The corn snake is a docile constrictor found is North America. Due to their gentle nature they have made their way into the pet industry. The keeping and caring for a pet corn snake is relatively easy and fun. As such, corn snakes make great beginner snakes for new hobbyists.
Here is a guideline on what you need to know about the keeping and caring for a pet corn snake.
Species profile and characteristics
Commonly known as corn snake or the red rat snake, this escape artist is said to have got its name from the pattern on its belly that resembles a type of Indian maize. Scientifically the corn snake belongs to the genus Pantherophis guttatus.
This snake is native to North America. It is found throughout the Southeastern and Central United States. Most of the corn snakes sold as pets are bred in captivity.
Corn snakes are gentle in nature and easy to care for thus make good pets. They come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. The average adult size of a corn snake is about 6 feet while their life expectancy is about 20 years with good care.
|Common name||Corn snake or Red rat snake|
|Scientific name||Pantherophis guttatus|
|Adult size||4 to 6 feet|
|Life expectancy||15 to 20 years|
|Color||Wide range of colors and patterns|
Caring for a pet corn snake
The corn snake is both a terrestrial burrower and a good climber. In the wild they prefer habitats such as overgrown fields, forest openings, trees and abandoned or seldom used buildings and farms. In captivity it is important to ensure that their habitat mimics the wild as much as is possible.
An adult corn snake needs an enclosure that matches their length. This is important as it ensures that the corn snake can stretch its body fully. The minimum width and height should be about a third of the corn snake’s length. You can house an adult corn snake in a 20 gallon long tank. A baby corn snake can comfortably be housed in a 10 gallon tank.
Corn snakes are known to be escape artists. They can push the lid of their vivarium with their noses looking for weaknesses or tiny openings. It is therefore important to make sure that your snake tank has a secure lid that fits. An escaped snake can get lost, hurt or serve as a scare for your guests.
Read our separate article to find out which corn snake starter kit you can use.
Snakes like other reptiles require a thermogradient. To maintain this, place a guarded heat lamp on one end while leaving the other end cool.
For corn snakes, maintain an ambient temperature of between 80 and 85 F. The basking zone should be between 85 and 88 F and the cool end 70 to 75 F.
To heat the tank you can use a heat lamp, under tank heating pads or a heat tape. Make sure that you monitor the temperature of both ends of the tank daily. You can do this using a digital thermometer.
Corn snakes need 10 to 12 hours of day light. Fit a 2 to 7 % UV tube on the basking zone. Make sure you set a day and night light pattern. Do not leave the white light on at all times.
If you have to view your snake at night use nocturnal or infrared lights.
Maintain a humidity of between 40 and 50 % for your corn snake. Monitor the humidity of the tank using a hygrometer. If the humidity goes beyond 50% you need to increase the ventilation.
During dry months you can maintain the humidity by using a humidifier available in grocery stores or by misting the tank.
Substrate and hiding places
Corn snakes are both terrestrial burrowers and tree climbers. They love to burrow and hide and if given the opportunity they climb on trees and branches. It is important to provide them with an environment that allows them to express this natural behavior.
Substrate is the ground cover. Provide corn snakes with a substrate that allows for burrowing. There are several substrates available in the market designed for reptile use. Several soil mixtures have been prepared for reptiles. You can also use other types of substrates such as coconut fiber, reptile bark or asphen shavings. If using soil mixtures, you can add dry natural leaves to add a naturalistic look to the enclosure and provide cover.
Additionally, you can add tree branches in the enclosure for your corn snake to climb on. Sterilize the tree branches and leaves with hot water then allow them to dry before use.
Corn snakes love to hide. It is therefore important to provide them with hiding places. Include at least 2 hiding areas, one on each end. The hiding area should be just large enough for your snake to fit in.
Read our guide on best substrate for corn snakes to find out what you can use.
Feeding a corn snake
What do corn snakes eat?
Corn snakes are carnivorous like all snakes. Most corn snakes are active at night and hunt their prey based on smell. In the wild they feed on lizards, frogs, rodents, birds and their eggs.
In captivity, you can feed corn snakes on pre-killed frozen mice that are properly thawed. You can feed hatch-lings on pinky mice. Increase the size of the prey as the corn snake grows. Make sure to feed each snake using the appropriate size of prey, the prey should be no greater than 1.5 times the widest part of the snake.
Adult snakes need to be fed only once every 10 to 14 days. Juvenile or growing corn snakes should be fed twice per week depending on need. When the snake is about to shed their appetite may decline, therefore reduce the feeding frequency when approaching shedding.
What about water?
Provide your corn snake with enough clean drinking water at all times. The water bowl should be large enough to allow the snake to soak in if it wishes.
You can place the water bowl on either end of the tank. Be aware that a water bowl placed on the basking zone may increase the humidity of the tank.
Clean the water bowl daily.
Read next; Caring for ball pythons.