Cornsnakes: The Essential Care Guide
Author: Scarlett Nightshade
Species: Pantherophis guttatus
Lifespan: 20+ years
Size: Average 3-5ft.
Habitat and Distribution: Woodlands, fields and often abandoned barns; native to southeastern United States
Cornsnakes are one of the most popular snakes among beginner and veteran keepers alike. With their generally docile nature, various color mutations and manageable size, it is no wonder these snakes make such great companions! They are perfect for those looking for a more active and inquisitive snake, and their simple care requirements make them especially ideal for new keepers.
"Classic" Cornsnake (P. guttatus)
© Creatures of Nightshade
Cornsnakes will do well in various enclosure types, including tanks, tubs, racks, and PVC. While they are a terrestrial snake, they do have the tendency to climb more than most other terrestrial species and will appreciate any enrichment that encourages this behavior. They typically make use of every inch offered to them, so having adequate space is also important.
The outline below lists various enclosure dimensions for each stage of your Cornsnake’s life.
Hatchlings: 10gal. (10in. x 20in. x 12in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 20gal. (30in. x 12in. x 12in.) to 30gal. (36in. x 12in. x 16in.)
Adults: 40gal.+ (48in. x 12in. x 16in.)
Hatchlings: 15qt. (17in. x 11in. x 6in.)
Juveniles and sub-adults: 32qt. (23in. x 16in. x 6in.) to 106qt. (33in. x 18in. x 13in.)
Adults: 200qt.+ (40in. x 21in. x 17in.)
PVC enclosures are mostly recommended for sub-adults and adults due to their larger size. While you may have a smaller custom-built PVC enclosure made, most commercial sizes are more suitable for sub-adult and adult snakes. The recommended size dimensions for adult Kingsnakes is at least 34in. x 18in. x 9in.
Please remember that there are numerous ways to keep any species of snake. These dimensions are for use as a general guide only. It is up to you as the keeper to decide which size is best suited for your snake.
Substrate and Humidity
Cornsnakes require relatively low humidity, thriving between 45-50%, or 55% while in shed. For substrate, it is suggested to use aspen shavings or aspen chips, which can be located at just about any pet store that carries exotic animal supplies or various online stores such as Amazon. Alternatively, if you struggle to keep humidity levels above 40%, you can use moisture-retaining substrates such as cypress mulch to help better maintain humidity. Substrate should be at least an inch deep, although 2-3 inches is better for adults so they are able to burrow if they please.
You can use a variety of different heat sources for Cornsnakes depending on your setup. Cornsnakes require a warm spot of around 82-85°F (28-29°C) and a cool spot no cooler than 75°F (24°C). You can achieve this by using a UTH (under tank heater) beneath your tank or tub, heat tape, CHE (ceramic heat emitter), DHP (deep heat projector), or RHP (radiant heat panel). As with most snakes, it is not recommended to use any incandescent, infrared or "night time" bulbs as a source of heat. Whether you use an overhead or under tank heater is up to personal preference, but remember that ALL heating elements must be used in combination with a thermostat.
Diet and Feeding
Hatchling and juvenile Cornsnakes should be fed once every 5-7 days. Hatchlings will typically begin on extra small pinky mice. The size of the feeder can be easily gauged by simply examining the widest part of your snake’s body and feeding no larger than ½ in. than this size. For hatchlings and juveniles, you can alternatively feed 10% of your snake’s body weight, although this number is not as accurate for adult Cornsnakes. Your snake should be able to ingest the feeder with relative ease. Adult Cornsnakes typically eat one large mouse once every 10-14 days to maintain a healthy body condition, but frequency will vary depending on the individual snake and its metabolic needs.
© Creatures of Nightshade
Cornsnakes are relatively active and inquisitive snakes that do well with many forms of enrichment. Offering cork bark and rocks are great for textural stimulation. Branches, PVC pipes, and ledges make for good climbing opportunities as long as they are placed relatively low to the ground to prevent your snake from hurting themselves. If you feed frozen/thawed, hiding the feeder to encourage hunting behavior is also recommended. They also benefit from time outdoors on a warm, cloudy afternoon. That said, while there are various ways to offer enrichment to your snake, remember to be safe in doing so. Any outdoor items being added to the enclosure should be properly disinfected before use. All rocks and other similar items should be large enough that your snake can not ingest it. If you take your snake outside, be sure your lawn is not treated with any toxic chemicals and monitor them closely so they are not captured by a nearby predator.
Your Cornsnake will appreciate a water dish large enough for them to soak in when necessary. Some Cornsnakes prefer to soak in their water dish almost constantly while in shed, while others may avoid soaking altogether. You should also provide at least two hides for your Cornsnake to take refuge in, with one on the warm side and one on the cool side so they can properly thermoregulate. Remember to monitor your husbandry with an appropriate thermometer, thermostat and hygrometer.
In summary, Cornsnakes make wonderful companions and are especially ideal for new keepers due to their docile nature, simple care requirements and manageable size. As one of the most iconic snakes in the community, they will certainly be enjoyed by all for several years to come!