- Challenges: proper housing. As with most snakes, if the enclosure is not entirely secure, they will find a way to escape.
- Temperature, Humidity, & Lighting:
- In the wild, cornsnakes eat rodents, eggs, small birds, and frogs.
- In captivity, they are fed rodents.
Notes on Enrichment & Training
- Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
- Advancing Herpetological Husbandry July 2018 Quarterly Newsletter- Article Environmental Enrichment for Reptiles By Charlotte James
Colony or Breeding Management
Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.
Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).
- Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler. Wrap bottle with newspaper for lizards or snakes traveling with the bottle loose, to make cleanups easier in the case of defecation while traveling.
- Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a Coleman style coolers that have been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). Small and medium sized snakes travel inside an inside-out, knotted pillowcase. Large snakes travel loose in the cooler that is also bungeed shut. For lizards, the cooler is lined with newspaper.
Tips on Presentation
- The species is good around small, medium, and large crowds and also does well with taction.
Tips on Handling
- In general, corn snakes have a pretty calm disposition. Unless hungry or very agitated, they are not typically aggressive.
- Cornsnakes have been mistakenly killed for being thought to be Copperheads – not that it is “ok” to kill any snake, but a great message is clarifying the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes, as well as the overall misconceptions of snakes and the benefits snakes provide to the ecosystem.
- In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Save-Wildlife/Images/PetWalletBro2012.aspxhttp://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/pets/index.html
- Snakes are an important link in the food chain. They provide food for many bird and mammal species that prey on them. The main diet of most snakes is rodents. Therefore, snakes provide a very valuable service – pest control. Most snakes are non-venomous and will avoid humans if they can. Venomous snakes want to use their venom to kill small prey animals or to defend themselves; since humans are too big to be considered prey by most snakes, the best way to avoid a bite is not to make the snake feel threatened. Ask guests to avoid any snakes they may see in the wild and appreciate them from a distance. http://www.capesnakeconservation.com/snake-conservation-whats-the-point/http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/rattlesnake_roundups/facts/rattlesnake_roundups.html
Comments from the Rating System
- Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: handlers should know how to tell when opaque, etc.
- Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: Our female corn snake was harder to handle when younger because she would strike and bite. She calmed down a lot as she aged and was a really good program animal. During the winter she would rattle her tail like a rattle snake in her holding and pose like she was going to strike. She wouldn’t if you knew how to hold her, but would take advantage of new people. Those were the only reasons why I marked her difficult to take care of and for experienced handlers. Once she was older she was fairly sedate and an easy handle. Public really liked her coloring and would sometimes confuse her with a coral snake, so we talked about that a lot and the benefits of snakes (mice and rat control). We also touch on the pet trade as well.
- Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: never worked with a corn snake that I didn’t like – they all seem to be very docile and great in all sorts of situations.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Cornsnakes are found in the southeastern United States, from the pine barrens of New Jersey south to Florida and Louisiana. They live in pine barrens, wooded areas, and hillsides.
This is a beautifully colored snake with red or orange blotches on a paler ground color. There are several color morphs available in the pet trade, including amelanistic, anerythristic, ghost, blizzard, candy cane, etc.
This snake typically reaches 30 to 48 inches in length; the record is 72 inches long.
Males use a scent trail left by the females to find them when they are ready for breeding. Male ratsnakes engage in ritualized combat dances involving rearing and pushing. After mating, the female will lay anywhere from 8 to 20 eggs. Hatchlings are about 8 inches long when they emerge from their eggs after a 70 day incubation. These snakes are sexually mature at 18-36 months of age.
Average lifespan is 12 to 25 years.
They are chiefly terrestrial, but they can climb well. They will hide in hollow logs or underbrush, and will spend the winter in a burrow. When threatened, cornsnakes will hiss and vibrate their tails.
Cornsnakes become very tame in captivity and make popular pets.
Threats and Conservation Status
Cornsnakes were listed as a threatened species in New Jersey in 1979. In 1984, that listing was updated to endangered. Currently, the collection and/or possession of a “wild type” cornsnake is prohibited in New Jersey. (Any amelanistic captive bred is allowed, but a permit is required for possession.)
Did you know…
- Cornsnakes are also called red ratsnakes.
- They are often found in cornfields, looking for the rodents who eat the corn. Originally, it was thought that the snakes ate the corn, which is why they were called corn snakes. Another reason they might have been named cornsnake is the distinctive pattern on the underside of the snake, which strongly resembles maize corn.
- Although cornsnakes are a very helpful animal to farmers because they can control the rodent population, they are often misidentified as copperheads and killed.
- Their Latin name Elaphe means “deerskin” referring to the smooth feel of the snake’s skin, and guttatta means “spotted” or “speckled” describing the coloration pattern.
Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
- Ambassador Animal SAG Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 3: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms
- Choice, Control, and Training in Ectotherms, By Carrie Kish
- Stress Management in Reptiles and Frogs
- Reptile Lighting Information
- Check out the Advancing Herpetological Husbandry Facebook group. They have also published several newsletters (see Reptiles page for links).
- See: AAH -January 2018 Quarterly Newsletter Article: Temperature and Heat for Reptiles By Roman Muryn
Contributors and Citations
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- John G. Shedd Aquarium
- Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield Zoo
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters