By (Martin Spicer)

Corn snakes make an excellent first snake because of their manageable size and they have an unusually mild manner. There seems to be a rainbow of colors available, with new morphs being introduced each year. The reasonable prices of Corn snakes also adds to their popularity. But now that you have one --how should you set him up?

Origin :
South Eastern United States.

Size :
On average Corns will reach a length of 150 to 180cm (4-6ft) Reaching sexual maturity in their second to third year.

For a hatchling, a 24L X 24H X 18D inch vivarium is fine but a 36L X 24H X 18D would carry it through to adulthood, but these sizes are the minimum so the bigger the better. These tanks can be brought from me or a reptile shop. Make sure you have a secure cage, as they are extremely good escape artists. As with most snakes have an undertank-heating pad on one end of the tank to provide the snake with a warm and cool selection. For the bedding or substrate as it’s called, I use birch wood chips, which can be purchased, from good pet shops. I would make the bedding depth about 1.5 to 2 inches, because they love to tunnel through it. Always use a hide box for the snake to get "away from it all." It should be placed on the warm side of the tank (heating pad end). The hide can be something as simple as a paper towel roll or as fancy as the rock caves that are available, I use cork bark and cut it to the desired shape, which can be brought easily from garden centers or pet shops. The snake will be less concerned with the hide box's looks than you. He or she should also have a water bowl (placed on the cool side) large enough to soak in and stable enough to prevent tipping. Again, simple or fancy water bowls matter more to you than your snake. A good thermometer should be mounted along the back wall of the tank on the hot side, about 2" above the bedding. Other than these 3 items (hidebox, bowl, thermometer) anything else placed in the tank is optional. Most rat snakes will climb on occasions so branches or wood (cleaned and disinfected) can be placed in for looks, along with artificial plants (which will be knocked over enough that you'll tire of putting them back.) Rock work makes the tank look very naturalistic as long it is secure (you don't want a landslide burying or injuring your snake.) There are several products on the market to prevent slides. Aquarium silicone is a good one to use, as it is non-toxic and strong. Don't use hardware store silicone as it contains toxic additives to prevent mildew. Keep the bedding clean, removing the feces and shed skins as frequently as possible. I would change all the bedding once every six months, to stop any diseases forming. Keep their water dish clean and full of water at all times. If it is dirty, take the time to clean and disinfect it before refilling it. We have to strive for as a bacteria-free environment as possible. Setting up your snake's tank in this way will give your snake (and you) a good looking, comfortable home.

As corn snakes are usually nocturnal they don’t need to have a basking spot, because in the wild they get their heat from rocks which have heated up during the day by the sun. So a spotlight is not required, as they will get their heat from the heat mat.
I recommend using a florescent light, as these lights do not give off much heat so there is no risk of the snake burning it’s self. The heat pad will normally be sufficient to heat the tank, but if it is very cold you may use different means to heat the tank, like spotlights etc.

Corn snakes feed readily on a diet of pre-killed rodents, mice being the common choice. These can be brought from reptile pet shops or me, these should be slightly bigger than the width of your corn snakes body. Frozen mice should be defrosted thoroughly, by leaving them in a clean plastic bag for a few hours, until the stomach is warm. Feed your snakes one or two mice at one feeding per week, this will give you a nice sized healthy snake. The use of long tweezers is helpful in preventing cross-scenting from hand to rodent (especially with hatchling and juvenile snakes). If you don’t, your snake might think your hand is a mouse, because your hand smells like one from handling a mouse, so it might possibly strike but is not very likely to happen. If your snake does not eat there are several things that can be tried to feed your troublesome snake. First, place a newborn mouse pink inside the snakes enclosure overnight. If the snake does not eat it, then take the snake and the pink and place them both in a much smaller container like a lunch box overnight. If this still does not work, give the snake a couple days of rest then try again if not, You will have to try a split brain pink. This involves taking a DEAD pink and cutting into the head to expose the brain. Place the split brain pink and the snake into a lunch box overnight. This will often work. If not, then seek help from me, or a good reptile shop that has experience of troublesome feeders. Although the information above is a bit frightening and at times gruesome, do not be discouraged as most pet owners will never have to deal with these problems, especially with a corn snake. However, if you intend to breed your snakes then you will need to be familiar with these techniques.

Humans shed there skin all the time, but snakes can not do this so they have to shed a hole layer of skin to grow and get rid of any external parasites that may be on them. So your snake will shed every 4-8 weeks. About a week before they shed, your snake will seem to go dull and your snake’s eyes will go cloudy, this is a natural process so don’t get worried about it. Give your snake plenty of water so the skin can separate, at this time do not feed your snake as it can become stressful and your snake may not shed properly. About a day or two before shedding begins, your snake will become clear this is because liquid has filled up between the skins. If you are lucky you will see your snake shed it’s skin. It starts by pushing it’s head against a rough surface (a rough rock should be provided for this) and the skin around it’s head separates, the snake pushes it’s hole body through the opening and turns the shedded skin inside out. The skin will be clear in color and should show every detail of the snake in it. If you have a healthy snake the shedded skin will be complete. You can also measure the shedded skin to work out an approximate length of your snake. After your snake has shed resume your normal feeding schedule.

Here are some other tips on care:
1)Never feed your snake in his tank. He will get used to your hand having food and one of these days he's going to consider your hand food.
2) Never hold the food by the tail so your snake can take it from you. Their eyesight is poor and they use heat, smell, and motion to locate their prey. Let's see; your temp is 98.6F, you have the tail of the prey rodent in your fingers, so your fingers now smell like prey, and if you're shaking the prey, there is motion. Ever wonder why you get bit doing this?
3) Never handle your snake right after it eats. The stress can cause it to regurgitate, and that's not very appetizing. Leave it alone to digest its food properly for at least 48 hours.
4) Always wash your hands before and after you handle your snake. We all know why we do it afterwards, but I feel that washing before is just as important. It neutralizes any smell that may be on your hands. Plus. When you think about it, your snake, in his tank, doesn't come into contact with nearly as many germs and pathogens as you do in a normal day. Let's not allow him to catch anything from us (you never know.)
5) Don't overfeed. It seems to shorten their lifespan.

Corn Snake Breeding
The first thing you will need to know is if you have a male and a female. Corn snakes become sexually mature between 18 and 24 months before this time it is very difficult to tell what sex they are because there reproductive organs have not developed enough to be noticeable. The male Corn snakes have more slender tails (the tail starts where the single scales on it’s belly meet the double scales on it’s tail) that taper gradually from a wider base. Female Corn snake has slightly shorter tails that taper more abruptly from a relatively narrow base. This way of identifying males and females is a bit, hit and miss. So to know definitely you will have to have your snake probed this evolves inserting a metal pole with a smooth ball on the end into the snake’s vent, you can then tell what sex it is by how deep the probe is inserted. This is a very delicate procedure so only experienced people should perform such a task. You can have your snakes probed by asking a reptile pet shop owner to do it (they may charge you for doing it) or a vet that has reptile experience.

Prebreeding Conditioning:

Before beginning to breed your snakes, inspect them closely. They should be in optimal health and have good weight. They should have a minimum size of 30 inches and weigh at least 100 grams. If your snakes are smaller than this or are thin or otherwise not in optimal health, then wait until the following year to breed them. Otherwise, you may end up with a dead snake or experience problems like egg binding. The generally accepted method of breeding corn snakes involves a period of cooling called brumation which is similar to hibernation but the snakes still remain active to some extent. This involves first stopping feeding two weeks before the cooling period is to begin. This is to eliminate any remaining food still inside the snake, which could rot inside the snake during cooling and potentially kill it. After the two weeks are over, slowly decrease the temperature over several days until a temperature of about 55F to 60F is reached. Keep the snakes at this temperature for two to three months usually from December through to February. Check on the snake's health frequently, and change their water weekly. If any signs of respiratory infections are seen then warm the snake up and treat the infection. Do not feed the snakes during this time. At the end of the cooling period, slowly warm the snakes up to the normal maintenance temperatures and begin feeding. Feed the females as much as they will eat in order to fatten them up before breeding, but only feed small prey items first of all so they get used to feeding again.

After her first or sometimes second shed, the female will be ready to mate. Start to introduce the female into the male's cage. Watch the pair closely, if the female is ready for breeding she will produce pheromones from her skin which will attract the male. The male will start to chase the female and rub his "chin" along her back. Actual mating usually lasts about 20 minutes or so, but could last an hour or more. If they do not mate after an hour or two, separate them and try again in a day or two. If they do breed, then separate them afterward and reintroduce them every couple of days until she has been mated at least three times. This should ensure the fertility of the eggs. After the female has been mated, again start an accelerated feeding schedule. Feed the female smaller, easily digested food items every few days. She will need these nutrient reserves to produce the eggs. About six weeks after mating, the female will undergo a shed cycle. At this time you will need to give her a nest box to lay her eggs in. This box should contain moist (but not wet) sphagnum moss in a closed dark container. I use a plastic storage box (shoebox size) with a hole cut in the side. Remember to cut the hole larger than normal, as she will be swollen with eggs. About 10 days after shedding, the female will become very active as she searches for the best place to lay her eggs. She will usually settle down inside the nest box and lay her eggs, from 5 to 30 depending on the size of the female, sometime over the next couple of days. After she lays her eggs, feed her a smaller than normal prey item for the next couple of feedings. She will be weak from her pregnancy and small prey items will be easier for her to eat and digest. If a second mating and egg clutch are to be attempted, then again feed her on the accelerated feeding schedule. After her next shed, start to reintroduce the male as before. Remember though that a second clutch of fertile eggs is possible without a second breeding due to stored sperm. After the second clutch is laid, it will be even more important for the female to regain her lost weight. Feed her as much as she will eat until she has regained good weight.

Care for the eggs and babies:
It is critical not to rotate the eggs after they are laid and if the eggs are stuck together leave them as they are because if you pull them apart you risk rupturing the eggshell resulting in the death of the young snake. Unlike bird eggs, in snake eggs the developing embryo will attach to the top surface of the egg. Rotating the egg may cause the egg yolk to cover the embryo; leading to its death by suffocation. Note the position of each egg as it lays in the nest box and maintain this position when transferring the eggs into the incubator. The eggs should be placed inside a container (plastic food containers with the lid work well) filled with coarse, damp vermiculite or damp sphagnum moss. The vermiculite should be mixed with water 1:1 by weight. This should make the vermiculite damp enough to just clump when squeezed together, the same should be done with sphagnum moss. The container should then be placed inside an incubator of some kind that will maintain a temperature of 82°F (28°C) and should have good humidity so very small water droplets form on the inside of the box. Watch the eggs closely, if they begin to dimple or cave in, then add a little more water by light spraying with warm water. The eggs should hatch in 6 to 8 weeks but can take up to 12 weeks if the temperatures are low. Various incubators exist, but I just use a heat mat on a good thermostat and put the box containing the eggs in on top, I have found that this works quite well. A day or two before the eggs hatch, the texture of the eggs will change. They will appear to be thinner shelled. They may also dimple somewhat. When the eggs start to hatch, the baby (neonate) snake will slit open the leathery egg by means of a temporary egg tooth located on the tip of their snouts. As the egg is slit, a clear to yellowish jelly-like fluid will ooze from the egg, and this is perfectly normal. This is simply egg white as seen in chicken eggs. The presence of this fluid is often the first sign that the eggs are hatching. The babies will often remain inside the slit egg for a day or two with just their heads sticking out of the slit. Do NOT try to force the baby out of its egg before it is ready, as it will be attached to an umbilicus and yolk sac. Forcing it out of its protective egg may result in killing the snake due to dehydration, as water will be quickly lost through the yolk sac and umbilicus. Also, do not cut the umbilicus, as it will cause the snake to bleed to death. The umbilicus will fall off on its own in a day or two so wait until the snake leaves its egg on its own. Set up each baby snake (neonate) into an enclosure. When it is feeding time (usually after their first shed) separate the baby snakes into separate boxes, because if you don’t they may possibly eat each other, because two snakes might grab each end of the mouse at the same time and start eating it. When they meet they will either stop eating and suffocate because the mouse is stuck. Or the biggest one wins by eating the smaller one but this will result in both snakes dying because the one eating it wont be able to swallow the hole thing so die of suffocation and the other one will die because it has been eaten. I use plastic lunchboxes with many very small holes drilled into all the sides. Use paper towels as substrate and put the pinky mouse in the box with it. The baby snakes will usually start eating sometime after their first shed. Start them off on a thawed frozen newborn (pinky) mouse. If your snake does not eat there are several things that can be tried to feed your troublesome snake. First, place a newborn mouse pink inside the snakes enclosure overnight. If the snake does not eat it, then take the snake and the pink and place them both in a much smaller container like a lunch box overnight. If this still does not work, give the snake a couple days of rest then try again if not, You will have to try a split brain pink. This involves taking a DEAD pink and cutting into the head to expose the brain. Place the split brain pink and the snake into a lunch box overnight. This will often work. If not, then seek help from me, or a good reptile shop that has experience of troublesome feeders.

Thank you, for reading this and I hope this gives you some information about your snake, but don’t take my word for it read some other books about corn snakes to find out different methods of doing things.

©Copyright of Martin's Reptiles 2000