Species: E. guttata
Binomial name: Elaphe guttata
Synonyms: Pantherophis guttatus
Utiger, et al., 2002
Latin Name: Elaphe Guttata Guttata
This snake makes the ideal starter snake for any enthusiast of snakes and reptiles. There ease of care and minimum requirements make them fantastic vivarium specimens.
USA (Range found throughout Central and Eastern America)
Pine forests, rocky outcrops, grasslands, hills and around farms and grain stores. They are often found within corn stores, feeding on the rodents that feed in the corn, hence the name Corn Snake. They are a terrestrial species, spending the majority of their time on the ground, but they also appreciate the opportunity to climb.
These are among the most popular snakes in the hobby for obvious reasons as they come in a wide variety of colour mutations and pattern alternatives. As far as I know there are over fifty different variations widely available, more details of which will be found later in the variation pages.
Males grow to 1.5m - 1.8m, slightly larger than females, which only grow to 1.2m - 1.5m.
Pet Corns have the potential to live for over 18 years; records exist of Corns over 22 years of age.
Corn snakes are classified as beginner snakes because of their ease of keeping, but there is one thing that a new buyer must keep in mind. A lot of young corns can be difficult youngsters when starting out. Therefore make sure that the hatchling you buy is feeding well before you accept it. Furthermore they need basic conditions that include temperatures of 25 - 30˚C and a cage made of wood with a glass front, about 1200cm x 400cm x 400cm. Hide boxes should be added in the warm and cool areas of the cage. The preferred food is rodents - mice most of the time – although adult Corns will take small, sub-adult rats. Feed once every ten days for adults and every four to six days for hatchlings. They are placid and rarely bite – unless they mistake you for food!
Things to consider before purchasing your first Corn Snake:
Who will look after your new pet if you are away?
Can you get food easily from your local pet shop?
Can you live with a bag of dead mice in your freezer?
Can you handle feeding the mice to your pet?
Are you prepared to take on an animal that could live for up to 20 years?
Is the rest of the family happy to live with a pet snake?
* Can you afford all the equipment necessary to keep your pet happy?
* Have you done your research on Corn Snakes and their relevant care?
You should also consider the availability of Corn Snakes in your area and find out as much about local reptile retailers and breeders before deciding where to purchase your Corn Snake from. It is advisable to buy your snake from a reputable dealer or breeder and ensure that they have enough information about the snake's history before you decide to buy. Never buy a snake without adequate feeding and shedding records, as these can tell you a lot about your Corn Snake's state of health. Problem feeders and bad shedders can cause a lot of worry, so ensure that you’re Corn Snake eats regularly and sheds well before you decide to buy.
Choosing your Corn Snake:
Always insist on handling your snake before you decide to buy. This will allow you to notice any health or temperament issues before you take your Corn Snake Home. A healthy Corn Snake will be alert, bright eyed and flicking its tongue regularly during handling. The skin should be smooth and firm and there should be no traces of retained shed anywhere along the snake's body. If you are in any doubt about the Corn snake's health and well-being then do not purchase it.
Corn Snakes can be transported home over short distances in either a RUB (Really useful box/plastic tub with lid) or a cotton bag tied at the top. Most reptile retailers would provide these, but private sellers may not.
Quarantining your new Corn Snake is good practice if you have other snakes in the household. 2-3 months should be a minimum quarantine period.
With the odd exception, Corn Snakes are calm, docile, placid snakes that are hardy and thrive very well in captivity. Due to their temperament Corn Snakes are a recommended first snake to keep as they are relatively easy to care for and they also do not outgrow their welcome in the way that some Boas and Pythons can.
Corn snakes do make a good choice for beginners since they are easy to handle and care for. However, they are also favorites with experienced keepers due to the vast array of beautiful colors and patterns selective breeding has produced.
Corn Snakes make great pets as they are highly unlikely to bite and have pleasant personalities. If threatened their first response is to hide, rather than strike and they will occasionally warn of predators with a little tail rattling. If you’re Corn Snake rattles its tail this is nothing to worry about, just take steps to ensure that you’re Corn Snake feels secure and continue with regular handling until they become used to you and know that you are not a threat to them.
Corn Snakes are quite active snakes and will appreciate time outside the vivarium to exercise. Care should be taken to avoid dropping your Corn Snake whilst handling, so support your Corn Snake at all times. Approximately 10-15 minutes 3-4 times a week is a suitable amount of time for handling your Corn Snake, but this may vary depending on the particular snake. Some Corn Snakes will appreciate more time outside the vivarium, while others may shy away from regular handling.
It is important for hygiene reasons to wash your hands with a good anti-bacterial hand wash before and after you handle your snake. This is especially important if you have multiple specimens, so has not to pass on any infections between your snakes. Anti-bacterial hand sanitizers are widely available and are useful to have close to your vivarium for quick and regular hand cleaning.
All Snakes should be housed according to their size. Smaller snakes will be comfortable in smaller terrariums and larger snakes need to be housed in larger terrariums. A general rule is that your enclosure should be at least the length of your snake. You shouldn’t keep a very small snake in a large enclosure and let the snake grow into it because it will stress the snake out. You need to upgrade the size of the enclosure as the snake grows. Usually 2-3 upgraded terrariums should be enough in a snake’s lifetime. You can use plastic or glass terrariums or you can build one. Melamine wood is a good choice because it’s easy to clean and it’s cheap when building large enclosures. Make sure your enclosure has a very secure lid. Snakes are escape artists and they will find their way out if there is a way. You can buy screen lids that attach to the tank or you can make a lid yourself, but make sure it has good airflow.
A substrate is the flooring that you will provide for the snake. There are many different substrates to be used that are affordable. You can use news paper laid out on the bottom of the tank if you don’t mind the look. News paper is good because it is generally free and you can just through it away when it becomes soiled and replace it. You can use aspen wood chips or shavings and just scoop out the soiled chips or shavings. Cypress mulch is also a good substrate and is excellent for keeping high humidity in your enclosure. Never use Pine or Fir products of any kind. Pine and Fir can lead to respiratory problems with all reptiles. Lots of snakes like to burrow under the substrate so provide enough that they can burrow when they want to. Wood chips and mulch are good for burrowing snakes. If you use news paper you will probably find your snake under the news paper.
Inside the enclosure you should have at least two hide spots for your snake to hide in. One hide spot should be on the warm side of the enclosure and one should be on the colder side of the enclosure. Your snake should always have access to a water bowl large enough for the snake to fit its entire body in; the water bowl should always be full of fresh water. You can include decorations such as branches and rocks in your enclosure that have been properly sterilized. Just remember that what ever you include in the terrarium needs to be taken out and cleaned and sterilized when the snake makes a mess.
All snakes are poikilothermal which means they create their internal temperature from the ambient temperatures around them. Poikilothermal basically means cold blooded. Corn snakes expose them selves to the sun to gather heat or they rest on warm surfaces such as rocks to gather body heat. Corn sakes in captivity need us to mock the heat from the sun for them. This can be done with heat lamps and under tank heat pads. One side of the enclosure should be in between 70-75 F (21-24 C) and the other side of the enclosure should be in between 80-90 F (27-32 C). You can achieve this with a heat lamp above the enclosure or an under tank heat pad on one side of the enclosure. Heat rocks are not a good source of heat because they often lead to burned reptiles. Always use a thermostat to control the temperature of the enclosure and monitor the temperature with a thermometer; Full spectrum lighting is always best for any reptile. You can achieve 12 hours ON x 12 hours OFF with any timer. Lighting should be changed for breeding your corn snakes. See Breeding below for time differences.
Corn snakes should be fed according to their size. Hatchling corn snakes will eat one or two pinky mice each week. I feed my hatchling corn snakes one pinky mouse every five days. As the snake grows you should increase the size of their meal. You can feed your corn snake rodents (mice, rats) that are a little bit wider than the thickest part of your snake. Feeding the snake rodents that are too large can lead to regurgitation. You should always try to get your snake feeding on frozen thawed rodents. This will save your snake from being injured by a live mouse or rat during feeding. Buying frozen rodents in bulk and keeping them in the freezer will also save you money. Live rodents are more expensive and you usually need to travel to a pet store to pick them up. Thaw rats before feeding them to your corn snake. This can be done by placing the frozen rodent on a heat pad or in a bowl of water. It’s a good idea to remove your snake from its enclosure and feed it in a separate rubbermaid bin or box. Taking the snake out of it’s enclosure to feed it is beneficial in more than one way. Your snake will learn that it’s time to eat when it is removed from its enclosure and placed into its feeding bin. If you always feed your snake inside of it’s enclosure it will not know the difference between feeding time and any other time you put your hands in the enclosure. Although corn snakes are very docile there is potential of being bitten. Feeding your snake in a separate bin is also a good way to be sure your snake is not swallowing substrate along with its food. If you are nervous feeding your snake you can use tongs to put some distance between your hand and the prey. This should keep your hand from being bitten.
Breeding corn snakes is simple but should only be done if you are prepared to take care of the babies. Breeding is not necessary for the corn snake’s health and can even be detrimental. Before breeding corn snakes research and read books about breeding and caring for baby corn snakes. Caring for a large number of baby corn snakes is time consuming and sometimes challenging. Always research, research, research before breeding any animals and make sure you’re ready. Breeding corn snakes can be very rewarding and exciting along the way. Good luck breeding and raising your hatchlings.
Over the years it was believed that corn snakes needed a cooling period, but in the last couple of years it has been found not to be necessary as long as the female is well fed throughout the year. The gestation period is about 40-48 days depending on temperatures. Females lay clutches from eight to forty-two eggs depending on size and origin. The Okeetee corns, as we call them, lay bigger eggs, but smaller clutches averaging between eight and fifteen for young females and 15-28 for bigger females. Their counterparts, the Miami corns, lay much larger clutches but smaller eggs ranging from 18-32 for young females and 24-42 for bigger and older females. Corn snakes may often lay a second clutch if they are in optimum health.
The most effective way to breed corn snakes is to fake a winter season. A ‘mock winter’ will set your corn snake into a very inactive state, when growth and development slows down or even stops. This is called brumation. Brumation is a state of dormancy in reptiles which is comparable to hibernation. This can be achieved by dropping the temperature of their enclosure to 50-65 F (10-18 C) and changing the light cycle. The closer to 50 F (10 C) you can drop the temperature the better. At 50 F (10 C) the snake may enter a full dormancy when their development ceases completely. This will enable the snake to obtain more fat and come out of the ‘mock winter’ in a better breeding condition.
The first step before brumation is to fatten up your corn snakes. Start feeding your corn snakes a bit more often then regular or increase the size of their food slightly for about 2-3 months before brumation. Once your corn snakes reach a size and weight of more than 200 gr. stop feeding them 3-4 weeks before you drop temperatures. A 3-4 week gap between feeding and brumation is absolutely necessary. This allows time for the existing food in your corn snakes stomach to be properly digested and expelled. If you drop the temperature before the food is digested and expelled you run the risk of food rotting in the stomach of your snake; this can be fatal.
The second step is changing the light cycle. Changing the light cycle is not mandatory but it’s an effective trick. Brumation will occur without this step if the temperatures are correct. However, I like to change the light cycle because days get shorter in the winter and the natural light cycle changes. A normal light cycle is (12x12) twelve hours of light and twelve hours or dark. I gradually change the cycle a half hour at a time (e.g. 11.5 hours ON - 12.5 hours OFF) so it is darker for a longer period of time. Change the light cycle until the lights are ON for 10 hours and OFF for 14 hours.
The third step is to drop the temperature gradually until optimal temperatures of 50-65 F (10-18 C) are reached. You don’t want to go from regular temperatures to brumation temperatures over night. Lowering the temperature is a gradual process. If you can’t drop the temperature where the snake’s enclosure is located put your corn snake in a rubbermaid bin with substrate and a water bowl. When you put reptiles into brumation you must provide a water bowl. Reptiles in brumation will still be moderately active and need to drink water. Start the gradual drop in temperature in these steps that I use:
Place the rubbermaid somewhere the temperature ranges in between 60-65 F (16-18 C) and leave it there for 7 days.
Place the rubbermaid somewhere that ranges in between 55-60 F (13-16 C) and leave it there again for 14 days.
Place the rubbermaid container somewhere that ranges between 50-55 F (10-13 C) and leave the rubbermaid there for 30 days.
Now that your corn snakes have been through the brumation process for a month and three weeks it’s time to warm them up. This should be done in steps just like the gradual cooling process. Reverse the steps of cooling your corn snakes from step 3 to step 1 introducing your corn snakes into a warmer climate and slowly change the light cycle back to normal. Once your corn snakes have been introduced to their regular temperatures and light cycle you can feed them the same as you did before brumation. They might be a little on the skinny side, so feed them more often then usual or increase the size of food slightly. By this time your corn snakes have been through a two and a half month brumation period and it’s time to introduce them to each other between feeding. Your female corn snakes should be ovulating now. An ovulating snake looks like she has been fed a meal recently and it has dispersed through her stomach creating a slight bulge.
Introduce the female corn snake into the male’s enclosure and leave them for up to a full day. Paper towel or news paper can be used as a substrate to see whether copulation has occurred. Remove the female corn snake for 2-4 days then repeat this step a few times. I usually introduce my breeding pairs 4-5 times to be sure of fertilization. If you are using a single male to fertilize multiple females you may want to introduce him to the most important female first. Then introduce him to the other females and introduce him 3-4 times to conserve his libido and sperm.
Keep an eye on the females and continue to feed them regularly. If they begin to look gravid they will need to be fed more frequently. More food equals more fat and nutrients. Extra fat and nutrients helps the development of the eggs. So the larger the snake the healthier and larger the eggs usually are. As females get further into their pregnancy you will notice a difference in their overall size and weight. You may find it interesting to record her weight as she grows further into her pregnancy. It is usually about 6-8 weeks after mating that your corn snake lays her eggs. Females generally experience a pre-lay shed 10-14 days before they lay their eggs. This doesn’t always occur. I have heard of many snakes laying their eggs while they are still in shed. You can mist the enclosure to keep the humidity levels higher than usual and let her lay the eggs anywhere. Or a method commonly used is to create a humidity hut for her to lay the eggs in. Take a rubbermaid bin large enough for the snake to fit its entire body in comfortably and cut a large hole in the lid. The hole should be twice as wide as the girth of your snake. Fill the humidity hut with moist (not wet) sphagnum moss, vermiculite, perlite, or another recommended substrate for incubation. The corn snake will feel comfortable in the humidity hide box. She will more than likely lay her eggs inside the moist hide.
Set up an incubator before you expect eggs. I set my incubator at 79-80 F (26-27 C) with the humidity as high as possible. When your corn snake lays her eggs take them out and put them in the incubator in a rubbermaid bin filled with sphagnum moss, vermiculite, perlite or another commercial incubation substrate. The eggs should be buried about half way into the incubation substrate. If she lays the eggs in a clump burry the entire clutch, except the top eggs which should be half buried. The rubbermaid should have a couple small holes to allow air to pass through. Be sure not to flip or rotate the eggs when you put them in the incubator. The embryo will begin to grow when the eggs are laid and a small bubble of air is positioned at the top of the egg. If an eggs position is altered the baby will drown in its own embryonic fluids, so once the eggs are settled into the incubator its best not to disturb them.
When the babies hatch you’re going to be busy so prepare yourself and buy a lot of pinkie mice ahead of time.
Good luck breeding your corn snakes. I always like to see interesting hatchlings so send me a photo of your new babies if you think they are unique.