Corn snakes are members of a group of snakes referred to as colubrids, which are found in every part of the world except Antarctica. Corn snakes, however, are only found in North America. In the United States, they can be found from New Jersey down to the Florida Keys and as far west as Illinois and the Mississippi River Valley. They vary in size and coloration, but the most common coloration is a dark orange-red color with crisp, black-edged dorsal saddles, a coloring that is found mostly on corn snakes in South Carolina.
Corn snakes are predatory and will prey upon any warm-blooded mammal. Mice, rats, chipmunks, moles, and rabbits are common prey. On rare occasions, corn snakes will eat lizards. To find their food, corn snakes have been known to search in a wide variety of places, including treetops, attics, and barn lofts.
Adult corn snakes generally grow to be between 30 inches and 70 inches long. Even at the high end of that range, these relatively small animals can easily coil up small enough to fit in their owner's open palms. Corn snakes can live to be quite old. If one is purchased at an appropriate age (between 3 and 6 months) and is taken very good care of, he can live for 25 or 30 years.
Corn snakes have hearty appetites and generally have no trouble feeding in captivity. However, some corn snakes will refuse to eat in the daytime and may only be comfortable eating in the dark. If this is the case, drop the food into his cage just before turning out the lights and then check back to make sure the food has been eaten. Corn snakes are generally very anxious to get to their food, so using feeding tongs to keep the food as far away from your fingers as possible is a good idea.
Rodents are usually the food of choice for corn snakes, mainly mice and rats. Chicks and chicken eggs can also be fed, but they should be reserved as a treat food and not served as a meal. Feeding your corn snake a chick every few weeks will help to promote healthy scales and shedding cycles because of the protein content.
All snakes should be willing to accept live prey, as this is the form of food that is most natural for them. Monitor the feeding situation closely, however, as live prey can injure your corn snake. If he does not eat within one hour of the food's introduction, remove the prey from the cage and try again in a few days.
Pre-killed prey is often considered to be the more humane type of food. Pre-killed prey is frozen and must be thawed to room temperature before feeding it to your corn snake. Some snakes are unwilling to accept frozen prey, but they may possibly by enticed if you hold the prey with a pair of tongs (never with your hand!) and gently wiggle it in front of them. Once he is interested, a snake will generally strike at frozen prey and go through all the motions of killing it before actually eating it.
It is important to maintain a feeding schedule, making sure not to feed your snake too often or not often enough. By following a schedule, it will be easy to keep track of exactly how often your snake is receiving food and how much food each time. Hatchling corn snakes require a large amount of food, as they are developing rapidly during this time. Older specimens also generally require a significant amount of food. The most common exceptions are sick corn snakes or female snakes that are about to be bred, who may need to have their feeding amounts and frequency altered, at least for a time.
Due to their relatively small size, corn snakes can generally live their entire lives in a 75-gallon terrarium, or even smaller. No matter what size it is, it should always be large enough for your pet to be able to fully stretch out without touching any part of the glass. It should also have a secure lock on the lid. Snakes are known escape artists and their ability to squeeze through small spaces should never be underestimated.
The bottom of any terrarium should be covered with some sort of substrate. Some common materials used to create substrate are bark chips, mulch, coconut husks, unbleached paper towels, and pelleted bedding. Substrate should never be made out of jagged rock pieces, printed paper towels, or cedar shavings, as they can affect the snake's lungs and cause skin blisters.
Some hobbyists like to include live plants in their terrarium. While living plants look beautiful, they cannot be decontaminated and may harbor harmful organisms. Also, these plants are very easily destroyed by any snake. Artificial plants, however, are easily cleaned, hardy, and can make a very natural-looking addition to any terrarium. Ferns, vines, and other plants with large leaves are great options.
Another important part of creating a snake terrarium is providing hiding places. In the wild, snakes are able to hide from predators and they need to feel this security in captivity, even though there will likely not be any predators around. A snake that has no where to hide will quickly become stressed and may eventually refuse to eat. Some common hides include hollow logs, clay pots, PVC pipe, and commercially available hide boxes.
Many snakes have very specific lighting needs, but corn snakes are not among them. While providing your corn snake with some sort of ultraviolet light will be beneficial for his overall health, corn snakes do not require ultraviolet light to metabolize their food and vitamins. Standard incandescent light bulbs will provide light for the aquarium and also a considerable amount of heat. The terrarium should have an area where the temperature is kept between 72° and 75°F and a basking area that remains between 82° and 84°F.
Corn snakes are hardy animals and fairly resistant to most ailments and diseases. However, there are some conditions that any owner should be aware of because of their commonness.
Mites and Ticks
Snakes are often afflicted by parasites, especially ticks and mites. Mites are very tiny creatures that are usually found on and under a snake's scales, on the rims of the eyes, or around the vent. They come out of their hiding places at night and suck the blood of their host, which can cause a snake to become anemic. Mites are also thought to be disease transmitters. They can be difficult to spot, but their silvery droppings give them away, normally appearing on the snake and in other places. Mites multiply very quickly and can do significant damage to your snake's health if left untreated.
If your corn snake has mites, place him in a covered container with shallow water for three or four hours. While he is soaking, thoroughly clean and disinfect his terrarium and everything in it. Remove the snake from the water and dry him before returning him to his terrarium.
Ticks are not as small as mites and can be found between a snake's scales. They can be removed by swabbing them with a bit of rubbing alcohol and then grabbing them with a pair of tweezers. If you dab a small amount of petroleum jelly or mineral oil on the spot where the tick is located about an hour before you attempt removal, the process should be much easier.
By disinfecting branches, rocks, and other natural items before placing them in your corn snake's cage, you will be able to avoid most mites and ticks. You should also isolate a new corn snake before adding him to your collection. The easiest way to prevent a mite or tick infestation is to plan ahead and take precautions.
When a snake's throat and lung become infected by bacteria or fungi, it is called mouth rot. Symptoms include red, inflamed gums, refusal to eat, frequent opening of the mouth, and the formation of a whitish exudate in the mouth. If your snake has mouth rot, place him in a hospital tank and raise the temperature to about 88°F with a cooler spot of about 80°F. A visit to the veterinarian should follow soon after.
Pneumonia, an infection of a snake's respiratory tract, is one of the most dangerous snake ailments. Since corn snakes have only one functioning lung, an infection can quickly be fatal. Symptoms of pneumonia include heavy breathing, frequent hissing, frequent opening of the mouth, and excessive mucus or saliva discharge. If you think your snake is suffering from pneumonia, he should see the veterinarian right away.
Blister disease occurs when a corn snake is housed incorrectly. It is caused by bacteria on the skin and scales, brought on by dirty living conditions and high humidity levels in a terrarium. If a snake has developed blister disease, the scales on his belly will turn yellow or brown, and he will develop a series of tiny white or yellow bumps. If left untreated, these bumps can quickly turn into lesions, open sores, and pustules, and recovery is unlikely at this point.
If your snake develops signs of blister disease, a thorough terrarium cleaning is necessary. Remove all substrate, sterilize the entire terrarium, and move your corn snake into a hospital tank. You should also bathe him in warm water and put hydrogen peroxide on the infected areas. If this treatment is unsuccessful and his symptoms worsen, a trip to the vet is pertinent.
Dysecdysis is a word used to describe a variety of shedding difficulties. It occurs when a snake attempts to shed but some old skin is retained on some part of the body, quite often the eyes. This skin will harden and cause improper shedding cycles in the future. Eventually, multiple layers of leftover skin will develop and will cause the snake to be virtually blind.
Whenever your snake sheds, you should inspect him closely to make sure all old skin has come off, particularly in the eye area. If a piece has remained, remove it by carefully swabbing the eye with a cotton swab dipped in warm water. Then, use a pair of tweezers to pluck at the edge of the skin until it breaks free.
Holding a snake can be a relatively safe and enjoyable experience, but some precautions should be taken. First of all, always wash your hands before and after handling your corn snake, particularly if you were recently handling his food. Snakes have a much better sense of smell than sight, so he will probably not be able to tell the difference between an actual rodent and your hand that smells like a rodent— and you certainly don't want to be mistaken for a snack! A thorough washing before and after handling your snake will also significantly lower your chances of contracting any dangerous bacteria from your snake, or vice versa.
The more a snake is handled, the more comfortable it will become with being handled. However, be sure to pay close attention to your snake when you're getting ready to take him out of his cage. If he seems reluctant to be lifted or hisses at you, think twice.
Do not allow your corn snake to wrap himself around your neck. The muscle movement of a snake's coils can constrict blood vessels in the neck and render a person unconscious in moments. Particularly when handling larger snakes, make sure there is another person around, just in case the unthinkable happens and you need someone to loosen the snake's hold on you.
A huge part of keeping your corn snake happy and healthy is to make sure you have all of the supplies his keeping requires. The following is a list of some of most important supplies your corn snake will need:
Cage (an aquarium with a secure lid or a wooden terrarium)
Heat Source (an undertank heating pad)
Food (rodents or other small animals, live or pre-killed)