Corn Snakes: Care, Breeding, and Living With Them
General Corn Snake Care
So, you have taken a step into the world of Colubrids and purchased a corn snake! These are one of the most basic snakes that you could imagine, they don't take too much work to maintain a healthy, and happy snake. These are great snakes for beginners and I would advise them to anyone looking to own a snake.
Now Corn Snakes are part of the Colubrid family, which is a pretty big family, and extremely diverse. Really, it breaks down to the type of teeth they have! In fact its the biggest family of snakes out there. Corn's are amazingly easy to take care of. All they really need is a tank, light and the proper bedding and supplies for the tank itself.
A good rule of thumb is to have a tank that is at least the leangth of your snake. You want them to be able to stretch out and enjoy their home. In the cage it's important to have a water bowl that's big enough for the snake to soak in. When your snake gets a bit larger, it's pretty convenient to just pick up a plastic dog bowl. You want to make sure that your snake has lots of places to burrow or hide. Usually you can pick up a nice bark hideaway at any pet store.
NOTE!!!: Do NOT put any wood from your backyard in with your snake, they could be infested with fungus or insects that can hurt, and possibly kill your snake!
Now, an important thing to remember when you are picking out your cage for your snake, is to make sure that you have the proper ventilation, and the proper setup to make sure that your snakes' environment is at the right temperature. Terraniums are always a good bet, and a heat lamp will allow you to have a cooler side of the tank for your snake to sleep in. Make sure there's a hide-away on each side.
Feeding Your Corn Snake
Feeding is the next big thing to understand. A snake is able to take in food as wide as their widest point on their body. Anymore, gives the snake the possibility of injury. I have seen too many horror stories of snake who broke their jaws trying to swallow food that was too big. So just remember, the smaller the better. You also never want to feed your snake when they are in the process of shedding, this can cause serious injury to the scales.
It's also important to make the decision early on to live feed or frozen feed. Live feed comes with a certain risk, and no real positives. The snake will become scarred, and possibly seriously injured in it's fight for food. I always advise people to feed their snakes frozen. Just make sure that the food is fully defrosted before feeding it to your snake!! If your snake digests a mouse that hasn't been fully defrosted, it could kill it. I personally find the best method to defrost a mouse is to place them directly under a heat lamp. Not on your cage though! You don't want your snake to get overly excited before its time to eat. I normally let the mouse defrost for 4-6 hours, depending on the size.
Now as far as how much to feed them, that's a touchy subject. Snakes usually will eat until they explode. No not literally! But the point is, you don't want to overfeed your snake by any means. I find myself feeding my female, who is very large for a corn, one small rat a week. My male corn snake eats 2 large mice a week. They are fed on a single day, rather then spread out over time. It's usually a little easier on their digestive system, and it gives them more time to rest and digest throughout the week.
There is a very common practice of doubling the food intake of your snake to make it grow larger, faster. I strongly recommend you not to do this. It is very dangerous for your snake, and it could seriously hurt it. They need time to process and digest what they have eaten, and too much food just doesn't allow that.
Cohabitating Corn Snakes
This is somewhat of an argued upon subject. Colubrids are often cannibals, but like I said earlier, there are many variations inside of this family. I want to stress that if you have two snakes from the same clutch, or just from the same parents, you do not want them to be in the same tank together without first having them professionally probed. If you confirm through this method that they are of different sexes you'll want to separate them. Inbreeding is dangerous for the future of not only your clutch, but the breed of the snake. I'll touch more on breeding your snakes a little later.
Be aware, Corn Snakes, though not often cannibals, can become cannibalistic if the right precautions are not taken. You need to feed them separately in a cage other then the one that they live in. You need to keep a regular feeding schedule, making sure that both snakes are fed at the same time, never having a hungry snake with a snake that has just ate and now smells like food.
Make sure that your tank is large enough, and has enough hiding areas where the snakes are not stuck with one another. You never really want to keep more then two snakes in the same cage. Be careful to make sure that the size of the tank fits the size of both of your snakes. I'd say for two adult corn snakes you're looking at a fairly large tank.
If you are introducing an adult corn snake into the cage of another adult for the first time, be sure that their sizes are comparable. Make sure both snakes have recently eaten in the last 24 hours so they are more calm. Have the two snakes meet on mutual ground where the tank does not smell of either. Watch them carefully for the first 48 hours and be ready to break up a snake ball if they become violent. If this happens, do not try again.
If the introduction is a success, make sure that you still check in on them often to make sure that no one has gotten upset. After about a month you can relax a little bit more, it is likely that they have adjusted to another snake and will not become violent.
Breeding Your Corn Snake
This is something that has been talked about a lot, but there really isn't much science to it. Just like anything else, they have been doing it in the wild for thousands of years, they have it down pretty well at this point.
Now corn snakes usually need to go through a form of hibernation, called brumation, prior to breeding. Though this really isn't always the case as I'm sure a lot of you have found. So here's some step by step information as far as the breeding process goes.
The process starts long before the breeding. You need to prepare your snake for brumation. Around late October, double your snakes' food intake. Do this until about mid November, and then stop feeding. Give them about two weeks with no food before you reduce the temperature down to around 55 degrees. The snakes may become restless when you do this, looking for a good hiding spot, so make sure that you give them plenty of places to hide.
You don't want to really bother your snake much during this time.
It's not until about March that you want to start waking them up sort of speak. You want to take your time with this. Some people do it over the course of 2-3 days, I prefer to do it gradually over the week. The reason for this is because you want to give them time to kick their immune system back in to be able to fight against anything that might wake up with them, as well as giving it more of a natural rise in temperatures as it is in the wild.
Once things are warmed up, you can start feeding. Start slow and steady though. Small meals. Once a week. No more. I know there's that guilty feeling that they haven't ate in too long, but don't worry in April things are back to normal! A male will shed around the the end of March or beginning of April if he's ready to mate, so that's definitely something to watch for.
Once your female sheds, it's time to mate! You only have about a month before you miss your chance and she simply becomes gravid with infertile eggs also known as slugs. This is also the time to stop feeding your snakes. If you do not cohabitate your snakes, this is the time to introduce them. You want to do it for a few days a week. I seen some people have their snakes together every other day, some people for a few days at a shot. There doesn't seem to be much of a difference in this method.
Younger snakes can make a mess of the tank in their games of tag before breeding. Don't panic, it's normal. Though I want to stress, it is dangerous to breed corn snakes younger then 2-3 years old. You could lose your female.
Once your snake is gravid, you need to separate the male, regardless on if you cohabitate or not, he will stress the female out too much during this time risking the life of the male, female, and the eggs.
Once you recognize that the snake is Gravid, you need to put a hide away into the tank that will offer her the security and the conditions that she needs. I usually use a Tupperware container for the use of a lid on the top to check on her, but really the choice is up to you. You want to make sure that there is a hole for her to go in and out of the container, though about a week after becoming visibly gravid, she really wont leave the tub often. Make sure that you put about an inch or two of moss inside of this container as well. You want to make sure that the moss is moist, but not too wet or else the eggs and the mother become at risk of fungus. I prefer to just use Verniculite because it holds the moisture best, and its what you will eventually use in the incubator anyway.
She may continue to eat small meals during this time, but don't be surprised if your snake refuses.
Once your snake lays her eggs it can be up to 10 weeks after laying them that the eggs will hatch. Still though, once your mother has laid her eggs, you need to separate her form them and remove the eggs and place them in an incubator. Make sure that the Verniculite stays moist for the best chance and healthy eggs. Be careful in the transport. The eggs cling together, and removing them often breaks them apart, killing the tiny embryos inside. Make sure not to put them upside down, this will smother and drown the embryo.
Now if any of the infertile eggs start to mold, gently remove them. There is a lot of different techniques to do this, but I would consult a professional before attempting it for the first time. The shells of the fertile eggs should feel dry, and like hard leather. The infertile eggs are often wet feeling.
You want to keep the eggs at a steady 80 degrees. Now there is a lot of information out there about variation of the temperatures producing different morphs and different ratios of sexes, but as a beginner you really don't want to play with that. As you get more experienced, and do the proper research, you can take a shot at it then.
Once the eggs hatch, you will have on average between 10-24 hatchlings to care for. DO NOT FEED THEM UNTIL THEIR FIRST SHEDDING. This is a very dangerous thing to do and it will kill the hatchlings. Once they shed for the first time, its time to start the feeding!
I want to make one last note on the hatchlings, and it's unfortunately a thing that a lot of first time snake owners don't realize. On average, 25% of the hatchlings will not survive past three months. These are typically the hatchlings that refuse to eat, and need to be force fed. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, but it is an unfortunate fact that I feel you should all be aware of. This does not mean that if you have a hatchling that is not eating, not to try your hardest, but it does mean that you should not become to attached to a hatchling such as this.
Finding the Appropriate Homes for your Hatchlings
Those of you who have planned the breeding, most likely already know of all the outlets for the offspring. Those of you who have the "surprise clutches" most likely are watching around thirty pinkies a week disappear into hungry mouths and have no idea what to do with them.
There's a lot of outlets out there, but probably the easiest is finding out if there's an Animal Expo or a Reptile Fair in your area. If there is, it is pretty easy to wholesale the clutch to a breeder there who will sell them with his clutches.
Pet stores are also a good place to go. Most chain stores will not purchase the hatchlings, but it is pretty common for smaller stores to at least buy a few. Pull out your phone book and make some calls!
If all else fails, you can always place an ad in a local newspaper advertising the hatchlings.
In all cases, mention the morphs of your snakes. It will increase the amount of phone calls you get that are collectors looking for a snake you don't have.
If you have any questions, or you want to know about something that I didn't cover, feel free to either request a hub, or just ask in the comments below. I'll try to answer it as soon as possible!