Credit:Tom Spinker on Flickr
Introduction to Corn snakes
Corn snakes are popular pets in the reptile trade due to their docile nature, reluctance to bite, variety of colors and patterns, and the relatively easy care they are very popular pets for the beginning herpetologist. They are very affordable in most instances running anywhere from around $25.00 up to about $150.00 depending on if it is a morph or not.
They can often be found during the late night early morning hours hunting in rows of corn where meals are plentiful. Hence the name. Their natural habitat is from the South Eastern to the Central United States. They kill their prey using constriction just like many other snakes.
Natural range and habitat
As mentioned previously you can find Corn snakes in the South Eastern and Central US hunting among rows of corn looking for a meal. There has been mention made in a few places that farmers in the early 1700s used to catch these snakes and put them in their gardens and fields because of their affinity for eating rodents. There was nothing official cited so in good faith I can’t include that tidbit of information as fact, but it is certainly plausible. They are found living in overgrown fields, abandoned buildings, trees, and clearings in the forest. They are found below 6000 feet (1828.8 meters) throughout their range.
Common characteristics of Corn snakes
A corn snake will grow anywhere between 2 and 5 feet (0.61 to 1.52 meters) in length. They are slender snakes so often don’t appear as large as they really are. The male, as with many other species of snake, is usually smaller than his female counterpart. By no means is this a “hard and fast” rule. Males have been known to get much larger than females though it is not common.
Like the Ball python, Corn snakes have extremely docile temperaments and will very rarely strike at anyone except while shedding when all bets are off.
Corn snakes make excellent pet snakes for beginners, rivaling even the much vaunted Ball python as pet snake of choice for many people. On top of their docile nature they are easily cared for even for the most amateur of keepers. If properly cared for in captivity they will live to be between 15 and 20 years old. In the wild they rarely get anywhere near that age.
Corn snakes are very tolerant of new keepers who are still learning how to properly setup and regulate their enclosures. This is due in large part to their natural habitat and the climates normally found there. By no means does this mean that a person can be negligent about their care.
- Temperatures for Corn snakes
- Corn snakes require two different temperatures to be maintained in their habitats. The first one is the basking temperature. It is an area of the enclosure they seek out to raise their core temperatures. This area should be kept consistently between 88 to 90 (31.1 to 32.2 Celsius). The second gradient is the cool side temperature where the snake is able to retreat to from the basking side. Keep the cooler side between 70 and 75 degrees (21.1 to 23.8 Celsius) being careful to never let it get lower than 70 (21.1 celsius) in the enclosure.
Temperatures should be monitored on a regular basis using a digital thermometer and a probe. When taking the readings make sure you take them where the snake is. If you try to probe the temperature even an inch higher it could have significantly different readings than at the pythons level. You can buy a nice dual thermometer/hygrometer (for humidity) setup for around $15.00 at Wal-Mart in the United States.
- Humidity for Corn snakes
- Normal household humidity (30 to 50 percent) is fine for Corn snakes, and aside from when they are having difficulty shedding too much humidity can cause more harm than good. As with any other snake be sure to keep an eye on the humidity, especially if you put your Corn snake in a plastic tub as this can result in the humidity getting way above what it should be. One other item of note; if your home uses forced air heat be especially wary of the humidity as this can push it below 5% easily.
- Enclosures for Corn snakes
- A juvenile Corn should be kept in a small sized enclosure to help it feel more secure. A plastic shoebox is the perfect size for a juvenile Corn. You can buy one for around $2 to $5. Of course the snake isn’t going to be able to spend its life in there, at least not if you hope for it to thrive. An adult Corn can be kept in a 20 to 30 gallon glass tank. You can also make your own cage using appropriately sized plastic tubs. Whatever method you use be certain to provide fresh water on a daily basis, maintain the temperatures and humidity, and give the snake two hides. The hides should fit the snake as tightly as possible while allowing it the freedom to enter and exit. Place one hide in the basking area and one in the cooler area. This will allow the snake to regulate its temperature and have a place to feel secure.
Corn snakes enjoy climbing and will take advantage of any opportunity you give them. There are a few options in this department. You could collect some sturdy wood from the ground, and put it in your enclosure. You could buy fake plants somewhere, or you could make your own perch from PVC pipe. I personally would rather collect some wood but it is entirely up to you. Regardless which option you take you’ll need to decide if the climbing perch is strictly functional or both functional and aesthetic. That will go a long ways towards governing how you set it up.
Your final consideration in setting up an enclosure is ease of maintenance. That’s why I’m a big fan of plastic tubs. The ease of maintaining them compared to a glass tank is astounding. Also consider that a plastic tub is usually much easier to regulate the temperature and the humidity levels. Glass is extremely difficult to regulate as it easily loses heat to the outside air. You’ll also need to deal with humidity loss through the top of the enclosure.
Credit:Deejay2808 on Flickr
Health issues of Corn snakes
Corn snakes are generally hardy creatures, but they should be checked out by a vet upon purchase of the animal. Be sure to collect a sample of stool in a clear plastic container for your vet to examine for worms and other infestations. About once a week you should give your snake through visual examination keeping an eye out for ticks and mites. Mites are tiny and may or may not be seen with the naked eye. The best thing to do is to soak the snake in a tepid bath and watch for little black dots in the water. If you see evidence of them you should begin treating your snake for mites. Another place you will often see mites is around the eyes so be careful to examine there.
Another “common” problem with Corn snakes seems to be regurgitation. Make no mistake about it a snake regurgitating is far different than any warm blooded animal doing it. The health repercussions that come from it can be dire if not addressed properly! Regurgitation is when the food comes back up BEFORE it enters the stomach. After that it is vomit. Either way Corn snakes have been known to exhibit both behaviors so be wary of them.
Feeding Corn snakes
A healthy, well adjusted Corn snake will rarely turn down an appropriate sized meal. Just be sure that they have a place to seek shelter (a hide), preferably two of them and in most cases you shouldn’t have any problems getting on of these snakes to eat. Neonates should be started out on pinky mice and then move up in size from there depending on what your snake is willing to eat.
It is important to feed the right sized meal to your snake. A good rule of thumb is that the creature being fed to the snake should be no larger at its widest spot (typically the hips) than the snake is at its widest spot. In fact in my experience many snakes won’t even strike at something that is too big except in a defensive manner.
Finally you must chose between feeding live and feeding frozen. No one ever seems to agree on the issue, but for my money frozen is the way to go. It’s more humane to the rodent and much safer for the snake. If you decide to feed live prey please don’t ever leave it unattended with the snake, even for a second, and do not leave it with the snake more than 20 minutes. If the snake hasn’t eaten it in that amount of time it isn’t going to and will likely be the one getting eaten itself. Yes, rats and mice have been known to eat snakes when left alone with them.
Breeding Corn snakes
Corn snakes reach sexual maturity between 18 and 24 months of age if they are eating well. They are quite possibly the single most bred snake in captivity. There are many different genetic projects ongoing with Corn snakes as breeders, and owners alike search for new viable morphs among the genus. Even if you’ve never bred snakes before starting out with them is a great learning experience.
In captivity the breeding season for Corns generally goes from November to May beginning with a brumation period in which the temperatures are dropped down to 45 to 55 degrees (7.2 to 12.8 Celsius) for 2 to 3 months. All feeding is stopped prior to lowering the temperatures and then after the period is over temperatures are raised, the snakes are fed a few time and then introduced to one another to begin the breeding process. The female will lay between 6 and 12 eggs which will need to be incubated for about 65 days at 82 to 85 degrees (27.8 to 29.4 Celsius). That’s the crash course in breeding.
This is just a brief overview of breeding. Before you begin please take some time to do an indepth study of the subject. There are plenty of online resources to help you out.
Corn snakes make great pets and are easily cared for with a little bit of effort. They make excellent first time snakes, are very affordable, extremely tame and docile. They don’t mind being handled, and come in a wide variety of colors. Finally their size makes them especially desirable as a pet snake if you have limited room.