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How to Care for Your Corn Snake

How to Care for Your Corn Snake

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!

Cohabitation (keeping multiple corn snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as corn snakes are not a social species, and keeping them together causes stress.

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.

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 or warm hide. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

If the heat lamp is not enough to get the warm hide to an appropriate temperature, use a heat mat connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide temperature.

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. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Always having a humid retreat is essential.

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.

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.

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 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 weight:

  • 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 and chicks can also be used to create nutritional variety in your corn snake’s diet.

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.

Water

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!



*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
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