Basic Information Sheet: Corn Snake

Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttatus guttatus or Elaphe guttata)

corn snake

Photo credit: Lauren Mitchell via Flickr Creative Commons

Natural History



The corn snake is also known as the red rat snake. Corn snakes are found in woodland and forest regions of the southeastern and central United States as far west as Kentucky and Louisiana and as far south as Mexico.

Pets may be wild-caught but most are captive bred and many color morphs are now available in the pet trade.


Taxonomy



Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Colubridae

Corn snake, rat snake,

Color and Size



The ground color of the normal or wild type corn snake ranges from orange to gray. There are orange, brown, or reddish patterns with black borders on the back and sides. The belly is checkered black and white, and the underside of the tail is usually striped. There are also albinos and many color morphs produced in captivity.

Adults reach 2.5-5 ft (0.8-1.5 m) in length.


Diet



Free-ranging corn snakes eat small mammals, birds, and eggs. In captivity they thrive on rats and mice.

For more information, download the client handout: Feeding Snakes.


Husbandry


Temperature75-85°F (24-30°C) with a 10-15°F (2-5°C) drop at night. A winter cool-down or “brumation” is recommended for healthy specimens only and is required for successful breeding.
Humidity/waterProvide a water bowl large enough for the snake to completely immerse its body, and heavy enough that the animal will not tip it over. Provide a humidity box” or a hiding place filled halfway with damp sphagnum moss. Place the container half on and half off the heat.
Cage size and designAt minimum, an adult corn snake should be housed in a 30-gallon (114-L) aquarium.
Cage furniture/suppliesThese snakes are good climbers that do best when some vertical space is provided. Provide visual security in the form of a hide box.
Social structureCorn snakes may be housed in pairs or trios year-round.


Lifespan



Corn snakes may live up to 15-20 years in captivity.

Anatomy/ physiology


Dermatologic:Snakes lack movable eyelids; instead the eyes are protected by a clear “ spectacle”, which is an embryonic fusion of the eyelids.

The scaled skin is normally shed in one piece in a process called “ecdysis”.Gastrointestinal:The teeth are arranged in six rows with double rows present in the upper jaw. Snake teeth are shed through life, and are attached to the bone’s surface instead of roots.Cardiopulmonary:The snake’s three-chambered heart is mobile within the ribcage.
Snakes possess incomplete tracheal rings.

The right lung joins with a large air sac that may extend to the caudal coelom.

The left lung is absent or vestigial.Urogenital:Snakes possess a renal portal system.Sexual dimorphism:The copulatory organs of the snake are “hemipenes”. Hemipenes lie within pouches at the ventral tail base. Probing of the male pouches will be deeper when compared to females and snakes are usually sexed by this technique. Stainless steel probes for this purpose are sold in the pet trade.


Restraint



Corn snakes are relatively docile and rarely bite.

When handling a snake, take care not to smell like snake food (i.e. rodents or rabbits). Wash your hands thoroughly beforehand.
Support the head, neck, and body. Make sure the snake’s weight is not borne by its single occipital condyle and the cervical spine.




Cardiac puncture
Tail vessel

Injections



Give intramuscular injections between the scales in the epaxial muscles. Use the cranial half of the body to avoid the renal portal system.

Preventive medicine



Regular physical examination
Fecal parasite testing

Important medical conditions



Corn snakes are relatively hardy. Problems seen in captivity can include:

  • Dysecdysis
  • Endoparasitism (wild-caught)
  • Pustular dermatitis or “blister disease”

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References