Is It A Corn Or A
Corn and Rat
snakes both belong to the genus Elaphe; Corns belong to the species
Elaphe guttata; many of the rat snakes are subspecies of Elaphe
obsoleta. For a full list of the Elaphe species, see the TIGR
Database: Colubridae: Elaphe.
The Latin word elaphe
means deerskin; guttata means speckled or spotted. Both terms apply
to corns and rats: in most species, their skin feels like finely tanned
deerskin, while the patterns on their back create spots or speckles. Some
people see the patterning of the belly scales as resembling maize, a colorful
ancestor of our modern day corn. Another theory relating to how corn snakes
got their name comes from the early Europeans settlers. They frequently
found these snakes in their corn fields and corn cribs, and thought they
were eating the corn! In fact, the corn snakes were, and remain, very
helpful to farmers as they help keep down the rodent population. Amelanistic
corns (those lacking the black and brown skin coloring) are sometimes
called "red rat snakes" because of their red-to-orange coloring.
There are presently
two subspecies of corns, E. g. gutatta and E. g. meahllmorum.
The care information
below discusses corns. The same information applies to rat snakes, as
well, other than that species whose overall length and size are larger
than corns will require larger enclosures and larger prey.
commonly found in deciduous forests, pine barrens, rocky hillsides and
farm areas over a broad swath of the United States (Alabama, Arkansas,
West central/Southeast Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois,
Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Southern
Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina,
Texas, Eastern Utah, Virginia). They have also been reported in Mexico
(Chihuahua, Coahuila, North Durango, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas) and the Cayman
Corns are most active
at night or in the hours of dawn and dusk (crepuscular). While they are
primarily ground-dwellers, some are semi-arboreal. While the Elaphes
feed on everything ranging from fish to frogs to rodents to mammals, wild
Corns start off feeding on small invertebrates and vertebrates, such as
crickets. Corns lay eggs, becoming sexually mature at around two years
range in size from 9-14 inches (22-36 cm); adults are generally 2.5 to
5 feet 76-152 cm) in length; most are in the 3-4 foot (91-122 cm) range.
The average life span of these snakes is 10 years, although one was documented
to be 21 years old.
In the wild, hatchlings
feed largely on small lizards and tree frogs, while adults feed on small
rodents and birds, killing their prey by constriction. In captivity, hatchlings
Corns can easily be started on pinkie mice (1-2 day old), quickly moving
up the prey scale, to fuzzies, crews and small adult mice. Both hatchlings
and adults can be fed prekilled rodents.
When selecting a corn
or rat snake, look for a well-fleshed body, no visible cuts or abrasions,
clear, alert eyes, tongue flicking, no signs of mites or ticks. The vent
should be clean.
It is always recommended
to obtain captive bred, rather than wild-caught, corns. Captive bred ones
have become very popular because of all the exotic colors and patterns
they "come in". Unfortunately, those morphs are caused by intense
inbreeding. As a result, corns are increasingly exhibiting morbitidy and
mortality problems as a result of undesireable genes being bred along
with the ones for color and pattern. Failure/Inability to feed and sudden,
inexplicable death are the two most common problems that have been increasing
over that past several years.
Many people believe that
a reptile will not grow any larger that its tank. THIS IS NOT TRUE! The
reptile keeps growing and will become miserable, and probably ill, if
the proper tank size is not provided. The only way to "stunt"
a reptile's is to not feed it enough; assuming you do not want a dead
reptile, this is not something you should do. Always find out the adult
size of an animal before you buy it. Note that many pet stores intentionally
stunt a reptile's growth; they find it's easier to sell a cute young reptile
to someone who does not know what they are looking at than an older, bigger
animal. Always inquire how old the animal is, when it was acquired, etc.
Be a knowledgeable consumer, not an impulse buyer.
Setting Up Your Snake's
Corns must be housed
in at least a 20 gallon tank. The tank must have a secure top. A determined
snake can push against screen or glass until it finds an opening big enough
for its head; where its head goes, so goes its body. Some snakes will
constantly rub their nose against the screened top of the tank in an effort
to find a way out. The resulting abrasions should be treated with an antiseptic
and antibiotic ointment. The furnishings in the enclosure should then
be evaluated to provide a more natural environment.
Provide a Hiding
A hide box of some sort should be provided, and an interesting branch
for climbing and resting. Branches collected from the wild will need to
be debugged by soaking first in chlorine/water solution, then rinsed thoroughly,
soaked in clean water, then left to dry in the sun. No special lighting
With corn snakes, there
are a couple of different substrates that can be used, such as pine chips
(not cedar chips, are toxic), indoor/outdoor carpeting and "Astroturf".
If you use the carpeting or Astroturf, you must wash it then let it dry
thoroughly before it can be used in the tank again; have two pieces on
hand which can be rotated. The snakes will often burrow under the chips
or carpet/turf, so don't be surprised if they are not always in view.
If you use pine or aspen shavings or cypress mulch, the urine and feces
can be scooped out with a cat litter scoop, with fresh chips added as
needed. Be sure to remove soiled substrate as soon as possible; urine-soaked
material become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. If you use
this type of substrate you will have to place your snake in a secure area
to feed it; you do not want it to ingest any chips.
An undertank heat pad is placed under one-half of the tank; this leaves
one side cooler so that your snake can regulate its body temperature as
needed. A heating pad made for people can be purchased at any drug store;
set it at medium or low depending upon the ambient air temperature. To
maintain health, corn snakes must be kept at 75-85 F, the higher temperature
being necessary to digest its food. Temperatures can fall to the lower
range at night. To easily monitor temperature, inexpensive aquarium self-stick
thermometers can be purchased and applied about an inch above the bottom
of the tank on the warm side.
Hot rocks should never
be used; they fluctuate too much, and too many reptiles suffer severe
An incandescent light
bulb in a reflector shield may be set just outside the tank to heat up
a basking area; appliance timers can be set to turn the light on and off
at set times during the day. Reset the hours of operation to adjust for
seasonal fluctuations in ambient air temperature.
snake will happily eat every 10 days or so. They will eat, and should
only be fed, killed prey. A snake who is not hungry when live prey is
introduced into the enclosure often finds itself becoming the meal, especially
if the prey is a rat.
To economize, you can
buy in bulk and freeze them. Contact your local herpetology society; many
members breed mice and rats, and most will pre-kill them for you. Remove
the prey item from the freezer and allow to defrost at room temperature.
When defrosted, use forceps or tongs to pick up the rodent by the tail,
and hold the prey in front of the snake for the snake to strike at.
Many snakes will eat
prey that is just placed in the tank. Occasionally, a quail egg can be
offered to wild-caught specimens. If the snake likes it, one can be offered
every couple of weeks. (Since quail eggs purchased in stores or from hatcheries
are unlikely to be fertilized, they should not form a regular part of
the main diet.)
Start hatchlings off
with pinkie mice. As your snake grows, gradually increase the prey size
by offering fuzzies, crews, then small adult mice or rat pinkies. A full-grown
Corn or Rat can eat a medium to large mouse; large Rat snakes can eat
small rats. If you feed too much at one feeding session, or feed a prey
item that is too large, your snake may regurgitate it.
A bowl of fresh water must always be available at all times. It will
be used for drinking and sometimes for bathing. If the snake defecates
in it, the bowl must be cleaned and disinfected immediately.
Corns do not wrap snugly around your arm like pythons or kings.
They tend to pick a direction and go for it. Though they are relatively
small in body mass, they are quite strong. Always support the body and
give free rein to the head. If the head starts going somewhere you don't
want it to go, gently guide it into another direction. Many snakes are
nervous when introduced into a new situation with new people. Give them
a couple of days to settle down before letting new people handle them.
As a reptile grows, its old skin become too tight and worn.
A new skin awaits just below the old. As a snake gets ready to shed, its
eyes will turn a milky blue over the course of several days, and the body
color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. Once the eyes have
cleared, the snake is ready to shed. To assure proper hydration, soak
the snake in warmish water after the eyes clear; this should enable to
snake to shed easily within the next 24 hours.
All newly acquired reptiles should have fecal exams done by
an experienced reptile vet to check for bacteria, protozoa and worms.
Many of the parasites, bacteria and protozoans can be transmitted to humans
and other reptiles. Left untreated, these infestations can ultimately
kill your reptile. Medications are available to treat these conditions.
When your snake first defecates, collect the feces in a clean plastic
bag, seal it, label it with your name, phone number, date and your snake's
name, then take it and your snake to a reptile
Signs of ill-health
all other animals, do get sick. Listlessness, failure to eat over several
weeks or regurgitating meals can be signs of bacterial or endoparasite
infection. Take these animals to a reptile vet, with a fecal or vomitus
sample enclosed in a ziplock bag. Ectoparasites, such as ticks and mites,
must also be dealt with. With proper instruction, this is something you
can do yourself if the infestation is mild. Allowed to escalate, ectoparasites
can kill their host. If the skin around the neck forms wrinkles and puckers,
the snake is severely dehydrated and you must see a vet. The vet will
either administer subcutaneous fluids or show you how to force fluids.
Animals cannot digest food when dehydrated, so emaciation will set in
if the condition is allowed to continue untreated. Then, respiratory infections,
parasites and other problems, and possibly death, will occur. Thin, stringy
mucous coming out of nose or mouth or changes in feces or urates (different
color, consistency, frequency) signal a disease or infection. Observe
your snake every day to be sure to catch any problems early. Treat the
problem as soon as it is noticed to prevent other health problems and
Places to Go, Things
your local herpetological society and
find others with similar interests and a good place for information on
Books to read
Breeding Corn Snakes, by Michael J. McEachern, 1992. Advanced Vivarium
Systems, Lakeside CA.
Rat Snakes, by
Ray Staszko and Jerry G. Walls. 1994. TFH Publishing, Neptune City, NJ.
Corn Snake Species Discovered