The more information you have about your corn snake, the happier both you and your snake will be. This six page caresheet covers the majority of your criteria you'll need including: nutrition, cage condition, and handling. If the information below won't work for you, you may be able to download and print your own caresheet here: http://jmksnakes.webs.com/Cornsnake Caresheet.doc
Useful information for your
new family pet.
Why get a cornsnake?
1) Ease of care. A cornsnake is fed usually once a week, requires very little space in a household, very little maintenance, and no required vet visits.
2) Affordable. After your initial expenses (snake, supplies, and enclosure), the only expense is the food items. Food items can be bought individually at a local pet store or bought in bulk for a discount.
3) Gentle Nature. Cornsnakes truly enjoy being handled and are appropriate for people of nearly any age. A bite by a cornsnake is very rare and harmless.
4) Appearance. Cornsnakes come in a variety of over 200 different colors and patterns! All colors and patterns are unique and attractive in their own way.
5) Education. By owning a cornsnake, you will appreciate and learn about reptiles and other exotic animals you may not have previously had an interest in. And your friends and family will ask a flurry of questions about your new pet!
Preparing for your new snake
Like any pet, some preparation is needed before you introduce your cornsnake to your home. However, a cornsnake requires much less maintenance than a dog, cat, ferret, etc. To get started you will need:
1) A terrarium at least 1 0 gallon for a snake up to about 1 &1/2 years old, and at least 20 gallon breeder cage for an adult. Your terrarium (usually made from glass) should have a locking lid. This is very important, cornsnakes are notorious for being escape artists... and if a space is big enough for a snake to get its head through, they have the ability to get their whole body through! Consider yourself warned! You can do it right a thousand times, but wrong only once... so make sure your snake canít escape.
2) A water bowl with fresh water should always be available for your cornsnake. You can get decorative water bowls at a local pet store or simply use a shallow dish. If you purchase a water bowl at a pet store, I recommend to get one that has a smooth non-porous surface... this style of water bowl is easier to keep clean.
3) An alternative heat source is needed. Cornsnakes, like other reptiles, are ectotherms... which means they control their own body temperature by their surroundings. I recommend getting an under-the-tank heater (UTH). Again, these can easily be found at your local pet store. If you use a glass terrarium, the UTH heaters simply adhere to one end of the glass under your enclosure. You will not need a large UTH, you only need a small area heated and the remainder of the enclosure at room temperature so that your snake can control its body temperature.
4) You will need places your cornsnake for to hide. Although itís fun to watch your snake explore itís enclosure, it is more important that it is comfortable. A snake can become nervous without sufficient hides, which may lead to restlessness and poor feeding. You should provide a place to hide over your UTH and also at the cool end of the enclosure. What you use for a hide is up to you, just make sure whatever you use does not contain any substance or adhesives which may contain harmful vapors . You may use decorative hides found at a local pet store, or other ideas are: a homemade pine box (unfinished), a large plastic coffee canister cut in half (clean before you use this, cornsnakes arenít coffee drinkers), and large faux foliage. In my experience the large leaf foliage works best for the cool side of the enclosure. It is inexpensive and can be found at a number of stores. The faux foliage also adds eye appeal your snakeís home. Cornsnakes are generally active during the evening hours and enjoy exploring and climbing. Your enclosureís decor, hides, and foliage should provide a comfortable and satisfying environment for both you and your cornsnake.
5) You will need a substrate (bedding) for your new snakes enclosure. There are a number of options for bedding, however aspen bedding is the most common and the only bedding I use and recommend. Aspen bedding is available at any local pet store and can be bought in smaller bags in the reptile section, or in larger bags with the rabbit supplies. The aspen provides an odor control for those moments after your cornsnake "relieves itself". You can simply scoop the waste out and discard the aspen just like using cat litter. And the aspen is assumed to be harmless in case your snake accidentally ingests some during a meal. When placing the bedding in the enclosure, it is recommended to place 1 &1/2 - 2" of bedding. It is very important to provide 2-3" of bedding over the UTH. Some UT heaters can reach temperatures well over 1 00 degrees! The added depth of bedding will provide temperature control. You can also add a piece of felt over the heat pad to help regulate the temperature above your heat pad. Other options for bedding include folded newspaper (donít use shredded newspaper) and wood bark chips. DO NOT use calcium enriched substrates advertised for reptiles for your cornsnake as they do not require calcium supplements as other reptiles do.
6) A plastic shoe box (usually only $1). You can use this shoe box as a temporary enclosure as you are cleaning your snakeís terrarium and as a device to aid your snake with shedding (I mention this in a later section).
*This list of supplies will get you started. You can buy locally through retailers or you may look online to purchase all of your supplies. I canít promise youíll save money by going online, I have used (and have been satisfied) with petsmart.com and lllreptile.com. The advantage of buying locally is you donít have to wait for your supplies. All of these supplies should only cost between $100-120... thatís quite a reasonable expense considering these initial expenses will probably take care of your cornsnake its whole life!
A cornsnake can be fed every 4-5 days, however feeding once a week is sufficient. By feeding once a week, it will be convenient for you as an owner (schedule the meals the same night each week) and you will save a few bucks on food each year. A cornsnake can live healthy its whole life from a diet of mice. If your snake is feeding well from mice, I do not recommend switching food items (such as rats) as your snake could become a selective eater after being introduced to a different food item. Your food items can be bought live at a local pet store or purchased in bulk online. If you purchase the food online, the mice are pre-killed, sterile, and vacuum sealed. Although you may get some weird looks from your family after you put mice in your freezer (wrap up safely with grocery sacks so it wonít interfere with your food items), the convenience is hard to beat. Here are the advantages of buying the food items pre-killed/frozen:
2) Freezing reduces the chances of parasites compared to live food.
3) You will save a weekly trip to the pet store.
4) Reduces the chance of injury to your snake. There is a small risk of your snake getting a nasty bite from a live mouse. Therefore, do not leave your snake unattended with a live food item. You must be sure your pre-killed food items are completely thawed, if not completely thawed, this could lead to digestive problems with your snake. To thaw a pre-killed food Item, simply heat water in a coffee cup or small bowl in a microwave to temperature too hot to keep your finger in, but not too hot to put your finger in... if you are thawing only one food item, this is usually about 5 0 seconds depending on your microwave. After youíve heated the water, place the food item in the water for approximately ten minutes, this should be ample time. Do not feed the thawed food item to your snake if itís hot to the touch, let it cool for a couple minutes if necessary.
Now that you are ready to feed your snake, just hold the food item a few inches in front of the snake... most of the time your snake will take the food item immediately. You can hold the food item by the tail and feed by hand, however I donít recommend this. Not only do you run the risk of one of your fingers being mistaken for a mouse, it is my belief that the appearance of a large hand and arm approaching a excited, hungry cornsnake will make the cornsnake nervous and sometimes hesitant. Just put yourself in their place and imagine if the "Jolly Green Giant" bent down to offer you food... itís a bit threatening. I recommend feeding your snake using large tweezers. I use 10" tweezers. Some are made specifically for reptile husbandry and can easily be purchased online. Iíll admit, I used to hand feed my cornsnakes (there is a certain thrill involved). However, by feeding with tweezers I have found that it is a cleaner, more sterile way of feeding... and my cornsnakes have become more eager eaters.
If your snake refuses a meal, donít become alarmed, as a snake can be healthy for long periods of time without a meal. The usual cause of refusing a meal is if your snake is in the process of shedding (usually a 5 -10 day process) or improper cage temperatures. If your snake has refused a meal, and you are confident that cage conditions are good and the snake is not in the shedding process, there are a couple of things you can do to increase the chances of your snake eating:
1) Place the snake in a small container with the food item and leave it undisturbed overnight. The plastic tub your snake came in works great if the snake is still small. Once the snake is larger, a clean paper bag works very well. You must be sure to place plenty of small holes in the bag for air exchange, and close the bag using a clothes pin or "chip clip".
2) Wash the mouse using dish soap, then rinse and dry. I know it sounds weird... but it works.
3) Braining... not for the faint at heart. This involves poking a small hole the food itemís head using a razor blade or knife. Personally, I have tried this with little success, but I wouldnít discourage trying this.
4) All of the above methods apply mainly if you are feeding thawed pre-killed items, if you have little success with the above mentioned methods, try a live food item.
Once your snake has eaten, it will probably spend the next couple of days relatively inactive and hiding (mostly on the warm side of its enclosure) in order to help digest its meal. The recommended meal size is between the same girth as the snakeís body and 1 &1/2 times the girth of the snake. Your snake can eat two food items in one feeding if the food items are smaller than usual. If you feed two items, you should wait until your snake has moved the first food item into its stomach before you offer the second food item. In nature, snakes are opportunistic feeders, often gorging themselves in a rodents den or birdís nest. After giving a meal to snake, it will want another one. But do not feed your snake a second food item unless it is necessary. A meal too large may result in poor digestion and ultimately regurgitation. Regurgitation may also result from too high of cage temperatures and is a problem that should not be taken lightly. Being cold blooded, a snakeís digestive system is very different from ourís (or even a dog or catís digestive system). After getting sick, humans could immediately eat again. However, when a snake regurgitates, it also loses itís valuable stomach acid, and should not be fed for at least ten days. If cared for properly, you should not have to deal with your snake regurgitating a meal... however, if you happen to experience this, please contact me for assistance.
Keeping your cornsnake healthy is relatively easy, but it is a subject that must be mentioned. Like any healthy pet, you must provide fresh clean water to your cornsnake. Cornsnakes seem to drink more than most snakes. Place a water bowl in a corner of the cool side of the enclosure, this way as your snake explores the edges of the terrarium, it will find the water bowl. I recommend giving fresh water every 4-5 days, however, check the water bowl frequently as cornsnakes seem to enjoy using their water bowl as a toilet. When you provide fresh water, simply clean the water bowl using dishwashing soap (i.e. Dawn or Joy). Always provide filtered water for your cornsnake as the additives and chemicals in our tap water may affect the health of your snake. If you do not currently own a water filter, a handheld filter can be purchased for less than $1 0.
Although aspen bedding is easy for maintenance and odor control, I recommend cleaning your snakeís enclosure 3-4 times a year. When you clean the enclosure, you can wash the terrarium and almost all of itís contents with dish soap. After cleaning the enclosure and itís contents (make sure everything is dry, avoiding the risk of mold/mildew), simply place new bedding down and return your snake to a clean home. Always clean your snakeís cage contents if there is waste on them.
Poor cage temperature is the biggest cause of health and feeding problems. The temperature under the hide in the warm spot of the enclosure is ideal between 82-88 degrees. On the cool side of the enclosure, temperatures between 70-75 are ideal and are usually easily achieved by normal room temperatures. As far as humidity goes, in nature, cornsnakes do enjoy periods of high humidity as it aids them in the shedding process. In captivity, supplemental humidity is usually not needed. Do not place the terrarium in front of a window as direct sunlight can cause a "greenhouse effect" in the enclosure resulting in dangerous temperatures. Air circulation is a benefit as well, so placing the enclosure in a room with a ceiling fan or similar air circulation is recommended. Again, to regulate the temperature over the UTH, you should add more bedding over the UTH, or you can place a piece of felt on the floor of the terrarium over the UTH. If you have tried unsuccessfully to regulate the temperature, you can purchase a rheostat. A rheostat regulates the amount of wattage an electrical device receives. You can purchase a rheostat specifically made for reptiles at your local pet store, just simply plug the UTH into it. S upplemental lighting (including any heat lamps) is also unnecessary. Having your cornsnake in a room which does receive daylight will simulate the day/night cycles and is probably beneficial. However, there appears to be no ill effects to keeping a cornsnake its whole life in a room which receives little light.
Hereís the fun part, right? You just canít wait to get your intriguing, beautiful cornsnake out to show your friends and family! Cornsnakes enjoy being held. You may notice as you attempt to put them back into their enclosures, they often "lunge" upwards to remain out of their cage... itís quite amusing. It is my opinion, that a cornsnake younger than about 9-1 0 months old enjoys being out of their enclosure because they believe itís their chance to be free! Therefore, a smaller, younger cornsnake requires slightly more attention when being held. A young cornsnake is not only smaller to handle, but they are also more active when handled. And again, in my opinion, a larger, older cornsnake enjoys being handled because they enjoy the "exercise" and by this point, they truly trust you as an owner. A young cornsnake surely feels cautious when being handled by something so much larger than itself. And as it matures, a bond will develop between your cornsnake and human beings. To prevent the spread of any illness, infection, etc. always wash and/or disinfect your hands before and after handling your snake. I use antibacterial lotion (i.e. Germ-X) before and after handling the snakes. This lotion works well, just make sure your hands are dry before you pick them up.
When you remove your snake from its enclosure, simply pick them up gently, the ideal place to pick them up at is about 1 /3 down their body length. When picking the snake up or handling them, do not make sudden movements... this can make them nervous. That should go without saying but sudden movements around any pet such as a cat or dog can make them nervous also. When you handle the snake, make sure that it is well balanced at all times. You donít want the snake to think its about to fall! Two hands are better than one. Just think of yourself as branch for them to crawl on. Do not hold on to them, disabling the ability for them to move... this can also make them nervous. I mention the word nervous often simply because to most people, owning a snake is a new experience. The more you know about your pet, the happier you both will be!
You should not handle your new cornsnake for at least three days after acquiring it. This is easier said than done, you are excited about your new pet... but give your new snake a little time to get used to its surroundings. It is also recommended that you not handle your snake while it is in the shedding phase. A cornsnakeís vision is impaired during this time and handling it could cause nervousness. You should not handle your cornsnake until at least three days after a meal, as this could upset their stomach. Hereís a tip: After a snake has digested itís meal, but before it goes to the bathroom, you will see a "bulge" in the last inch or two above their cloaca (rear end). This bulge is the imminent bowel movement. The tip is, if you hold your snake when itís ready to have a bowel movement... it may do just that! If you do hold your cornsnake with that "bulge", I recommend to handle them only for a few moments... again, consider yourself warned! If you see your snake has recently gone to the bathroom, consider yourself safe to handle your snake without a mess. It is believed that you can handle them too much or too often. Just use your judgement.
Growth and Development
When a cornsnake is born, they are barely bigger than a #2 pencil, but with maturity, will grow generally from 48-66 inches. Males are generally larger (and often more colorful) than females. A cornsnakeís growth rate and eventual overall length will vary based on amount and frequency that your snake eats, and genetics. In my experience, your cornsnake will hit a "growth spurt" at around one year old, growing at a greater rate than the previous year. Be patient with its growth, there is joy in any size of snake, just like the joys of having a kitten compared to having a mature cat.
As your cornsnake grows, like other reptiles, it will shed its skin. A snake will shed itís skin more frequent as a youngster than it will as an adult because it is growing faster. When a snake is in the shedding cycle (usually 5 -10 days), its epidermis (outer-most layer of the skin) and its eyes will become cloudy and dull. A cornsnake will usually shed its skin in one continuous piece unless it is torn on any of its cage furniture or if your snake is having trouble getting its shed off. If your snake is having difficulty shedding (pieces of skin remain on its newly shed body), monitor the humidity levels in its environment. The best way to treat a snake that has had trouble shedding is to place your snake in a plastic shoe box with the lid on. Cut a hole at least twice the diameter of your snake in the lid and place damp sphagnum moss inside the box. Place the snake in the box in its enclosure and let nature run its course, this should relieve your snakeís difficulty. After shedding, a newer, more vivid epidermis is revealed. It is amaz ing how the colors of your snake changes between sheds. The shedding process is also your snakeís efficient way of staying clean.
If you own more than one snake or plan to get any more in the future... do not house more than one snake per enclosure.
Snakes are territory by nature (by scent) and can cause nervousness when housed together. Also, co-habiting snakes may compete for food, or mistake one another for a meal, causing injury or death.
Many care sheets you may find may only be 1 -2 pages. However, I feel that a person cannot know too much about their pet, and the more you know the happier both you and your cornsnake will be. Despite my experience, I am constant reading, researching, and learning nearly every day. Owning a cornsnake is very rewarding. They are kind, gentle, great eaters, and beautiful in appearance. Donít get me wrong, I love all animals and pets as well, I have owned dogs and cats all of my life... and have a dog I love very much now. But here are a few things for "food-for-thought" when owning a cornsnake:
*You donít have to take it outside to go to the bathroom at all hours of the day.
*You donít have expensive vet bills for routine shots, spay/neutering, declawing, etc.
*You wonít have boarding/kennel costs while youíre on vacation.
*It wonít pee on your favorite chair or bedroom floor.
*It wonít chew on your shoes or furniture.
*It wonít scratch on the door or use furniture for a scratching post.
*You wonít have to vacuum the whole house when it sheds.
*It wonít bark, whine, or meow keeping you up at night.
*It wonít jump on the kitchen counter to sample your dinner.
I could not cover everything in a caresheet, for more information, youíll need a book. I recommend to pick up a book written by a friend of mine, Don Soderberg. He is one the largest and most reputable cornsnake breeders in the country. You can get his book by visiting his website www.cornsnakes.net.... Another invaluable website is www.cornsnakes.com. This website is a forum full of thousands of cornsnake owners like yourself. On the site, you can answer any question you may have, or just browse through thousands of photos of cornsnakes all over the world. If I can help to answer any of your questions, I encourage you to contact me. I prefer to be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com, I will normally respond the same day. Or you can reach my cell phone at 417-343-9543. Enjoy your beautiful new pet!