Corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) are a 3-5’ long, crepuscular, semi-arboreal snake native to the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico, and the Cayman Islands. They prefer forested areas or woodlots for habitat, but can also be found in meadows and barns.
Corn snakes have slender, muscular bodies and an oval head, covered in smooth scales. Wild-type (“normal”) corn snakes have an orange or brownish-yellow base color with large, black-edged red or brown blotches down the back and a black and white checkered pattern on the belly. However, thanks to captive breeding efforts, corn snakes are now available in many other colors and patterns.
Corn snakes are one of the most common pet snakes in the US due to their hardiness, manageable size, docile nature, and ease of breeding in captivity. With good care, they are capable of living 15-25 years or more.
Minimum terrarium size for corn snakes
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single corn snake is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. Of course, larger is always better! Many people (falsely) believe that this is an unreasonable minimum for corn snakes because their slender build makes them appear smaller than they actually are. However, the fact is that they’re very active snakes, and need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and climb.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple corn snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as corn snakes are not a social species, and keeping them together causes unnecessary stress.
Do corn snakes need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for corn snake. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for corn snakes housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” terrarium are:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” above the basking area if not.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Lights should be on for about 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter in order to encourage natural hormonal cycling. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for corn snakes
Like other reptiles, corn snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, corn snakes should have a basking surface temperature of 90°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be around 75°F. Surface temperatures can be measured with an infrared thermometer, but air temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your snake with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: a piece of flagstone or stone paver) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
The warm hide should be placed directly below the basking surface. If the heat lamp is not enough to get the warm hide to an appropriate temperature, use a heat mat connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide temperature.
Best humidity levels for corn snakes
Corn snakes need an average humidity of 65-75%. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity.
Best substrate for corn snakes
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your corn snake’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for corn snakes:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a corn snake terrarium
An empty terrarium makes for a bored corn snake, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since corn snakes are semi-arboreal, at bare minimum you will need at least two hiding places on the ground and a branch or two for it to climb on. However, it’s best to include other items such as:
What to feed to a corn snake
Corn snakes are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake size:
- Hatchlings (<18″ long) should be fed once every 5-7 days.
- Juveniles (18-36″ long) should be fed once every 7-10 days.
- Adults (>36″ long) should be fed once every 10-14 days.
Prey items should be around 10% of the snake’s weight and no more than 1.5x its width at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so aside from offering mice and rats, quail and chicks can also be used to add diversity to your snake’s diet.
Corn snakes can survive without dietary supplements, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.
How to handle your corn snake
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, corn snakes generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! When picking up your corn snake, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! Here are some great sources we recommend checking out:
- “Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner’s Guide” by Kathy Love and Bill Love