Snakes are becoming increasingly popular pets, mainly due to the availability of more information about the reptiles. With better education, more and more people have changed their view of snakes as universally dangerous animals and now see them as cute and even lovable. The fact that 2020 saw most people spend more time at home also gave them a chance to bring in pet snakes. That said, the question 'How do I take care of a pet snake?' is one I still get asked numerous times.
Well, different snakes require different forms of care. They have different needs in terms of feeding, handling, the kind of shelter they need, and have various symptoms of poor health, among other factors. To understand the appropriate care that a snake requires, you will need to understand the snake itself.
In this article, I will offer a detailed explanation of how to take the best care of pet corn snakes. It's one of the easiest snakes to look after, even if you are just starting out.
Understanding Corn Snakes
The corn snake is a reptile that takes it's name from its common presence in corn storage areas, where it makes its way in pursuit of rats, which are part of it's prey. It's related to the rat snake, and some people often refer to it as the red rat snake.
As earlier mentioned, it's a generally docile animal. It requires little care, it is beautiful to look at, and does not grow very big. Young snakes are around 16 millimeters long, while adults grow to between three and five feet long. In rare cases, a grown adult can grow to six feet. A corn snake has a life expectancy of between 15 and 20 years. The snakes' native region is the South-eastern area of the USA.
Corn snakes are active, inquisitive, and shy too. While they won't mind being handled, they do prefer to have some 'me time' and will sometimes go into hiding within the cage. They are most active at the extreme ends of the day; dawn and dusk.
Most of these features make the corn snake an excellent pet to have. It's colorful and shiny skin makes it a nice decoration in your space. Corn snakes are naturally reddish-orange in color. However, due to breeding over years of captive rearing, there are corn snakes of different colors that you will find breeders selling today. It's advisable, however, to go for an original color corn snake as the hybrid breeds tend to get health complications more easily.
How Should I House a Corn Snake?
Now that we have gotten to know these little guys let's look at how to house them comfortably. The snake will require housing, commonly known as a vivarium. There are several vivarium designs, so your preference is also a factor. Another thing to consider is for how long you intend to keep the snake. These fellows take around two years to grow to mature size (four to six feet ), so you should have that in mind.
My recommendation, however, is a glass vivarium. You can have it fully transparent or have at least three clear sides for viewing. Some people prefer to have the back wall painted, so it acts like a backdrop. You can stick a nature-themed wallpaper at the back since the cage becomes part of your interior decor. Here is one example I recommend https://amzn.to/3rW8etV.
A vivarium where a mature snake can be at full stretch is ideal. That means you can go for one slightly longer than five feet. You can make it square or half the width, depending on your space. Corn snakes love trying to escape, so you should have a vivarium with a tight lid. You do not want your little friend slithering around and scaring the daylights out of your guests, do you?
Once the vivarium is in place, you need to equip it to the tastes of a corn snake. The snake loves to burrow and to hide, so you begin with the lining. Astroturf is the perfect lining because of its ease of cleaning. Be sure to get it completely dry when you remove it for cleaning. Avoid soil and sand when laying your lining. The term 'substrate' is sometimes used to refer to this lining.
Your snake will also need a small, heavy water container with clean water (preferably non-chlorinated). This should be placed in its basking area. It drinks water to aid defecation and will sometimes get inside the water, especially when it's about to shed.
A hiding area is essential; remember this is a shy snake. Pet health experts advise that not having a hiding area can make the snake nervous and lead to stress. An inverted cardboard box is the most popular item used for hiding, but do not limit your creativity. However, the hiding area should not be too big. The snake should be able to fit snugly so that it feels safe. For more comfort, you can have two hiding spots in the warmer and cooler parts of the vivarium. For when the corn snake feels like coming out to play, have an upright forked branch in the housing too.
Your vivarium should also have heat and humidity control. A heating source under it and a light above it are essential. Do not place heat sources too close to the vivarium where the cold-blooded pet could move too close and burn itself. Temperatures should be between 80 and 85 F, while optimum humidity is between 50 and 60%.
How Do I Feed a Corn Snake?
With a vivarium in place, the next step is to bring your reptile friend into your home. When buying, make sure you talk in detail with the breeder on the specific needs of the snake. Once you have your corn snake pet, the best way to keep it happy is to provide proper nutrition.
Like any other snake, the corn snake is a carnivore (remember why they came to the corn, right?) When keeping a corn snake as a pet, its diet usually comprises of frozen mice. These can be purchased from shops that sell pet food.
Before feeding the mice to your corn snake, ensure that they are properly thawed. A corn snake will have a different feeding schedule at different ages and times of the year. For young snakes, a little (pinkie) mouse should suffice once every five to seven days. For adult snakes, the feeding interval should be between seven and ten days. To understand the size of the prey you should feed your snake, it should be the width of the snake's mouth or very slightly bigger.
As you feed your pet snake, however, you should observe it's appetite and feed accordingly. When the snake is about to shed, for instance, its appetite will probably dip. Towards this period, you can reduce the frequency of feeding to between 12 and 14 days. You can tell that your snake is about to shed when the eyes become cloudy, and the skin loses its sparkle and becomes hazy.
How Do I Go About Handling My Corn Snake?
Quite a popular question, this. Many people feel apprehensive when handling snakes for the first few days. I did, and you might too. You should not worry, though. Remember I mentioned that the corn snake is very docile, so you should not have much trouble handling it.
To start with, you need to be (or appear, or act) calm. If you are nervous, you might do something that will make the snake feel threatened. It's defense mechanism, a corn snake can rattle like a rattlesnake when in danger, might scare you, and you could end up creating an undesired scene.
When starting out, I recommend using a snake hook to pick up your pet. Once you get accustomed, you will be able to easily use your bare hands. Still, how you pick it up will also depend on its position within the cage at the time. If it's in a far corner, again, a hook works better than bare hands.
Another question I hear often is 'How often should I handle my corn snake?' There is no fixed rule to this, but too much handling is detrimental and may induce stress. Usually, once or twice a week is enough. Avoid handling your corn snake soon after you have fed it. Give it 36 to 48 hours to sit before holding it again.
What to Look Out For in a Corn Snake's Health
One way of taking good care of a pet corn snake is to know what symptoms of poor health to look out for. Many people get concerned the moment the skin loses it's gloss, but this is usually just a sign of pending shedding.
The mouth and general behavior of the snake, however, can reveal when a corn snake is unwell. Inflammation and frothing at the mouth are almost always indicators of poor health. If the snake goes into hiding too often and too long or does not appear inquisitive when handled, then it probably needs to be checked by a certified reptile vet.
Final Thoughts on Caring for a Pet Corn Snake
Corn snakes are great pet snakes, more so for beginner keepers. Their beauty, docile nature, and ease of maintenance make them lovable even among established pet snake keepers. With a nicely prepared vivarium that has proper heating, lining, water, and humidity, you are well set to rear a pet corn snake. The pet requires feeding just a few times a month, so that should not be a problem.
Whether you are starting out or have been keeping pet snakes a while, the points I have discussed here should make your experience more enjoyable. Be sure to look out for more insightful discussions and share them with other pet snake lovers too.