The corn snake or Pantherophis guttatus (Elaphe guttata) is one of the most common yet sought after pet snakes in the United States. Colorful, docile and weary to bite, it is no secret as to why people keep these often gentle creatures as a pet. Alongside their vibrancy and friendly dispositions, they are the perfect size for handling, and easy to care for, making them the go-to snake for reptile enthusiasts and new snake keepers alike.
Availability, Size, and Lifespan of Corn Snakes
When born, corn snake hatchlings range between 8 to 12 inches in length but can reach 4 to 5 feet as adults. Equally impressive as their length, corn snakes can live 6 to 8 years in the wild but can slither well into their 20s when held in captivity. Speaking of captivity, corn snakes are obtainable from at a variety of places including pet stores, reptile expos, online, and of course, breeders. However, it is not advisable to purchase a wild-caught corn snake because they often possess health issues and or parasites. If you are unaware whether the snake you’re buying is a wild-caught or not, a breeder or pet store will most likely help you find out.
Corn Snake Caging
Baby corn snakes can comfortably live in a 10-gallon terrarium until they are about a year old. However, adults require at least a 20-gallon terrarium because they are a very active species of snake. Although it is not necessary for overall happiness, corn snakes can be housed together. But if multiple snakes are being housed together, it is important to monitor breeding. Overbreeding can stress the animal out and compromise its health. This one is a given, but make sure that the tank is escape-proof by looking for any holes or gaps in the lid or doors. To keep your pet snake feeling safe and stress-free; consider adding climbing branches and placing two hides in the terrarium, one on the hot side and the other on the cool side.
Lighting and Temperature
Corn snakes do not require special lighting. And while natural light is good for them, it is important to not place your corn snake’s cage under direct sunlight. Doing so will heat the tank to life-threatening temperatures. Remember, this is a cold-blood creature we’re talking about. Instead, consider buying a temperature gradient with a heat bulb to regulate your pet’s body temperature. An undertank heat pad could also do the trick. It is important to keep the warm side of your snake’s tank as close as possible to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cool side hovering around the low 70s. When checking the temperature of your pet snake’s habitat, make sure to check the inside of the tank and not the glass for an accurate reading.
Though it is important to keep a corn snake’s body temperature cool, like many other snakes, do not compromise its health with too much moisture in the tank. Snake owners often make the mistake of misting the inside of a snake’s tank, but this often creates a detrimental amount of fungus and mold, which is unhealthy for the snake to be around.
Now that your corn snake is cool and nice and dry, you should also think about what kind of substrate it is needed for corn snakes. We have an answer to that. Aspen shavings are most commonly used as bedding for corn snakes because it is dry, absorbent, and promotes their natural burrowing behavior. Cypress mulch, as well as wood chips, also works well. On a more precautionary note, do not use aromatic woods such as pine or cedar or sand; because they are harmful to your snake’s health.
Generally, corn snakes like to eat small rodents, lizards, and small bird eggs (finch eggs are commonly fed to snakes). But for corn snakes kept in captivity, their primary diet consists of palatably sized mice and other small, frozen rodents. Hatchlings eat live newborn pinky mice every 5-7 days while adults eat large frozen mice every 7-10 days. Do not try offering a corn snake, or any snake for that matter, crickets or worms—they will not recognize them as food and will not eat them.
Equally important to appropriate feeding methods, hydrating your corn snake is another monitored task that is more complex than simply giving it a bowl of tap water. Filtered or dechlorinated tap water should always be available for your snake in a weighted bowl to prevent spilling or tipping and should be changed every couple of days. But if the water is soiled, clean immediately. Finally, make sure the bowl of water is comfortably big enough for the snake to bask in and that it is on the opposite end of the tank’s heating source.
Handling and Temperament
Now that you have safely hydrated, fed, sheltered, and regulated the body temperature of your corn snake, it is time for the scariest part of taking care of your new friend—handling them properly. But fear not, this species, as mentioned prior, is mild-mannered. Baby corn snakes are naturally defensive and squirmy, and even though it is normal for babies to try and escape, hide, or even defend themselves, they are entirely harmless and cannot hurt you.
Also to note, it is essential to give your new corn snake at least one week to become adjusted to its new home and feeding habits. When beginning to handle your corn snake, start with short periods, and then slowly build toward longer handling over time. It is important to not hold your snake within 24 hours after its meal because this can cause premature regurgitation. Remember to not grab the corn snake from the top, instead approach it from the side, this will keep your friendly snake from overstressing and becoming defensive. With proper handling, these snakes will prove itself to be a mellow and easy-to-manage pet for your home.