Corn Snake Setup Guide – How to House Corn Snakes

So you’ve chosen your corn snake enclosure – the next step is to setup the cage properly so that you’re ready to bring home your snake.

In this article we’ll discuss the equipment that you’ll be needing, together with how to set everything up correctly the first time.

Corn Snake Bedding

First and foremost you’re going to need some bedding to line the base of your corn snake cage. This bedding helps to make your corn snake feel at home, makes cleaning a far easier task and also – ideally – allows your corn snake to display some natural behaviour.

Over the years a huge range of different bedding materials have been tried. The most suitable options for corn snakes are as follows:

Aspen

Aspen is arguably the most popular form of corn snake bedding. These wooden shavings are light and fluffy, making them easy to transport back from the pet store and comfortable for your snake.

Personally I have found that corn snakes really appreciate this bedding, and regularly “dig” beneath it in a natural way. In some instances I have found that some corn snakes prefer to conceal themselves beneath the surface rather than using the carefully-chosen hide that they have been provided with.

This fluffiness also means that it is quite absorbent; spilled water or faeces quickly dry up, allowing effective spot-cleaning without the need to replace all the bedding as frequently.

If there is a downside to aspen bedding it is that it can “clump” up, leaving bare patches on the floor of the cage as your corn snake digs around. Personally, I give aspen bedding a 9/10 score.

Corn Cob Granules

Corn cob granules, as the name suggests, are made from grinding up the dried centres of sweetcorn cobs. This creates a natural, renewable bedding with the appearance of small, yellowish granules.

Corn cob is another ideal bedding for creating a more natural-looking cage, where the granules can be moved around by your snake. Arguably less attractive than aspen, and less likely to be used for burrowing due to its weight, corn cob granules tend to be used rather less for burrowing.

The downside to corn cob granules is that they can quickly rot when they get damp; so you need to be on constant watch for any moisture in the cage, or the resultant mould, so that such areas can be quickly cleaned.

I have found that the area around the waterbowl is particularly prone to this issue, as a bathing corn snake gets out of the water and creates drips in the surrounding substrate.

This makes it a little more effort to use corn cob granules than aspen, and for this reason I give it a score of 8/10.

Newspaper

Newspaper is of course cheap and plentiful, helping to keep your budget under control. It can also make cleaning out your corn snake a whole lot easier, as one can simply roll up the entire newspaper covering into a ball, then dispose of it in one go before replacing the newspaper.

Despite these benefits, newspaper does offer a number of potential weaknesses as a bedding substrate. Firstly, newspaper has very low absorbency levels, and therefore can quickly become damp. If you corn snake pills water from their bowl, this can quickly wick across the newspaper, creating a damp substrate. In general dampness is to be avoided with corn snakes, as it can result in skin conditions.

A second issue, of course, is that corn snakes are unable to burrow in newspaper, though they may try to conceal themselves beneath a loose flap of paper. In this way, I believe that newspaper doesn’t allow such a range of natural behaviours as do loose substrates like aspen. Added to this, of course, is looks just plain horrible too.

While I know there are fans of the ease and cost of using newspaper, it’s not a bedding that I myself use or recommend. As a result, I give it a score of 5/10.

Beech Chippings

Lastly we come to the substrate which I myself use in the majority of cases. While beech chippings are heavier than aspen, it is my personal opinion that beech is more attractive and just as practical.

Beech chippings allow your corn snake to dig around if it wants (though not as easily as with aspen) and seems to give the most natural appearance of all the various options. It stays clean and in good condition for long periods of time, making it good value for money.

Beech chippings are reasonably absorbent too, helping to keep your corn snake cage smelling clean and fresh, and making spot-cleaning quite a simple affair. It’s easy to just remove handfuls of substrate if necessary, then replace them with fresh bedding, to keep your corn snake in the best of health. My score here is 9/10 – on par with aspen, which together make up my two favorite types of bedding for corn snakes.

Hides for Corn Snakes

Whilst corn snakes are quite active snakes, like most of their kin they like to hide away from time-to-time. The provision of at least one hide is therefore important to help your corn snake feel comfortable in their enclosure.

One of the better ideas, if you corn snake enclosure is large enough, is to provide two different hides – one at the cool end and one at the warm end of the cage. In this way, your snake can choose the area to hide in that suits them best.

A huge range of different hides are available for reptile keepers and I have covered many of them in this article. Here are some of the better options available to you…

Cardboard Boxes

Possibly the cheapest and easiest hide for corn snakes is a cardboard box of some kind. Cereal boxes, for example, tend to make ideal hides for larger specimens. Boxes are of course a free product of most kitchens, saving you spending any unnecessary money. They do, however, become soiled quite quickly so may need to be replaced on a regular basis.

If there is a downside of cardboard boxes as hides it is simply that they’re not the most visually-appealing hides on the market. For anyone looking to create a more “naturalistic” display will therefore find them a disappointing option, despite their practicalities.

Loo Rolls / Kitchen Roll Tubes

For tiny hatchling corn snakes the cardboard tube from a toilet roll or kitchen roll can be easily used. Simply place this on its side in the cage and your baby corn snake will soon start to make use of it. Such tubes, of course, are really only suitable for smaller snakes, and have the same clinical, artificial appearance of cereal boxes.

Resin “Caves”

Now we start to move onto the types of hide that I personally prefer. These resin caves, and the next few options we’ll discuss, offer all the benefits required of a hide but also look far more visually-appealing.

Personally speaking I like to design reptile cages that not only meet all the physical requirements of my pets, but that also look great too. A key ingredient in my enjoyment of reptile keeping is being able to sit and watch my pets, and for this a naturalistic vivarium can’t be beaten.

These resin caves come in a huge range of different sizes, suitable for anything from a hatchling corn snake up to a fully-grown adult. They also come in a wide range of designs, to suit your personal tastes. Most have a smooth inner surface that can easily be wiped or scrubbed clean, making them very hygienic.

Personally, these are one of my favorite types of hides for my snakes and are available for quite a reasonable price in most reptile stores.

Curved Wooden Hides

Curved wooden hides are another favorite of mine, giving a really attractive appearance to your corn snake enclosure. Place them snuggly up against one wall of the cage and your corn snake will soon be happily concealed beneath it.

Being made of wood, cleaning can be slightly more difficult than for resin caves. It may be necessary to soak them in a bucket of hot water and reptile-safe detergent before scrubbing them with a stiff brush, but they’ll normally come up as good as new without too many problems.

A tend to use a either these curved wooden hides or resin caves for the majority of my snakes, tending to prefer resin caves for smaller snakes but curved wood for my larger specimens.

Cork Bark  

One final option for your corn snake is to hide under pieces of curved cork bark. These are light and cheap to buy, and make the most natural-looking hide possible.

That said, cork bark is arguably the most difficult type of hide to keep clean due to their natural design. Only you can decide if this issue is worth it as a compromise when considering how attractive a cork bark hide can be.  

Water Bowls

Whilst reptiles are designed to minimise water loss, and so tend not to drink as regularly as many other pets, it is still considered good form to ensure a water bowl is present at all times.

It is interesting to note that corn snakes are a species of snake that sometimes enjoys a bathe. Whilst the odds of bathing seem to vary between specimens, some of my corn snakes seem to love nothing more than to curl up in their waterbowl for a soak.

This has two implications. Firstly, the perfect water bowl for your snake should be large for him or her to get into. Secondly, as just as importantly, try not to fill up the water bowl to the very top. If you do so, your bathing snake my splash water all over the cage, requiring emergency cleaning.

Due to the size and strength of corn snakes, their habit of burrowing around under the substrate and therefore disturbing things, and how some specimens like to get in and out of the water on a regular basis I like to opt for a heavy bowl.

Ceramic bowls are my personal preference, as they are strong, heavy, wide and low, making it very unlikely they’ll be tipped over by an overzealous corn snake. Plastic bowls are easily tipped over so are not the best idea.

Try to choose a bowl that is large enough for your corn snake to easily curl up in (the bigger the better) and be sure to change the water daily to keep it fresh. Be aware that some snakes develop an annoying habit of defecating in their water, making it even more important to clean the bowl and change the water on a regular basis.  

Corn Snake Lighting

Corn snakes tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, but you may find your snake up and about at any time of the day or night. Opinions are divided on the use of lighting for corn snakes; it’s certainly isn’t a critical element, but some keepers like to light their cage all the same.

The argument for adding artificial lighting to your corn snake enclosure is that it helps to make the cage more visually appealing; allowing you to get a better view of your pet.

At the same time, of course, artificial lighting also increases the cost of setting up your corn snake enclosure in the first place. If you’re on a budget, you may want to forego lighting at the beginning, with a view to perhaps adding it at a later date. This is especially so if you’re starting with a hatchling corn snake, where you may be upgrading their housing in the months to come.  

Corn Snake Heating

Corn snakes hail from the warmer parts of North America, where they will often be seen basking in the sunshine. As cold blooded creatures it is essential to provide some form of artificial heating, so that your snake can warm itself up.

Without this, a corn snake will remain sluggish, may suffer from health problems and will likely live nowhere near as long as if heating was made available.

A range of different heating sources may be used, though arguably the best heater for corn snakes is a heat mat. These can be placed under a glass tank or inside a wooden enclosure, and provide a gentle background heat.

The aim when heating a corn snake enclosure is to make one end of the cage much warmer than the other. This creates a temperature gradient, rather reminiscent of what a corn snake might experience in the wild, with some areas warmer and others cooler.

In such a way you corn snake can behave more naturally, moving to the area that suits them best, then going off exploring the cooler end of their cage when they have warmed up suitably.

The hot end of the cage should ideally reach some 25-28’C. This can be easily monitored using a reptile thermometer, and if necessary can be controlled using a thermostat.

Cage Decor

Whilst we have discussed the most critical parts of a corn snake enclosure – the bedding, heater, hides and water bowl – this isn’t necessarily the limit. Some snake keepers opt to include a variety of other decor items to make their cage look more natural, and to make their snake feel more at home.

As an example, a range of good quality artificial plants can be bought from good reptile stores. While they are certainly not essential, some keepers like to include a range of these plants to give their corn snake somewhere else to explore and hide. There’s also no denying how attractive they look in a reptile cage.

The key here is to feel free to use your creativity once the basic requirements are covered. If you’re happy with the basics then don’t feel obliged to fill the cage with other decoration.

However, assuming the corn snake enclosure you chose has the space, feel free to add your own unique style to the cage design.

Corn Snake Vivarium Layout

Once you’ve selected all the equipment you’ll be needing, setting up the cage is reasonably simple. The following tips should provide a decent guide to setting up and laying out your corn snake enclosure:

Heating

The best place to start setting up your corn snake enclosure is the heating system. The reason is simply that depending on what type of enclosure you opt for, the heater may actually go inside the cage rather than under it. So fit the heater to start with.

If you’re using a heat mat as suggested then fit this at one end of the cage. Your aim should be to heat no more than ⅓ to ½ of the cage floor area, leaving the other end unheated.

Using this system, it becomes reasonably easy to choose a heater for your corn snake cage. Simply find one that most accurately reflects these dimensions.

If necessary, be prepared to drill a hole in your wooden vivarium to thread the wire through, and also check that there is a suitable plug socket nearby.

Thermometer

As heating is such a critical part of keeping your corn snake fit and healthy, monitoring the temperature levels in the cage are paramount. A huge range of different reptile thermometers are on the market, but my own personal preference is for digital thermometers with heat-sensitive probes.

I have not only found these thermometers to be very accurate (more so than many of the “dial” thermometers, for example) but the probe also makes monitoring the temperature at a specific part of the cage much simpler.

I recommend investing in at least one – and ideally two. The first should be installed to measure the temperature at the hot end of the cage. The second, if you have one, can monitor the cool end.

Bedding

With your heating set up, next place a few centimetres of your chosen bedding – such as aspen or beech – on the floor of the cage.

Water Bowl

The water bowl should be placed at the cool end of the cage, away from the heat source to reduce evaporation. Half fill the bowl and be prepared to change the water daily and scrub the bowl clean at least once a week.

Hides

At least one hide – and ideally two – should be made available to your snake. I like to place these at the back of the cage, giving my snakes an added feeling of safety and seclusion.

If possible, place one hide at the warm end and one at the cool end – essentially one hide in each of the back corners of the cage.

If you only have one hide then you’ll need to pay more attention to your snake, and move the hide around based on their activity. Figure out whether they’re spending the majority of their time at the hot or cool end, then try to place their hide in such a position. In this way they will be able to hide away at a temperature that suits them best.

Lid

Lastly, once all the above equipment has been set up, secure the lid or cage door. Get used to opening and closing the lock (if there is one) and satisfy yourself that there are no gaps that your snake can escape through.

Testing Your Corn Snake Enclosure

Once the cage it all set up, the final stage is really to gets things running for a few days before bringing home your snake. In this way you can spot any issues before your snake takes up residence. Not only is this kinder for your corn snake, but it also makes your life a lot easier as you don’t need to worry about your snake escaping while making changes to the cage.

There are two key areas to consider. The first of these is the heating system. Keep an eye on your thermometer, to ensure that the heater is doing a proper job. Remember: an ideal temperature on the hotspot is 25-28’C – so check that the tank is getting neither too hot nor unpleasantly cold. Placing your flat hand on the bedding should reveal that the heated end is also considerably warmer than the cooler end.  

Alongside this, pay attention to your water bowl. In cages where the air gets too warm, or where ventilation is weak, the water can evaporate rapidly, steaming up the inside of the cage. These droplets may also drip into the substrate, causing it to rot in time. If necessary, move the water bowl as close to the cool end as possible and/or consider increasing ventilation to control moisture.

With these elements set up and checked, and feeling confident that everything is as it should be, the only step left is to introduce your new corn snake; and to hope they appreciate all the hard work that you’ve put in!

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