Trying to decide on the ideal snake for a beginning hobbyist? The two most important things to look for include ease of handling and difficulty in feeding. One of the best, if not the best choice for a new handler is the corn snake, or Elaphe guttata, sometimes referred to as the red rat snake.
The name “corn snake” is believed to come from one of two possible sources: the first refers to the pattern on their belly, which resembles Indian corn; it may also come from Southern farmers who would find the snakes feeding on rodents in their corn cribs.
The corn snake is easy to handle, docile, and medium in size. A native of North America, they will live comfortably in a room-temperature enclosure with a heating pad under one side that allows them to regulate their body temperature. These hardy companions come in a variety of different patterns and colors ranging from lavender to an amelanistic variety known by the description “snow.” The corn snake is a non-venomous constrictor. The average life span of these snakes is 10 years, although one lucky individual is known to have reached the ripe old age of 21 while in captivity.
These snakes may develop to a length of up to 5 feet and they maintain the girth of a golf ball. This tree-dwelling, or arboreal, snake is one of the most reasonable snakes to purchase. In the wild, corn snakes are shy animals and tend to be most active at night. When threatened they try to intimidate the adversary by mimicking a rattle snake. This is enacted by vibrating their tail and striking. Even the most intimidating wild caught snake will adjusts easily to captivity and handling with a little patience.
The corn snake is an avid climber, and as such can be an adapt escape artist requiring an enclosure that must be adequately secured. This snake should be provided with a interesting branch for climbing as well as a box to hide in which allows the snake privacy, thereby helping it to minimize stress. No special lighting is required. An incandescent light bulb can be used for a basking area and should be adjusted for seasonal and daily fluctuations in light and temperature.
Some possible enclosure substrates include astroturf, cypress mulch, or just replaceable paper towels. It is best to avoid cedar and pine chips -- cedar especially is considered toxic to the animal. Corn cob substrate should also be avoided since it is easily ingested.
Most captive-bred snakes will readily take thawed, previously frozen prey. Hatchlings can be fed small lizards, frogs, or pinkie mice. Fresh water should be available at all times.
Johnson, Allie. “Snakes for Beginners.” Pet Age, January 2009. Pp. 53-55.