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Care Sheet for Corn SnakesAverage Rating Given To This Care Sheet Is 4.46 (1=lowest, 5=highest) Last Updated: 03/19/2005
Care Sheet Submitted By:
|Over 20 Years|
|Corn snakes 100%|
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|just corn snake care|
Care Sheet Information:
|Corn Snake Care Sheet
Corn snakes, Elaphe guttata guttata are one of the hardiest species of snake to keep in captivity. Corn snakes come in a huge variety of colors and patterns and as Joe Pierce of Snakes Alive! says "They are the guppies of the snake world". Corns snakes are bred by the tens of thousands each year by private breeders and hobbits and I STRONGLY recommend that you buy a captive born animal. This not only helps the survival of the species in the wild, it also greatly increases your chances of getting a healthy, feeding animal.
I’m going to give you two pieces of information. The first is what is essential to keep your snake healthy. The second is what would be ideal for your snake. The first thing you need is a cage with a SECURE lid. Corn snakes are good climbers and escape artists. For baby corn snakes I use plastic shoe-boxes that I buy at Target. With a soldering iron I burn small holes every centimeter on all four sides of the box for ventilation. These cages are not very aesthetically pleasing, but they suit the purpose and are useful when you have multiple animals to take care of. Be sure to tape the lid down with duct tape so that there are no escapes. A five gallon aquarium with a locking lid also works well for young snakes and looks better in your living room. Medium sized snakes can be kept in sweater boxes.For adult snakes I have 1’x2’x1’ cages, but if you only have a few animals my suggestion is to get a 20 gallon aquarium with a locking lid. This will provide all of the room your snake will need. As a substrate for the cages I use newspaper because it is clean, it is cheap, and it is easy to change. Newspaper is not aesthetically pleasing either so alternatives include pine shavings (NOT CEDAR) and outdoor carpeting. The pine shavings are easy to clean just by scooping out any that is soiled by waste. The carpeting will need to be washed, but if you keep an extra piece on hand this should not be a problem. Each cage should also contain a water dish that is large enough for the snake to submerge itself. This will be very important during shedding. The water should be changed at least once a week or sooner if it gets soiled. Probably the most important thing in the cage, at least for hatch-ling snakes, is a hide box. This can be as simple as a piece of bark or an empty macaroni and cheese box, or you can go to the store and spend $20 on some fancy ceramic hide box. If you don’t have much money, remember, the snake doesn’t care what its cage looks like as long as you meet its basic needs. The final thing in the cage, and I admit I don’t have one in all my cages is a branch for climbing. Corn snakes love to Climb and if a branch is provided they will often be seen climbing on it. Also realize that the snake will use the branch as an opportunity to get closer to the lid and as something to brace itself against as it tries to open the lid.
Heating is a situation where much confusion seems to arise. Corn snakes live in Florida, granted, but they also live in temperate zones like Kentucky. I have been keeping and breeding corns snakes for seven years now under a variety of conditions. Every book swears that corn snakes need a temperature gradient to thrive. This is not true. Corn snakes prefer a temperature gradient, as do we all (everyone likes to choose how hot or cold their environment is), but it is not essential. If it is within your means to provide a temperature gradient then by all means do so, but don’t have a heart attack if you can’t. There are two common way of providing a temperature gradient. One is to put an under tank heater or heat tape under part of the cage so that one part of the floor of the cage is warmer than the other. I do not recommend heating pads because they were not designed to be left on all the time and may be a fire hazard. I also do not recommend a hot rock because they have a tendency to bake animals. You should not make the mistake of putting the hide box on the warm side of the cage so that a shy snake will stay on the warm side whether it wants to or not. The same is true for the cold side. Either put the hide box in the middle, or better yet, provide two hide boxes. A second method of heating is to shine a lamp or a spotlight or a heat emitter into one side of the cage. If you choose to provide a temperature gradient, or ANY supplemental heat for the snake, ALWAYS have a thermometer in the cage to warn you if the cage is becoming too hot. They have very nice digital remote thermometers at Radio Shack for about $25; I highly recommend them. So what temperature is right for your corn? Adult corn snakes will do very well at temperatures between 75-85 F (25-30 C). They will tolerate temperatures as low as 70 F (21 F), but at this temperature they probably will not eat very well. Baby corn snakes prefer a temperature slightly warmer in the 80-90 F (26-32 C) but again will tolerate cooler temperatures. I believe it is best to keep smaller corns as warm as possible to insure good feeding and digestion habits. A common cause of regurgitation in young corn snakes is a cage that is too cool for the snake to properly digest its meal. When I lived in an apartment I kept all of my corn snakes (juvenile and adults) at a temperature of 73-75 F. This was the temperature for the whole apartment and I did not have supplemental heating for the snakes. I did not lose a single snake, but it took up to three years for the snakes to reach proper breeding size. I currently keep my corn snakes at approximately 80-85 F during the day and 75-80 F during the night. I do not provide my corn snakes with a temperature gradient. Despite what some people would lead you to believe, corn snakes do not require UV light to thrive. Incandescent light and a healthy diet are all they require.
The proper diet for a corn snake is dependent upon the age and size of the snake. Corn snakes will eat mice, rats, lizards, and small birds, but it is not necessary to feed them all of these types of food. I will begin with what I consider to be a good diet for hatch-lings. Hatch-ling corn snakes should be fed one to two pinkie (newborn) mice per week. Hatch-lings will probably accept up to four or five pinkie mice per week, but this is probably too much food and can lead to some problems later. As the corn snake increases in size, the one to two mice per week should be increased in size proportionately. The mouse fed to your snake should not be so large that it makes a huge bulge in the belly of the snake. If a food item is too large, the snake will have problems digesting it and it may be regurgitated. It is much better to feed two small mice than one big mouse because it will be easier for the snake to digest the smaller mice. When possible, feed your snake pre-killed food items in order to avoid injury to your snake. A frightened mouse can do considerable damage to a snake that is not hungry. Obviously, snakes in the wild are not eating thawed frozen mice, but rarely in the wild do you find corn snakes that do not have a few battle scars. There are a few exceptions to the above feeding rule. The first exception is for males during the spring breeding season. Male corn snakes will often lose interest in food during the breeding season, especially when a receptive female is present. The second exception is for gravid females. Gravid females should be fed up to three or four small mice each week prior to egg laying. Females may quit eating prior to egg laying. It is also essential to boost the food supply of females who have just laid their eggs. Remember, in order for corn snakes to properly digest their food they need some heat. The higher the temperature in the cage (see above) the better your corn snake will digest its food and the more willing it will be to eat again. A common cause of regurgitation in corn snakes is that the cage was kept too cool.
Corn snakes are a very easy species to breed. Every breeder has his or her own recipe for success. I’m going to give you mine. On Nov. 1 I stop feeding the corns I intend to breed the following season. On Nov. 15, the corns are places in a small sweater box (no matter their size) with a newspaper substrate, a large water bowl and a hide box. The corns are placed in a corner of my basement where it stays between 55 and 65 degrees F. There is some natural sunlight, but for the most part the room is dim. The corns are left in this room until February 14. I like to bring my snakes out of brumation on the most romantic day of the year so they will know what to do. It is very important to make sure the water does not spill or dry up or get contaminated with feces during the brumation. It is also good to keep the temp above 50 degrees F. If you don’t have a room cold enough, try to keep the snakes as cool as possible, but slip them a few meals if they are in a room that is 70 degrees or above. (Remember that corns reproduce in the Florida Keys where there is very little seasonal change in temp. There, corns may rely on other cues such as seasonal changes in day length.) After the corns are warmed up I immediately start feeding them as much as they will eat without regurgitating. Sometimes the males will refuse food, but the females usually never do. As soon as the females go through their first shed I put the male in their cage. Some people put the female in the males cage, but I haven’t seen a difference between these two methods in my collection. Both snakes may start twitching and you may be able to witness copulation, but I have had snakes that I have never witnessed breeding produce offspring year after year, so don’t panic. After 3-5 days I remove the male. Just to be safe I add the male back to the females cage after a week and I leave him there for the next three days. Once breeding has taken place the female will start eating like crazy for a period of two to three weeks and then just stop completely. Don’t try to feed a female you suspect is gravid. Sometimes you can feel the eggs as the female glides over your hand, other times you will notice that her cross sectional shape has become triangular where the eggs push up on the spine. The time between breeding and egg laying is 3-4 weeks. For laying, I use a plastic shoebox with one inch of moist vermiculite and one inch of sphagnum moss. The females usually lay 8-14 days after their post mating shed. I keep the eggs half buried in moist vermiculite in a closed Tupperware container at a constant temp of 83 degrees F in a hovabator incubator. I also fill the bottom of the hovabator with water to raise the relative humidity. The eggs generally hatch in 45-50 days and the babies are kept together in a sweater bow with a large bowl of water until their first shed, which happens in 7-10 days.
Commonly encountered problems
The most commonly encountered problem that I hear about is regurgitation. Three are a number of causes for this. The most common cause is that the cage is not warm enough. The prey item can literally rot in the stomach of the snake, and this causes the snake to regurgitate. The second most common cause is that the prey was too big. Corns have appetites that are sometimes bigger than their stomachs. The obvious solutions to these problems are to turn up the heat and feed smaller prey items. The second most commonly encountered problem is that the corn refuses to eat. Both of the above causes can be the cause of your snake not eating, and again, the solutions are stated above. Another reason for a corn not eating is that it is either in a mating cycle or a brumation cycle. Male corns especially will stop eating after coming out of brumation if they think there will be some hanky-panky going on. Females will stop eating if they are full of eggs. Both males and females may stop feeding if there has been a steady drop in the average temperature in their cage, or if there has been a progressive decline in day length. This is especially true for wild caught corn snakes and emoryi rat snakes. I would not worry about a healthy corn snake that has not eaten for a month, and I would probably not start worrying until about two months. The last reason for a corn to not eat, aside from medical reasons that I won’t even try to describe, is that it does not feel secure in its surroundings. Baby corns will often refuse to eat when they have been removed from one cage and placed in a new one or a larger one. The solution is to provide the corn with a hide box, or more than one hide box. Try feeding dead prey, then live prey. Try feeding during the day, then at night. Try putting a towel over the cage for feeding. My last resort, which works 75% of the time for hatch-ling corns that won’t eat, is to cut open the brain of a pinkie, squeeze out some blood, then try feeding this to the corn.
Good Luck, and remember, there is no substitute for research. Do not rely solely on this page. Find other care sheets, buy some books and ask some questions.
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