Pet shop Gloucester advice series – corn snake care sheet.
Corn snakes originate from the eastern United States. Their habitat varies from open wood lands to rocky hillsides. Adult corn snakes are relatively small, easy to feed and can withstand a large temperature range. They are generally good natured and therefore ideal as a first snake or for the experienced hobbyist alike. They come in a vast and increasing array of colour morphs. All corn snakes generally available in the UK are captive bred.
The adult length of a corn snake is typically 75 to 150 cm. Their average life span is 15-21 years, although they can live longer in captivity.
Choosing and buying your corn snake
Good health is indicated by the snake being alert and inquisitive, indicated by extensive tongue flicking in new situations; it should feel strong and not flaccid, in your hands. Good condition is indicated by a body cross-section that is more rounded than angular. Mites are tiny external parasites that suck blood and will appear as black dots under the scales or running across the surface of the snake. If you are offered a snake with mites, don’t buy it and go elsewhere.
The vent should be clean and free of any encrustation, indicative of diarrhoea. The body should be symmetrical, clean, and free of swelling, unless recently fed or possibly gravid.
A well ventilated, adequately heated, escape-proof vivarium is the best housing for your corn snake. Although most snakes are frequently inactive, long term accommodation should be of such a size that the diagonal of the cage floor is equal to more than half of the snake’s length. There must be no gaps between glass sliding doors sufficient to allow a hatchling to squeeze through. Rubber edging is available to seal any gaps All reptiles are “cold blooded” and need an external heat source to maintain their body temperature. Only one end of the vivarium should be heated. This creates a thermal gradient allowing the corn snake to choose its preferred temperature (25 – 30 C) Place a thermometer and each end of the vivarium to ensure this thermal gradient by monitoring the temperature range available. The maximum temperature of the heat gradient, can be controlled by a thermostat.
Gentle heat can be provided by using heat mats and more intense heat by spot lights or heat lamps. Wire mesh guards fitted over exposed, hot, heat sources will prevent burns, essential with ceramic heat emitters or lamps.
The floor of the cage should be covered with a dry substrate, such as aspen wood shavings, beech chips, lignocel, bark chips etc. Newspaper is best avoided, particularly in large cages, as it can be likened to the snake living on a skating rink; spinal injury can result.
Compact hides are good for the well being of most snakes, including corn snakes; placed at both ends of the thermal gradient provides the snake with more choice. Corn snakes will climb, and a piece of branch can be provided for that purpose.
Corn snakes do not need any special lighting but can appreciate UVB lamps that more closely approximate natural conditions. Modern LED lighting can be quite effective in a vivarium and very long lasting.
Cleaning and watering
A corn snake should be provided with a no-tip water bowl which is large enough for the snake to submerge in, especially when shedding its skin. Water bowls should be washed and cleaned regularly. Vivariums should be spot cleaned, as soon as droppings are produced, and disinfected with a pet safe disinfectant occasionally. Soiled substrate should be safely disposed of and replaced with fresh.
Feeding and Water
Corn snakes are carnivores and feed principally on mice or rats. Snakes consume their food whole. The food offered should be roughly a maximum of one and a half times the diameter of the snakes mid body. Feeding too large a prey item can result in regurgitation or even injury as the sharp claws go down.
Young corn snakes can be fed every 2-5 days and adults fed every 7 14 days. Adults in breeding mode may fast for many weeks. Frozen food should be carefully defrosted and then gently warmed to blood temperature. Never defrost or heat in a microwave and do not over heat as this can activate necrotic bacteria and cause food poisoning. When two or more snakes are kept together, the owner should ensure that one does not swallow another if they try to consume the same item of food; it is best to feed them in separate containers. Handling a snake before, during, or after feeding, or when the odour of its food is on your hands, is likely to result in a painful bite. Handling after feeding can also stimulate regurgitation or even injure the snake. Wait 48 hours – enough time for the food to have started to break down.
Regurgitation can also be caused by too low environmental temperature and some diseases.
Corn snakes seldom bite, but do need to become accustomed to gentle handling. The snake should be held loosely and supported at the middle and rear of the body, the handler’s movements being slow and deliberate. Never attempt to handle a snake until it has settled down and is feeding regularly. Reptiles can carry a form of salmonella. Good hygiene and washing your hands after handling your snake should be sufficient to prevent any risk of infection. Kissing your snake is best avoided!
The most common problem to avoid is crushing injuries to delicate hatchlings, often from unsupervised small children, during rough handling. Typical symptoms are sudden refusal to feed and inactivity, often followed by sudden death.
The snake’s eyes will become cloudy from time to time. This indicates that it is about to shed its old skin. Higher humidity in its hide is useful at this time to assist the shed and it is unwise to handle the snake as it could result in incomplete shedding as the out skin is broken up.
Respiratory problems are indicated by mouth gaping and/or bubbly mucous from the mouth or nostrils. Mouth gaping or inability to close neatly, due to swelling, can also be indicative of mouth infections.
If you are at all worried about the health of your corn snake you should consult your specialist reptile vet as soon as possible.
Remember you must never release your corn snake into the wild.
The Angell Pets Team