Corn Snake
Photo  by Chris Parker2012 
Corn snakes are the most popular pet snake there is, and for a very good reason. These are snakes with a very good temper, and they are very easy to keep in an enclosure. Their adult size will usually be between 4 to 6 feet, and they have a very slender body type. The "original" corn snake has a black and white checkered pattern on their bellies that resembles a corn cob. I say original because corn snakes have been bred to get the most amazing colors and patterns; spotted, striped, no pattern, and all kinds of colors. Even pet shops usually have a wide variety of these "morphs".

Corn snakes live for a long time, around 15 to 20 years, so keep this in mind when buying one. In this care sheet, I will try to explain the most important sides of having a pet corn snake.

When you get your first corn snake, it is important that you have its setup ready.
First, they need a tank to live in, a ten-gallon tank is a good size for a young one. Then you increase the size of the tank up to 20 or 30 gallons when it reaches adult size.

At the bottom of the tank, you need substrate. You could use newspaper or plain paper, but a better choice is aspen wood shavings. The snake might burrow in it, it's very easy to clean and it even helps the snake shed by allowing it to rub against it. There are also specially designed reptile carpets you can get, but whatever you choose just remember that cedar is poisonous to snakes, and pine can dehydrate their skin. Most stores have aspen, and it's cheap and easy so I would say go with that.

One of the most important things, especially for a young corn snake is a hide. A lot of people forget just how important this is. The snake needs to feel safe, and a large empty tank will make the snake very stressed. I can guarantee you that the hide will be the one thing that your snake will use the most. For a hide you can use a box with a hole at the side, a flower pot with a hole at the bottom turned upside down, or you can buy a more fancy one at a pet store. Even an empty toilet roll will work! You should have at least two hides, one on each side of the tank; one on the cool end, and one on the warm end.

This leads me to the heat source. Unless you live where it's very warm you should have some sort of heat in your tank. Snakes need heat to properly digest their food. A good choice is a UTH(under tank heater). This is a mat specifically designed for reptiles, and you put it underneath on one side of the tank. This will give the snake a gradient in its tank, a difference in temperature on the two sides. 

Alternatively, you could use a heat lamp, but this option will not give the snake any belly heat, so a UTH is the best option. It's important to remember that the UTH can get very hot if left without a thermostat it can reach up to 120 Fahrenheit! This is of course too hot and will cause severe burns. So make sure you have plenty of substrates to prevent the snake from laying right on the glass. If you buy a thermostat, a meter that will control the temperature you will save yourself a lot of worries as even with enough substrate on the bottom the snake can still burrow down to the bottom. Snakes are "stupid" in the way that they will not notice that they burn their skin until it's too late. $40 will give you an OK thermostat and is well worth its price. If you live in hot areas you'll probably be fine without a heat source, but for most, you should definitely get one.

A meter to measure the temperature and humidity is also important. Humidity is vital for a healthy shed, so when you see that your snake is going to shed increase the humidity to around 65-70%. A simple way to do this is to mist the tank with a spray bottle or to put a wet towel over the lid. The wet towel will quickly increase the humidity when it reaches the level you want simply replace it with a dry towel covering 3/4 of the top. This will help keep the humidity in, without getting 100%. Extended periods of high humidity can lead to sickness, so keep the humidity high only when it is shedding.

Water must always be available, and the size of the water bowl should enable the snake to soak its body in it. You can buy one from a pet store, but a kitchen bowl will work just as well. Just make sure that the snake does not tip it over. This should be placed on the cool end, opposite of the cool hide.

A secure lid is, of course, a must-have. Petco has clips for $3 that you put on both sides of the lid, and they work perfectly. A runaway snake is VERY hard to find, especially when its young. And even baby snakes can escape through the smallest gap. Our first corn snake managed to escape once, although this was because I forgot to put the lid back on its cage. Needless to say, we turned the whole apartment upside down looking for it, seeing as there were three cats trying to get it before we did. Luckily hours later it showed up underneath the vacuum cleaner. So be careful, get the clips and remember to put them on.

A branch to climb on, or fake plants for decor is also something you might add to your setup. Just remember that anything you bring in from outside, or if you buy it used put it in the oven for a couple of hours on 200 degrees (Fahrenheit). This will kill any parasites on it. For plastic plants, rinse them out in a weak bleach solution. If you have these things set up, you should be ready for the snake!
Bringing the Corn Snake home

When acquiring a corn snake you have several possibilities. Pet store, breeder or the classifieds.
A breeder will always be the best choice, as you are dealing with people who love the snakes. Corn snake breeding does not take in a lot of money so you can be sure that the breeder has a passion for these animals. You'll be able to know it's history, sex, date of birth, its feeding records etc. Also, you are more protected against parasites. Pet stores usually have a lot of different animals, and their main goal is to make $$. Some stores do take good care of their animals, but unfortunately, they are in minority. a lot of people do get their snakes from pet stores, but I would strongly advise you to support the community and buy from a breeder. Buying from the classifieds you never know what you're going to get, you have no guarantee that the seller is telling you the truth. But the choice is yours.

When you bring home the corn snake there will be about a week where you cannot disturb it. The snake needs to get used to its new home, and in the meantime, you must leave it alone. By giving the snake a week to settle down, you ensure that you will end up with a healthy, comfortable snake. After a week has passed, take it out on a regular basis, and let it get used to you. At first, it might be a little shy and nippy, but don't worry. With handling and time, it will settle down and be a wonderful pet.

To pick up the snake try to scoop it up from underneath. A big hand coming directly towards its head might feel threatening, so go in from the side as opposed to from above it. Be careful though, a young corn is very skittish and might try to jump right out of your hand. A fall might seriously hurt it, so be cautious and don't let young children hold the baby snake. If there are young children in the family, wait till the snake has calmed down before they hold it.
A week after you brought it home, it should have gotten so comfortable that it will eat. If the corn is stressed or the temperatures are wrong it might not want food, but hopefully, this is not the case.

For feedings provide a separate box of some sort, it can be cardboard, Tupperware or whatever you have handy. Feeding in the tank is not a good idea, as the snake might digest the substrate which can kill it. Also when feeding in a separate container, the snake won't associate its tank with feeding, so when you go to pick it up you won't be mistaken for food. Hatchlings, that is baby corn snakes, eat one pinkie mouse every four or five days. These newborn mice can usually be bought frozen at pet stores, or you can go online for better deals. Put the pinkie in some hot water for around ten minutes, and make sure that it's completely thawed out. When the snake is in the feeding box, slowly dangle the pinkie in front of it. When the snake strikes, let go and let it eat without interruption. When the pinkie is swallowed and you can see the lump a good way down its tummy slowly pick up the snake and put it back in its tank.

Now it needs 48 hours to digest the food. Heat plays a crucial role in digestion, as well as leaving it alone for two full days. Digestion takes a lot of energy for snakes, so much that if it doesn't feel safe or is stressed out it might regurgitate the food.(throw up) This is its basic instincts, if it needs to make a safe escape from a dangerous situation (from the snake's view) it cannot do this while digesting, hence the regurgitation. After a couple of days, the food should be digested, and you can continue handling until next feeding.

There are problems that might come up with feeding that I will address. Hopefully, you won't have to worry about this though. If the snake will not eat, wait five days before trying again. Trying sooner will just stress the snake out even more. A snake is not going to be hurt by going a few weeks without food, so just be patient.

There are different techniques you might try if it really won't eat. First, make sure that the temperatures are good, and that you're not handling it too much. If so, you can put the pinkie and the snake in a brown paper bag, roll up the end so it won't be able to get out and leave it overnight in the tank. You can also try cutting a hole in the pinkie's head hoping that brain matter will lure the snake to eat. Alternatively, soak the pinkie in chicken broth before trying to feed it. If it's been over a month you should consider taking your snake to the veterinarian to check for parasites.

If you experience regurgitation something is wrong and you must fix it. Check your husbandry, look in water bowl for mites, and leave the snake alone until next feeding. Also, make sure that you are feeding appropriately sized mice. When the snake gets bigger, increase the size of the mouse and days between feeding. You can also feed rats; adult corns can have either two adult mice or a small rat every two weeks. If feeding rats, you need to make sure that the snake does not get fat. Rats are a lot more fattening then mice, so if you see that your snake starts to develop hips you should switch to mice.

Other Facts to Remember
Snakes shed as they grow, and it's important that they have good sheds. If the snake has not fully shed its skin, try giving it a bath in luke-warm water, or hold a wet towel around it. You can also put wet paper towels inside its hide to help the snake shed.

If your snake soaks in the water a lot, look for mites. Most often you will be able to spot them in the water. They are small and black or red, with legs. Mites are not because of a dirty tank etc, they probably got it from another reptile. Pet stores have mite treatment that works good, and both the snake, the tank and everything in the tank needs to be treated. Also if you have other reptiles, they might have it too. Mites are harmless to humans but can be fatal to snakes so be sure to treat them as soon as possible.

Wash your hands after touching the snake.
Take lots of pictures, have fun and enjoy your new pet!

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