Basic guide to Cornsnake Husbandry

Caring for cornsnakes is relatively simple. They have a few basic needs which must be met. Corns are also very tame snakes. The only corns I've held that have been even the slightest bit aggressive were babies and just not used to being held.

Basic needs:
  • Cage size: General rule of thumb is the length + width should be equal or greater to the snake's length. Plastic shoe boxes in racks work well for hatchlings. Plastic sweater boxes in racks work well for adults. When using aquariums, a 10 gallon tank should last until yearling size. A 20 long is the minimum size for an adult.

  • Water: It should be big enough for the snake to soak in. I change mine every 2 or 3 days. Some do it daily.

  • Food: Feed a cornsnake a prey item roughly the thickness of the snake about once a week. Hatchlings should be fed every 3-5 days, or as often as they will take it (don't go below 3 days). Adults(fullgrown) can be fed a full grown mouse or small rat once every other week. Breeding females should be fed 2-3 times as much to prepare them for the energy expelled in developing the eggs.

  • Temperature gradient: One end of the tank should be in the low to mid 80's. The other end should be mid to upper 70's. Adjust according to where your snake spends most of it's time. You should avoid temps above 88. If the temperature of the room your snake will be in is well regulated (varies by only a few degrees), you can use a simple dimmer switch, available at any hardware store, to control the heat on the warm side. If the room temperature varies more than that, you'll need to use a thermostat with a remote probe to control the heat source. Undertank heat provided by either heat tape or a regular heat mat is the simplest, most efficient, and longest lasting method to heat the tank. For a thermostat, just plug the heat source into it. For a dimmer switch, wire it inline to one of the two wires.

  • Hiding places: Snakes can get very stressed out without ample hides. At the very least, there should be 1 hide on the warm side. The snake will definately be happier with one on each end however. I've had good luck using cheap plastic dog water bowls from walmart for the cool side hide. They have openings to a hollow area under the bowl.

  • Substrate: This is mostly a matter of personal preferance. Some people just use a cheap substrate such as newspaper or reusable astroturf carpeting. I prefer a more natural substrate such as aspen shavings(no pine or cedar!), bark chips(use the sterile stuff from the pet store, or at least cook it in the oven to kill bacteria first), or cypress mulch. Avoid substrate with dirt in it. I've had several snakes get caked in mud by going through the water bowl, then burying themselves in substrate, and then basking in the heat. If using a natural substrate, it is recommended to feed in a separate container to avoid substrate ingestion and resulting impaction.

Common problems:
  • Shedding: If the humidity is too low, your cornsnake may have a problem shedding. ALWAYS be sure to check for eyecaps on your snake's shed. Everyone says that they will soak if needed.. but I guess all of mine are just too dumb ;) You can usually gently peel off the rest right away if you see they didn't get it all off. If you don't catch it until a few hours later though, you'll have to make the snake soak. Small snakes can be closed up in a tupperware container with an inch or so of water. Bigger snakes will need a swim in your bathtub. A wet papertowel can be used to gently rub off small stuck on pieces.

  • Feeding problems: This is encountered mostly with hatchlings. Some just don't want to eat. First try feeding in a separate container(small deli cup works great). Put this deli cup in a quiet, dark, warm place. The snake should hopefully eat within an hour or so. If not, leave it overnight(check temp where you leave it). If that fails, try braining a frozen thawed pinkie(cut the skull open and squeeze some goo out) and do the same again. If this still fails, try feeding live if you've only used f/t so far.

    If nothing works, you will have to try force feeding. Don't rush this! Be sure you really need to force feed before you try. Try to feed snake at least 4 times, separated by a couple of days before trying to force feed. For very small snakes, you can get carnivore/insectivore replacement powder and small syringe to feed with. 1-1.5 cc's of the mix is appropriate. For larger snakes, force feeding a slightly smaller than usual animal dipped in egg yolk is the best way to go. The egg yolk lubricates the item to make it slide down easier. Open the snakes mouth with a credit card or similar device, slide in the head of the prey item. You can then remove the credit card and keep the mouth open with the head of the prey. Gently push the prey into the throat with a chopstick or similar tool. This takes a lot of patience and an easy touch to keep from hurting or stressing the snake too much.

    I've only had to force feed 3 different snakes, but mine were a little older when problems developed. All 3 began feeding again after being force fed. It seems that a sick snake's digestive system sort of "shuts down". A force feed seems to get it going again after the snake's health problems have been resolved.

    If feeding problems develop with an older snake, chances are your habitat is not suitable (insufficient hides for security, or improper temp range). If you are sure your snake's tank is set up properly and it still won't eat, take it to the vet. There are a number of illnesses that cornsnakes can get, and refusing to eat is one of the first symptoms you will get.