Corn snakes are possibly the best species of snake to keep as pets, especially for novice hobbyists who are keeping snakes for the first time. Their colorful appearance, docile nature, and simple care requirements have won over pet owners and commercial breeders alike.
Although taking care of a corn snake isn’t difficult, the snake still requires the proper environment, diet, and care to live a full, healthy life—as long as 25 years.
Corn snakes vary in size and coloration, but almost all of them have a clean checkerboard pattern of black and white squares on the underbelly, and some in southern Florida have an orange or yellowish uncheckered belly. The body itself is shaped like a loaf of bread, with a flat bottom, vertical sides, and a rounded top. This muscular design is what allows the corn snake to be such an accomplished climber.
- Size: Even the largest corn snakes remain a manageable size their entire lives. The smallest adults (those native to southern Florida) may not exceed 30–36″ (76.2–91.4 cm) in length. The largest corn snakes (those native to the Mid-Atlantic states) can reach 74″ (188 cm) in length.
- Color: All natural corn snakes—those not bred in captivity—have variations of four basic colors: black, red, yellow, and white. By fine-tuning these color ratios and their intensities, breeders have been able to create unique colors and patterns in captive corn snakes. The snakes that result from selective breeding are known as morphs.
Corn snakes are among the most frequently bred snakes: hobbyists and professional breeders produce thousands of them every year. Selective breeding allows for a variety of different color variations among corn snakes. The following are some of the most common corn-snake morphs.
- Amelanistic: Perhaps the oldest of all the color variations, these snakes lack black pigment and display reds, yellows, and whites. There are numerous variants of this morph, including the sunglow corn snake, which lacks all black and white pigments and appears mostly yellow and orange. Corns that exhibit a primarily yellow hue are known as creamsicle corn snakes, while corns with a basic white coloration and red pattern are called candy cane corn snakes.
- Anerythristic: Snakes lacking in red pigment (erythrin) are anerythristic. These snakes are mostly black and white with traces of yellow. There is also another type of anerythrism that occurs in the wild and produces bluish-gray and black corns known as charcoal corn snakes.
- Bloodred: These corn snakes have greatly enhanced red pigmentation and appear bloodred. Bloodred hatchlings are pinkish or rosy at first but darken considerably with age.
- Hypomelanistic: These snakes have a reduction of—but not a total absence of—black pigmentation. They don’t display the dramatic colors of the anerythristic or amelanistic color morphs but instead show variations of colors that occur naturally in the wild.
- Snow: Defined by a nearly total lack of all red, black, and yellow pigmentation, the snow corn has enhanced white coloring that often becomes tinged with yellow around the chin and throat as the snake ages.
Just as genes contribute to a corn snake’s coloration, genes also determine the animal’s pattern. Breeders can manipulate these genes to create new morphs displaying various patterns, including the following:
- Motley: Motley corn snakes have a pattern in which the saddles (colored sections on the back) join at all corners and wash over nearly the entire surface, leaving only tiny ovals of base coloration remaining. The pattern may also be broken into stripes, lines, ladder formations, or other configurations. The pattern is extremely variable among individuals. The dorsal patterning of a motley corn snake is nearly as unique as a human fingerprint.
- Striped and banded: Striped corns have a very clean dual set of lines running from the base of the neck to the tip of the tail. Banded corns have broad saddles that reach almost entirely across the body.
- Zigzag: In the zigzag pattern, the dorsal saddles are split apart into staggering and adjoining segments, giving the body a “zigzag” appearance. There is a great deal of variation among zigzags: the patterns may have breaks in them, the saddles may not touch in some places, or they may be continuous from the head to the tip of the tail. Specimens with continuous patterns are often the most expensive and are sometimes known as zipper corn snakes.
Corn snakes are very mild mannered and demand little in captivity, allowing them to thrive under the care of even the most inexperienced hobbyists. They rarely, if ever, show signs of aggression and are among the most easily handled of all snakes.
Corn snakes are a type of rat snake that first appeared about 55 million years ago and once had a natural range in North America, Europe, and Asia. Corn snakes live only in North America, from New Jersey south through the Florida Keys and west through Illinois and the Mississippi River Valley.
Within their ecosystem, corn snakes are accomplished predators that survive by preying on any warm-blooded animal they can subdue. They may venture into treetops, barn lofts, attics, or even straight up brick walls in search of nesting birds or their eggs. They kill their prey by constriction—after biting, they loop themselves around their prey several times and squeeze until the animal suffocates.
Corn snakes have a very keen sense of smell, many times more powerful than that of humans. Situated in a cavity at the roof of the mouth, a sensory organ called Jacobson’s organ registers scent particles that adhere to the tongue, detecting any prey or mates that are or have been in the area. Once a corn snake smells out its prey, it relies on its motion-sensitive vision to pinpoint the rodent or bird and direct its strike.
Is Your Home Right for a Corn Snake?
Before you bring a corn snake into your home, be sure that you can provide the care it requires to thrive. A healthy corn snake can live for up to 25 years or more in captivity, so be prepared for a long-term commitment to your snake before purchasing one.
Remember that even though you might love snakes, not everyone else does. Before you bring home a corn snake, make sure that no one in your household is afraid of snakes or has objections to living with one. You should also discuss the snake’s diet with the other members of your household. Many people are squeamish about the whole-rodent diet your new pet will require.