How to Care for Your Corn Snake
Table of Contents
Corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) are small- to medium-sized, semi-arboreal snakes native to the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico, and the Cayman Islands. They tend to prefer forested areas or woodlots for habitat, but they can also be found in meadows and barns.
Corn snakes are typically 3-5’ long, although they can be as small as 2’ or as large as 6’ in some cases. They have a slender, muscular body and an oval-shaped head. Wild-type corn snakes are orange or brownish-yellow with large, black-edged red or brown blotches down the back and a black and white checkered pattern on the belly. However, due to captive breeding efforts, corn snakes are now available in a wide array of colors and patterns.
Corn snakes are among the most commonly-kept pet snakes in the US, due to their hardiness, manageable size, and docile nature. This also makes them a good option for first-time reptile keepers. With good care, they are capable of living 15-25 years or more.
How much space do corn snakes need?
Because corn snakes are slender, many people think of them as smaller than they really are, keeping them in enclosures that are too small for them to stretch out fully, explore, and climb. The minimum for appropriately keeping one adult corn snake is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. This is just the minimum, so using larger dimensions is beneficial and will happily be used!
Can corn snakes be kept together?
Cohabitation (keeping multiple corn snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as corn snakes are not a social species, and keeping them together can cause stress. It is also likely to cause dangerous competition at feeding time.
Can corn snakes be kept in tubs?
You may have seen people on YouTube who keep dozens of corn snakes in plastic tubs on shelves. This may seem convenient, and even the pinnacle of keeping snakes as pets. After all, at first glance, the snakes seem happy and healthy enough. But the fact of the matter is that tubs do not have the features necessary to fulfill the minimum requirements for acceptable welfare, even for a fairly small corn snake, as tubs are generally lacking in light, temperature gradient, ventilation, and climbing space.
According to the Federation of British Herpetologists: “Outside of these specific uses the FBH does not support the long-term use of rack systems for snakes where the physical movement of the animals is severely restricted.” Corn snakes kept in tubs long-term are more likely to suffer from muscle weakness, obesity, and related health complaints.
Corn snake quarantine procedure
Note that it’s best to quarantine your new pet first. Quarantine is the practice of keeping an animal isolated and under sterile conditions in order to reduce the potential spread of disease.
Even if you don’t have other reptiles that could potentially get infected by anything the corn snake might be carrying, maintaining quarantine conditions for the first 3-6 months will enable you to more easily monitor for concerning symptoms and more easily treat them as well. You can do this with the enclosure that you plan to keep the snake in long-term, or you can do this with a large tub. As long as it is set up appropriately, a tub can make appropriate short-term quarantine housing.
Some rules for successful corn snake quarantine:
- Keep the snake in a separate room from other reptiles.
- Do not use the same equipment for the new snake as for your other reptiles.
- Fully disinfect the enclosure weekly.
- Get the snake checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
- Observe and/or test for symptoms of disease or illness.
A snake should be completely healthy before being transferred out of quarantine to its long-term setup.
Do corn snakes need UVB?
They can survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. UVB gives corn snakes all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
Corn snakes do best with low-strength UVB as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for corn snakes housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” enclosure are:
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed close to the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” above the basking area if not. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your corn snake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.
Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter. This helps encourage more natural hormonal rhythms and better health.
How to measure UVB for a corn snake
UVB strength is measured by UV Index, or UVI. This is most accurately done with a device called a Solarmeter 6.5. When you hold the Solarmeter vertically on the basking area at the height of the snake’s back, the device should read between 2.0-3.0.
Factors such as the density of the mesh over your enclosure and the exact fixture you’re using can affect exactly what basking distance is needed to achieve the right UVI.
What basking temperatures do corn snakes need?
Like other reptiles, corn snakes are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Corn snakes should have a basking surface temperature of 90°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be around 75°F. Surface temperatures can be measured with an infrared thermometer, but air temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your corn snake by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure, positioned over a sturdy basking branch. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Heat lamps vs heat mats
Heat mats have been historically the most popular method of providing warmth to snakes, and they can work as a primary heat source in undersized enclosures. However, the fact of the matter is that they often fail to warm the air in appropriately large and well-ventilated enclosures, increasing the risk of the snake getting burned by excessively prolonged basking. Heat lamps are far more effective at both warming the surfaces beneath them and increasing the air temperature of the enclosure.
This is particularly important to consider with day-active snakes, which are known to bask openly in patches of sunlight. This effect can’t be re-created with a heat mat, but it can be done with a heat lamp.
What humidity levels do corn snakes need?
Corn snakes need an average humidity of 65-75%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometers placed in the middle of the enclosure. This should naturally fluctuate between lower during the day and higher at night. Misting your snake’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. If you need more, moisten the substrate by mixing water into it as needed.
There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Always having a humid retreat is essential.
How to make a humid hide
Keeping a humid retreat available for your snake available at all times is important to keeping them well-hydrated. The humid hide in your enclosure will function as a burrow or hollow log would in the wild, offering a cozy, secure spot for your snake to hang out while minimizing the risk of dehydration. It is especially essential for a snake preparing to shed its skin.
Use an enclosed, easily washable container for your humid hide. There are many attractive pre-made options for humid hides, such as the Exo Terra Snake Cave and the Zilla Rock Lair. For a DIY humid hide, try an upside-down plastic storage container with a hole cut out for an entrance.
This should be lined either with a dampened paper towel or sphagnum moss to create humid conditions inside the hide. Paper towel should be replaced every 1-3 days, and sphagnum moss needs to be changed out every 2-4 weeks.
What substrate is good for corn snakes?
Corn snakes require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to cushion their bodies and help maintain healthy humidity levels. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
Ideally, this substrate should resemble what corn snakes naturally live on in the wild: soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. We recommend the following substrates for corn snakes:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to clean a corn snake enclosure
When you replace your snake’s substrate, this is a good opportunity to completely clean out the entire enclosure:
- Remove the snake from its enclosure and place inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container. This container should offer a hide, small water bowl, and a thin layer of old substrate from the enclosure for the snake’s comfort.
- Remove all substrate and décor.
- Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove leftover particles.
- Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
- Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other decor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time.
- If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
- Pour new substrate into the enclosure. Mix in water until uniformly moistened but not wet.
- Arrange décor. If your pet is easily stressed by change, put everything back where it was before.
- Reintroduce your snake to the clean setup.
F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution (1:10 dilution) can be used for disinfecting porous materials. The same can be used for nonporous materials, although the concentration of bleach solution should be changed to 1:50.
Can corn snakes have a bioactive setup?
Bioactive setups can work great with corn snakes because it can make it easier to maintain higher humidity levels, eliminates the need for routine total cleanouts, tends to have a fresh, earthy smell; and is generally very attractive to look at.
On the other hand, bioactive setups can be inconvenient because the vivarium needs at least one month to get established before adding the snake, and CUC critters may occasionally escape the enclosure. Setting up a bioactive enclosure is also usually more expensive than other options, and it’s best practice to partially replace the substrate on a regular basis to help reduce pathogen concentration and keep the soil healthy.
To create a bioactive setup for your corn snake, you will need all of the usual supplies mentioned in this article, as well as:
- bioactive-ready temperate substrate mix
- clean leaf litter and sphagnum moss
- sturdy live temperate plants that can withstand light snake traffic
- 6500K LED or fluorescent grow lamp, spanning most of the enclosure’s length
- temperate-tropical CUC (Clean Up Crew) organisms to maintain the soil
If it’s your first time setting up a bioactive vivarium, it’s best to use a commercial bioactive substrate mix, such as Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs, rather than mixing your own, as this reduces your likelihood of error. Appropriate CUC for a corn snake vivarium include dwarf white isopods, powder orange/blue isopods, springtails, and superworms.
What décor can you use in a corn snake terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate, hides, and a water bowl. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
Aside from hiding places, you will also need at least a couple of sturdy branches for your corn snake to climb on, as well as some live or artificial foliage to provide cover. Additional options include:
What live plants can be used with corn snakes?
Although corn snakes are fairly slender as far as snakes go, they can still be hard on the live plants in their enclosure. It’s important to choose plants that are large and sturdy enough to withstand occasional trampling and climbing. Here are a few options that work well in a moderately humid, moderately-lit environment:
- Spider plant
Note that larger plants are usually sturdier, which is one argument for using as tall of an enclosure as you can provide.
Are corn snakes good climbers?
Corn snakes are excellent climbers! They routinely climb in the wild, and although they are primarily seen on the ground, they can also be found on the ground. The only reason why a pet pet might seem bad at climbing is because it hasn’t had enough opportunity to practice. If you start your snake with plenty of varied climbing opportunities from a young age, it will learn to climb quite skillfully!
If you have an older corn snake that doesn’t have a lot of experience with climbing, start with low, wide climbing objects that will help increase your pet’s muscle tone while decreasing the risk of falls.
What do corn snakes eat?
Like other snakes, corn snakes are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake size:
- Hatchlings (<18″ long) should be fed once every 5-7 days.
- Juveniles (18-36″ long) should be fed once every 7-10 days.
- Adults (>36″ long) should be fed once every 10-14 days.
Prey items should be around 10% of your snake’s weight and no more than 1.5x its width. Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to approximately 100°F before offering with a pair of soft-tipped tweezers.
Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! Aside from offering mice and rats, quail, chicks, and quail eggs can also be used to create nutritional variety in your corn snake’s diet.
Where do you buy prey for snakes?
Most pet stores sell frozen mice and rats in various sizes for feeding to snakes. However, you can access a greater variety of feeders by buying from reputable prey breeders online. You may also be able to get higher-quality (healthier and more nutritious) prey from these breeders compared to what you would get from the pet store.
Do corn snakes need dietary supplements?
Corn snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your snake’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.
How to provide drinking water for your corn snake
Your corn snake should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Provide a water bowl large enough for the snake to soak its entire body if desired. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do corn snakes like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but corn snakes generally tolerate handling well. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick up a snake by its tail!
How to tame your corn snake
Taming your corn snake means teaching it to trust and feel comfortable around you. This requires consistent positive interactions to build the trust relationship. While a negative experience or two won’t ruin your taming efforts, it can slow them down, so it’s best to be consistent. It’s best to encourage the snake to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on its own, rather than forcibly grabbing it. Avoid removing it from its hiding places, as hides are supposed to be safe, private places.
You can prevent accidental bites by training your snake to tell the difference between food time and handling time. An easy way to do this is by tapping on the front of the enclosure with your fingernails immediately before offering prey, but not when it’s handling time. If you’re still nervous about your pet confusing you for food, use a roll of paper towels to gently tap the snake on the head to distract it.
Target training and stationing training can help increase your snake’s confidence in its environment and trust in you. Snake trainer Lori Torrini’s YouTube channel is very helpful!
Enrichment ideas for corn snakes
Enrichment is what good zoos use to keep their animals happy, active, and engaged. Some say that snakes are too stupid to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. Snakes, including corn snakes, can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in snake-appropriate ways.
Here are some ideas for enrichment activities that your pet is likely to enjoy:
- Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful, move one thing every so often at your snake’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month, for others they might like once a week.
- Puzzle feeders. This can be as simple as placing the snake’s prey in an open box or plastic cup.
- Simulated nest raids. Instead of offering one prey item, place a cluster of much smaller prey (ex: young rodents, quail eggs, etc.) somewhere in the enclosure for the snake to find.
- Supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get the snake out of.
- “Box of things”. Introduce your snake to a box or bin full of different items of different sizes and textures.
Signs you need to take your corn snake to the vet
Veterinary care is an important part of having any pet, including snakes. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet to get them checked out immediately.
- Noisy breathing
- Mucus discharge from the mouth/nose
- Unexplained weight loss
- Large patches of missing scales
- Discolored belly scales
- Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body
- Sudden, unusually aggressive behavior
This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some other great sources to read:
- The ReptiFiles Corn Snake Care Guide
- “Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner’s Guide” by Kathy Love and Bill Love