One of the most popular pet snakes is the corn snake. These are bred in captivity in vast numbers to be sold in pet stores. They are a good choice of snake for a beginner, as they are easy to feed and stay under five feet long. They are calm-natured and can tolerate handling.
The temperature in a corn snake's enclosure should range from 70 to 75 on the cool end and from 82 to 86 on the warm end. A corn snake will need about one mouse a week for feeding. It will appreciate having a hiding spot on each end of the enclosure. Corn snakes sometimes refuse to eat when they do not have hiding areas available.
A cheap, simple hiding spot can be made by placing a small cereal box with the lid torn off in the enclosure on its side. Plastic hiding places can be purchased at the pet store, or can be made from plastic containers with a hole cut in the side. Boxes and lightweight plastic containers are likely to get moved around by a corn snake.
A corn snake's diet consists of a pre-killed mouse about once a week. Choose a mouse about the same size in diameter as the snake. Snakes can swallow larger prey animals, but they often regurgitate them. For the safety of your corn snake, don't feed them live prey. A live mouse can injure a snake. Pre-killed mice can be bought frozen. To feed one to your snake, thaw it by soaking it in warm water. If any food remains in the pen, remove it.
Corn snakes drink often and like to soak in water. They need to have a bowl of clean water available at all times. The water bowl used in a snake enclosure needs to be one that cannot be tipped easily. A pet food dish kept one third full of water makes a nice water source for a snake. Place the water on the cool end of the enclosure. This keeps it from evaporating away quickly.
An enclosure for a baby corn snake can be as simple as a plastic shoe box with ventilation holes punched in the sides. Of course you will need a tight fitting lid that the snake can't push open. The snake will reach adult size, less than five feet long, by the age of three or four years. By this time you will need to have provided a larger enclosure. A twenty gallon aquarium is a suitable choice. The important consideration is providing the needed warmth on one end of the cage.
All snakes are "ectotherms" or cold-blooded animals. They must have a certain amount of warmth in their environment in order to move around and to digest their food. When using an aquarium, an easy way to heat one half of the tank is to use an under-tank heat pad. Pet stores sometimes sell electric "hot rocks," but these are generally not recommended by experts. These artificial rocks tend to be too hot and give the snake burns. A heat lamp can be used above one end of the enclosure if an under-tank heat pad is unavailable.
The bottom of the cage needs to have covering, or substrate. In many cases, this can simply be newspaper. Some people cut butcher paper to size for lining the floor of their corn snake enclosure, while others line it with paper towels. Any of the paper substrates are easy to replace as they become soiled.
There are pet beddings available, but many of them are not suitable for snakes. For instance, corn cob bedding causes a snake's skin to dry out. Cedar shavings cause the snake to have respiratory problems. A better option to either of these is reptile bark, which is available at pet stores. It is designed to retain humidity better than the other types of loose substrates.
Corn snakes will appreciate a stick for climbing. Sticks from the yard can introduce parasites into the snake cage, so it is better to get them from the pet store.
A corn snake is one of the best pet snakes for handling. It is important not to handle snakes right after they eat because it can make them vomit. A few minutes a day is sufficient for getting a snake used to being handled. Too much handling is stressful to snakes. Even when it has become completely used to you, it is still best to limit handling to 15 minutes at most.
It's important to keep calm while handling a pet corn snake. If you get startled, you run the risk of injuring your snake or letting it go. Let your hands approach the snake from the front, so it is not taken by surprise. When you are first getting used to holding a snake, make sure you hold it low and over a soft surface in case you should drop it. Hold it firmly but gently with one hand about a third of the way down its body and the other hand two thirds of the way.
The corn snake should eventually be comfortable slithering around your hands and arms. It may go up your arm into your shirt if you are not careful. In the beginning stages before the snake is used to being held, be aware that it may poop on you.
In addition to handling your corn snake a few minutes each day, it's a good idea to spend time watching it. You can tell by watching if it is hanging around more on the cool end or on the warm end. This can help you determine more accurately if your temperature inside the cage is correct. Thermometers are useful, but sometimes inaccurate.
By watching the snake, you can also get to know when it's hungry, looking around for food. You can tell if it's not hungry if it isn't interested in food for a number of minutes when fed. Adjust the number of mice and timing of feeding to fit the appetite of your individual corn snake.
A corn snake is a great first snake for a pet owner. They require some attention, but will reward you by being hardy and good natured.