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 nonvenomous constrictors. Examples include king, milk, garter and corn snakes.
Corn snakes are the canine companion equivalent of snakes — bred widely in captivity as friendly, loyal loving pets. 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 Caring for a Corn Snake
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 vets 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.
Corn snakes are protected in a few states and are usually available from pet shops. Avoid finding one in the wild and bringing it home — corn snakes bred in captivity tend to be more complacent toward humans and are less likely to carry disease.
Housing for a Pet Corn Snake
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)
These snakes are excellent climbers. “Corn snakes can climb straight up the side of a tree,” says Van Wallach in the book Corn Snakes. So make sure your cage has a good cover.
Corn 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 named Saturn wiggles out of her old skin in one piece, including the eye caps, which are called brills:
A Few More Things to Know About Caring for a Corn Snake
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 them.
Some other interesting tidbits about caring for a corn snake:
- 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.
Bonus! 3 More Snakes That Make Great Pets
Corn snakes are not the only snakes that make great slithery companions for beginner hobbyists. Here are 3 more potential pets to consider:
1. California Kingsnakes
California kingsnakes can be found in the wild in — you guessed it — California, as well as nearby states. But they make good pets just about anywhere.
They tend to do well in captivity once they adjust to you. Be prepared, though — during the adjustment period, your kingsnake may urinate or defecate on you. It’s one of their self-defense mechanisms.
California kingsnakes can live 20 years or more, with some in captivity reaching over 30 years. They don’t require special lighting, but like other reptiles, they need you to provide a warm and cool end of their aquarium or cage. Just be sure you have a good, solid enclosure and cover — kingsnakes can be escape artists.
These snakes are constrictors, so they will crush their prey before eating it. While they tend to stay at ground level, they can occasionally climb smaller bushes or trees.
Kingsnakes are solitary creatures. They will prey on other snakes, so I wouldn’t advise getting a roommate for yours.
2. Gopher Snakes
The gopher snake is a nonvenomous constrictor. But due to their coloring, they are sometimes mistaken for a deadly rattler.
These snakes eat lizards, birds, eggs and (as the name suggests) gophers and other small mammals. They tend to be easygoing eaters, usually rejecting food only around the times they’re shedding.
With proper handling, gopher snakes have a fairly placid personality. They do get a little big, topping out at over 6 feet, but this is by no means unreasonable.
In the wild, gopher snakes spend most of their time in underground burrows, although they do enjoy sunning themselves.
Like their rattler cousins, gopher snakes will hiss, flatten their heads and vibrate their tails when threatened.
3. Ball Pythons
The ball python is also a constrictor, although it does bite.
These snakes can be picky about eating. Some prefer fresh rodents, while others prefer frozen or even both. Ball pythons can reach 5 feet in length and tend to live 30-plus years in captivity.
The ball python will rarely bite — they are pretty easygoing snakes. Ball pythons have a range of beautiful coloring, making them one of the most popular pet snakes.
Ball pythons may struggle with environmental changes and can be a bit slow to warm up to you.
“Ball pythons require several weeks, sometimes even months, to acclimate to captivity,” explains Philippe De Vosjoli in The Ball Python Manual. “Once acclimated, and with occasional gentle handling, most ball pythons become quite tame and far less likely to adopt their characteristic defensive behavior.”
Final Thoughts on Caring for a Pet Snake
Whether you’re an experienced snake handler or just starting out, there is a breed out there for you.
Do your research, understand what local and federal laws allow, and be prepared for a pet that will be your companion for many years.
Above all, enjoy your snakes — they’re impressive creatures.
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