What Corn Snakes Need
Here at The Reptile Guide we know that after taking the plunge and deciding to get a corn snake it may be a bit daunting. So we decided to give you brief overview of everything. So what exactly do corn snaked need? Through this article we’ll delve into everything what corn snakes need, so you can get the best idea if you’re up for the challenge.
What Corn Snakes Need Is… Correct Housing
When it comes to the correct size of enclosure for you corn snake you need to be aware that baby corn snakes and adult corn snakes have different size requirements for their enclosures.
Housing for a Baby Corn Snake
For a baby corn snake a enclosure such as a plastic container measuring somewhere around 415 mm high x 265 mm wide x 148 mm deep is absolutely fine. We recommend the Exo-Terra plastic breeder box.
You should remember that it is best to make sure that your corn snake is developing well before moving it into a bigger enclosure. Check for things like a healthy appetite and that there are no signs of bad health.
Housing for Adult Corn Snakes
Once your corn snake reaches the age of around six to nine months you have the option to relocate them to a bigger enclosure. A enclosure that measures around 4 ft high x 2 ft high x 2 ft wide will do the trick. This enclosure should be around the 20 gallon mark.
Corn snakes can grow to between 4ft to 6ft on average, so the the bigger the enclosure the better.
Naturally corn snakes prefer a warmer environment so may struggle in cooler climates and certain humidity’s. One way to ensure that they have better insulation is to use a wooden enclosure rather than a glass setup. Using a wooden enclosure that is the dimensions listed above will help it to meet the temperature gradient requirements. It will have adequate ventilation to ensure that heat and humidity is transferred from one side of the enclosure to the other, while keeping the basking spot itself at a consistent temperature.
For your wooden enclosure it is best to use glass doors. Glass doors will mean that you can still view your corn snake. The best option is to go for glass doors that swing open and can be locked. These are much better than sliding doors as these can not always be locked and can easily be pushed open by your corn snake. Enclosures with sliding doors also have the issue of substrate building up in the ridges over time. Additionally glass doors that swing open will have handles so will be less susceptible to getting finger prints on them, like sliding doors will.
If for whatever reason you can only use a glass enclosure it is best practice to cover the back side with some sort of insulation. Ideally you will be able to insulate the sides as well, this will keep energy costs down as more of the heat will stay inside the enclosure. Something like cork or wood are your best options. Additionally this will provide your corn snake with some privacy.
Make sure to get a secure fitting lid that can be clamped down for the enclosure. Quite often corn snakes will naturally look for tiny opening or weaknesses in the enclosure. Making sure that they can not escape and go wondering around your home is very important.
Some people tend to believe that a younger corn snake may become upset, stressed or scared in large surroundings. What you need to remember is that it depends on how you set up the enclosure for the snake.
Things like climbing areas, a UVB light, hiding areas, substrate and a heater all help to make your corn snake more comfortable.
Decorations that are solid and your corn snake can climb over and bask on are ideal. These help the snake to thrive in a low humidity environment. Bedding that is unlikely to increase humidity is best. We suggest coarse beech woodchip, it is cheap, clean, dust free and easy to spot clean. Alternatively you could go for a more natural looking option. A clay and soil mix will do the trick. Ensuring the soil is nutrient rich and then adding sand to the mixture would ensure that your corn snake is kept in a bio-active environment. Courtesy of the sand providing aeration (the introduction of air into a material).
A basking lamp will provide your corn snake with much appreciated warmth. They also greatly appreciate having warm objects that will radiate secondary belly heat. Heavy artificial ornaments as well as natural rocks like slate are perfect for this. We recommend placing these decorations under and around the basking area as this will warm them up nicely. Ensure that the lamp is nice and high inside the enclosure to prevent the natural rocks becoming too hot. Best practice is to check the surface temperatures of any natural rocks and also check them anytime you change their location in the enclosure to avoid any burns.
Provide some shade
There will be times when your corn snake will not want any UV rays and will want to cool down. Providing them with a little shade is an ideal way to do this. We advise spreading full and partial cover from the UV rays throughout the enclosure. Having the correct decorations will provide this affect. Full cover decorations include things like caves, flat cork pieces and wooden logs that your little guy or gal can get inside of. Partial cover decorations would be things like tall plants, trailing plants and anything that provides dotted shade. Any wood or rocks with holes in them would be good.
The Right Type of Decorations
It is essential to have vines, hides and branches. We recommend a mixture of branches and wood that can be collected from outside in nature. Be sure to collect from pesticide free areas that are safe. Additionally you do not want to collect from areas in the vicinity of roads. Woods and branches near roads and urban areas will contain carbon from the fumes of vehicles as well as other pollutants.
Remember that snakes need mental and physical stimulation, like places to hide and things to climb. These are vital to your corn snakes well being and health.
To ensure that your corn snake has good mental health and well being, you will want to add two or three large branches laid on top of each other. These will keep the corn snake busy and active. Couple this with a good sized hide at either end of the enclosure for a place to hide or sleep and your corn snake will be very happy.
As mentioned earlier in this article wood collected from urban areas or near roads can contain pollutants and toxins. If you can not, or do not want to venture away from the city then you can buy the required wood from a good retailer.
Best practice is to keep a small water bowl for drinking water and a large water bowl for bathing. Your snake will bathe in the water to cool down and also to help loosen skin when shedding occurs. In an ideal world you corn snake will only drink from the small water bowl and only bathe in the large water bowl. This doesn’t always happen of course, so change the water regularly. Keeping both water bowls on the cooler side of the enclosure will prevent the humidity levels raising.
What Size of Food
As hatch lings and babies, corn snakes should be fed once per week. A diet of thawed out frozen pinky mice is the best option. Over time you can increase the size of the pinkies and as your corn snake grows you can eventually feed them adult mice, the size of the mice should be increased as your corn snake grows. Corn snakes that reach very large sizes can eat smaller rats once fully grown. A corn snakes best diet will include as many rodents as possible.
Your corn snakes favourite food is mice, this is because corn snakes are carnivorous. Thawed out frozen foods is your corn snakes best diet. Corn snakes are happy to eat most small rodents as they are opportunists. We recommend however to feed them primarily mice as this is the most nutritious food for them.
If for whatever reason your corn snake won’t take to mice then there are some alternatives. Multimammate mice, gerbils, hamsters or chicks should wet your corn snakes appetite. As we mentioned earlier, they are not as nutritious for your corn snakes. So try and get them onto mice eventually. Although if your corn snake is eating the alternatives then this is better than your corn snake refusing to eat anything. Just remember though that the alternatives can be difficult to find in the correct sizes and are not as readily available.
You have many options to choose from in regards to your substrate material.
If you are on a budget then ink-less newspaper is a great choice, also ink-less newspaper is very easy to clean up. In terms of appearance and the look that it will give your corn snakes enclosure however, it does leave a lot to be desired.
As you may know AstroTurf is commonly used as an alternative to grass when playing sports, what you may not know though, is that AstroTurf also makes a great substrate. AstroTurf which is commonly referred to as outdoor or indoor carpeting, can easily be cut in to two pieces. One piece can be used as your corn snakes substrate at a time. When the AstroTurf has been soiled and needs to be cleaned it can easily be removed from your corn snakes enclosure. The second piece can be swapped into the enclosure while the first piece is cleaned and washed and also thoroughly dried.
Pine or Cedar Shavings
While pine or cedar shavings may be suitable substrate for other pets, however we strongly advise against using either of these for your corn snake. These are very dangerous for your corn snake as they both contain aromatic oils which can cause irritation and even respiratory issues for your corn snake.
A very popular substrate with corn snake pet owners is Aspen. Aspen seems to be a favourite for corn snakes when it comes to comfort and it makes great bedding for them. If you choose Aspen make sure that you provide your corn snake enough to burrow in as they love to do this. One of the reasons that corn snake pet owners like Aspen so much is the relatively low price. Shavings of Aspen only cost a few dollars for each time it is completely replaced. You will need to bear in mind that when using aspen shavings they can be accidentally eaten by your corn snake, so we recommend moving them to a separate container for feeding. We recommend against using soil, corncob, sand, and as mentioned earlier pine or cedar shavings as substrate for your corn snake.
All reptiles require something called ‘thermogradient’ which means that there is a substantial difference in temperature from one end of the enclosure to the other.
Corn snakes are no different, and they will ideally have a basking zone on one side of the enclosure that has a temperature of between 28 to 20 degrees C. On the other side they will require a cooling of area that should be between 20 to 24 degrees C.
When out in the wild, corn snakes would be naturally experiencing temperatures of around 90of in the sun. We recommend that you provide this amount of heat in the middle third of the enclosure. Either side of this in the other two thirds, the temperature should be 70of. You can easily do this by attaching a basking lamp to the top of the enclosure in the middle. The basking lamp can be controlled by a dimming thermostat which will need a timing function on it. The timing function will make sure that the correct temperature is maintained through out the day. It will also provide the required day/night cycle.
Even if you do not put any high decorations near the basking lamp your corn snake will still be able to climb up to it. A guard must surround the basking lamp. This will keep your corn snake safe from being burnt. The basking lamp will need to be on for between ten and twelve hours per day.
As part of the day/night cycle all of the lights will have to go off at night. If the enclosure is in complete darkness then your corn snake will experience a clear day/night cycle.
Out in nature when the sun sets there is still heat radiating from places like rocks, paths and roads. They will radiate heat well into the night. To replicate this heat without using any light you will want to place some heat mats inside the enclosure. We recommend laying a heating mat under the basking area. The heat mat will radiate heat and warm up any nearby objects. This will provide a warm patch of ground for the corn snake to rest on. You will only need a simple thermostat with a on or off switch for the heat mat, which is set to 80of. The heat mat should be buried underneath about one inch of bedding. The sensor for the thermostat is then rested on the bedding covering the heat mat so that it can track the surface temperature of that patch of floor.
Heat mats will not be needed inside the enclosure during the day time. The thermostat will keep the heat mats off during the daytime. The thermostat for the heat mats should be set to come on once the temperature drops below 80of. This will be at night time.
It is best practice to closely monitor the different temperatures of your corn snakes enclosure. The thermostats may be reliable but having thermometers will give you peace of mind. They will tell you if there is any issues with the basking lamp or heat mats. If you have a variance of 5of or less then you need not worry. Just make sure that the cool side remains cooler than the warmer sides. Dial thermometers are sufficient, digital probe thermometers however are much more accurate.
As well as differences in temperatures, corn snakes also need differences in lighting for their enclosures. We recommend that you create a ‘photogradient’ to vary the light and shade. Fit a 2 to 7 percent UV tube at the hot end of the enclosure. Make sure to set a day and night cycle to simulate the day and night light patterns, you will need a timer and it is best to do 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of dark.
To measure the humidity of the enclosure you will need something called a ‘hygrometer’. We recommend between 40 to 50 per cent humidity. This is the ideal amount to keep your corn snakes skin healthy and in a good condition. This will also help with shedding. Additionally this amount of humidity will prevent any breathing problems. If the humidity is to high then you will need more ventilation.
How Often to Clean
Keeping your pets environment clean is important no matter what type of pet you have and corn snakes are no different. We recommend to do a spot clean every day, or as often as possible. With a full clean every four weeks. Cleaning as often as possible in between the full clean will make life so much easier. When keeping you snake in a bio-active enclosure you can spot clean and monitor the enclosure. Along with regular cleaning we recommend that you change the bedding every three months or four times a year.
Cleaning the Enclosure
Obviously when cleaning the enclosure you will want to remove your pet as well as all of the bedding and all of the decorations. When you have cleared your enclosure you will need to spray all of the enclosure with a reptile friendly disinfectant. These are fast acting and will only take around 30 seconds to work. Specific instructions will be on the disinfectants packaging. After the disinfectant has been left for long enough and done its work it can then be wiped clean with some paper towels. Depending on how often you choose to do a full clean and how thorough you want to be you may want to repeat the process.
Cleaning the Decorations
Clean the decorations in a similar way. All you need to do now though is spray them with the reptile friendly disinfectant. Then rinse them thoroughly and finally drying them off before you put them back inside of the now clean enclosure. We recommend doing this as early as possible in the daytime. This is to ensure that the enclosure and all decorations are dry and that your corn snake goes back into a warm enclosure for at least an hour before the basking lights are turned of for the night as part of the day and night cycle.
Your corn snake will shed its skin at regular intervals and this is nothing to worry about. This process is referred to as “sloughing”. Younger corn snakes will go through this process more often. This is because they are growing very fast and outgrow their skin more frequently. Younger corn snakes can shed their skin as much as every six weeks and even every month. Adult and older corn snakes will only slough about three or four times a year.
We recommend that you make sure that the skin has sloughed off as one whole complete piece. Shed skin left on the snake can be dangerous. The dead skin can cause kill the new skin and can cause other health problems in the future. You must check your corn snake for any retained skin, pay particular attention to the areas of the tip of the tail. As well as the curved skin that covers the eyes often called “spectacles”.
As we mentioned earlier your corn snake will take a bath in any available water to help with shedding. You can help your corn snake out by supplying some fresh warm water for it to bathe in. The warmer water should remove the last of the skin from the previous slough. If after taking this advice your corn snake still appears to have any dead skin still remaining, or you have any worries then it is best to go to your local reptile vet specialist.
Keeping female and male corn snakes together can result in them breeding. As long as they are both healthy adults and conditions are good they will breed naturally so you do not need to do anything to encourage them. You must give careful consideration as to whether you want them to breed before putting them together. Think about what you will do with the babies and whether or not you will incubate the eggs.
A gravid (pregnant) female will need somewhere to lay her eggs. We recommend a nesting box. It will need to be large enough so that she will be able to turn around inside of the box. The nesting box will also need a soil mix that is humid enough to hold its shape but not so wet that it will saturate any eggs.
As soon as the female has laid her eggs they will need to be incubated in an incubator at 84oF. You will need to incubate the eggs in sealed boxes on top of a substrate that holds water very well and is moisture rich. This will trap the humidity around the eggs and is vital for their development. At around the sixty day mark the first babies will break through the egg shells and begin to hatch. Once the first babies are born the other eggs will be encouraged to hatch.
Common Health Problems
Infectious stomatitis is one of the most common health problems for corn snakes. People often call this mouth rot. Infectious stomatitis is a bacterial infection that cause inflammation in and around the mouth as well as saliva bubbles. Your corn snake will possibly develop infected bones in and around the mouth and head, and also possibly loose it’s teeth if infectious stomatitis is not treated.
Almost all types of snake breeds are susceptible to respiratory infections and corn snakes are different. Any skin discoloration can be a sign of a fungal infection and open mouth breathing or wheezing could be early signs of respiratory infections. You must get these checked by a reptile veterinarian before they become serious problems.
Choosing Your Corn Snake
You must make sure that any corn snake that you are considering to have is healthy. Check for clear eyes, no signs of mites or ticks, no cuts or scrapes, a clean vent and of course alert and flicking its tongue.
That’s Everything to Get You Started.
So there you have, a brief overview of everything that your corn snake needs.