Corn Snake - Pantherophis guttatus
More corn snakes are bred in captivity each year than any other species of snake on the planet, so it’s no surprise that corn snakes are the most readily available snake specimens on the market today. The number of corn snake species and subspecies is in a constant state of flux, with most classifications these days being determined on a DNA- level. Below are several common variations of the corn snake.
Mexican Corn Snakes
This variety is found adjacent to Mexico in west and southern Texas. The Mexican Corn has a silver head and distinct greenish appearance that fades over time into a brownish color.
Keys Corn Snakes
Also called Rosy Ratsnakes, Keys Corns are found in several of the Florida Keys. They are marked by reduced black pigmentation, a disrupted belly pattern, and an overall paler appearance. Keys Corns can range in color from silver to orange.
Slowinski’s Corn Snake
Also called the Kisatchie Corn Snake, Slowinski's comes from western Louisiana and the eastern Texas pine forests. Kisatchie Corns come in a variety of colors; most are more muted than the average corn snake.
Corn Snake Size
Today’s corn snakes are descended from stock taken from all over their natural range, so the size of your full-grown pet corn snake will vary depending on its species. Some of the smaller types of corn snake that are found in the southern Florida peninsula and Florida Keys reach a mere 30 inches (76 cm), while types from the lower mid-Atlantic states can grow to a husky 5 -6 feet (1.5 - 1.8 m) in length. Corn snakes compared to pythons are very narrow in width and weight, weighing only about 2 pounds.
Corn Snake Lifespan
Corns that are kept as pets—not as part of a breeding colony—tend to live longer and happier lives than those kept for breeding. The record for the oldest corn snake in captivity was thirty-two years and three months, and corn snakes kept in zoos regularly live past the twenty-year mark.
If you’re considering getting a corn snake as a pet, just know that you’re making a significant, long-term time commitment.
Corn Snake Appearance
One reason why corn snakes are so popular is because of their extreme diversity in colors and appearance. Breeders are constantly coming up with new variations and color morphs. That being said, not all corn snakes are beauties.
Many of the larger, wild corn snakes take on a “dirty wash” effect, where their colors are muddied by a pigment called melanin. A snake’s look is made of two components: the pattern and the color.
Corn snake patterns can vary and are inherited through genetics. There are five main types of patterning that can be found on corn snakes:
Motley or Striped
These patterns happen when the corn snake’s dorsal (back of the snake) blotches are elongated and sometimes joined. This can range from a ladder-like pattern to a completely perfect and even stripe.
Banded corns are relatively new and still being developed. The goal with a banded corn snake is to have cleanly defined crossbands reaching from the ventral plates all the way down the snake’s back.
Zigzag or Zipper
This pattern phenomenon first cropped up in the 1980s in Florida. Zigzag corns look as if their usual square or rectangular blotches remain connected but have been split lengthwise and spread about, resembling that of a zipper.
Plain and Patternless
Corn snakes can also have a plain belly, which is a belly lacking in the checkerboard pattern that most other corns have.
Patternless corn snakes are also relatively new. Some breeders believe patternless corns to be the result of extreme striping effects. One interesting patternless corn species is the granite morph.
Corn snakes typically have a row of 30 – 50 large rectangular or square blotches that run down the middle of their backs, with the first blotch usually being connected to a spear-like shape at the top of the snake’s head and the last blotch resting on the tip of the tail. All of the blotches are outlined in black or another dark color, with the blotches themselves ranging in color from red, orange, and brown to a combination of the three.
The background color of the corn snake can be any shade of yellow to orange-red, or it can be more of a light to dark gray, or even tan shade.
Several of the most common naturally occurring corn snake morphs (phases) are as follows:
The Oketee Corn is essentially the “perfect corn snake.” The majority of Oketee Corns have deep red dorsal blotches ringed by crisp jet-black borders. Their base color can range from russet to bright orange.
Many corn snake phases are named after their native region, thus the Miami Corn. Miami Phase Corns typically have a silver-gray base color with a dusting or orange. Their dorsal blotches tend more towards orange than red. Miami Phase Corns tend to be smaller than other corns, averaging just 3-4 feet (91 – 122 cm) in length.
In addition to the naturally occurring color morphs, breeders have also been able to single out and emphasize certain traits, resulting in several highly desired color mutations. These are:
Meaning “without black pigment,” this is also called albinism. This trait has been bred to result in stunning, brightly colored creamsicle corn snakes and sunglow corn snakes, or it can result in a completely white or candy cane coloring.
Confusing enough, this is also known as melanistic, but it’s a different type of pigment that’s lacking in anerythristic corns. Corn snakes with this type of mutation lack red and yellow pigments and are predominantly black-and-white, gray, or sepia-toned. Sometimes there are traces of yellow on the throat or chin, but these are usually caused by pigmenting contained in natural foods.
Unlike albinism, hypomelanism is when the distribution of black pigment is lessened, and it can result in black areas turning anywhere from a chocolate brown to disappearing entirely. Basically, hypomelanism is a reduction of black pigment that increases the brilliance of the snake’s underlying colors. This can result in lava, sunset, or Christmas colored corn snakes.
The caramel color mutation is marked by a heightening of yellow pigment and absence of red and orange, which results in a cream or caramel colored snake.
Lavender corn snakes are quite striking, displaying a pinkish purple-gray pattern against a paler white or gray background. Some lavender corns have eerie red eyes that appear to glow, just like in the ghost corn snake.
This is when abnormal pigmentation results in various sizes of white blotches, or areas replacing part of the snake’s normal coloring.
Corn Snake Care Level
Corn snakes are about as perfect a pet as snakes can be. They are perfect for beginners as well as advanced herpetoculturists.
Corn snakes are calm when around people, and generally won’t bite or defecate when stressed, are a convenient size to handle, have space, climate, and food requirements that are easily provided in captivity, pose no danger to humans, are easy to breed, and so genetically variable as to always inspire fascination and awe.
Corn Snake Diet
Feeding your pet corn snake is relatively easy. Corn snakes are strict carnivores that feed almost exclusively on warm-blooded prey like rodents and birds in the wild.
A good rule of thumb to gauge the correct size of food for your corn snake is to try to select food items that don’t exceed one-and-a-half times the girth of the snake at mid-body.
Corn snakes enjoy eating mice and small rats, generally one or two items weekly. Corns enjoy hunting and feeding, so using live or pre-killed and thawed prey is best.
Baby corn snakes can begin to eat after their post-natal shed. For a baby corn snake that’s between 10 and 12 inches (25-30 cm) in length, a pinkie mouse (baby mouse with no hair) makes the perfect first meal.
Adult corn snakes between 3 and 4 feet (91-122 cm) in length do well with one to two appropriately sized prey animals every one to two weeks.
For corn snakes that are between 4 and 5 feet (137 and 152 cm) in length, a single meal can consist of one adult mouse, two juvenile mice, or one barely weaned rat.
A couple of tips when feeding your corn snake: Always feed prey animals to your snake one at a time; allow your corn snake 24 hours to finish digesting its meal before trying to handle it, or else you risk regurgitation; never, ever leave a live prey animal in your corn snake’s cage for prolonged periods. Leaving live prey animals in your snake’s cage can lead to wounds when the prey bites the snake.
Corn Snake Health
Common Health Issues in Corn Snakes
The following is a short summary of corn snake diseases and disorders.
Corn snakes are among the hardiest snake species in existence. Aside from being subject to the same array of disorders that can affect any snake (mites, parasites, respiratory infections like pneumonia, prey food bites, etc.), corn snakes can have issues shedding.
The shedding problem is almost always caused by a lack of humidity in the corn’s cage. When a corn snake is approaching its shed, its eyes will turn blue and opaque. This is the signal that it will begin to shed in the next 4-10 days.
It is normal during the shed for snakes to skip meals, as well as to become more shy and reclusive.
If the corn is too dry, the skin will shed in pieces, which can lead to bacteria growing where the skin stays stuck.
If your corn snake is having a hard time shedding, try soaking the snake in a dish of water that comes halfway up its body for up to 24 hours.
In extreme cases you can assist your snake in shedding with a pair of tweezers.
Remember that snakes shed their eye caps (spectacles) and that can lead to them skipping meals. If the cap doesn’t come off the eyes within two sheds, you should seek veterinary care.
Aside from possible shedding problems, female corn snakes have been known to suffer from egg-binding problems. This is when the female fails to pass some or all of her clutch of eggs, resulting in a pudgy fat deposit just above the cloaca, called “hips.” This is a serious concern, but the best advice if dealing with an egg-binding issue is to seek the help of an exotics veterinarian. Any female snake can lay eggs, even if a male is not present. However, those eggs would not be viable (fertile).
Corn Snake Behavior
Corn snakes are among the most calm and docile in the reptile world. They are not prone to biting, defecating, or constricting when under stress and they enjoy being handled from time to time. Despite herpetoculturists’ attempts at fully domesticating the corn snake, certain species, and especially babies, will revert to their natural instincts from time to time.
Baby corn snakes can nip, but most will settle down after some gentle handling. Whether dealing with an adult or a baby corn snake, their bite will only draw at most a drop of blood. When corn snakes feel threatened they will either try to get away or shake their tail (a move perfected by the rattlesnake but used by corns all the same). At last resort, they will bite.
Supplies for the Corn Snake's Environment
Snakes are escape artists, so when choosing an enclosure always make sure it was built for housing snakes and that you have some sort of a clamping or locking mechanism.
Aquarium Tank or Terrarium Setup
The average adult corn snake can live happily by itself in a 20-gallon long aquarium. An exception to this rule is when dealing with hatchlings or corn snakes less than 18 inches long. In this case you’ll want to start them in a smaller enclosure so they don’t get “lost,” and stressed out, and so that you can properly monitor their health.
A proper enclosure will either have a screened top or openings for ventilation. Make sure that if your enclosure has a mesh lid or front that the mesh isn’t rough. Snakes can injure themselves by rubbing their snouts against sharp mesh.
When it comes to substrates (bedding) you’ve got options. The key to keep in mind when choosing your corn snake’s substrate is that you’ll have to clean it and replace it. A good substrate will absorb fecal matter and stop it from spreading, cover the cage floor to give the snake traction when moving, and be visually appealing.
You can choose from newspaper and carpeting to wood chips/fibers. Aspen is a particularly good corn snake substrate because it allows corns to tunnel and burrow into it. Cypress mulch is also an option, but stay away from resinous woods like cedar, pine, and fir. They have oils and aromas that are toxic to snakes.
Branches and Shelters
Another feature essential to a good corn snake enclosure is somewhere to hide. If corn snakes are exposed 24/7 and cannot find a little privacy, they will become stressed out and sick. You can either make your own hide box from a shoe box or plastic saucer, or you can buy a fancy one from the reptile store.
Corn snakes prefer burrowing as opposed to climbing, but you can put branches and plants in your pet’s enclosure if you like the look. Be aware that, like everything else in the corn snake’s cage, you’ll need to clean it periodically. Whether or not you use live or fake plants is up to you, just make sure they are snake-safe.
Heat and Lighting
Corn snakes do not require lighting, but for some species the color looks better under daylight, so if you want to use a fluorescent bulb to enhance your pet’s beauty, go for it! Whatever you decide, never put a light bulb inside your snake’s enclosure. Snakes tend to curl around lights and will burn themselves.
Happy, healthy corn snakes enjoy a range of temperatures in their enclosure. This gives them the ability to thermoregulate, aids in digestion, and can help keep their immune systems strong.
Corn snakes thrive in the same temperature range as humans, between 70 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Aim for having an additional “hot spot” that your snake can bask on when it wants to warm up, and keep a thermometer there to ensure it stays in the 90-degree range.
Humidity (Air Moisture)
Last, but not least, is your corn snake’s water dish/bathing bowl. Since corns are from the humid southeastern United States, they like humidity of 40-60% or more.
Most homes have a lower relative humidity when compared to the outdoors, which can cause dehydration problems and incomplete shedding. To avoid these and other health problems, invest in a decent hygrometer to monitor your enclosure’s humidity levels, and make provisions for a more humid environment if need be.
You can cover some of the cage’s main ventilation areas to prevent the escape of humidity, try laying newspaper or aluminum foil on half of the screen of an aquarium, or add a second, larger water dish inside the enclosure.
Corn snakes like to soak in their water, but if they are too hot or too dry they’ll spend prolonged periods submerged. Monitor the amount of time your corn snake spends soaking. Prolonged soaking can be a sign of illness, improper enclosure temperatures, or a mite infestation.
Habitat and History of the Corn Snake
Corn snakes originate in North America and were first noticed in the corn hutches of Native American Indians, where the snakes would feast on mice that came to eat the corn. Corn snakes are still well tolerated in the wild today because they help to keep rodent populations under control. Corn snakes are members of the large common snake family called Colubridae. That makes them relatives to kings, milks, garters, waters, bulls, pines, and racers.
Corn snakes are medium-sized and like to come out to hunt for food around dusk and early evenings. Their natural habitat ranges from fields to woodlands and they can often be found crawling across southern roads shortly before sundown.
Despite being so naturally plentiful, the corn snake is highly bred to achieve an additional number of amazing color morphs and patterns.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Adam Denish, VMD.
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