Snakes have always gotten a bad rap — even though snakes in the wild provide essential services to humans. Snakes are nature’s exterminators. They are constantly preventing an infestation of rodents that would otherwise decimate our food supply.
More than 85% of snakes in North America belong to a family called colubrids, mostly non-venomous constrictors. Examples include king, milk, garter and the “canine” companion equivalent of snakes — bred widely in captivity as friendly, loyal loving pets — the corn snake.
For those who find snakes fascinating and beautiful, the corn snake would be my first recommendation as your first step into the world of reptile pets.
Benefits of Pet Corn Snakes
Thinking about bringing a corn snake into your family? Lucky you! These wonderful reptiles are:
- Docile, easy to handle and cuddly (yes, snakes are cuddly pets!)
- A wonderful starter pet for families
- Available in a wide range of colors (morphs)
- Low maintenance; feed once a week or every other week
- Relatively inexpensive and widely found in pet stores (although I would recommend getting reptiles from a reputable breeder)
- Easy to feed and will eat thawed frozen mice that you provide by holding them at the end of snake tongs (thereby avoiding having to watch your snake ingest live prey, not to mention the inconvenience of buying and keeping live mice prey in your home)
Corn snakes rarely need a veterinarian. By the way, not all veterinarians treat exotics, so make sure you have a specialty vet nearby in case of the rare emergency. These snakes reach a manageable size of 28–54 inches with the approximate width of a thick garden hose and have a calm temperament; in other words, they pose little to no threat to cats or dogs.
I house my corn snakes in large 40-plus-gallon glass terrarium tanks, which hold 1 or 2 adults. These terrariums should have:
- Aspen bedding substrate with various natural-looking shelters, basking spots, small cave dwellings and even a reptile hammock
- A large plastic or faux stone snake water bowl (corn snakes need access to clean, fresh water at all times and must be able to immerse themselves completely to cool themselves off and help them molt each month)
- A plastic spray bottle to mist the interior glass walls of the tank to create a small amount of humidity (although too much can cause moldy substrate and contribute to a rare condition called mouth rot)
- A reptile/snake thermometer, heating pad, heating lamp stand, faux plants and fun tunnels or structures that your corn snake will actively investigate and climb onto (most mainstream pet store chains carry these items)
Snakes Need Exercise, Too
Corn snakes definitely appreciate exercise outside their cage. I enjoy wrapping 1 or 2 around my neck or hair and taking them outside for some fresh air and sun. Corn snakes on the whole like to stay close to their human.
In this video, my Okeetee corn snake Saturn wiggles out of her old skin in one piece, including the eye caps, which are called brills:
A Few More Things to Know
A corn snake’s flickering forked tongue is an evolutionary adaptation to smell (taste) scents in the air. Nothing is less harmless or more ticklish than a corn snake flicking its tongue on your cheek or ear.
Also, like all colubrids, corn snakes are ectotherms who seek out heat. So don’t be surprised if your snake tries to get into your shirt when you hold it.
Some other interesting tidbits about corn snakes:
- These snakes are extremely active in their enclosure before an incoming storm. Their bodies are a natural barometer and can easily sense weather changes. This comes in handy when you want to prepare in advance for a rain or snowstorm. (I actually find their predictions to be more accurate than those of the local meteorologist on the news.)
- Corn snakes should be sexed only by an experienced herper. There is little distinction between the personalities of a male versus a female, so unless you intend to breed your corn snake in the future, it doesn’t really matter whether you have a male or a female.
- In terms of heating, I would suggest that one end of the enclosure be cooler, 70–80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other end approximately 90–95 degrees.
- Watching a snake shed is a fascinating study of nature. You will know when your corn snake is about to shed a day or so in advance — the eyes become a hazy blue color.
I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the wonderful world of corn snakes, and I hope it encourages you to investigate this marvelous, loving, intelligent breed further.