What Is A Corn Snake

For those who want a mild but cool reptile to keep as a pet, the corn snake is one of the most popular snake pets around.

The corn snake is a medium-sized snake with a mild temperament, making it a great and easy first pet to get into reptiles.

But before you run to the pet store to buy one, you may be asking yourself:

“What is a corn snake?”

What does caring for one involve?”

These are perfectly reasonable questions, and you may find the answers are shockingly easy.

There’s a reason the corn snake is considered the perfect beginner reptile pet.

Well, we’re here to help by going into the details of the corn snake, and to help decide if this oddly cute pet is right for you.

If you’re interested in other snakes, take a look at our picks for the best snakes for beginners.

Description Of The Corn Snake

The corn snake (scientifically known as pantherophis guttatus) hails from North American and is a constrictor “rat snake.”

It kills its prey by tightening it until death, and then the snake eats it.

The reason they’re so popular as pets are due to their docile nature, an unwillingness to bite, interesting look, and simple care.

They do look similar to the copperhead, which is quite poisonous, but the corn snake is harmless and help humans by controlling the rodent population damaging planting and spreading disease.

Adult corn snakes range from 2’ – 6’ feet in size and can live up to 23 years in captivity. 

Areas We Cover

Natural Habitat

The natural habitat of the corn snake is the temperate southeastern US.

They are found in these types of areas: 

  • Overgrown fields
  • Forest clearing
  • Trees
  • Palmetto Flatwoods
  • Abandoned farm buildings

Corn snakes tend to be ground-based snakes, staying there all the time for the first four months of their life.

However, they have been known to climb trees, cliffs, and other elevated areas commonly.

Corn snakes do just fine in areas with cold winters.

In areas with extreme cold, they hibernate and sleep until the weather warms up.

But for the places which stay milder, they’ll hide in rock crevices, logs, underparts of houses.

Then, when the sun comes out, they’ll emerge to hunt.

Although they’re less active in winter, so they hunt less.

Captive Habitat

With the natural habitat in mind, we can set up their enclosures as pets in a way which will keep them healthy and happy for a long time.

A corn snake’s habitat needs to include these six things:

  • Tank/Cage
  • Substrate/Bedding
  • Heating
  • Lighting
  • Hides/Furniture
  • Water bowl

Tank

Choose from a glass terrarium or plastic cage.

Glass is better for seeing into the enclosure, but plastic is usually more durable and holds heat better.

You could also make your own, but you don’t your snake to escape or hurt itself on poorly made parts.

It’s better off just to buy the enclosure.

Corn snakes will usually need at least a 20-gallon tank when fully grown, such as this Exo Terra terrarium

Substrate

The bedding or flooring is essential for corn snakes.

You need one.

It makes it easier to clean up after the reptile and protects its skin as it moves around.

There are different types of bedding to use which range from some of the following: 

  • Newspaper
  • Cypress mulch
  • Aspen shavings

Other beddings should be avoided because of health issues.

These include some of the following: 

  • Cedar Shavings
  • Pine Shavings
  • Aquarium Gravel

Heating

As cold-blooded creatures, corn snakes need an outside source of heat to keep their body temperature up.

In the wild, they get this from the sun.

But don’t just leave your corn snake tank in the sun and call it good.

It’s a bit more complicated.

Choose to use an overhead heating lamp to keep the tank warm or use an under-the-tank heater.

Warning!

Using an under heater with a glass tank could result in the glass cracking.

For those with a glass enclosure, make sure to use a heating lamp.

Unlike with some reptiles, the corn snake’s temperature requirements are a little more flexible.

The tank should be kept around 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).

For those using a heating lamp, you should aim for 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C) under the lamp and 65° degrees Fahrenheit (18° C) on the opposite end.

This allows the snake to move and change its body temperature as it needs to.

At night, turn the heater off and let the temp drop.

This is perfectly fine as the cold-blooded creature will just slow down or sleep as it needs to. 

Lighting

Lizards, such as bearded dragons, need UVB from a lighting source to survive.

Without these rays, the lizards will become calcium-deficient from a lack of vitamin D to absorb the nutrient.

Snakes, however, don’t need UVB to live.

They can get along just fine without it.

However, getting UVB exposure will help them get more vitamin D and absorb more calcium from their food.

It’s not an actual question of what they need, but what can make the snakes healthier.

While it’s unclear how much UV lighting impacts the corn snake, it isn’t debated it does help them.

So why risk your pet’s health?

UV lighting is affordable and easy to use.

Just get a UV fluorescent light or lamp and put it on a timer.

This way, you guarantee a little more your pet snake’s health.

Hides

The whole point of the habitat setup for pets is to match their natural habitat closely.

In the wild, you rarely see snakes.

They spend most of their time hiding under rocks or in bushes, protecting themselves from predators, and waiting for their prey to come by.

In their tank, they’ll want some furniture to climb and, primarily, hide under.

Make these with small boxes or logs you find outside.

Or, just buy some like this one from Pangea.

Water Bowl

Finally, you also need to include a water bowl.

The snake will swim and drink from it to absorb water.

But it also raises the humidity of the tank to its correct amount.

Corn snakes need a relative humidity at 45% – 50%.

Failure to do this isn’t terrible, but it may cause shedding problems which can hurt your snake.

It’s better to just put it in there. 

Behavior

While most wild reptiles would struggle in captivity, the corn snake is well-suited to being kept as a pet.

Their docile nature means they will enjoy being around people without too much stress.

Other reptiles may begin to bite, constrict, or defecate around such a different environment, but the corn snake doesn’t show these behaviors often.

The corn snake seems to enjoy being handled from time to time.

Most of the time, the corn snake will remain indifferent towards you (similar to a cat!), but if they feel threatened, their last resort is to bite.

First, they attempt to get away and hide or shake their tail.

This is a sign to back off for now.

Their bites aren’t poisonous and will only, at most, draw a small drop of blood. 

Health

In general, corn snakes are quite low maintenance and are naturally healthy in captivity.

In the wild, these reptiles live for around 6 years, but they can survive up to 23 in captivity.

Still, there are some common diseases you may want to be aware of as you go forward with your pet. 

Shedding Problems

When a corn snake is ready to shed its skin, its eyes will turn blue and opaque.

Within the next few days, it will shed the skin.

Occasionally, the skin won’t come off easily.

This is usually due to the humidity being too low for the corn snake.

This problem is easy to fix; just soak your snake in warm water for 24 hours.

Worst comes to worst, use tweezers to pull the skin off.

Egg Binding

All female corn snakes can lay eggs whether or not a male is there.

When laying eggs, one or more may end up stuck inside the female resulting in a noticeable bulge.

This problem isn’t extremely common, but it does happen.

If you notice this, take your snake to an exotic animal vet for an easy fix.

Other diseases/problems which are less common, but still good to watch for are as follows: 

  • Mouth rot
  • Mites
  • Constipation
  • Blisters
  • Parasites
  • Regurgitation
  • Respiratory problems

This may seem daunting, but keep in mind, these problems are rare and almost entirely avoidable with the correct tank setup and diet.

Warning signs to watch for which require a trip to the vet: 

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wrinkled skin
  • Abnormal droppings
  • Regurgitation/Vomiting or weight loss
  • Lumps or swelling
  • Swelling or discharge

Diet

Unlike some other reptiles which require a lot of balance in their diet, snakes are strict carnivores meaning they only eat meat.

In the wild, they feed almost entirely on rodents and small birds.

The biggest thing to watch for with corn snakes and diet is choosing the correct size of prey.

The general rule is to choose an animal no larger than 1.5 times the width of the snake’s body in the middle.

Corn snakes should be fed 1-2 mice or rodents weekly.

This is all they need, and it takes time for them to digest their food.

Corn snakes like to hunt and are less satisfied by pre-killed prey.

If possible, feed them live mice, but pre-killed and then thawed prey will do the trick.

Baby corn snakes between 10” – 12” inches should only eat baby pinkie mice.

These are normal baby mice, but they’re called “pinkie” because they lack hair.

These mice are easier to digest for babies.

Adult corn snakes between 3’ – 4’ feet can survive eating 1-2 correctly-sized prey every 1-2 weeks.

For larger corn snakes between 4’ – 5’ feet, they can have the same frequency of meals, but they are fed an entire adult mouse or two juvenile mice.

There are a few rules to follow when feeding corn snakes: 

  • Choose prey at most 1.5 times the size of the width of the snake at mid-length
  • Feed only one prey at a time
  • Let the snake digest 24 hours or risk regurgitation
  • Don't leave prey in the enclosure for any length or risk bites from the prey

Care

Corn snakes are one of the easiest reptiles (or pets period) to care for.

They only eat once or twice per week.

They don’t get stressed out easily and therefore avoid negative behaviors.

Corn snakes are hardy and healthy creatures.

They’re not usually picky with their diet and will eat any rodent you put in front of them.

They are able to be left alone for a more extended period.

Your biggest care concern is setting up their enclosure correctly, and even this is simple to do.

They don’t defecate frequently, so you won’t regularly be cleaning.

For beginner reptiles, it doesn’t get better than the corn snake. 

Reproduction

For those looking to breed corn snakes, it’s not hard to do.

First, you cool the snakes into brumation (which is like hibernation, but they don’t stay asleep) by lowering the temperature to between 50° – 61° degrees Fahrenheit (10° – 16° C).

After 60-90 days, raising the temperature wakes them up and enters them into the breeding phase.

After the male mates with the female, she lays 10-12 eggs, which then hatch ten weeks later.

Morphs

Corn snakes have remained popular as pets for a long time, and this has resulted in selective breeding practices which produce morphs of many varieties.

Some of the morphs include: 

  • Normal
  • Miami
  • Okeetee
  • Candy Cane
  • Reverse Okeetee
  • Fluorescent Orange
  • Fluorescent Orange
  • Sunglow
  • Blood Red
  • Crimson
  • Charcoal
  • Caramel
  • Lavender
  • Lavender
  • Cinder
  • Hypomelanistic
  • Ultra
  • Lava
  • Motley
  • Striped
  • Diffused
  • Sunkissed
  • Aztec
  • Zigzag
  • Snow
  • Blizzard
  • Ghost
  • Phantom
  • Pewter
  • Butter
  • Amber
  • Plasma
  • Opal
  • Granite
  • Fire
  • Scaleless

There are other morphs out there under different names.

All morphs are born out of breeders tracking dominant and recessive genes.