Corn Snakes are the most popular pet snakes in the world, and they’re ideal for a first time snake owner. This Corn Snake care sheet includes everything you’ll need to get started with your Corn Snake and to look after it well, even if you’ve never kept a snake before.
To supplement our Corn Snake care sheet, there are a few books we recommend. They include more information than a single webpage ever could, so they’re well worth checking out. The best books about Corn Snake care are:
- Corn Snakes in Captivity (Professional Breeders Series)
- Corn & Rat Snakes (Complete Herp Care)
- Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner’s Guide
Corn Snake Size
Corn Snakes are moderately sized snakes, with adults normally reaching a length of around 3′-5′. A few individuals may grow as large as 6′ long.
Corn Snake Lifespan
A captive Corn Snake should live for about 16-20 years if it’s cared for properly, and some will even go a few years beyond this. Owning one of these reptiles is definitely a long term commitment. In the wild it would be unusual for a Corn Snake to live longer than a decade, and most will only survive for seven or eight years.
Corn Snake Cage
An adult Corn Snake should ideally be given a long 40 gallon vivarium, but many owners keep their pets in tanks as small as 20 gallons. This isn’t always a problem, but your snake will definitely be happier in a tank larger than 20 gallons. Tanks with sliding front doors are perfect as these snakes don’t like to be approached from above. Front doors also make stacking tanks much simpler if you own more than one snake, although a tank that only opens at the top should be fine for a single animal.
Our tank of choice for adult Corn Snakes is the Large Wide Exo Terra All Glass Terrarium. At 50 gallons it’s much bigger than it needs to be, but not so big that it will stress your snake. This gives you huge amounts of space to furnish the tank however you see fit, and your Corn Snake will absolutely love it.
When choosing a Corn Snake tank, you need to watch out for the tank lid – if the lid cannot be securely clamped down, buy a different tank! Corn Snakes are the Houdinis of the reptile world, and if there’s any way to escape, they will most definitely find it. Poorly secured lids are always a favorite escape route.
For the first 12-18 months of their lives, Corn Snakes should be kept in a faunarium or other solid plastic box, as a larger enclosure will make them nervous and stressed and they may not feed. Young Corn Snakes will occasionally even manage to squeeze out of the gap between sliding vivarium doors, so four immovable walls are essential.
Corn Snake Substrate
Newspaper is widely used as a substrate because it’s cheap and easy to replace whenever it needs cleaning, but it’s not the most attractive choice and very different from a Corn Snake’s natural habitat. Aspen shavings are a better option. They’re absorbent, they look much nicer and they hold their shape when snakes burrow. When any of the substrate becomes soiled, shavings are to spot clean (just scoop out and replace).
Another good choice is cypress mulch, but aromatic woods like cedar and pine should always be avoided for your snake’s health. Reptile carpet is also an option, but Corn Snakes will often burrow and hide beneath it, which could hurt or burn them if they hide directly over the heat mat.
The substrate should be up to 1″ thick over most of the vivarium, but only put a thin covering over the warmer end where the heat mat is (more on this below).
Corn Snake Hides
Your snake will also need at least one hide. Corn Snakes love having somewhere safe and secure to retreat into and curl up inside. Your Corn Snake should be able to easily slide in and out, and there has to be enough room for it to curl up inside. This means you’ll need to buy larger hides over the years as your snake grows, but the hide should never be too roomy. An oversized hide is likely to stress your snake as it won’t feel as secure as it should.
You can use your imagination when it comes to hides. They could be made from toilet roll tubes or just about anything else. The easiest and longest-lasting solution is to buy a commercially available cave or an artificial log – the choice is yours.
Your Corn Snake will be especially happy if it has access to two hides, one above the heat mat (with substrate between the mat and the hide) and one at the opposite end of the tank. In an ideal world the tank would be big enough for a third hide somewhere in the middle, but few owners provide this. Hides in different places allow your snake to regulate its temperature effectively even when it wants to hide away from the world.
Anything in the tank that is soiled should be cleaned and/or replaced as appropriate. In addition, the whole tank needs to be cleaned thoroughly every few weeks. This is important to prevent mold or fungi from building up.
Corn Snake Temperature
While they don’t require tropical temperatures, Corn Snakes do need to be kept warmer than room temperature in a tank kept at between 70F-88F. Heat mats are the best way to do this. You absolutely must plug the heat mat into a thermostat – overheating catastrophes can burn your snake, or even cook them in a worst-case scenario. Thermostats are not an optional extra.
You’ll want to ensure a temperature gradient across your Corn Snake’s tank, so the heat mat should only cover one side of the tank – about a third of the base is ideal. The area of the tank with the heat mat underneath always needs at least a thin covering of substrate to protect your snake.
Corn Snake Humidity
Humidity is rarely a concern with Corn Snakes as they don’t need a particularly humid environment. They do require slightly higher humidity when shedding, so consider adding a clump of damp moss or lightly spraying your snake’s tank at this time. The skin should come off cleanly and in one piece if the humidity is high enough.
Corn Snake Lighting
Corn Snakes don’t have any special lighting requirements, but it’s good for them to get plenty of natural light to maintain their internal body clocks. For this reason you should always turn off any artificial lighting at night.
Corn Snake Diet
An adult Corn Snake should be fed a mouse about once every ten days, or a small rat if you have a large snake. Some Corn Snakes will also eat chicks, but mice are the standard. It’s easiest to buy frozen mice, which should be thoroughly defrosted in warm water – please don’t use a microwave!
Smaller Corn Snakes obviously require smaller prey animals and should be fed about twice a week. As your snake grows, gradually increase the size of its meals. Start by feeding a single pinky mouse, then move up to two at a time, three at a time and then move onto a single ‘fuzzy’ mouse and so on until you have an adult snake eating adult mice. Each progression should only be made if your snake is still hungry after being fed, which they make obvious by continuing to hunt around their enclosure rather than retreating to a hide or basking.
It’s always best to feed your snake pre-killed food. A mouse or rat with nowhere to run could injure your snake.
There are a number of reasons your Corn Snake might stop eating. The most common is environmental conditions – if it’s too cold, your snake might go off its food. Get a good terrarium thermometer and check. It’s also possible that your snake is about to shed its skin, in which case its appetite will return with vigor when it’s finished shedding.
If your Corn Snake still refuses to eat after shedding and turning up the temperature, there could be a more serious problem. Make an appointment with your nearest exotic pet vet and get your snake checked out.
Corn Snake Water
A water dish is an essential addition to your snake tank. It should be several inches wide and heavy enough that your snake can’t accidentally tip it over. The water bowl should be cleaned and refilled with fresh water every day. Corn Snakes will sometimes defecate in their own drinking water – you should clean and refill the water dish as soon as you see this has happened.
In their first year, Corn Snakes should only be given bottled water in order to prevent a dangerous internal buildup of chemicals. Older snakes are probably okay with tap water, but bottled water is still preferred.
Corn Snake Shedding
Snakes regularly shed their skin as they grow too large for it. The whole process takes between 7-10 days, and they are unlikely to eat during this time and will probably be irritable, sometimes striking at you or other foreign objects. Before the skin is shed it will appear duller than normal and lose its sheen, and the eyes will appear milky. This results in temporarily poor eyesight, which is thought to be the cause of otherwise uncharacteristic striking. Many snakes will soak in their water bowl before shedding. They need higher humidity at this time, so lightly misting the substrate to increase humidity is a good idea if you don’t see your snake soaking.
If everything goes well, your Corn Snake’s skin will come off in a single piece. However sometimes a few bits will get left over. Most of these can be removed with warm, damp cotton wool. Any old skin still attached to your snake’s eyelids requires more delicate care and should only be removed by a vet. Remove the shed skin from the tank as soon as possible.
Handling a Corn Snake
Corn Snakes are much more laid back about being handled than most snake species, but you must still always take care when handling your snake. You should leave them alone for a few days after being relocated as an unsettled snake is far more likely to strike you. Handling within 48 hours of a feed is also unwise, unless you have a particular fondness for having your clothes covered in regurgitated food. You should also wash and dry your hands before and after handling your Corn Snake to prevent the spread of bacteria, both from the snake to you and from you to the snake.
If you’ve got any questions that we haven’t answered in this Corn Snake care sheet, please get in touch and we’ll do our best to help.