Basic Facts About Caring For Corn Snakes, Elaphe guttata:

Listed below are the most important things you need to know to care for a pet Corn Snake. For more information, refer to the book, Rat Snakes by Ray Staszko and Gerry G. Walls.

Food

The best food for a Corn Snake is a pre-killed whole mouse. Avoid rats, gerbils and hamsters. Feeding live mice to adult Corn Snakes may sometimes be necessary, but should be avoided due to the risk of the snake being bitten. Most Corn Snakes can be coaxed into accepting fresh, dead prey. Be sure to kill the mice humanely. Note: mice can be kept in the freezer and thawed before feeding for greater convenience.

Water

A Corn Snake needs water to drink, and a dish large enough to submerse itself (without spilling), especially when about to shed. However, a wet, sloppy cage will lead to skin disease and respiratory infections. Clean up any spilled water or waste immediately.

Cage

The cage should be as large as possible, bright, and secure. Avoid sharp edges or objects, or holes the snake might get stuck in or use to escape. There should be screen on at least one, preferably two sides and/or top. Use soft nylon mesh or rubber-coated metal mesh to avoid injuries from rubbing the nose against rough wire. The cage should have a full spectrum light, a pet store store “hot rock” or similar moderate temperature warming device, and a “hide box.” A suitable hide box is a cardboard box complete on all sides with a hole cut in it. Snakes like to be well hidden, so a ledge or arch-shaped shelter is less satisfactory.

Substrate

Cleanliness is essential to keep your snake healthy. The best substrate (disposable material for the bottom of the cage) is one that is practical and easy to keep clean. I recommend cutting pieces of corrugated cardboard boxes to exactly fit the bottom of the cage. These are easily replaced when they become soiled or damp. Avoid carpets, astroturf, sand, dirt or gravel. Keep the other items in the cage simple and easy to clean or replace as well. Avoid sticks or logs with bark on them, as they may harbour insects or parasites. If the cage is large enough, a secure climbing branch will be enjoyed. Make sure the lid is secure! Adult snakes can push up amazingly heavy cage tops unless they are hooked or taped shut.

Medicine

A newly purchased corn snake should be dewormed following the instructions on a deworming solution that is made especially for reptiles. Thereafter annual deworming is recommended. Health problems in corn snakes are comparatively few, but any abnormalities should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian who has specific training and experience with reptiles.


Important: This caresheet is rather old and needs replacing. The main areas of concern are:

It is widely believed that captive bred reptiles are more likely to be parasite free than those that are wild caught. More and more, as herpetoculture gains popularity, this is turning out to not be the case, however, for the sake of wild populations, wild caughts should remain in the wild.

There are even diseases that are specific (or more deadly) to or carried by certain captive bred snakes only. For example, amongst the family boidae (boas and pythons), the highly contagious retrovirus that causes Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) is most commonly carried by captive bred boas (snake mites are suspected transmitters as well). This incurable and fatal disease originated with wild caught Asian Burmese Pythons, and it's not found in wild South American boas at all. While pythons are more likely to develop this disease, boas can be carriers without showing any signs (asymptomatic). There is no known reliable/affordable/risk free testing to find out if a boa is a carrier, and autopsy is about the only way it gets discovered ordinarily (unless the boa develops symptoms). There is only one other controversial way to know if a boa is a carrier, and that is to deliberately expose a healthy python (I've heard of people using Ball Pythons) to it on a regular basis. If the boa is a carrier, the python will likely contract it and die within three to four months.

Paula MacNeil
J&P Serpent Gardens

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