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Corn snakes (sometimes called rat snakes) are one of the most popular snakes available in the United States. This popularity is based on many different factors: they are fairly small snakes, usually ranging between three and four feet in length; they will eat a wide range of live and dead prey; they can survive in multiple climates; they come in a wide array of beautiful colors; and they are very easy to breed in captivity. They are also very docile snakes, which make them an excellent choice for the novice or advanced reptile lover.
Since corn snakes remain fairly small, they do not require huge enclosures. Babies can easily be kept in a 10-gallon aquarium, and adults can live comfortably in a 20-gallon tank. Multiple snakes should be kept in at least a 30-gallon tank.
Corn snakes can live comfortably on many different substrates, since their native habitat varies so widely across the country. However, beware using materials such as cedar shavings, pine shavings, or corn cob bedding. Cedar and pine can be fatal to any snake because the aromatic resins are so strong, the snake will not be able to smell its food--even if the rodent is sitting right in front of it--and so it can starve to death. Smaller shavings such as aspen bark can be aspirated (sucked into the lungs) while a snake is feeding. And corn cob bedding will become moldy when wet, which can lead to fatal respiratory infections.
Safe substrates include shredded coconut bark, butcher paper, paper towels, thick shelf paper, or an inexpensive utility mat. Coconut bark can be purchased at most pet stores.
Like all reptiles, corn snakes are cold-blooded. This means that they require an outside heat source to keep from freezing. Corn snakes require one area of their tank warmer than the other, and will move back and forth between these areas to regulate their internal temperature. The warm section of their tank should be kept at around 80 - 85º F.
An external heat lamp or undertank heating pad will work well in any glass tank. Heat rocks should be avoided at all costs, because they pose a serious health threat to reptiles. Few heat rocks come equipped with variable thermostats, and they frequently burn far too hot. Snakes that try to coil on a heat rock often suffer massive burns, including fatal black charring on their bellies.
Corn snakes will eat almost anything--live or dead baby mice, small lizards, even insects--if they feel safe and comfortable. Be sure to provide adequate heat, which is essential to aiding your snake's digestion. Also be sure to provide a hiding place or two, preferably one at each end of its tank. A snake that cannot hide and feel secure may become stressed, and refuse to eat.
Hatchlings are tiny, and may need to be fed pinhead or tiny crickets until they are large enough to eat newborn frozen mice. As they grow, they will move to fuzzy mice, then to adult mice. Adults may be fed twice a week, but generally only need one feeding every 6 or 7 days.
Never feed your snake an animal larger than its own body diameter. It may refuse to eat or, if it does, it may regurgitate its meal. This can be potentially harmful to your snake (and nothing smells worse than a half-digested mouse!).
Also, be sure not to handle your snake too soon after feeding. Picking it up and playing with it just after it's gorged itself may cause the same reaction that babies suffer when thrown into the air just after a heavy feeding. Throwing up their meal is very stressful, and can cause severe trauma and even death.
Corn snakes drink a lot of water, so always make sure to keep their water bowl full of clean water.
With proper care, your corn snake will be an excellent, hardy, docile pet for many years.