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Corn Snake Care Sheet

Corn Snake Care

 

 

The corn snake is one of the best starter snakes for anyone that is interested in the hobby of keeping and/or breeding snakes.  Corn Snakes belong to the Colubrid family of snakes, and the full genetic family name is Pantherophis Guttatus Guttatus.  These snakes are native to the United States and can be found in most of the mid eastern states, which include North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, and others in this area.  Now, they have become quite a commodity and captive bred specimens can be purchased in all 50 states, Canada, Europe, Asia, and most other places in the world.  They are probably one of the most interesting family of snakes as there is a wide range of color variations in the captive bred community (which will be discussed later on in this care sheet).


Purchasing your first Corn Snake


The purchase of your first corn snake can be a large decision or can be as easy as going to your nearest pet/reptile store.  Most people recommend that you purchase your corn directly from a breeder so that you will have accurate information regarding the history of the snake.  This info will include genetics, feedings, sheds, temperament, and any other information that the breeder may have.  Buying from the breeder will also give you access to answers of questions you may have on the care and keeping of your new corn snake.  Purchasing from a pet/reptile store may be cheaper, but you will be dealing with an animal that wasn’t handled very often, may not have been fed correctly, possibly exposed to illnesses carried by other animals in the store, etc.  Although, buying from a pet/reptile store can be just as rewarding when you find the rare morph that you have been looking for, or when you get a very strong animal.  So, the decision is yours as to where you purchase your new snake from.

 

Housing your Corn Snake


The housing of your corn snake will depend on a number of things including the following: Space, temperature, area traffic, area noise, humidity, and many others.  So, let’s take these all into perspective and talk about each individually.

1)Space

a.      Space is a requirement as you will need to decide on the type of housing based on the space that is available.  Space will also determine the type of enclosure that you will use and the number of snakes you can keep.

b.      Enclosures can be anything that is secure.  Most people use glass aquariums with a locking screen lid.  Others use Bins like Sterilite or Rubbermaid.  While others will spend time building a custom enclosure for their animals.

c.      The size of the enclosure that you need for each snake is dependent on the size of the snake.  A hatchling corn up to about 6 months old, can live comfortably in a 10 gallon aquarium.  6 months to 2 years will most likely need to be housed in a 20 gallon long aquarium.  And, 3 years to end of life may require something larger than a 20 gallon long depending on the length of the snake.  The rule of thumb is that the snake should be able to stretch the length of the enclosure.

2)Temperature

a.     The Ambient Temp of your house will dictate which room you will keep your snake in.

b.     The normal temperature requirement for a corn snake is to have a heat gradient in your enclosure.  You will want to warm side of between 83 and 87 degrees F and a cooler side of between 78 and 82 degrees.  You will also want a hide of some sort on both sides, and the water bowl will be placed on the cooler side.

3)Area Traffic and Noise

a.      The more traffic and noise around your new snake enclosure can cause a lot of stress on the poor little guy or girl.  Snakes are very secretive animals and do a lot of hiding to keep away from predators.  When there is a lot of noise and traffic, then they may not feel hidden enough and start to get stressed which can lead to aggression, infrequent feeding, and other problems.

4)Humidity

a.      Most reptiles need to have a certain humidity level to live comfortably.  Corns, not being of the Tropical family of snakes, can live on normal humid conditions.  Too high humidity can cause respiratory infections, and scale/skin problems in corn snakes.  A humidity of around 50 to 60 % will be sufficient to house your corns.

5)Space vs. Number of Snakes

a.      As you can probably guess, housing single snakes in aquariums can take up a lot of space.  This is where the Sterilite and Rubbermaid containers come in handy.  There are 2 main sizes to get to keep snakes in.  from hatchling to yearlings, you can keep your snake in a 12 qt container, and 1 year and older can be kept in 24 qt containers.  Housing your snakes this way will allow you to keep more animals in a smaller amount of space.

 

Heating your Corn Snake


Corn snakes need to have proper heating because of the fact that they are cold blooded animals.  All cold blooded animals use their environment to thermo-regulate (control their body temp).  This aids in the digestion of food, the speed of movement, and the regular activity of the snake.  As stated above, your corn will require a heat gradient consisting of a warm side of around 85*F and a cool side around 80*F.  This will allow the snake to find the correct temp for them to regulate to for comfort.  The heat gradient can be achieved in many different ways.  And the choice that you use will depend on the type of enclosure that you choose.  There are Under Tank Heaters (UTH), Heat Lamps, Heat Tape, Heat Rope, and heat rocks. 

 

NOTE: IT IS NOT RECOMMENDED TO USE HEAT ROCKS AS A HEAT SOURCE FOR ANY REPTILES AS THEY CAN OVER HEAT AND CAUSE NASTY BURNS.  ALSO, THE HEAT IS LOCALIZED AND NOT SPREAD THROUGH OUT THE ENCLOSURE.  But these can be used if controlled correctly.

 

1)        Under Tank Heaters (UTH) are a pad that you place under the tank (usually glass) that when plugged into a power source, produce heat.  UTH’s are not regulated and therefore can attain very high temps.  So, to avoid possible burns to your snake, you should invest in a control for the UTH, which can be a simple rheostat or a full blown thermostat.

a. UTH’s provide Belly heat and also heat the substrate.

 

2)                 Heat Lamps are just what the name says.  They are a Spot Light Bulb that produces more heat than a normal light.  These lights will simulate the sun in that they are high in the air and usually on for specific times during the day.

a. Heat Lamps provide ambient temp increases.

 

3)                Heat tape and heat rope are exactly like the UTH other than the fact that they are Stripes and can be used in long lengths.  Heat tape and heat rope are great for use with a Rack system.  Just like a UTH, heat tape and heat rope require a control to keep them from attaining very high temps.

 

4)                 Heat Rocks are sold to be used for basking lizards.  A heat rock is basically a UTH that is made to look like a rock.  You set this item in the enclosure and plug it in and it heats up.  However, the rock only provides localized heat and will attain temps suitable to burn and even kill your snakes and lizards.  It is highly recommended that you do not use them for any kind of animal.

 

Substrates


Substrates are the bedding in which the snake will live.  You will want at least an inch of bedding on the bottom of the enclosure as corn snakes like to borrow.  There are a great many types of substrates to choose from.  You can get everything from sand to recycled paper to mulch and even stuff that will resemble the exact floor of the forest.  Each substrate has its pros and cons and I will talk about a few of them here.

1) Shredded Aspen

a. Pros

                                                                          i. Substrate of choice by breeders and most in the hobby

                                                                          ii. Very clean and most brands are completely dust free

                                                                          iii. Purchased in a squeeze pack so one bag will last a long time

                                                                          iv. Easy to spot clean and doesn’t need to be replacedvery often

                                                                          v. Very easy to borrow in

b. Cons

                                                                          i. In Dry climates, can possibly lead to drier enclosures

                                                                          ii. When wet, it need to be replaced

                                                                          iii. Because of borrowing, snakes are not always visible

                                                                          iv. Sometimes messy when dropped on the floor

2) Forest Bark and Forest Bedding

a.  Pros

                                                                          i. Bought in a hard brick that you moisten to break apart

                                                                          ii. Helps to retain humidity

                                                                          iii. Easy to borrow in

                                                                          iv. Simulates the natural environment the best

                                                                          v. Can be baked, re-moistened and reused

b. Cons

                                                                           i. Hard to spot clean

                                                                           ii. Can harbor insects

                                                                           iii. Can cause the humidity to be too high

3) Sand (Includes any kind of sand)

a. Pros

                                                                           i. Cheap

                                                                           ii. Easy to spot clean

                                                                           iii. Can be baked and reused

b. Cons

                                                                           i. Dries out the animals

                                                                           ii. Gets stuck between scales

                                                                           iii. Clogs up the Vent of animals

                                                                           iv. Causes impaction in the intestines

                                                                           v. Irritating (think of what sand in your shoes and clothes feels like)

4) ReptiBark (and Equivalents)

a.      Pros

                                                                           i. Good substrate

                                                                           ii. Promotes borrowing

                                                                           iii. Helps with shedding

                                                                           iv. Stays relatively dry

b.      Cons

                                                                           i. Very dark and hard to spot clean

                                                                           ii. Insects have been found in packages bought new from stores

                                                                           iii. Expensive

                                                                           iv. Will mold when wet

5) Pine and Cedar Shavings

a.      Pros

                                                                           i. Smells good

b.      Cons

                                                                           i. The tar and scents are toxic to reptiles

                                                                           ii. May cause respiratory infections and even death

 

Feeding your snake


Feeding your snake can be a very educational thing to watch.  It is very interesting to see how an animal with out hands and feet can eat something that is bigger than they are most of the time.  All captive bred corn snakes are sold eating on rodents, which will include mice, rats, and sometimes day old chicks.  In the wild, corns will start of eating lizards, toads, birds, eggs, and pinky mice right out of the egg, and moving on towards larger food items as the snake grows.  When you purchase your snake, you will want to get some food items that are the appropriate size for your snake.  Hatchling snakes will want to eat pinky mice (baby mice without fur) after 3 to 6 months, you will want to move your snake up to eating fuzzies (larger than pinks, and completely covered in fur), then after about 8 to 9 months, you will want to start feeding your snake crawlers and hoppers (mice with eyes fully open, and moving around), after about a year and a half to two years, you will want to start feeding them full grown adult mice.  The rule of thumb for the size of the mouse to feed your snake is that the food item must be no larger than 1 ˝ times bigger than the largest girth point of the snake.  When feeding your snake, you will want to place the snake into a separate container with no substrate.  Then place the food item in and leave the snake alone.  Some snakes will eat with an audience and some won’t, so you will just have to figure out what your snake wants.   To be safe you will need to feed your snake Frozen/Thawed (F/T) mice.  These are mass produced and frozen in bulk quantities by a few companies in the US.  Feeding this way will save you from stressing your snake, and you will loose the risk that an adult mouse or rat will attack your snake and possibly kill it.

 

Water


Water is very important to a snake’s health.  You will want a water dish that is large enough for the snake to get his or her whole body in and submerse themselves if need be.  This will help out greatly when the snake is shedding.  Also, you will want to watch the water for signs of stagnation.  This is when you will want to change it.  Usually about ever 2 to 3 days you will need to change your water.  If your snake doesn’t defecate in the water or add substrate to it, you can probably stretch out the changing to once a week.  But please watch the water for signs of algae, mold and other bacteria.

 

Shedding


Any Animal with scales for skin will shed.  Snakes are no exception.  As your snake grows, the outer layer of skin will get too tight.  When the skin gets tight enough, the snake will automatically shed and newer brighter skin will be reveled.  Most of the time, snakes do not need any help with the shedding process.  That is, as long as the proper husbandry (housing) is practiced.  If your snake has a bad shed (shed comes off in pieces) then you will need to look at the way that you are keeping your snake and make sure that everything is correct.  Most of the time this is due to a lack in humidity, which can be caused by using heat lamps, the type of substrate you are using, and the ambient humidity of your house.  To raise the humidity, you can mist the enclosure with a bottle mister or place a few damp paper towels in one of the hides.

 

Caring for Hatchlings


Most of the time when you buy a corn snake, you will end up with a snake that is under a year old.  This age is called Hatchling age.  When a snake is this small they are very shy and easily stressed.  When you first bring home a hatchling, you should have your enclosure set up exactly how you want it, and introduce the snake to his or her new home.  Then, leave the snake alone for at least 7 days to get accustom to the new surroundings.  During this time, the only thing that you should be doing is changing the water in the water dish.  After the first week is up, you can start handling your snake and getting to know him or her.  Start with short periods of handling so that you don’t stress them out, and gradually move the amount of time up.  Also after the first week, you should offer your snake its first meal.  Remember that the meal needs to be the correct size for the snake.  If the snake eats, you need to leave him or her along for at least 24 hours for proper digestion.

 

Finally


This care sheet is only provided to get you started on your way to keeping a healthy corn snake.  In no way does this sheet cover everything that you will need to know.  Bill and Kathy Love have a book out called “The Corn Snake Manual”, which can be purchased at your local pet shop, or www.cornutopia.com, and this will provide you with just about anything that you ever wanted to know about keeping a corn snake.  Don Solderburg also has a book out called "Corn Snakes in Captivity", which can be purchased on his website: www.cornsnake.net. Also, there is a online resource that you can access called The Corn Snake Source, which can be found at www.cornsnakesource.com.  Thanks for taking the time to read this care sheet, and if you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at paul@pcarsreptiles.com and I will try and answer any questions you might have.  I hope that you enjoy your Corn Snake and that he or she lives a long and healthy life with you.

 

 

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