The Corn Snake, Pantherophis guttatus, is a species belonging to the rat snake category. They are a constrictor species that bite the prey and then twist around it and constrict it until it dies. These snakes are generally very docile and are normally reluctant to bite, which makes them excellent pets. They have been said to obtain their name from farmers who would store ears of corns on their farms. This corn would be eaten by rodents, and the snakes would in turn eat these rodents, and hence the name 'corn' snake.
They are found all through central and southeastern US (New Jersey to Florida Keys and west Texas), and also some parts of Mexico. They are commonly found in pine barrens, deciduous forests, abandoned buildings or farms, rocky hillsides, and overgrown fields. The average length of an adult snake is 3.9 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters). In the wild, they have an average life span of 6 to 8 years, but when kept in captivity, they are known to live up to 23 years.
Corn snakes generally do not feed everyday. They prefer eating once every few days. In the wild, they generally eat small rodents. However, they can also eat small reptiles and amphibians. They also climb trees at times looking for unprotected bird nests.
Young hatchlings prefer lizards and tree frogs, while full-grown snakes feed on mice, birds, rats, and bats. These snakes are constrictors. After initially biting the prey to get a firm grip, it coils around the prey and slowly tightens it till the prey suffocates and dies. Once the prey is dead, the snake swallows it whole, with the head going in first. However, if the prey is small is size, then these snakes are known to swallow them alive. They are most active during the nights and the early hours of the dawn. They are primarily ground dwellers. During cold weather, they hunt less and are generally less active.
The corn snakes become sexually mature when they are two years old and breed between March and May. These snakes are oviparous. The female lays a clutch of about 12 to 24 eggs a little more than a month after mating. The eggs are laid in piles of decaying vegetation, rotting stumps, or similar locations which are warm and humid so that they can incubate. After the eggs are laid, the parents abandon them, just like many other snake species. The eggs need a temperature of about 82 °F, and hatch roughly 10 weeks after laying, sometime between July to September. The hatchlings are about 5 inches long, and can grow to 4 to 6 feet in length.
These snakes make great pets as they are very docile and hardly bite. However, it is always advisable to buy one that has been bred in captivity rather than one that has lived in the wild for sometime.
A full-grown snake requires a medium-sized enclosure. A glass enclosure with perfect locking devices and good ventilation is ideal. Care should be taken to ensure that there are no small holes in the enclosure, as the hatchlings can escape from sizes smaller than the diameter of a straw.
As snakes are cold-blooded creatures, their body temperature depends on the surrounding temperature. Hence, it is very important to ensure that their enclosures are warm and humid, which helps them remain active and digest food. A tank heat pad can be placed at one end of the enclosure to monitor their body temperature. A snake can get heat burns from heat rocks, and hence placing them in the enclosure should be avoided.
Snakes prefer to hide for a great deal of time. Commercial apparatus like hollow logs and tubes are available, which can be placed in the enclosure to help them hide and feel safe. Preferably place two such apparatus in the enclosure, one on the warmer side and the other on the cooler side so that the snake can pick as per its preference.
Baby snakes should be fed pinky mice. As they grow, the size of the mice should be increased. A thumb rule is that the diameter of the food that is fed should be the same as the diameter of the snake. They can be fed twice a week, but once a week should be sufficient. Snakes often drink water, so a bowl of clean water should always be made available.
Corn snakes come in a beautiful myriad of colors and make great pets. However, before purchasing one, do a thorough and complete research, and talk to the pet store owner, who will be able to guide you better.