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By Jimmy Johnson

Corn snakes are sometimes referred to as red rat snakes, rosy rat snakes and even chicken snakes in some areas. Corn snakes were classified as Elaphe guttata guttata but have recently been reclassified as Pantherophis guttatus.

Why a corn snake?
There are several reasons corn snakes are the most popular snakes in the pet trade. They are easy to care for, docile, come in a wide range of colors and patterns and breed readily in captivity. Corn snakes do not get very large with adults ranging from 3 1/2 to 5 feet in length and about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. So, when you combine size, ease of care, temperament, beauty and willingness to breed it is easy to see why they are probably the most popular pet snake out there.
Another plus...with the ease of captive breeding it is unnecessary to take corn snakes from the wild. This in turn, helps keep local populations strong.
Captive bred corn snakes can be purchased from pet stores, local breeders, reptile shows and via the Internet.

What to look for when getting a corn snake:
There are a few things to look for when purchasing your new corn snake. It should have good clear eyes with no signs of cloudiness or watering. The nostrils should be clean and clear with no signs of drainage or blockage. Make sure there are no mites or ticks. Mites look like little black dots similar to black pepper. Although they can be anywhere on a snake's body you will most likely see them around the eyes or mouth. The snake should have a full body. No loose skin or protruding backbone. Loose skin and a protruding backbone can be an indication of improper diet and other problems. You would also want to avoid one with pieces of unshed skin still attached. This can be a sign of improper husbandry and/or more serious problems. The snake should be active. Most people opt for hatchlings and a healthy hatchling should be active in your hands. Make sure it is feeding. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Learn as much as you can about the snake's feeding and shed history. You may also want to learn as much as you can about the parents/genetics of the snake you choose. This information can help you decide a direction if you choose to breed the snake in the future.

There are many options for housing corn snakes. People use everything from plastic sweater boxes, glass aquariums to home-made vivariums for housing corn snakes. With hatchlings you can start with 6-quart plastic shoeboxes and as the snake grows you can move to larger enclosures. A 32-quart sweater box or 20 gallon (long) aquarium would be sufficient for an adult corn snake. Whatever your choice of housing there are basics that need to be followed. You will need a source of heat. Below or under tank heat is preferable. You can use specifically made under tank heaters, heat pads or heat tape to heat the habitat. Some type of temperature gradient is preferred. The temperatures should range from the low to mid eighties on the warm side to the mid seventies on the cool side. Do not use heat rocks in the enclosure. They can cause severe burns to your corn snake. You should provide a water dish large enough for your snake to soak in. They sometimes like to soak before a shed to help loosen the skin. Provide some form of hide on both sides of the tank. This allows the snake a secure place to hide in whichever temperature range it chooses. You will need a substrate for your snake habitats. You can use paper towels, newspaper or aspen shavings as substrates. These substrates are easy to replace, spot clean and are inexpensive. Stay away from cedar shavings or chips, sand, gravel and pine bark. These can be harmful to your snake. The cedar and pine can release toxic oils that can cause respiratory problems. The sand and gravel can cause impaction if accidentally swallowed and can also allow for bacterial growth when damp. You can provide a branch, limb or dowel rods for climbing. Your enclosure must have an escape proof lid. Check it carefully and then check it again. Corn snakes are escape artists. They can escape through anything they can get their nose through.

Corn snakes eat rodents.
It is best to feed them pre-killed frozen/thawed mice. Easier on the keeper and safer for the snake. Live mice can and have been known to injure snakes. Feeding schedules vary from keeper to keeper so I will stick to my methods for the purpose of this care sheet. Hatchlings should start with one pinkie a week. When one pinkie fails to leave a noticeable bulge move up to two pinkies a week. When two pinkies fail to leave a bulge move up to one fuzzy a week. When one fuzzy fails to leave a bulge move up to two fuzzies. After two fuzzies move up to one hopper. From one hopper to two hoppers. From two hoppers to one adult. When my snakes get to adult mice I only feed them one adult a week. If over fed they can become obese. As in all animals obesity can be dangerous. Your snake should never be fed a meal that is more then one and a half times its own diameter. You can get frozen mice from pet stores and breeders that specialize in feeder rodents.

This is a general care sheet and is by no means meant to be an exact formula for caring for your corn snake. This is simply an aid and a place to start. You should read as many care sheets, books and web sites as you can, before getting your corn snake.


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