Corn Snake Care Guide

The Corn Snake has long been the leader in the pet snake trade due to its mild manners, average size and wide variety of colours and patterns (morphs) available today.

Corn snake with red patterned scales

All snakes require appropriate-sized housing in the form of a vivarium (a fish tank will suffice only if it is very secure with a tight fitting lid). Allow approximately 1 square foot of floor space per foot of body length, as an enclosure too spacious will make your pet nervous and induce unwanted behaviour. As corn snakes hatch at around 5 inches in length, and grow to between 4-6 feet at adulthood, you may be required to purchase a new enclosure as the snake grows to properly accommodate it.

Snake decor

Your enclosure should be pretty well packed out with various sizes and shapes of natural wood (avoid cedar and redwood as these are toxic) to allow your snake to climb and hide as it wishes, along with various artificial plants and bushes. Too large of an open space will make your snake nervous as in the wild they would be vulnerable to predatory attack without suitable cover.

Vivarium conditions

Your enclosure should be heated with either a heat mat, or ceramic heat bulb, and both should always be used in conjunction with a thermostat to properly regulate temperature. The ideal temperature should be on a gradient with the warmest end of the enclosure being around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and the coolest end being around 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit). It should be noted if you choose a heat mat, it should be appropriately sized to cover around one third of the floor space to allow a gradient, and ideally would be covered with a piece of tile or similar material, to allow heat through without the possibility of your pet burning itself by making direct contact with it. Many heat mats are designed to sit underneath the vivarium glass.
Also if you choose a ceramic heat bulb, please ensure it is correctly fitted with a bulb guard around it as snakes have a habit of wrapping themselves around the bulb, often causing irreparable burn injuries.

Substrate

White corn snake
Some varieties, like this "White Blizzard" are quite striking
You will need a form of substrate to cover the ground of your enclosure, and there are a number of options for a corn snake. It is widely accepted that the best substrate to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing is beech chip, but another popular choice is aspen shavings, the problem with this substrate is the way it absorbs the snakes waste, and water that may be spilled, and tends to spread leaving you with a larger area to clean. The most economical substrate is newspaper, it is being used more often these days with the current financial climate, and while it is acceptable it is neither practical, or pleasing to the eye, but if you are looking for the most affordable option, this is it. Whichever substrate you choose, the enclosure should be spot cleaned each day, meaning if you see any mess, simply pick it up with a scooper or paper towel, and a full overhaul should be carried out around once a month, fully replacing the substrate. Newspaper will be required to be changed far more often.

Feeding

The staple diet for your pet should be rodents, more specifically appropriately sized mice that are around one and a half times the width of your snake’s head. Depending on the size of your pet when you purchase it, from birth to adulthood will normally be a progression from pinkie mice, through “fluffs” and onto regular adult mice, a particularly large adult corn snake could require a rat or 2 adult mice per feed. The frequency of feeding will generally be every 5-7 days for baby snakes during the pinkie feeding period, 7-10 for those feeding on fluffs, and 10-14 for adults. All rodents should be purchased as frozen and fully defrosted in warm water prior to feeding your snake.

It is possible to feed your snake live prey items, but this is not particularly pleasing to watch and you run the risk of your pet sustaining injuries in the struggle to subdue and constrict the prey. It is worth noting many countries are introducing new laws and regulations with the aim of preventing live feeding. It is the responsibility of the breeder to ensure each snake is feeding comfortably on pre killed rodents, and it would be advised to ask for a feeding demonstration prior to purchasing a snake. As with most animals, fresh drinking water should be available every day, and ideally be placed in a heavy bottomed bowl to prevent spillage and tipping as your pet will most likely climb on the bowl regularly.

Handling

When you bring your new snake home from the store or breeder, you will be very excited and probably eager to get your hands on your new pet, but it is very important you do not handle your snake right away. Each snake should be given adequate time to settle in to its new home and surroundings, as snakes get nervous very easily and moving and transporting will shake it up significantly. A realistic suitable amount of time to leave your snake untouched would be around 2 weeks, by this time it is likely to be as settled as it is going to be. It should also be said it will be beneficial to not feed your snake during this time. When your snake has settled and you feel it is time to conduct the first handling session, it is important to be very calm at this time and take things slowly. Sudden movements may spook your snake which more often than not will result in its best effort to escape, but it may potentially attempt to bite your hand in defence.
The correct technique is to move your hand in a steady but confident manner toward the snake, ensuring you are not moving directly to the head. It is often advised to confidently lift the snake from around the mid-point of its body, but a gentle stroke of the body first is not such a bad move to gauge the snake’s reaction, and alert it to your presence to avoid startling. Once you take a hold of your snake and lift it from the ground, it will generally relax and show interest in climbing and moving through your hands, so be sure you always have it supported at 2 points of its body. Handling should be kept to short sessions at first, increasing in duration as you and your snake gain confidence with each other. Handling 3-5 times a week is about the right amount. Avoid handling 1 day prior and 1 day after feeding.

The Corn Snake is the easiest snake to keep in captivity, as they are the perfect balance of mild temperament, intriguing personality traits and hardiness, together with a moderate size and attractive appearance. With correct care every owner of a Corn Snake can expect 15-20 years of happiness with their pet.