I have two corn snakes, as I’m sure you know already. IMO, corns are the easiest snakes to take care of, which is probably why they’re recommended to first-time snake owners as a good pet. However, they still have some specific requirements and important things to remember in order to look after them properly, so I’ve created this guide in three parts (husbandry, feeding, behaviour & problems) for caring for corns in case anyone is thinking of getting one. Or two. Or several! They are very addictive…
Disclaimer: I am not an expert. I have, however, done a tonne of research and I own two very healthy and happy corns! I’m also a member of a couple of forums and groups that focus on owning corns which is where I get so much of my information from, from fellow owners and breeders.
Behaviour & Problems: This part will be about handling, shedding, temperament, escapes, health issues and taking a new corn snake home
Corns will shed their skin regularly for their entire lives, with sheds being more frequent as they are hatchlings and when they go through their many growth spurts. Every few weeks you will see that your snake’s eyes go cloudy and their colours will dim – this is known as going into blue! When your snake goes into blue, they may go off their food, hide a lot more and not want to be handled as they feel vulnerable at this time. They will stay in blue for a few days before clearing up and seemingly going back to normal colours before shedding a couple of days later.
Their sheds should come off as one single piece, like someone rolling off their tights. Don’t pull their sheds to help them do it, it could hurt their scales – let them do it themselves. To help them out without handling, you can raise the humidity in their viv by placing another water bowl on the warm side or by providing a box of slightly damp moss or paper towels for them to shed in. You could use a Tupperware box and cut out a ‘door’! You can also mist the vivarium with a normal spray bottle.
If a snake has problems with their shed (i.e. they retain some shed) it is probably because the humidity was too low. Provide a moss box if you haven’t already and leave for a few hours. If they haven’t worked the piece of skin off themselves, get a damp towel and let them slither around in it whilst you lightly grip them. Again, don’t pull the shed off yourself. When checking a snake to make sure there’s no stuck shed, make sure to check the eyecaps and tail tip as these can cause issues for the corn if ignored or unnoticed.
Handling & Temperament
As I have said before, corns are so docile. But, as with any animal, they can also be a bit aggressive sometimes. Corn snake bites don’t hurt, especially when they’re hatchlings and have what I call ‘rubber teeth’; it’s more likely that it will just be a bit of a surprise. It’s not very likely that your snake will bite as it is the last thing they do when peeved, but if it DOES happen, don’t yank your hand away (or whatever body part it is) as the teeth can be ripped out of the snake’s mouth and get stuck in your hand – not fun for either of you. Just wait until they stop biting, or if they’re very determined to swallow you whole (not going to happen, they’re way too small) run their head under a weak stream of tepid water for a while. If that doesn’t work, you could offer a mouse to sink their teeth into instead, or just wait it out. They’ll let go eventually!
If a corn isn’t happy, it may curl up into an ‘s’ shape like it’s about to strike, actually strike (with or without biting), hiss, rattle its tail like a rattlesnake or vibrate/twitch when you handle them. A stressed corn is an unhappy corn so if your snake shows signs of stress leave them be for a while and make sure the husbandry is set up okay (read part one for more info). Other signs of stress include moving quickly when handling or trying to get away from you.
When handling a corn snake, let them go where they want to go but keep a hand or two on them at all times. They usually like to explore, but can get comfy and fall asleep on you for a while. Don’t grip too hard or too lightly as they can move very fast if spooked or if they want to make a break for it! To pick them up, scoop them up with two hands, supporting their bellies and tail, and be confident. They can sense the fear! You won’t need a snake hook. If they are aggressive and you want to get them used to handling, you can put them in a pillow case, wear gloves or use a towel to pick them up. Make sure they haven’t been fed in the last 48 hours before handling and keep an eye on their bums – if they go very still and lift their tails up slightly they’ll be pooping on you very soon!
Corns are notorious escape artists but escapes can be prevented by making there are no holes as big as their heads (or bigger) in their viv, getting a lock and wedges for your sliding door vivarium, getting clip-shut tubs and making sure everything is secure at all times. If you’re forgetful, put a post-it on your snake’s tub or viv to remind yourself to seal them up.
If your snake DOES escape, here are some handy tips to use to find them again:
1. triple-check the vivarium
Snakes are expert burrowers and really good at hiding. Inspect every single piece of deco and the waterbowl, the top of the viv (some have ridges which snakes can sit on) and underneath all the bedding.
2. check the immediate area
Sometimes they won’t go far. Start searching closest to the vivarium and work your way out. Use a torch to check under and inside things and look in even the smallest spots – you’d be surprised what they can squeeze into. Corns will likely go for warm spots so check electrical equipment, radiators, fireplaces, sofas and cushions, and so on. Also look for holes in the floor and walls to see if your corn could have gotten into the walls or under the floorboards.
3. set a trap
Corns can last for ages without food and they might even find a mouse to eat if they’re under your floor or ventured outside (which is unlikely). Snakes are most active at dawn and dusk so make sure you leave water around and set traps next to walls to find them. Traps include water bottles with a prey item inside, scrunched up tin foil (to hear them slithering through it), flour or icing sugar sprinkled on the floor to see the tracks made, placing their favourite hides around, or heating up one particular room or a spot in the room (and leaving the rest of the house cold). As a LAST RESORT, you can scrunch up some masking tape or washi tape (basically tape that isn’t too sticky) and wait for the snake to get stuck in it. Peel it off GENTLY as you can still potentially harm your snake’s scales (hence why it should be a last resort). Check your traps regularly.
4. turn off the lights
Use a torch to see the reflections in your snake’s eyes better. Your corn will prefer moving around in the dark where they feel safer.
When you find your snake, check it over fully and maybe consider a vet trip to make sure it’s perfectly okay. Before you put them back in their home, find out how they escaped in the first place and rectify it (with materials safe for snakes), otherwise it’ll happen again. Offer your snake a feed if it’s overdue, otherwise leave them be to de-stress.
Bringing your new snake home
Getting a new pet is exciting and obviously you’ll want to give them cuddles straight away, but corns should be left alone for a week to give them a chance to settle into their new home. Only disturb them to check for poop and to change the water. Some corns seem to adapt very well, especially if they’ve met and been handled by lots of people at a pet shop, but most will be too stressed to come out and play. Make sure they have lots of places to hide and let them do their thing before attempting to handle or feed them.
You should quarantine your snake (in a different room) from other snakes for three months to prevent any contamination of illness or mites. I have to admit, I never did this as I knew my snake was healthy and the new baby was too, but you can never be too careful and if (when) I get my third snake I will be quarantining them.
Make sure you ask the breeder about your corn snake’s parentage, its gender, whether it’s had problems, whether it’s ever cohabited and what its feeding schedule is like. If you don’t agree with the feeding schedule you can adapt it (as long as you follow the guidelines in the previous part) as some breeders only ‘maintenance feed’ which means they feed the snake enough so that it survives. Make sure you don’t feel uneasy about the breeder or pet shop you’re buying from and check that your snake looks healthy and is not lethargic.
If worried for your corn snake’s health, book a vet appointment. It’s always best to be safe rather than sorry. I’m not going to give advice for ‘curing’ or treating health issues because I’m not a medical professional so please do your own research and visit a reptile specialist or vet if you’re concerned.
Mites – Like fleas, but smaller and only found on reptiles. They feed on the snake’s blood. Common signs of mites (other than seeing the tiny black dots moving around) include your snake bathing a lot, feeling raised scales, seeing the mites in the vivarium or on your hand after handling, increased irritability and loss of appetite (of your snake, not you!) They are easily treated but you will need to do a DEEP clean of your vivarium and quarantine your snake from other animals after finding them. See a vet and check your humidity levels as mites thrive in moist environments.
Heat burns – this only occurs if you don’t have a thermostat on your heat mat/lamp and no guard between the heat source and your snake. Make sure your temperatures are controlled by thermostat at all times. Your snake’s belly will be red and possibly blistered. See a vet!
Respiratory Infections – RIs seem to be very common in corns. Signs of an RI include wheezing or clicking noises when the snake breathes, an open mouth, bubbles in the mouth and frequent sneezing. The best prevention against RIs is a clean and dry enclosure with correct temperatures.See a vet.
Constipation/impaction – corns can get constipated just like humans, so if your snake hasn’t pooped in a while, it may be impacted. Your snake will be ‘lumpy’ where the mass is and will be understandably lethargic and have a loss of appetite. If you suspect your snake is constipated or impacted, give them a shallow, tepid bath and let them swim around for a while. You can also massage near the vent to help. If that doesn’t make them poop, see a vet.
Mouth rot – mouth rot, AKA stomatitis, is an infection picked up from food stuck in the mouth or cuts in your snake’s mouth. Poor immune systems can make mouth rot more common, which can be caused by improper temperatures and/or humidity. Signs of mouth rot include loss of appetite, a red mouth, pus or dead tissue in the mouth and drainage from the mouth and nose. It can be fatal if not treated, so see a vet.
Inclusion Body Disease – IBD isn’t common, but it is very serious so I thought I should include it on the list. It’s a fatal viral infection (possibly caught from mites) that makes snakes lose weight, become lethargic, regurgitate, develop tremors and many other horrible things. If your snake just isn’t ‘right’ or has starting losing weight despite being on normal feed or develops any other symptoms, quarantine them and, yep, you guessed it – see a vet. Not much is known about IBD and sadly there is no cure.
That’s it for my corn snake series! I hope you’re now educated and feel like you could take care of a corn snake. Let me know if you think I missed anything, if you have any questions at all about corn snake care and if you are getting a corn/have a corn snake already!