This month’s exotics blog will have us exploring one of the first reptiles kept as pets, corn snakes. Corn snakes come in a rainbow of colors and variety of patterns that even the most ophidiophobic (fear of snakes) individuals can appreciate. Corn snakes are a relatively small snake species averaging 3-4 feet in length, and are native to the deciduous forests of the United States from Florida in the south, Delaware in the north, and Utah in the west. These snakes are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) and are generally ground dwellers with occasional forays into bushes and trees. They have a relatively short life span at an average of 10 years; however, there have been reports of them living into their early 20’s.
This beautiful and docile snake can make a wonderful pet especially for those who have never kept reptiles before. Their basic housing and feeding requirements are easy for most owners to maintain. Their captive habitat generally consists of a glass aquarium, a secure top, a water bowl large enough for them to immerse in, places to hide in and climb on, a heating source, thermometer, and a soft substrate. The habitat should not be anything smaller than a 20 gallon long aquarium for a full-grown adult. Corn snakes are solitary in the wild and can be stressed if not housed individually. The substrate, as with any exotic pet, should not be cedar or pine because they contain phenols which are toxic. We recommend Carefresh or aspen wood shavings as they allow natural burrowing behavior. Make sure to promptly remove any urates or feces from the enclosure to avoid buildup of bacteria and fungi. An under tank heating pad should be placed under one half of the enclosure and set so that the temperature is close to 85 degrees, therefore providing a warm side to the tank. Hot rocks should never be used because they can cause severe burns. The cool side should reach close to 75 degrees in the daytime and can be allowed to drop lower at night. The best way to monitor the temperature is with a digital terrarium thermometer on the warm and cool side of the tank.
Corn snakes should be fed pre-killed, frozen, thawed mice. Hatchlings are started on pinkies and as the snake grows larger mice should be offered. It is a good idea to feed your snake in a separate container than its enclosure in order to avoid ingesting the substrate and accidental bites to humans (even though a bite feels like someone rubbing Velcro on you).
Socializing you corn snake is as simple as holding it in your hands (make sure to support it with two hands) and allowing it to explore around you. Make sure to wash your hands after handling your snake and do not allow it on surfaces where you prepare or eat food. Be aware of any other pets in your house because they too will be interested in your corn snake and may injure it. There are two times when you should not handle your corn snake. Number one is within 48 hours of eating as they may regurgitate and number two is when they are shedding. You will know your corn snake is shedding because it will become reclusive, appear dull, and you may see a blue hue to their eyes.
As with any other animal, it is important to know when they are sick. Many people find it difficult to tell when their snake is sick. You can suspect that your snake is sick if it is not eating, regurgitating, or listless, or if it has wrinkled skin, pieces of shed that are not detached, or is not acting as it traditionally does. Another common sign of illness is nasal discharge or even being able to hear them breathing (popping or whistling).
Common medical problems include internal parasites such as protozoans and worms, and external parasites like mites. Trauma, especially bite wounds, are also common and are usually due to feeding of live prey or other pets in the house. Burns can occur when heat lamps are within reach of the snake or when hot rocks are used. Respiratory disease can occur when improper husbandry exists. As with any pet, corn snakes should have regular physical exams including a fecal screen so that they may live long and happy lives.
Drs. Patrick and Tami Mares-Ziehmn have a pet corn snake named Tinder. She is 7 years old and 3 feet long. She loves hiding in cracker boxes and climbing between the couch cushions.