Quiet, uncomplicated, frugal – and above all non-toxic. Now if that doesn’t sound like the perfect roommate. This refers to the corn snake, which actually enjoys great popularity as a pet. Terrarium connoisseurs appreciate their simple attitude, but even more their variety of colors, which has developed magnificently in just a few decades of breeding. In its homeland, in North America, it is considered a peaceful culture follower, and as such finds sufficient food and acceptance in the vicinity of humans. In this country, the corn snake is mainly found in terrariums, by both beginners and experienced enthusiasts of the species. Hardly any other constricting and climbing snake seems to come into question as roommates as often as the corn snake.
Interesting facts about the corn snake
The corn snake owes its name to its categorization as a cultural follower. It lives very often in cultivated corn fields, nests in granaries and its coloring also looks very similar to Indian corn.
The original scientific name Pantherophis guttatus also refers to their coloration. Translated, this means something like “speckled leopard snake”.
In terms of systematics, the corn snake belongs to the genus of American climbing snakes and, in a broader sense, to the superfamily of snakes and vipers. In other words, it is a non-venomous constrictor.
Profile of the corn snake
Origin: North America, especially the east coast between the state of New York and the Florida Keys as well as in Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee
Body length: Ø 120 to 150 cm, rarely over 180 cm
Weight: 200 to 800 g depending on age and nutritional status
Age: up to 20 years and more
Lifestyle: mainly active at dusk and at night, about 4 months of hibernation
Food: small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, eggs
Colourations: Basic color matt gray to intense brown-orange; saddle patches orange to reddish brown; ventral side with typical checkerboard pattern; variable ornament on the top of the head; Breeding lines have a large number of variants.
It only gets difficult with the corn snake when it comes to determining the sex. Because this is – at least purely externally – almost impossible to differentiate in young animals, in adult animals only to a limited extent on the basis of a more slowly tapering tail section and a smaller number of subcaudals (enlarged horny scales on the underside of the tail). Both can only be seen in a direct comparison between males and females. A veterinarian can provide much better information by means of probing or blood analysis.
Behavior and peculiarities in nature
Corn snakes are generally very good climbers. In addition, their belly scales are formed upwards on the side edges, so that they offer optimal support over almost the entire surface of the snake.
Correspondingly quickly, the snakes can move on the most diverse surfaces (even in water) and are not least because of this remarkable hunters. Their prey consists not only of defenseless young animals, but also of no less agile specimens.
Nevertheless, the adder is considered a flight animal. She would rather retire than risk injury. However, if it is threatened directly, it stands up in the typical defensive posture of a snake and can attack in a flash with defensive bites. However, these are not poisonous.
The ambush tactic is used for hunting. Either the snake waits until a prey animal comes near it or it sneaks up secretly. Her extremely good sense of smell comes to her aid. The snake can not only track down its prey with its forked tongue, it also serves as spatial orientation.
It is not uncommon for the corn snake to end up in trees, where it captures eggs and young from bird nests. Killed by strangulation. To do this, the prey is bitten firmly while the snake’s body wraps itself around the victim several times and tighter and tighter, until the internal organs finally give way. A special feature is the surprisingly muscular body of the snake and the extremely flexible jaw, which allows the prey to be swallowed whole.
The hunt goes it alone. Otherwise, corn snakes are not necessarily socially bound. Usually they are solitary animals who only come together to mate. The offspring are on their own as soon as they lay their eggs. Turf fights are rarely fought and usually end after a wrestle without serious injuries. During hibernation, however, several dozen specimens often gather in suitable hiding places, where they overwinter together.
The corn snake in the terrarium
Unlike the free-living conspecifics, the domesticated corn snake is not authorized to hunt. Not because she didn’t want to or couldn’t, but because the current law prohibits the killing and feeding of vertebrates alive. Luckily, the snake is so frugal that it is satisfied with thawed frozen food and can do without sporty hunting activities.
Otherwise, the corn snake does not make excessive demands on its keeping. Nevertheless, this should of course be designed as species-appropriate as possible and meet all the needs that the snake has for a healthy, happy life.
Terrariums for corn snakes
In the apartment, the corn snake moves into a terrarium made of wood and/or glass, which ensures sufficient air circulation. A protected area should be selected as the location, away from draughts, direct sunlight, noise and vibrations. Solid back and side walls, made of wood or cork, for example, offer the best protection. A glass front is recommended for sufficient daylight and, of course, for admiring and examining the snake.
Terrariums can be purchased in very different sizes, depending on the type and number of residents. At least 130 x 70 x 130 cm (LxHxD) should be available for a single corn snake. The rule of thumb is often:
Body length in cm * (1 x 0.5 x 1) = length x height x depth in cm
Note that this formula only calculates a minimum. Snakes are also curious, like to explore their surroundings and take a lap in the square. In addition, corn snakes can be kept in pairs and groups, but of course this must be taken into account when choosing the size of the terrarium.
The corn snake terrarium requires the following technology as basic equipment:
Radiant heater with UV component for heating to approx. 25 to 30° C (10-12 hours during the day)
Spots, local underfloor heating, heating plates or heatable stones for “sunning” (during the day)
If necessary, cooling systems for cooling to 20°C (at night) or for hibernation
Thermometers and hygrometers in at least two locations, as well as timers
Air humidifier or at least a spray bottle for manual humidification to approx. 50 – 60% humidity (never spray the animals directly!)
The setup of the terrarium must primarily offer enough retreats and hiding places that are not directly heated or irradiated. This can be, for example, imitation rock, real stones and slabs, roots, cork tubes and various caves. Not to be forgotten is a wet box, in which the animals can shed their skin more easily when the air humidity is higher. Moulting is also supported by rough surfaces. Since the snakes like to climb, a structure over several levels is ideal for this. Wooden steps, lianas or hanging roots and strong ropes connect the different sections.
Terrarium plants are not absolutely necessary, but decorate the small habitat decoratively and offer further hiding places. The snakes will neither nibble nor tear at the plants, so there is no contradiction here. It is only important to pay attention to an appropriate soil that nourishes the plants (unless they are artificial plants), but is also snake-friendly. Dry substrates such as bark mulch, coconut substrate and fine-grained bark litter have proven their worth, as has pressed terrarium soil.
Furthermore, a pool of water should be available, both for drinking and for occasional bathing and cooling off. Usually, corn snakes don’t like being in the water, although they are good swimmers. For drinking, however, they prefer larger, shallow basins instead of a small drinking water bowl. Fresh water must be available and kept clean every day, even during the hibernation period.
Since determining the sex is always somewhat vague, it is advisable to provide an egg-laying place when keeping several animals in order to avoid any laying difficulties. A separate container with a slightly damp substrate that is accessible at all times is sufficient.
Diet, feeding, and fasting
As already mentioned, corn snakes will not hunt in the terrarium. The feeding place can, but does not have to, always be the same in order to bring at least some variety into everyday life. A healthy, adult corn snake is usually fed every 2 to 3 weeks, with juveniles a 1-week interval is recommended. The fact that corn snakes are mainly nocturnal and twilight active should of course be taken into account when feeding. During the day and in hot temperatures, the change warm mind would be much too sluggish and accordingly the digestion, which in turn could lead to health problems.
If prey is available, the adder will devour it greedily without hesitation. After that, she needs a lot of water and even more rest to digest thoroughly. This results in a certain rhythm.
Frozen mice, for example, can be on the menu in the classic way. These are thawed and heated to around body temperature (approx. 35 to 40°C). Chicks, hamsters, frogs, fish and other small animals can be fed according to the same principle. The size of the prey should be based on that of the snake. Eggs can be fed raw without any problems – salmonella are part of the natural intestinal flora of the corn snake anyway.
If you keep several corn snakes, you should monitor the feeding closely or, if necessary, separate the animals for a short time until everyone has gotten their share. However, the feeding itself must not be disturbed, otherwise the animals may flee and miss their chance to be fed.
The prey animals can also be prepared with vitamins and, if necessary, with medicines. This allows the viper’s state of health to be regulated very well.
Hibernation in the terrarium
Hibernation is also essential for the health of the corn snake. Several specimens also like to withdraw into a hiding place and spend the resting period of up to 4 months together. During this phase, the animals do not eat. However, fresh drinking water is still essential.
The hibernation in the terrarium is “heralded” by the temperature and lighting system. The seasonal change is simulated, i.e. the days and lighting times become shorter, the temperatures drop to around 10°C and the food becomes less frequent until it finally stops altogether. All these factors should be well coordinated in order to appear as natural as possible. Corn snakes usually accept this supposed turn of the year in the terrarium very well.
The rest phase is important for regeneration and revitalization. As the whole system shuts down, the body can detoxify and recover. If hibernation is denied, life expectancy is noticeably reduced, and general health suffers no less. Therefore, this annual phase is extremely important and should therefore also be in the interest of corn snake enthusiasts.
Care tips for the corn snake
Corn snakes are truly easy to care for. Once the technology has been fine-tuned and automated, in principle it only needs to be fed from time to time and cleaned only occasionally. If you rarely eat, you will rarely be eliminated. Corn snakes utilize their food very well, precisely in order to get by with it for a long time.
Conversely, the keeper should only remove the legacies, especially the skins from the wet box, if necessary. The drinking water must be clean and the technology and equipment must be in good condition.
Otherwise, a corn snake “grooms” itself. By rubbing on rough surfaces, for example, it stimulates its molting. It is only very rarely and when necessary that help is needed. For example, the teeth even grow back if they are lost.
Basically, behavioral problems or irregularities in the self-care of the adder are indications of health problems and should therefore be observed more closely as such. If the snake is in the water longer than usual, the humidity may not be right or it is too hot in the terrarium. If she refuses the food, she may have an indigestion or be otherwise ill. Skin mites and changes in the mucous membranes also frequently occur.
If there is any suspicion, both the shed skin and the faeces can be examined for parasites. For this purpose, samples are sent to the laboratory and examined more closely there. Sometimes the way to the vet is necessary, for example in the case of skin inflammation. In case of doubt, a suitable transport container must always be at hand.
With experience comes the more practiced reaction to problems or care questions. Breeders, associations and animal protection organizations will help if necessary with advice and action. However, if the owner is on vacation or otherwise absent, a person of trust should be assigned to take care of the snakes temporarily. Someone who takes over at least the fresh water supply and the control of the technical settings.
The corn snakes themselves will hardly notice the difference, they are neither particularly human nor shy. With a little patience, they can be touched and picked up without any problems. However, they will never beg for pats or perform tricks. They are more likely to bite as a defensive reaction. For specimens that tend to be aggressive, it is therefore worth wearing special gloves or a snake hook to move the animals.
If you are bitten, no hellish pain or anything like that awaits you. The shock of the lightning-like movement is usually greater. The snakes let go immediately, leaving at most a tiny perforated tooth imprint that can bleed easily or, in the worst case, become infected. As a precaution, you should always wash your hands before and after handling them in the terrarium – for the benefit of both the owner and the corn snake. After all, both want to enjoy each other for a long time.