When people think of pet snakes, there are two main contenders who usually pop into their minds: ball pythons and corn snakes. Corns are a hardy and entertaining pet reptile, coming in a myriad of colors and patterns. Docile and fairly low-key, corn snakes are also frequently amenable to handling and tolerate their owners’ advances well. Some may even actively seek out their humans, watching them carefully and coming forward to investigate when people walk by.
Whether you already have a corn snake or are considering one for your next scaly companion, it’s important that you stay informed about their habitat, lifestyle, diet, and more. Your corn will rely on you for everything from its food to its mental stimulation—and that means that knowledge is power. Here’s an overview of how to care for a corn snake so that you can enjoy a long and happy relationship with your reptilian friend.
Understanding Your Corn Snake
Corn snakes are native to the United States, and they can be found anywhere from New Jersey to Louisiana. In the pet trade, numerous patterns and colors have been selectively bred, so you’ll have a wide range of vibrant animals to choose from. Corns can grow as long as six feet, but they remain slender and light throughout their lives.
You can differentiate a corn snake from another common pet, the ball python, based on the shape of its head and face. Balls have a more bulbous face, while corns demonstrate a sleek, tapered look. Similarly, pythons have heat pits near their noses that allow them to see temperature changes. However, corn snakes do not have pits—which means your corn will be watching you closely through eyes with rounded pupils, just like a human’s.
Like most other snakes, corn snakes will coil around their prey and constrict it, squeezing it tightly before consuming it whole. However, in the wild, their diet varies beyond just small rodents (despite their other name, the rat snake!).
Basic Corn Snake Care
On average, a corn snake will live about 15 years in captivity. That’s longer than in the wild, but many people have succeeded in raising their corns to 20 years old or more, and that comes down to good care (and a bit of genetics). To take care of your corn snake the right way, be sure to think about:
Because corn snakes can grow up to six feet long, the minimum recommended size for an enclosure is 4’x2’x2’. That’s four feet long, not tall—although corn snakes will use vertical space when provided, they’re ground dwellers who enjoy a habitat where they have as much horizontal square footage as possible. Bigger is always better with these reptiles, and they will utilize every inch of space you give them. If you’re starting with a baby corn snake, don’t worry; they can start out in their adult enclosure as long as you provide plenty of cover so they feel secure. However, some baby corn snakes will need smaller enclosures to feel comfortable, and if you are having feeding issues this is something to consider. More on that later!
In the wild, corn snakes spend most of their time on the ground underneath stumps, inside rotting logs, and nestled into other dark spaces. These areas are moist, which means that your corn will thrive best in higher than average humidity. A range between 50% and 65% is ideal. This will help them shed smoothly and avoid respiratory infections. If it’s too dry, your snake’s shed will likely come off in pieces, and they may struggle to get the caps that cover their eyes off. This will impact their vision and make it hard for them to see. To maintain proper humidity, avoid aspen as a substrate, and utilize large water bowls. You may also mist or fog the enclosure as necessary; keep an eye on the hygrometer. A moist hide filled with damp moss could become one of their favorite places to stay, especially during shed.
Corn snakes live in the American southeast, where temperatures can range from the mid 90s to as low as the 70s during the day depending on the season. Be sure to provide a basking location that reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a gradient so that the snake can choose where it is most comfortable. Ambient temperatures on the warm side should sit in the 80s, with a cool side of between 75 and 80 degrees. Choice is king, so give your snake enough room to make decisions about how hot or cold they would like to be!
Corn snakes are primarily nocturnal, but they live in an environment with a very clear day/night cycle. Your corn will do best when lights are on for 12 hours and off for 12 hours. A nighttime drop in temperature is acceptable, but don’t let your corn get colder than the low 70s.
As regular residents of the great outdoors in the Southeast, corns also rely on UV radiation from the sun to stay healthy and process the vitamins and minerals that they eat. A UVB bulb for your enclosure is a smart choice; put it close to the basking area, as the heat from basking can help your snake utilize the UV rays more effectively. Remember that if you’re shining your UV lamp through a mesh screen top, it will need to be more powerful in order to compensate for the partial blockage from the screen.
Hides and Décor
In the wild, your corn snake’s favorite place to be is hidden. They enjoy nooks in fallen logs, tight spaces underneath rocks, and even underground burrows made by other animals. This means that to keep your corn feeling happy and safe, providing numerous places to hide and fit tightly is a must. Cork rounds and half rounds are a great choice, as are standard hide boxes. If you’d like to get more creative, think about interesting items you can use to replicate fallen bark and other natural hiding places—tortoise shells and seashells, for instance, can work very well!
Other décor is up to your artistic interpretation, and corns will use as much vertical climbing space as you give them. They regularly ascend trees in the wild, so you can rest assured that they are competent climbers. However, remember that your corn will try to fit its entire body into any space that its head can fit—so if you use décor with holes and gaps, pay attention to the width of your snake at its widest point to make sure they won’t get stuck.
Corn snakes enjoy humidity, so your choice of substrate should be made with this element in mind. Aspen and sand will not hold the necessary moisture and are best avoided. Instead, consider cypress mulch or a naturalistic mixture of topsoil, play sand, and sphagnum or coconut fiber. This is similar to what they live on in the wild, and with regular mixing and moistening, it will remain sufficiently damp without becoming muddy and soggy. Remember that pine and cedar contain wood oils that can irritate your reptile’s skin, so avoid these options.
Food for Corn Snakes
Now that you’ve got your snake’s plush apartment decorated and ready for move-in, you’ll need to think about what they’ll be eating. In the wild, corn snakes enjoy a diet primarily composed of small mammals like voles and mice. However, they occasionally hunt birds, lizards, and even frogs. This provides some flexibility for the creative keeper.
It can be hard to find frogs safe for your snake to eat (and even harder to get a corn interested in eating them). However, something like Reptilinks’ Mega Blend incorporates birds, mammals, and bullfrogs into a single prey item with an approachable shape for your corn. This keeps their diet varied so that they get all of the important nutrients they need to stay healthy. Reptilinks as a staple diet or as part of a whole prey regimen also provide enrichment, as your snake will eagerly investigate new and interesting smells. Many corn snake owners have reported that their corns particularly enjoy links that contain quail—the 25 g links are suitable for adults, while juveniles do well on the micro and mini links, and subadults do well on 8-12 g links.
Is My Corn Snake Overweight?
You’ve got your enclosure set up, and you’re feeding a varied and exciting diet. Now what? Keeping a reptile is a long-term commitment, and you’ll need to be sure that your corn is staying fit and healthy throughout their life. Pay attention to the body shape of your snake to ensure that your feeding schedule is appropriate.
A healthy corn snake will be angular in shape. To move effectively, their bodies will maximize the amount of stomach area on the ground. If your snake’s spine is visible and creates a triangular shape to the body, with most of the stomach on the ground, your snake is in good condition. However, once they begin to become round, with the sides of the stomach lifted off the ground, your corn snake could stand to lose some weight. You can accomplish this by reducing the size of the feeders or increasing the time between feedings. Adult corn snakes may go anywhere from a week to two weeks between meals.
Remember—providing down time between feedings is good for your snake! Not only does it encourage a healthy body weight, but it stimulates and enriches their brains. They will spend time hunting and exploring looking for food, which is good for their mental well-being.