but we filled it with plenty of hiding places such as cardboard tubes from toilet rolls and plenty of plastic imitation plants so a larger tank would not cause a problem.
I remember in the first year, how we used to have to unravel the cardboard tubes to get the snake out for us to handle him prior to his feeds when he was very young. As he grew larger, we replaced the tubes with resin rock formations that had hideaways and large slabs of bark for him to hide under.
You will need to heat the tank, and we choose two overhead ceramic heat lamps covering the entire tank but then created a hot spot by placing a heating pad below the vivarium at one end.
Two digital thermometers were purchased to check that each end of the vivarium was registering a different temperature. The ideal temperature range for corn snakes is between 21 and 29 degrees Celsius.
Ultraviolet and Infrared Lighting
It's nice to be able to see your snake and enjoy its coloration to the max, so we then installed an ultraviolet light to illuminate the enclosure during the day and an infrared light to enjoy the snake at night. In addition to illuminating the Vivarium, the bulbs also provided additional heat.
A water dish big enough for the snake to bath, plastic plants, hiding rocks and bark were also purchased to create an interesting habitat for the snake to enjoy. Every time we cleaned the vivarium, we would change the internal layout using the plants, bark and resin rocks so that the snake would not get bored.
Finally, aspen snake substrate was used to cover the bottom of the habitat to allow the snake to burrow.
I must admit, I was taken aback at the total cost of every thing which came down to £350, and on top of that, £110 for the snake, so be warned!
Before we bought the snake, the vivarium was set up and was left running for a couple of days to make sure all was well before introducing the snake.
How Do You Choose Your Corn Snake?
I had already discussed with my daughter what colour of corn snake she wanted, and a bloodred corn snake was the chosen preference—it was my daughter who named him 'Chilli'.
Corn snakes are the equivalent to Japanese Koi, in that it has become an art form to cross breed different colored and patterned snakes to create new varieties known as morphs. You can now get a Lilac snake, and recently a new development was introduced into the marketplace: scaleless snakes!
Once the snake was purchased, I made it a point to ask as many questions as I could with the retailer just to confirm my understanding of what I had learned from my research. Two very important things to check is how the snake has been eating in the past and if it had had any problems with shedding its skin.
It's always a good thing to ask to handle the snake before proceeding just to check its temperament and for you to look over its body for signs of ill health. The snake should be alert, bright-eyed and flicking its tongue regularly while you're holding it, in addition, make sure there are no traces of skin on the body from past shedding.
Our Corn Snake Captured on Film Shedding Its Skin
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Some General Rules of Good Animal Husbandry
Some general rules of good animal husbandry are:
- Always provide clean drinking water.
- Spot clean any faeces when seen.
- Clean and disinfect the vivarium on a regular basis.
- When handling your snake, check it thoroughly to make sure everything looks healthy especially after it has shed its skin.
- Always make sure the enclosure is secure snakes are notorious escape artist.
Some Learned Observations Over Time
- I made a mistake in the beginning in that I used boiled water to defrost the frozen mouse for speed, not realizing that the protein structure of the mouse changed which then went on to cause a regurgitation. Thankfully, I had taken on board most of the information I read and knew it was important not to re-feed the snake straight away because some of its digestive enzymes that it relies on to digest its food would have been regurgitated along with the mouse. If I had fed him straight away, it would have caused another regurgitation. So, I left him for a week to rebuild his stomach enzymes before feeding him a defrosted mouse after using lukewarm water and have not experienced any problems since.
- As a baby, you feed the snake with proportionately sized mice and as it grows, so does the size of mice that it is fed. We purchase our mice from the pet store frozen and simply defrost when needed. It is not necessary to feed live mice to your snake. In 8 years of owning ours, we have never had a problem with him taking a static food. The only thing we do do is to brain the mouse which basically means cutting into the head and squeezing so that some of the brain matter comes out. Snakes are very sensitive to smell, and the braining heightens the snakes interest in the defrosted mouse.
- It's also a good idea to feed the snake in a plastic breeding box so that there is no risk of the snake ingesting any of the aspen snake bedding which would be the case if we fed him in the vivarium.
- A common problem for captive snakes is owners overfeed the snakes and obesity becomes a problem. In the wild, a snake will more likely than not have a couple of weeks in between feeds. We have had Chilli now for 8 years and he is doing really well. He eats two very large mice every 3 weeks.
- When handling a snake, the golden rule is to move slowly and the snake will respond the same way. If you panic and get very excited, the snake picks up on this and copies you. My daughter is very good at handling him and has no problem with picking up a defrosted mouse to feed him
- If you're having feeding problems with your snake and it is regurgitating the food, it might be that the mouse you're feeding it is too large. Just move down to a smaller sized mouse and this should stop the problem but remember to wait a week prior to refeeding. As a general rule, your snake should be fed a mouse that is no more round than the widest part of your snake's body.
- Every year being a male, the call of nature calls on Chilli to find a mate, and for 6-10 weeks he becomes very active in the vivarium and tries to escape every time the door is open. During this time, I don't even try feeding your snake because the mice will go uneaten. After a meal, all your snake wants to do is curl up for several days to digest the meal in a quiet corner. During the mating season, when the strongest and fastest procreate, your pet does not wish to be out of the game, so it refuses to eat.
Naomi Meets Chilli Our Bloodred Corn Snake
Synopsis of Owning a Corn Snake
I think they make great pets as long as you do all your research, you're not squeamish and you don't cut any corners with regards to creating a good environment for them to live.
With the average life expectancy of a captive corn snake being around 18 years, purchasing a snake is a big decision and over the last 8 years its been a joy initially to see my daughter interact with the snake and now my young son. Chilli has become somewhat of a star for children staying with us, they all love seeing the snake and having pictures taken with him.
Well, did my master plan work? My daughter is now 14 and has joined army cadets, she is fearless, very strong-minded, has a very positive outlook on life and doing really well at school—thanks in part to a snake named Chilli.