Corn Snake Care Page
Prepared by ReptiFiles
Corn snakes are a nonvenomous, semi-arboreal species of snake native to the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico, and the Cayman Islands. Corn snakes are crepuscular, which means that although they are active at night, their peak hours are around dawn and dusk. Adult corn snakes grow to be about 3-5’ long and usually live 15-25 years.
This Care Guide been curated by ReptiFiles.
ReptiFiles is an online database of comprehensive, science-based reptile care guides created by reptile husbandry specialist Mariah Healey. ReptiFiles’ primary goal is to promote a higher standard of animal welfare within the reptile industry.Read Full Care Guide
Corn Snakes at a Glance
Here are some core facts about corn snake care:
Corn snakes are native to the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico, and the Cayman Islands.
4 out of 5: Good Handleability
Because of their docile but active personality, corn snakes can be great to handle and make excellent snakes for first-timers. However, they are extremely small and wiggly as juveniles, and while they are more handleable as adults, they can still be quite quick-moving.
Expected Weekly Dedication: 1 hour minimum
With a pet corn snake, regular chores include preparing food, replacing water, and spot-cleaning. The water bowl should be kept fresh and clean at all times and disinfected at least once a week.
The amount and frequency of spot-cleaning required will depend on whether your enclosure is bioactive or not. We'll cover these respective chores in the Enclosure Enrichment section.
- Readily available
- Fairly hardy
- Simple care requirements
Things to be aware of:
- Large enclosure
- Requires UVB or D3 supplementation
- Not very active during the day
The average corn snake needs a 4’x2’x2’ enclosure, preferably larger.
Reptiles aren’t like dogs and cats that can simply roam around your house. They are very sensitive to their environment, and need their own enclosure set up according to their specific needs. This guide covers everything you will need to care for your pet corn snake properly.
Enclosure Size Requirements
Corn snakes should be housed in an enclosure that is no smaller than 4’L x 2’W x 2’H. This is the bare minimum, based on the formula for calculating a snake’s minimum space needs:
Enclosure Width ≥ snake length
Enclosure Length ≥ ½ snake length
Enclosure Height ≥ ½ snake length
If your corn snake is any longer than 48”, you will need at minimum a 5’x3’x3’ enclosure.
However, if you can provide an enclosure with more height or floor space, do it! Housing your snake in a larger enclosure will encourage it to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors.
Can multiple corn snakes be housed in the same enclosure?
No. Corn snakes are not social animals, and there is no significant benefit to the animal that would justify keeping two or more in the same enclosure. Keeping multiple snakes together can cause competition for food, warmth, hiding places, and other resources.
Corn Snake Enclosure Examples
5'x2'x3' - Photo contributed by Morgan Miedema
Substrate is the material that you use to cover the floor of the enclosure. This aspect of the enclosure is important because it contributes to overall humidity levels. For best results, corn snakes should have at least 3-4” of substrate.
The best corn snake substrate is a DIY mix of roughly 40% organic, additive-free topsoil + 40% Zoo Med Reptisoil + 20% play sand. Mix well, soak until muddy, then pack it firmly at the bottom of the enclosure. Make sure it is 100% dry before introducing the snake to the setup. For best results, scatter a layer of leaf litter on top.
You can also use a pre-packaged substrate, though this can be more costly. Depending on the brand, you may still need to add some topsoil (if too dusty) or sand (if too dense) to reach desired consistency. Here are some recommended commercial substrates appropriate for corn snakes:
Both Zilla Jungle Mix and Eco Earth can become quite dusty when dry, these must be keep moist at all times.
Another option is a bioactive setup. Bioactive enclosure setups are designed to mimic a reptile’s natural environment and stimulate natural behaviors. The DIY and BioDude substrates can easily support bioactivity with the addition of a “cleanup crew” of isopods and springtails that clean up uneaten food, fallen leaves, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance.
Unsafe Substrates for Corn Snakes
These substrates are particularly dangerous to corn snakes because they pose major health risks. Avoid the following substrates at all costs and stick to the list in the previous section.
- Aspen/Lignocel - doesn't hold humidity & molds easily
- Pine/fir/cedar - irritates eyes/lungs & can cause neurological damage
- Gravel - doesn't hold humidity, harbors bacteria, & very abrasive
- Bark/wood chips - severe impaction risk if ingested
- Reptile carpet - harbors bacteria, doesn't hold humidity
- Shelf liner - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
When you first bring your new corn snake home, you will need to quarantine for at least 1 month. This means keeping the enclosure as sterile as possible and closely monitoring the animal's health.
Paper towels are the best substrate for quarantine, as they can be frequently replaced and make it easier to observe feces and other potential health issues. Paper towels should be fully replaced at least once a week and any soiled areas must be replaced daily. Once your snake has shown a clean bill of health, you can introduce your long-term substrate to the enclosure.
If you already have other reptiles in your home, you should extend the quarantine period to 3 months, keep the enclosure in a separate room if possible, and make sure not to share any tools or decor between your new snake and other pets, unless fully sanitized between each use.
Reptiles are much more intelligent than we humans tend to give them credit for, and that means they need things to entertain them. Otherwise they exist in a state of perpetual boredom, which makes them dull, inactive, and overall less interesting as pets. When reptiles have objects to interact with in their enclosure, they become less stressed and more engaged with their environment. This practice is called environmental enrichment.
It’s important to choose enrichment items (a.k.a. enclosure decor) that are appropriate to your pet’s natural behaviors. Corn snakes are skilled climbers, so providing sturdy climbing objects is essential for this species. Here are some other objects that serve a vital function in a corn snake terrarium:
Heavy water dish
Aside from drinking water, they like to soak every once in a while, especially before shedding. The dish should be large enough to accommodate at least most of the snake’s body, and heavy enough that it can’t be tipped over.
A hide is a cave-like structure where your snake can hide and snooze in security. Corn snakes should have at least 2 hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool side. You can also provide a humid hide lined with moist sphagnum moss to make shedding easier.
Excellent for varying the terrain and giving your snake things to climb. Should be thick and sturdy enough for the snake to climb on without shifting. Particularly tall/long branches may need to be anchored to the sides and/or floor of the enclosure. If you collect wood from outside, give it a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC &/or bake in the oven at 250°F for about an hour.
Hollow logs/Cork tubes
Hollow logs are like branches and hides in one package. They’re also very attractive, especially cork rounds. Cork also offers a third advantage by having a rough surface for snakes to rub against while shedding.
Both live and artificial foliage can be used to enhance your corn snake’s enclosure, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Fake plants are easier to clean and tend to withstand being climbed on better than their live counterparts, but they may off-gas chemicals. Live plants are less sturdy and higher maintenance, but safer for your snake’s health. If you have live plants, consider installing a 6500K daylight lamp to help them grow and flourish.
Hammocks are typically used for arboreal and semi-arboreal lizards, but corn snakes enjoy them too.
Leaf litter is a great way to enhance your corn snake’s enclosure by providing them with a new sensory experience. You can purchase leaf litter or collect some from outside. Just make sure to gather them from a clean, dry area that hasn’t been touched by chemicals, and then boil or bake them in your oven at 200°F/100°C for 1 hour to kill microbes.
How do I keep my enclosure clean?
To control the growth of pathogens and keep your corn snake’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free, it’s important to clean it regularly.
Spot-cleaning should be performed daily. This is the routine removal of feces, urates, uneaten food, and contaminated substrate. Soiled surfaces and water dishes should be scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and rinsed at least weekly. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced every 4-6 months, depending on how diligent you are about spot-cleaning. This is also a good time to clean the enclosure with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine.
If you have a bioactive enclosure, “cleaning” will be more like periodic maintenance: watering the plants, adding biodegradables, and feeding the CUC as needed. Substrate does not need to be replaced. Some spot-cleaning will still be required for urates and soiled surfaces. The water dish should be disinfected weekly.
Corn snakes should have 2 types of lamps in their enclosure: Cluster heat lamps (required) and a UVB lamp (strongly recommended)
UVB is important for healthy metabolism, specifically vitamin D synthesis and calcium metabolism, improving skin health, and strengthening the immune system. UVB can be replaced with an oral vitamin D3 supplement for corn snakes, but this method is less effective and more difficult to regulate, so we strongly recommend using a proper UV lamp instead.
UVA is beneficial to eyesight and is sensed by their pineal gland to regulate a circadian rhythm. UVA is emitted by both UV lamps and halogen bulbs.
Infrared radiation (i.e. heat) is important for reptiles' thermoregulation. As ectotherms, they rely on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and stimulate their metabolism, digest their food, and stay alert and active. The shorter the wavelength, the deeper it can penetrate their muscle tissue. In captivity, we can provide this with specific heat bulbs that emit the most beneficial infrared wavelengths (IR-A and IR-B).
All light and heat should be kept on a regular schedule using outlet timers or done manually. This allows for a predictable day/night cycle which the snake can follow, allowing for natural hormonal rhythms and good mental health. We recommend the following schedule for corn snakes, based on their natural environment:
|Spring||14hrs ON / 10hrs OFF|
|Summer||16hrs ON / 8hrs OFF|
|Fall||10hrs ON / 14hrs OFF|
|Winter||8hrs ON / 16hrs OFF|
Corn snakes benefit greatly from a UVB lamp in the enclosure. They are capable of surviving in captivity without UVB if they receive sufficient supplementary vitamin D3 in their diet, but simply surviving is not thriving. D3 supplement dosing is extremely imprecise and less efficiently absorbed by the body. Experts don't know much vitamin D3 corn snakes actually need, but they do know how much UVB is needed for them to self-regulate their own D3 production, so providing a UV lamp is far more natural and beneficial to promote optimum health.
Corn snakes should have a 5-7% UVB output T5 lamp. We recommend Arcadia or Zoo Med brand linear fluorescent tubes, as these brands produce the best and most reliable UV lamps on the market. The lamp should be roughly half the width of the enclosure and placed on the same side as the heat lamp. So if you have a 4’ enclosure, you will need a 22” T5 HO UVB bulb.
Best UVB bulbs for corn snakes:
Distance and Mesh
The strength of the UVB lamp’s output varies according to distance from the bulb - stronger when closer, and weaker when further away. If you are using a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure your UVB lamp’s output, the UVI (UV Index) reading should be between 2.0-3.0 on the basking platform. Mesh will cause a 30-40% reduction in the bulb’s output. Otherwise, here is an estimate of how far the lamp should be from the basking platform:
- 7-9” (through mesh)
- 12-15” (without mesh obstruction)
To optimize your UVB bulb’s performance, you will need a high-quality reflective T5 HO fixture. Some lamps come in kits that already include a fixture, such as the Arcadia ProT5 kit or Zoo Med T5 HO kit. Otherwise, Zoo Med and Vivarium Electronics make various fixtures for T5 bulbs.
T5 bulbs last 12 months before requiring replacement, as their UVB output decays over time. Off-brand UVB bulbs are likely to have shorter lifespans and unreliable output. Avoid “compact” and coil UVB bulbs, as these cannot properly distribute a UV gradient across the enclosure.
Corn snakes are reptiles, which means that they are ectothermic, or cold-blooded. Ectotherms need access to a variety of temperatures within a certain range in order to properly regulate their metabolism:
- Basking area surface: 90°F
- Warm side ambient: 78-82°F
- Cool side ambient: 70-75°F
- Nighttime: 65-75°F, but no lower than 60°F
All basking heat and lights should be turned off at night and kept on a regular day/night cycle that matches the same schedule as the UVB and daylight lamps, allowing for a natural temperature drop and a healthy circadian rhythm.
Overhead lamps are the most natural and beneficial method of providing heat for your corn snake. We recommend a cluster of at least 2 heat bulbs, though there are several options for heating your enclosure:
Halogen Heat Lamps (basking heat)
Halogen bulbs are particularly excellent because they produce lots of Infrared A and B, which are the same wavelengths of heat produced by the sun. These wavelengths penetrate deep into your snake's body, providing a more efficient form of heating and reducing the amount of time your snake needs to bask.
Deep Heat Projectors (basking heat)
DHP's produce lots of Infrared-B and a small amount of Infrared-A, making them the best alternative to a halogen heat bulb. These bulbs do not emit light, so they can be safely used day or night. If you need a lightless heat source, a DHP is a great option.
Ceramic Heat Emitters (supplementary heat)
CHE's are best used as a supplementary heat source, as they only produce Infrared-C, the weakest and least efficient wavelength for reptile thermoregulation. However, they are perfect for gentle, lightless nighttime heating in rooms that may drop below 60℉.
Choosing which bulb to use can be tricky, since wattage and brand determine how much heat it will produce — when in doubt, buy a higher wattage and use a dimmer or dimming thermostat to achieve the perfect basking temperature.
Once you have your heat bulbs, you will need a lamp to put them in. You can use 2 separate dome lamps, a combo dome, or internally mounted fixtures, as long as they have a ceramic socket to ensure the bulb doesn’t get too hot for the lamp (risking electrical fire). A dimmable lamp or plug-in dimmer enables you to dial down the bulb’s heat output if it gets too warm.
All heating should be connected to a thermostat with the probe on the basking surface to make sure that they don’t get too hot for your snake. A proportional (dimming) thermostat, like the Herpstat, is more efficient and convenient as it does all the dimming work for you, although they can be pricy. An on/off thermostat is the cheaper option, but is best used with a dimmable lamp or plug-in dimmer switch so you can precisely control the heat output and extend the lifespan of the bulb.
Keep in mind that all heat sources should be regulated by a thermostat, so for a cluster of several bulbs/lamps, you will either need separate thermostats for each fixture or a multi-outlet thermostat like the Herpstat2.
Unsafe Heat Sources
These heat sources are particularly dangerous to corn snakes because they can pose major health risks and cause stress. Avoid the following heat sources at all costs and stick to the bulbs we recommend above.
❌ Colored bulbs
Red, blue, purple, and other colored light bulbs are inappropriate for almost all reptiles. They can wash out your snake’s vision and make it harder to hunt. In fact, blue lights are known to potentially damage reptiles’ eyes!
❌ “Nighttime” bulbs
The idea that reptiles can't see red, purple, or “black” light is a myth! They may not be able to see the color, but they can still see the light. Using any lights at night can interfere with your snake’s day/night cycle, causing stress and poor health.
❌ “Multipurpose” bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs and other heat+UVB combination bulbs (Zoo Med PowerSun, Exo Terra Solar Glo) are overpowered and inappropriate for crepuscular snakes, who need a higher heat to UVB ratio than diurnal species. These bulbs can't be used with thermostats and can easily burn your snake, so it's much safer to provide and control your heat and UVB separately.
❌ Heat rocks
Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are notoriously unreliable and many reptiles have lost their lives due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.
To track the temperatures in your corn snake’s enclosure, you will need a good thermometer. Temp gun-style infrared thermometers are useful for measuring surface temperatures anywhere in the enclosure. However, digital probe thermometers are useful for being able to track local air temperatures at a glance. It's best to have at least 2 thermometers to measure temps on each end of the heat gradient. Here are some devices we recommend for measuring temperatures:
Corn snakes need an average humidity of 65-75% in their enclosure. Because this is just an average, humidity levels can safely dip lower during the day and rise higher at night.
A simple hand mister can be used to bump up humidity when it drops below the required range. Proper loose substrate, adequately sized water bowl, good cross-ventilation, and overhead heating will all help to stabilize the enclosure's humidity levels.
You can measure humidity with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Combo Gauge linked in the Measuring Temperature section. Hygrometers should be placed within 12” above the substrate towards the cooler end of the enclosure to give you an accurate idea of average humidity levels (or one on either side if using a thermo/hygro combo meter).
Corn snakes are obligate carnivores, which means that they require a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need.
Here is a basic feeding schedule for pet corn snakes:
|Hatchlings (<18″ long)||Once every 5-7 days|
|Juveniles (18-36″ long)||Once every 7-10 days|
|Adults (>36″ long)||Once every 10-14 days|
If using rats as feeders for adults, increase the interval to every 14-21 days.
Offer a prey item that is between 1-1.5x the width of your snake’s body at its widest point (don’t worry about head size — snakes are very flexible). Depending on the size of the feeder and the age of your snake, you may offer two prey items in one feeding session. However, do not offer more than two.
Although mice are the most common feeders, corn snakes need to eat more than just rodents to truly thrive. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is variety. Here are some good feeder options:
Recommended Corn Snake Feeders:
- Young rats
- Young quail
- Quail eggs
- Green anoles
- House geckos
We strongly recommend offering frozen-thawed prey, rather than live. This is much safer for the snake, as they can be seriously injured by live animals. Frozen prey should be slowly thawed in the fridge overnight, then about 15-30 minutes before offering, seal it in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water until the prey reaches about 100°F/38°C. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to protect your snake's teeth.
All prey should be captive bred. Don’t feed your snake animals from the wild — this can make them sick! Here are some sites we recommend to buy safe, captive-bred, frozen feeders:
What if my corn snake won't eat?
Snakes can sometimes be picky eaters in captivity. They may refuse food during breeding season, if your husbandry is off, or for seemingly no reason at all. If you have a picky corn snake, here are some techniques that can help with a hunger strike:
Warming — Since corn snakes primarily eat endothermic mammals and birds, they respond best to warm prey. When you thaw your feeder, try to raise its temperature to 95-100°F to simulate a living body. Warmer food also gives off more odor.
Scenting — Dipping the feeder into different “scents” in can incite a feeding response. You can use one or mix several together, whatever your snake responds to! Some recommended scents are:
• ”Frog Juice” from Reptilinks
• ”Lizard Juice” from Reptilinks
• Juice from canned tuna
• Juice from canned chicken
• Chicken broth (unsalted)
• Juice from canned vienna sausages
Braining — Piercing or slicing the head of the feeder to expose brain tissue, releasing a more intense prey odor.
Variety — Changing feeder size, feeder type, or combining several of the above techniques can all help. Get to know your snake and get creative!
We do not recommend assist-feeding or force-feeding without the instruction of either a breeder or vet who can decide if it’s necessary and walk you through the process. It is rarely necessary to assist or force feed corn snakes.
Calcium and Vitamin Supplements
While in theory, corn snakes should get all the nutrition they need from whole prey, captive-bred feeder animals can be inferior to their wild counterparts when it comes to nutrition. You should lightly dust prey items occasionally with calcium or vitamin supplement to help fill in the gaps in your snake’s diet. Here is a basic supplement schedule:
Calcium: every other feeding
Multivitamin: mixed 50/50 with calcium every other feeding
Calcium: every other feeding
Multivitamin: mixed 50/50 with calcium every 4th feeding
Best Calcium for Corn Snakes:
The type of calcium you need will depend on whether or not you provide UVB. Without UVB, your snake cannot make its own vitamin D3, so it must be provided through a supplement. Choose only 1 of the following options, depending on your lighting:
Corn snakes with UVB:
Corn snakes without UVB:
Best Multivitamins for Corn Snakes:
Keeping Your Corn Snake Hydrated
Keep a large, heavy bowl of water in the enclosure at all times, big enough to accommodate the snake's entire body for soaking as desired. Keep the water clean and fresh at all times. At least once a week, scrub the bowl with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine before refilling.
Do not use distilled or softened water! Tap, spring, and even filtered water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your snake's health. You can dechlorinate tap water with a conditioner like ReptiSafe.
Taming & Handling
Snakes do not require social interaction for their mental health, but handling helps the snake stay tame and can be a good opportunity for exercise and enrichment as well.
- Wait at least two weeks for the snake to settle in before handling
- Make sure it’s awake by gently tapping it with a paper towel roll or stroking its body with a snake hook
- Approach your snake from the side
- Support its body
- Wash hands before and after handling
- Start handling your corn snake as soon as you bring it home.
- Grab it from above
- Grab the tail or restrain the head
- Let children handle the snake without supervision
- Handle the snake within 48 hours of feeding
- Handle the snake if it’s in shed
Start handling sessions at no more than 5 minutes every few days. After a couple weeks of this, gradually work your way up to longer periods of time more frequently. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to 10 minutes, and then gradually longer from there.
Corn snake handling can occur up to 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily.
Corn Snake Body Language
Corn snakes have a variety of body language cues. When you learn to understand these cues, you can understand your pet’s mood and needs better, and react accordingly.
Tongue flicking in and out — Snake is “smelling” the air. This is how it knows when prey or a human is nearby. Also signals that the snake is awake.
No movement or tongue flicking — Snake is probably asleep (they don’t have eyelids to close). Approach with caution.
Head retracted, neck coiled into ‘S’ shape — Snake feels threatened and is preparing to defend itself if necessary. May also be preparing to strike at prey.
Hissing — Snake is telling you to “go away.”
Tail shaking/rattling —Snake feels threatened and is trying to scare away the perceived predator.
Musking/defecating during handling — Snake perceives you as a predator, and uses poo or an unpleasant-smelling musk to try to get away.
Clouded/bluish eyes — Snake is preparing to shed. May be extra defensive because it can’t see well.
Here are some common health problems to look out for:
Corn snakes can suffer from a variety of health problems including: abrasions dehydration, mites, obesity and respiratory infections. If your corn snake is displaying potential symptoms of illness, it’s important to take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to treat them at home, as you could make the problem worse!
Signs of a healthy corn snake:
- Clear eyes
- Eats regularly
- Moves freely and easily
Signs of an unhealthy corn snake:
- Clouded eye(s)
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal shedding
- Excessive weight gain
- Rapid weight loss
- Bubbly/stringy saliva
- Noisy breathing