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Corn Snake Care: Food, Size, Enclosure, Heating…and More

Corn snake care guide - Reptile Ranger

Corn snakes are #1 on our list of the best pet snakes for beginners. They’re gentle, easy to care for, and the perfect size for pets. Their wide variety of colors and patterns also attract more experienced snake owners and breeders.

Bringing your pet snake home can be overwhelming. So use this corn snake care guide to learn everything you need to know to have a happy, healthy new friend.

Most Popular Corn Snake Morphs

  1. Normal Corn Snake (“Wild Type”)
  2. Albino (Amelanistic or “A-mel” for short)
  3. Hypomelanistic (“Hypo”)
  4. Anerythristic (“Anery”)

How Big Are Corn Snakes?

Full Grown Corn Snake Size

Adults corn snakes will be anywhere from 4-5 feet long on average. It’s rare, but corn snakes sometimes reach up to 6 feet.

It’s a myth that over-feeding your snake will make them grow longer. Just like humans, they only get as tall as they’re gonna get. Too much food only makes them fatter.

Baby Corn Snake Size

Corn snake bay is the size of a pencil
Baby corn snakes are about the size of a pencil

Baby snakes are called hatchlings because they just hatched out of the egg. Most corn snake babies are between 8-12 inches long. They’re about as skinny and as long as a number two pencil.

Beginner Corn Snake Tank Setup

Enclosure Size

An adult corn snake needs at least a 40 gallon enclosure. Some folks like to start with a smaller enclosure and work your way up as your snake grows. But there’s no reason not to start off with a 40 gallon and save yourself some money. 

Just be sure to add plenty of extra places to hide and lots of foliage to make the hatchling feel more secure than just a wide open tank. Not enough cover will stress them out which can cause non-feeding issues, and can make them more defensive. Bonding with your snake is about building little threads of trust each time you handle them. If they’re already stressed about a wide open tank, you’ll be going backwards instead of forwards with the bonding experience. 

Prefer to start small? You can always sell your 20 gallon long tank and put that money towards a bigger tank as they grow. 

Corn Snake Substrate

The bedding at the bottom of your enclosure is called substrate. It serves a similar purpose as cat litter, soaking up your snake’s waste for easy cleanup.

The most common substrate for corn snakes is Aspen mulch. It’s odorless and super absorbent. Which makes cleaning up snake poop a lot easier. A couple 4qt bags of Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding make a great addition to your snake starter kit.

Temperature and Humidity Levels for Corn Snakes

Corn snakes make great beginner pets because they don’t need strict temperature or humidity levels. 

Snakes are cold blooded, so create a hot end and a cool end of the tank to let your snake thermo-regulate. Get yourself an under-tank heating pad and a thermostat for the hot end. Set the temperature to 83 degrees to start with. This will give them a warm place to go digest their meal or if they just want some warmth.

Keep the rest of the tank at ‘room temperature’ of around 74 degrees (give or take a few). Always keep the water bowl in the cool end of the tank.

Wild corn snakes live all over North America and can thrive in environments with anywhere from 50-65% humidity. Go too humid and you risk mold and bacteria infections. Too dry and your snake could have shedding problems.

Corn Snake Hides and Water Bowls

I personally like to have enough hiding spots, and leaf coverage, and branches to make your snake feel comfortable.

Get a hide box for the warm end and one for the cool end of the tank. And choose a water dish that’s big enough for the snake to soak in if it wants to.

Do Corn Snakes Need UVB Light?

Some tropical snakes need a heat lamp, and all reptiles will enjoy some UV light that mimics the warm sunshine. But for corn snakes you don’t need either as long as the room and hot side of the cage are the right temperatures.

There’s some debate among breeders on this. And taking your snake out in the sun (or under UV light) may help improve their immune system.

Corn snakes in their natural habitat really don’t bask in the sun for too long. A lot of them, even in the summertime, will hide all day and then they’ll thermo-regulate on a hearth like a warm piece of concrete right when it gets dark. They feel safer coming out after dark when it’s starting to cool down a little bit.

So if you want an extra happy snake, go ahead and pick up a UV light. But don’t worry if you want to skip it for now.

Corn Snake Food and Water

What’s a Healthy Corn Snake Diet?

Hatchlings eat “Pinkie” mice. These are very small mice, that don’t even have fur yet, just pink skin. As your snake starts growing, move on to “Fuzzies” and medium sized mice.

Full grown corn snakes eat large or extra-large mice, depending on their size.

Your snake will be perfectly healthy eating just mice their whole life, so stick with that when you’re a beginner.

How Often Should I Change the Water?

When starting out, plan on changing the water every 1-3 days. Right now I keep my snake room down to like 73-74 degrees and the water stays fresh and clean for at least 3-4 days, if not a week.

“Some people in the hobby are super vigilant and change the water every day. But I have 40 snakes. I’m not gonna change 40 water bowls every day. Not gonna happen.”

Only have one snake? Just change it every day. Why not keep it fresh clean? But if you want to do it every couple of days that’s fine too as long as you keep an eye on it.

Are Corn Snakes Easy To Take Care Of?

Yes, corn snakes are low maintenance, and easy to take care of! That’s why they’re at the top of our list for best pet snakes for beginners.

They’re very docile, and they don’t need to be fed very often. Just make sure to set up the tank properly, replace their water every 1-3 days, and make sure the temperature and humidity are in the right range.

Bringing Your Corn Snake Home

Brian handling an adult corn snake
Brian handling an adult corn snake

Let’s say you go to Petco and say, “I want that corn snake.” I’d have the enclosure already set up before I even go buy it, if possible. That way you can lower the stress of moving your snake to a new environment too often.

I’d put it in the tank and just do fresh water for a week. I wouldn’t touch it for a week, just change its water. Let them get used to their new home without being afraid of a giant monster in the room (you) picking them up. In the wild they only get picked up if they’re being eaten, so it takes some time for them to get used to it.

After that I try to handle it 20 minutes a day. This desensitizes them to your touch and gets them comfortable with a human presence. Consistent handling is the best way to raise a snake that loves to be handled, and doesn’t bite.

Don’t handle your snake right after it eats. Leave it alone for 48 hours to properly digest its meal. Picking them up too soon could result in the snake wanting to regurgitate or throw up their meal in order to try and escape you.

How Do I Desensitize My New Snake?

One thing I like to do is called desensitizing. You desensitize them to your touch, your feel, being picked up, being grabbed all the stuff they don’t really like or don’t encounter in the wild.

I like to rub my hands on top of their head kind of on their neck and under their chin. This will be new to them and they might not like it at first. So don’t worry if they back away or try and nip at you. Within a couple weeks they’ll be a lot more comfortable. Right now, I can reach into the enclosure and pet my snakes right on the head.

Do Corn Snakes Bite When Handled?

Proper handling trains your snake not to bite. So help your snake learn to be docile and friendly when you pick it up by handling it often when it’s young. Corn snakes don’t have sharp fangs, so the occasional bite is nothing to worry about.

Are Corn Snakes Venomous?

Nope. Corn snakes are non-venomous. They’re constrictors, which means they subdue prey by coiling around them and squeezing their body.

Do Corn Snakes Like To Be Held?

Yes, corn snakes love to be held. Be sure to properly socialize and handle them enough starting with when they’re a hatchling. They especially like the warmth of your body heat while crawling on your hands and arms.

Can I Handle Corn Snakes If They Just Ate?

After they eat, I give them about three days before I’d handle it because they could regurgitate their meal, especially if they’re young. They might get scared and try to throw it up to escape.

Should I Use A Snake Hook?

A hook can be a good tool. But if you’re a beginner who just bought a baby, you might as well just get used to reaching and grabbing them.

Except for some of my newer snakes, I don’t use a snake hook anymore. A snake hook works because it’s non-threatening. Snakes see in thermal vision. So if you come in with this nice cold hook, it doesn’t look like a hot predator reaching out and trying to scoop them up.

Where Should I Buy My First Corn Snake?

Corn snakes are the most popular pet snake for a reason. If you’re a beginner I recommend going to your local pet store. They’ll have a variety of common morphs to choose from. I don’t recommend buying your first snake off the internet. Save that for when you have more experience with handling, caring for, and shipping snakes.

Corn Snake Facts (Pantherophis guttatus)

Common names: Corn snake

Scientific name: Pantherophis guttatus (formerly Elaphe guttata, but they’ve been reclassified)

Life expectancy: 6-8 years in the wild, up to 20+ years in captivity

Adult length: Usually 4-5 feet long, some can get up to 6 feet long

Fun Facts:

  • Corn snakes are carnivorous, meaning they eat meat. They’re constrictors, which means they wrap around their prey rather than using fangs and venom for hunting.
  • Corn snakes are non-venomous.
  • Corn snakes are native to the southeast United States but they’re found throughout the U.S. And they’ve even been seen in the wild in Australia. 

More resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_snake