Complete Care Guide to Corn Snakes

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Complete Care Guide to Corn Snakes 1
From Flickr/Clayton Parker

Scientific name: Pantherophis gutatta guttata

General Information
Corn snakes are one of the most popular snakes available in the pet trade for several reasons:

  • They are hardy captives
  • They are available in several dazzling color and pattern morphs
  • Their needs are few and easily met
  • They are generally very docile
  • They are relatively simple to breed

Corn snakes are common in the southeastern United States. Their natural range stretches from New Jersey to the Keys in Florida and as far west as Texas. Corn snakes can be found in a wide variety of habitats. They can be found in wooded areas, farmland, and even in barns and abandoned houses.

Because of the wide range of the corn snake there are many different locality differences. Most notable are the Okeetee, the Miami Phase, and the Rosy Rat Snake.

Okeetees are the most sought after locality as far as hobbyists are concerned because these are the most brightly colored and the largest built ‘natural’ corn snakes available. Okeetees commonly possess a bright orange background coloration with deep red spots that are encircled by thick black borders giving them a very sharp contrast of coloration. Okeetees are so named because of their natural proximity to the Okeetee Hunt Club in South Carolina.

Miami Phase corn snakes are found throughout the state of Florida, most notably near the Miami area. Miami Phase corn snakes have a gray to silver background coloration with red spots.

Rosy Rat Snakes are found in the Florida Keys and are in my opinion the least attractive of the corn snake localities. Rosy Rat Snakes do not normally reach the size of an Okeetee or a Miami Phase and typically have a much slimmer build to them. Rosy Rat Snakes normally have a duller red coloration in their spots with a dull red to orange background.

Hatchlings are normally 8-10 inches long, while adults can be as large as 3-5 feet in length. The most common length of an adult corn snake seems to be around the 4 foot mark. Some specimens have been known to reach 6 feet in length but this is uncommon.

Corn Snakes are generally very docile and easy to handle. Hatchlings can sometimes be a bit nippy but usually outgrow this rather quickly.

Corn Snakes normally live up to 15-20 years if kept properly. The longest living corn snake died at an age of 32 years.

In the wild corn snakes normally consume rodents and birds. In captivity a diet consisting of one rodent of about the same diameter as the snake about once per week is recommended.

The warm side of the enclosure should be kept at 85-88F. The cool side of the enclosure should be 75-80F. Heat in the basking are can be provided by an overhead heat lamp, under tank heater; or in the case of a rack system, heat tape or heat rope. The humidity in the enclosure should be kept at about 60-70% with adequate ventilation to aid in shedding.

For display purposes, a 10 gal tank with a sliding/latching screen top will work fine for a juvenile. For adults I recommend a 20 gal long tank with a sliding/latching screen top.

Many breeders or hobbyists who maintain large collections of corn snakes opt for a rack system type of setup. This basically involves an almost shelving type system where the bottom of one ‘shelf’ actually works as a lid to the tub underneath. Rack systems are most often heated by heat tape running along the back of the ‘tubs’ controlled by either a thermostat or a dimmer switch. As far as the ‘tubs’ go, a plastic shoebox will work fine for juvenile snakes; while plastic sweater boxes are commonly used to house adult snakes.

Whichever setup you decide to use, drinking water should be provided in a container large enough for the snake to curl up in. I like to use large dog water bowls for this purpose that have notches cut in the sides for handgrips. The snake can get under the water bowl through these ‘handgrips’, so the water bowl also doubles as a hide box.

For bedding I prefer newspaper or paper towels, but aspen shavings, reptile carpet or Reptibark work fine also. Just be sure not to feed the snake on aspen shavings or Reptibark to avoid the possibility of impaction caused by consumption of bedding material. Do not use cedar or pine shavings as bedding as this can cause the snake to have respiratory problems.

Corn Snakes are fairly easy to breed in captivity. First make certain that you have an accurately sexed pair. I recommend waiting to breed females until they are at least 3 years old and at least 3 feet in length to reduce the chances of egg binding. Males however can be bred in their second year.

Once it is determined that you have an accurately sexed pair that is old enough and large enough to breed they should be brumated at a temperature of 55-60F for a period of 60-90 days, most commonly done during the winter. It is important to not feed the snakes for 2 weeks prior to brumation to ensure that their digestive tracts are empty before cooling them down. Also do not attempt to feed during the brumation period. Once the brumation period is over, warm the snakes back up to about 80F and start feeding them. The breeder females should be fed rather heavily at this time to help get them ready for the production of eggs. Once both snakes have eaten a few meals, have pooped, and have shed their skin; start introducing the male into the female’s enclosure for a few hours at a time. Be observant at this time for possible cannibalism, although rare with corns it can happen. Continue introducing the male to the female until you are sure that the female is gravid. This can be determined by the increased girth in the rear 1/3 of the female’s body combined with her refusal to feed.

Eggs should be laid about 30 days after successful copulation. Once it has been determined that the female is gravid, it is important to have a ‘laying box’ ready for her to deposit the eggs in. I like to use large Tupperware containers with lids. I will cut a hole in the center of the lid roughly twice the diameter of the snake and fill the container 2/3 full with damp sphagnum moss. Once she has laid her eggs I merely switch out the lid that has been cut with a lid that has not been cut and never have to touch the eggs. The eggs should hatch 55-65 days after being laid if incubated at a temperature of about 82F with a humidity of about 80%. I open the lid of the container for about 30 minutes each day to provide some ventilation. Be careful about the humidity of the eggs. If they get to damp, they will mold and kill the egg. If they get to dry then the egg will shrivel and the hatchling will not be able to split the egg and die inside of the egg.

It is normal for the hatchling to sit in the egg with only its head sticking out for 12-48 hours after splitting the eggshell. It is sucking up the last of the egg yolk at this time and should not be forcibly removed from the egg as this can likely kill the hatchling.

About 4-5 days after hatching the hatchling will go through its first shed. After that time you can begin to attempt to feed the hatchlings 1 newborn pinky mouse each about once a week. Make sure to house and feed the hatchlings separately to avoid possible cannibalism.

Suggested Reading
The Corn Snake Manual by Bill Love and Kathy Love

Corn Snakes—The Comprehensive Owners Guide by Kathy Love

Useful Websites

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