So you want to get a pet snake? Here are some things to consider before you set your mind on it.
CORN SNAKE CARE
WHAT IS A CORN SNAKE?
A corn snake is a rat snake native to the southeastern and central United states. They grow to approximately 4-5 feet as full grown adults. While they live about 6-8 years in the wild, captive corn snakes can live for 20 years or more! They are very gentle, don't usually bite and come in attractive colours and patterns.
WHERE CAN I GET A CORN SNAKE?
Corn snakes can be easily acquired from pet shops, expos and breeders. I, personally, would not recommend a chain pet store, as you do not know the condition the snake was born in and could have problems as it grows. Specialty pet stores that are dedicated to exotics (reptiles, amphibians and aquatics) are different, as they either breed their own animals or work with breeders and know how to properly care for them. While you can get a corn snake from the wild, it is NOT recommended. Captive breed snakes are healthier and come in amazing colours and pattern morphs. Breeders can also give you information like age, parentage, history and even personality traits.
HOW DO I HOUSE A SNAKE?
Snakes can live in either a glass terrarium/aquarium or in plastic tubs/containers. Baby corn snakes don't need an adult size space, as too much open space can stress the baby out. If you are putting a baby corn snake in an adult sized cage, makes sure you put many hides (places where snakes can hide) instead of the standard two hides. Adult corn snakes can live in a 20 gallon terrarium/aquarium, however bigger is always better, and it is recommended to get a 40 gallon cage for adults. DO NOT HOUSE SNAKES TOGETHER. Make sure your cage is escape proof. If a snake can find a way out, it will be gone before you know it. Two hides is acceptable for the snake, one on the warm side and one on the cool side.
The cage should be spot cleaned regularly for feces. An all over clean should happened approximately a month or two when using the spot cleaning method. You can use reptile cleaner or vinegar or soap and water. Bedding needs to be replaced and the hides and water bowl should be washed. Improper or infrequent cleaning can result in mites and other illnesses.
WHAT SHOULD THE TEMPERATURES BE?
Corn snakes do not need special lighting, for example, the UVA/UVB lights. Natural light is just fine, but don't put the snake in direct sunlight. All reptiles need a temperature gradient, which is provided to many kinds of heat applications: heat lamps, heat mats, heat tape, heat cables, etc. The warm end should be 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit and 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit for the cool end.
As for humidity, corn snakes do well with normal house humidity. They do not need to be misted. Too much humidity can cause a condition called scale rot. However, if your snake is having troubles shedding, putting in a humidity hide (a container with either damp moss or damp paper towel) in the cage will help the snake get the humidity needed for a clean shed.
WHAT BEDDING SHOULD I USE?
Aspen shavings is the most common type of bedding used for corn snakes. It is absorbent, soft and holds shape when snakes burrow. Other beddings that can be used are: Cypress mulch, newspaper, paper towel and reptile carpet. DO NOT use sand and aromatic woods like pine and cedar.
WHAT DO CORN SNAKES EAT?
Almost all captive bred corn snakes are fed on a diet of mice and/or small rats. Many breeders and owners prefer frozen thawed mice that are already dead, but some will breed mice themselves and kill them or feed them live. It is not recommended to feed a captive corn snake live mice as the mice can attack back and hurt the snake, potentially causing infections. Some captive corn snakes do not know how to properly hunt mice, they may not strike nor constrict, which is why live mice can do more harm to the snake. You can get frozen mice at a pet store or from people who breed mice and humanly euthanize them.
Feed a baby snake every five to seven days and adults a week to two weeks apart. Snakes don't need to eat a lot. It is preferred to thaw the mouse in warm water for at least two hours. DO NOT MICROWAVE!
Feeder mice come in a variety of sizes, so how do you know what size you should feed your corn snake? Your mouse/rat should be roughly the size of the snake's widest body part. It can be one and a half times bigger than the snake's middle. Don't feed a snake until it's "full". Snakes are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is offered to them. Feed them until there is a noticeable lump in their body. This can be done with either an appropriately sized mouse/rat or feeder more than one smaller mouse/rat.
Do not panic if your snake refuses to eat. While refusal to eat can be a sign of illness, it can also just be due to the snake just not wanting to eat. Corn snakes can go up to six months without eating, so missing a few weeks will not harm the snake. Sometimes corn snakes eat less in winter or when the breeding season is approaching. But if your snake refuses to eat, there is no harm in checking to see if it has an illness or not.
HOW DO I WATER MY SNAKE?
Corn snakes will drink from a bowl. The bowl should be big enough for the snake to soak its entire body. Place the bowl of water on the cool end of the cage. Make sure that it has fresh water. The water bowl is also used to aid shedding and for snakes to relieve themselves. If the snake poops in the water bowl, clean it out immediately.
HOW FRIENDLY IS A CORN SNAKE AND CAN I HANDLE THEM?
Baby corn snakes are very darty and nervous, and may attempt to bite. Adults are more calm, but they do like to explore, so they will usually be on the move when you handle them. Most reptiles do not like being handled, but usually will tolerate it. When you approach the snake for handling, approach it slowly and carefully and preferably from the side. A new snake may be very squirmy, but after time and regular handling of 15 minute sessions, your snake should calm down and learn to trust you.
WHY DO SNAKES SHED?
Snakes shed their skin because they are animals, and all animals shed their skin, even humans. However, a mammal's skin shedding is rarely noticed and in the cellular size. A corn snake's skin doesn't grow as the snake grows, so a shed can be used to track growth. When your snake goes into shed, its scales will dull and its eyes will begin turning blue. This is called "going blue". The process can last about a week. When the eyes clear and the scales appear to be back to their original colour, the snake will shed any day. It comes off like a sock and should be in one piece. A shed that comes off in multiple pieces can indicate that their cage is too dry and may need a humidity hide. After the snake is done shedding, check the shed over to make sure its eye caps and the tip of the tail came off. Any retained shed needs to be removed and can be done by soaking the snake in a bath for 10-15 minutes.
CAN A CORN SNAKE GET SICK AND WHAT DO I DO IF IT IS SICK?
Any animal can get sick. Corn snakes will usually never get sick if its cage is cleaned properly, your hands are clean when handling it and if other potential reptiles are also "clean". But sickness can still happen even to the cleanest of snakes. One of the most common and "deadliest" illnesses a corn snake can get is a respiratory infection, or RI. Since corn snakes only have one lung, an illness that affects their breathing is very serious. Other signs are: decreased appetite, open mouth and breathing through mouth, wheezing and/or clicking, bubbling saliva, stringy mucous in mouth, raised head and forked tongue sticking together. When untreated, a snake can die from the condition. When caught early enough, home treatments can be raised heat and increased humidity. However, if the home treatments are utilized and the snake is not improving, you'll have to take the snake to the vet where it may have to get an injection.
WHAT IS THE COST OF OWNING A CORN SNAKE?
A pet snake, though cheaper in the long run than a dog or a cat, can be pretty expensive to start out. But there are ways to save some money.
Corn snakes can start out very cheap, but if you want a corn snake with a unique colour and/or pattern, the price can go up very high.
Larger cages cost more. While different brands have different costs, you can spend $80-$400. But for a plastic tub/container, you'll spend a lot less, approximately $20-$50.
Different kinds of heating elements can cost different amounts. Lamps and bulbs can cost approximately $50, a under-tank heater or heat mat can cost up to $100, cables can cost $30-100 depending on length.
Recommended to get a thermometer with a probe or a temperature gun. $15-$25.
Different kinds of bedding and how big the bag is can affect the cost. Aspen shavings can cost between $10-$30 at a local pet store. Paper towel may cost $5.
Pet store hides can come in various costs between $10-$50. But you can recycle plastic cartons of margarine or other food storage items for less.
A water bowl at a pet store can cost between $15-30 but you can also use your own bowls or recycle plastic containers.
A box of mice at a pet store can cost $15-$25, depending on size and quantity. Breeders who sell feeder mice can provide more quantity for less. This will be the one item you will repeatedly buy.
Veterinary costs for any exotic will always be more expensive than a cat or dog vet, not to mention you'll have to find someone who specializes in exotics, better reptiles. A regular examination can cost approximately $70, but any medication will cost a lot. Not to mention, there are few insurance plans that cover exotics, so you will need to prepare to shell a lot of money in case your snake is ill and needs medication.