Caresheet

Basic Cornsnake Care

Cornsnakes are relatively easy to care for and most will live into their teens or twenties as long as you provide a few basic items.

Settling In:

Your snake has just experienced the most stressful day of its life. It is crucial that you unpack your new baby snake as quietly and gently as possible and place it in its new home to recover. As much as you want to, please do not handle your new pet for five to seven days. I recommend draping the top and sides of the cage with a towel so the snake has a dimly-lit environment. It is of critical importance that your snake be as relaxed and unafraid as possible for the first feeding attempt. After feeding, allow 48-72 hours for digestion, and then you can start familiarizing your baby snake to short, gentle handling periods. Remember, you will have this snake for years! The most important thing right now is to first establish good feeding habits.

 

Housing:

Most important is an escape-proof cage. If there is a way to get out, the snake will find it. You need a properly-sized cage with an escape-proof lid. My favorite brand is the Zilla Critter Cage. A 10 gallon glass vivarium with a sliding locking lid, the Critter Cage will last a hatchling cornsnake well into its second year. A 20 gallon Critter Cage will be sufficient for the lifetime of the snake. Of course you can always supply your adult snake with a larger home!

Some people choose to house their cornsnakes in plastic Sterilite containers, either in a rack system, or alone. If you choose to use plastic bins to house your snake, be aware that the snake can easily lift the lid even when the lid is latched. You need to secure the lid with binder clips to make it escape-proof. While many people, including some very large breeders, use plastic bins with great success, I personally would not use plastic bins outside of a rack because I am so afraid of escapes.

The rack system I have chosen to house my adult cornsnakes is made by Animal Plastics. It uses 66 quart Sterilite bins, which are just slightly larger in floor space than a 20 long vivarium.

Cornsnakes are solitary creatures by nature. When you see two or more snakes together in the wild, this does not mean they like each other; it means they are competing for the same resources. In captivity, it is strongly advised against housing snakes together except for breeding pairs for the short term. Co-habitated snakes are endangered by stress, spread of parasites/disease and even cannibalism. You must provide a separate vivarium for each of your cornsnakes.

 

Temperature Control:

The vivarium (viv) should be heated by an Under Tank Heater which covers roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of the bottom of the viv, attached underneath, outside. There are a number of manufacturers. I haven’t found one UTH to be more reliable than another. One thing they all have in common is they get hot enough to burn your snake and must be regulated by a rheostat or thermostat. Some people can make their own rheostat, or choose to use a lamp dimmer. Rheostats require quite a bit of attention so their output can be adjusted to varying room temps. Thermostats provide a temperature that is a little or a lot steadier. The more inexpensive thermostats are of the on/off variety and will allow a swing in temps of 5-10 degrees F. Proportional thermostats are more expensive, but are extremely reliable and will hold the temp steady within a couple degrees. All my racks and nearly all my glass vivs are controlled by Herpstat ND thermostats. Never, ever use any type of “hot rock” for heating your snake. They are well-known to cause severe burns.

I recommend the use of a probed digital thermometer to monitor the temps within the viv. The temp probe should be placed in the center of the UTH, in the viv, right on the glass. The thermostat probe should be right next to it. You can secure these probes with aquarium silicone or hot glue. Do not use tape inside the viv. It is very difficult to remove from a snake’s skin and will likely injure the snake when you attempt to do so.

The warm side of the viv will have the UTH, a nice layer of aspen over it, and a hide on top of that. The temp on inside the hide, over the UTH, directly on the glass should be about 85-88F. The cool side of the viv should have a temp ranging from 70F to 80F.

 

Lighting:

Cornsnakes do not require UV light. Cornsnakes are nocturnal and do not bask in the wild. They hide under sheets of tin or loose bark on trees which are warmed by the sun but allow the snake to remain in a dark, safe place. The UTH provides this environment; a heat lamp of any type does not. You may wish to install a cool fluorescent or LED light to allow you to see the snake better. I recommend against using any type of lamp or ceramic heat element for heating a cornsnake.

Substrate:

Substrate is what covers the floor of the viv. I use and recommend aspen shavings. Aspen is easy to clean and provides excellent cover for a burrowing snake. Some people use paper towels or newspaper, especially in a hospital or isolation environment. Some people use a product called CareFRESH. Some people use reptile carpet. Substrates that are not to be used with cornsnakes are cedar or pine, which can be deadly to snakes, or any type of sand, which is irritating to the snake.

Hides:

Hides are used by the snake to hide away in, for sleeping and digestion. They may be as simple as an appropriately-sized cardboard box or as fancy as a store-bought artificial rock or log. If you make your own, be sure to remove anything sharp, like staples, or sticky, like price tags. Empty cardboard tubes from paper towel rolls are almost universally enjoyed by cornsnakes of all sizes! If you choose to buy hides from the petstore, make sure you inspect them, especially hollow branches/trees, for tiny openings into blind limbs that the snake can get trapped in. You can easily seal off such openings with aquarium silicone. The snake will prefer a snug-fitting hide over a spacious one. Another type of hide cornsnakes like a lot is a corkbark slab, laid right on the aspen.

I recommend providing a variety of silk/plastic vines as well. These will allow a baby snake to feel safe and secure, and the babies will often sleep curled up in the leaves. You can use both vines that attach to the sides of the viv with suction cups or that can be arranged along the back wall of the viv on the floor.

Water:

The snake should be provided with fresh water at all times. You need to check the water daily, especially a couple days after feeding. The water bowl needs to be untippable. I prefer ceramic bowls large enough for the snake to fit into. Some people use plastic dog bowls, which snakes like to hide under. Keep an eye out for spilled water which can allow mold to grow. Clean the bowl with hot, soapy water once or twice a week.

Feeding:

When your snake arrives it will be feeding on unscented, frozen/thawed mice of an appropriate size. A rule of thumb to go by is feeding a prey item that is one to one and a half times the diameter of the snake at the snake’s widest part.

I recommend feeding the snake in a separate, escape-proof feeding container. This allows you a chance to clean the viv while the snake swallows its meal without fear of substrate ingestion. After feeding and moving the snake back to its viv, do not handle the snake, even for a moment, for the next 48 hours. Doing so greatly increases the chances of regurgitation, which is life-threatening.

 

Sample Feeding Plan (Munson Plan)

-When the snake is on single pinks (2-3g), I feed every 5-6 days. (Snake = 4-15g)
-Double pinks (3g x 2) every 5-6 days. (Snake = 16-23g)
-Small fuzzies (5-7g) every 6-7 days. (Snake = 24-30g)
-Regular fuzzies (7-9g) every 6-7 days (Snake = 30-50g)
-Hoppers (9-12g) every 6-7 days (Snake = 51-90g)
-Weaned (14-20g) every 7 days (Snake = 91-170g)
-Adult (20-30g) every 7-x days (Snake = 170+) See below.

Note: Adult females are fed more frequently than adult males (especially following brumation). Adult females are fed every 7-12 days; adult males are fed every 11-14 days.

This is by no means scientific, and not all corns will cooperate 100% with the schedule. The weight ranges given for the prey and snakes are approximate.

Many snakes refuse to eat while they are “blue” (preparing to shed). It is perfectly all right for your snake to miss one meal, or even two, during this phase.

I do not recommend feeding live prey unless the snake is refusing all else and is in danger of starvation. A live mouse or rat can inflict irreparable damage to your snake before you can intervene. Snakes can lose an eye or even large amounts of skin and muscle to a rodent fighting for its life.

 

Health Concerns:

When your cornsnake sheds its skin, there may occasionally be difficulties. If your snake does not have a complete shed, including the eye caps and tail tip, please contact me for instructions on how to remove the stuck shed and how to prevent this in the future. Generally the shed will loosen up after soaking in shallow room temp water for about 20 minutes followed by crawling through a towel. Bad sheds can be prevented in the future by providing a humid hide which is a plastic container with a small door cut into it, filled with damp sphagnum moss. You can also cover the screen lid of the viv loosely with plastic wrap and lightly mist the viv every couple days.

 

If your snake regurgitates a meal, please contact me immediately for instructions. Regurges are life-threatening events for hatchling corns, but can nearly always be recovered from successfully if handled correctly from the beginning. This is an emergency! Do not attempt to feed your snake right away. Try to accurately note any conditions such as temps, recent handling, increase in prey size, etc. that we can use to attempt to diagnose the cause and prevent a second regurge.

I like to keep a record of the snake’s weight, feedings and sheds. There are several computer programs for this, or you can use a calendar or notebook. This information is valuable should your snake need to visit a veterinarian. While many, perhaps even most snakes live out their lives without having regular check-ups, it may be beneficial to bring your snake in for a vet check once a year. If you provide a stool sample from the snake, the vet can check for internal parasites. Most importantly, you develop a relationship with the vet, and the vet with your animal, which is important in case of emergency.

Remember, if you have any questions or concerns, I am available to help you. If you experience difficulties with your new snake, I (or any breeder) would rather be alerted as soon as possible while we still have time to correct the problem.

Cornsnakes are relatively easy to care for and most will live into their teens or twenties as long as you provide a few basic items. Read more!

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