Corn Snakes

Advice and information on keeping Corn Snakes.

Country of origin

North America

Vivarium condition requirements for Corn Snakes

Many types of enclosure can be used to house Corn Snakes. For hatchlings and other juveniles, the moulded clear plastic tanks with a fitted lids are very useful. For larger animals the purpose made vivaria are probably more appropriate. The types with sliding glass doors to the front being especially resistant to escape. Another possibility is a converted aquarium. A special adapting lid is used to contain the reptiles and house any equipment that may be used. Any tank must have a secure top to stop the Corn Snake from escaping.

Heating the Corn Snake’s enclosure

Use a heat mat between half and two thirds the size of the tank to provide background heating. The hottest spot in the tank should not be above 32ºC while the coolest should not be below 20ºC. If done correctly it will be warmest next to the mat at about 32ºC, while the coolest part of the enclosure could be nearer 25ºC. A specific hot spot can be installed to operate during the day. Light should be present for a similar period; about fourteen hours in summer dropping to eight in winter. To be on the safe side a lamp like Reptile D3 or Natural Sunlight.

The importance of ventilation in the Corn Snake’s Vivarium

Corn Snakes cannot stand damp, stagnant or airless conditions. Fresh air moving into the tank is essential. Use the upward draughts caused by heated air rising to flush out the enclosure and drag fresh air in. A hiding place of some sort should be provided and an interesting branch, or cork bark for climbing and resting. On to the floor of the vivarium, Rain Forest, Aspen or Savannah Substrate shavings can be spread a very thin layer of no more than 1 cm. these will blot up and ‘clump’ any fouling by the Corn Snakes. Clumps of waste can be removed without cleaning the whole tank out. When you do clean the Corn Snake’s tank out, a routine cleaner for all nonporous surfaces should be used followed by a thorough rinse. Anything that cannot be easily cleaned should be thrown away and replaced. Any little graze or blemish on the animals themselves should be checked and disinfected. After dealing with the snake and its tank, a surgical scrub will clean your hands and surfaces. It is important to note that many of the parasites, bacteria and protozoans carried by snakes can be transmitted to humans and other reptiles.

Introducing the Corn Snake to its vivarium

Adult pairs may live together quite happily but will need supervision at feeding time. One Corn Snake may inadvertently eat another if they both start on the same food item. It may be best not to mix species or specimens of widely differing size in the same cage as some will eat others!

Handling Corn Snakes

To handle a Corn Snake, the whole animal should be gently held in the hands. Let it move through the fingers but do not grasp it too tightly. The hands should provide support and restraint is applied by slowing down but not stopping the flow of movement. Don’t be surprised if the reptile gives you a nip! The wound will probably be quite insignificant but it would be best to clean it like any other minor graze. Bites are, however, quite rare as a more normal defence in Corn Snakes is to threaten with a vibrating tail and empty strikes. Such behaviour will soon subside as the snake settles down to life in captivity. Many Corn Snakes are nervous when introduced into a new situation with strangers. Give them a couple of days to settle down before letting them be handled by new people.

Feeding your Corn Snake

An active Corn Snake will probably eat every 10 days or so. They should only be fed killed prey (rodents). You can buy such prey in bulk and freeze it. Defrost thoroughly before feeding anything to your Corn Snake. Do not feed anything of an unknown origin, such as wild or pet rodents or cat and road kills. Certainly, live food should never be offered to a pet snake.

A water dish kept full of fresh water should always be available. This dish should be quite small so that the snake can drink but makes total immersion difficult. A larger bathing dish can be supplied for a few hours, a couple of times each week. Damp and wet conditions lead to skin ulceration and other diseases.

Corn Snake health

Buying a Corn Snake: when selecting a corn snake, look for a well-fleshed body, no visible cuts or abrasions, clear, alert eyes, tongue flicking, no signs of mites or ticks. The vent (anus) should be clean.

Shedding: as a Corn Snake grows, its old skin becomes too tight and worn. When the snake is ready to shed the old skin, its eyes will turn a milky colour over the course of several days, and the body colours will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. Once the eyes have cleared, the snake is ready to shed. You can then help the Corn Snake along by soaking it in warmish water; this should enable to snake to shed easily within the next 24 hours. It may well rub itself against items in its tank to do this.

Illness: Corn Snakes can live over 10 years in captivity and are not often sick as long as all the normal hygiene precautions regarding humans and animals are observed. When you get your snake find an experienced reptile vet to guide you through any illnesses your snake may develop. Always take your Corn Snake to the vet if you suspect anything changing in its appearance or behaviour (though see shedding above).

A small handful of problems probably account for 90% of all captive disease amongst Corn Snakes. The first relates to skin and eye problems caused by dirty conditions. Small abscesses occur under the scales and eyes are often inflamed. Damp or wet conditions exacerbate the situation and the disease is avoidable if the vivarium is completely dry. In spite of them enjoying a bath, Corn Snakes cannot tolerate being wet for prolonged periods.

Another common disease in Corn Snakes is an infection of the respiratory tract. The snake will ‘wheeze’, gape and even sneeze. A frothy mucus will also be commonly discharged from the mouth. Raising the vivarium temperature may alleviate the distress but veterinary intervention is certainly recommended.

Sometimes a Corn Snake will be found to have a mouth infection, A cheesy mass may be seen in the mouth and soreness of the tissue is also common. The symptom of ‘mouth rot’, necrotic stomatitis, is indicative of a more general infection and veterinary advice must be sought.

Parasites can live on the skin of the snake too. Your Corn Snake should be checked for ticks and mites frequently.