A corn snake’s lifespan can depend on a variety of factors. In the wild, of course, they are in danger of predation or of being run over when crossing a road. As a result, the lifespan of a wild corn snake is likely to be around 6-8 years in total.
Pet corn snakes can be surprisingly long-lived when provided with the right conditions.
It is not unusual for corn snakes to reach 15-20 years of age in captivity, and sometimes even longer.
Buying a pet corn snake can therefore be a long-term responsibility. It is wise to consider whether you’re really going to be happy caring for your snake for several decades to come. Only when you’re certain should you consider bringing one home.
Of course, there are even factors in captivity that can affect how long a corn snake lives for. The better the level of care, the greater the lifespan of your corn snake is likely to be.
So what factors should we consider to ensure a long and healthy life for your pet…?
Housing & Environmental Conditions
The first key to a long-lived snake is providing the right housing. This allows you to create a “micro-habitat” perfectly suited to the needs of your corn snake.
While there may be snow on the ground outside, your pet may be totally unaware, happily basking in their warm, spacious tank. Here are some important things to consider…
Your corn snake should be given enough space to move around regularly. A corn snake kept in a cage that is too small may put on weight, which can shorten their lifespan.
As a good rule of thumb, aim for a cage where the length added to the width is at least as great as your snake is long.
So a single corn snake that is 150cm (5 feet) long would ideally have a vivarium that is at least 90cm long and 60cm deep (90cm+60cm=150cm).
Of course, if you can afford a larger cage then all the better.
Like other reptiles, corn snakes require specific environmental conditions if they are to thrive. Some cages tend to make it easier to provide these requirements. Besides the size of the cage, some of the most important considerations are:
Corn snakes don’t do well in damp, stale conditions. These can lead to health conditions like respiratory conditions or scale rot.
A cage with plenty of mesh or ventilation holes is therefore preferable over a more enclosed container.
Places to Hide Away
Corn snakes are crepuscular. That means they’re most active around dawn and dusk, though they may come out at any time of the day or night.
Outside of these times they often like to hide away from view, and this desire is important if your snake is to remain happy and healthy.
It is possible (and indeed I would argue essential) for every snake in captivity to be provided with a hide or two irrespective of their cage. However this is especially important in glass tanks where your snake is at risk of being disturbed from any side.
If you opt for a glass cage, therefore, aim to place it up against a wall and even consider masking off one or both ends with plants or pieces of cork bark. This creates dark, secret little corners that your snake can feel comfortable in.
Inability to Escape
It goes without saying that you want to avoid your corn snake getting out, especially if you’re not home at the time. A time-fitting lid or door is therefore essential.
If you select a cage with sliding doors I always recommend you add a cage lock. These are cheap and easy to source. They also prevent your corn snake from accidentally sliding open the door to their cage during everyday activity.
Visibility for You
It’s easy to think that how well you can see your corn snake is of little importance in the grand scheme of things. However, I believe that the simple art of sitting and watching your snake can help you to identify potential issues.
You might notice a cut or graze.
You might see changes in behavior.
All of these things can help to identify potential health or husbandry issues that need to be resolved.
Most pet corn snakes will require some form of supplemental heating, especially in the colder months of the year.
Without the right temperature corn snakes may start suffering from health conditions or may refuse food. Food that is already in the gut can start to rot, and generally your snake will slow down.
Kept cold enough for long enough a corn snake will die.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to provide the right heat.
Try to provide a basking spot that is deliberately kept warmer than the rest of the cage. Depending on your setup a heat mat or ceramic bulb are both good options.
Aim for a hotspot of around 80-85’F (26-29’C) and adjust these temperatures in response to your snakes behavior.
A corn snake that can behave naturally is likely to live a lot longer than one kept in a more sterile or artificial environment.
It encourages them to move around, which is good, and can also make them more interesting for you to watch. Here are some things to consider:
While substrates like newspaper or paper towel are still popular among corn snake owners, I’m a big fan of trying to keep things a little more natural.
Particulate substrates allow burrowing, and their mildly abrasive texture can also be handy when your snake sloughs it’s skin.
Corn snakes live primarily in the eastern part of the USA where there is a lot of bush, wood, clay and dry soil. This will give you an idea of the sort of substrate you should put in your snake’s enclosure.
Good choices include aspen, cypress and coconut fiber.
Pine and cedar should be avoided as they release phenols which can cause respiratory problems. This doesn’t help them to have a long life.
Try to provide enough substrate so that your snake can bury itself entirely if it so desires. A depth twice that of your snake is a good starting point.
From branches to pieces of bark, from leaves to plants, feel free to add interest to your corn snake tank. This can encourage a broader range of natural behaviors, and also makes their cage look far more interesting for you!
Just be sure that any tank decor you add is reptile-safe. If in doubt, buy only from your local exotic pet store or from specialists online. Adding decor you’ve picked up in the countryside could introduce parasites or chemicals that harm your snake.
Take care that no tank decor can pose a health risk to your snake. For example, consider gluing any heavy pieces of wood in place using aquarium silicone (not the bathroom alternative). This will prevent it crushing your snake if they burrow beneath.
Lastly all corn snakes should have at least one hide under which they can conceal themselves.
While it’s not strictly necessary, some keepers opt to add artificial lighting to their corn snake cage. Some keepers claim that the provision of UV light – as we do for lizards like my day geckos – can encourage increased activity and health.
Just as importantly, however, any lights should be turned off at night to permit a natural day/night cycle.
As a rule, snakes don’t like people.
They don’t like noise or commotion.
They’ll normally do everything they can to avoid it.
Yet here we are putting them into our often-busy homes.
No doubt, this can lead to stress, and potentially shorten the lifespan of a corn snake.
An important consideration is therefore where you’ll place your corn snake cage. A nice quiet spare bedroom can work well, where your snake will receive only minimal disturbance.
Less suitable places might include in your kitchen (due to cooking fumes), near the TV (due to noise) or near a door or window (due to temperature changes).
Effective Nutrition & Feeding
Just like us, if a corn snake is to live a long life then they need the right nutrition. This means being given the right items in the correct volumes.
Most corn snakes eat mice in captivity.
The way to decide what size of mouse to give it is to measure both the girth of the mouse and the girth of your snake. They should be about the same.
A baby corn snake will probably be alright with pinkies, while a grown-up snake will need adult or jumbo mice.
A feeding schedule of around once-per-week tends to work well for most corn snakes. Some keepers weigh their snake regularly, keeping a record, so they can adjust feeding in response.
It goes without saying that a bowl of fresh drinking water should be available at all times.
Routine Health Checks
Actually getting your corn snake out of its cage and having a good look at it can help you spot potential health problems.
Start at the front of the snake and slowly work your way down the tail checking every detail as you go.
Carefully consider each element.
Are the eyes bright?
Is there any discharge from the mouth?
Are the scales glossy and flat?
Are there any cuts, scratches or grazes?
If you find anything you’re unsure of then consult a reptile veterinarian at the earliest opportunity.
You might want to consider reptile pet insurance to help cover any potential costs. It’s quite a specialist thing, but there are a handful of providers out there.
Prevention from Danger
Lastly, of course, you need to protect your corn snake from common forms of danger that might shorten its life. Some things to consider:
Some children have no understanding of animals and may accidentally put them in danger. If you have young children then consider keeping them out of your snake room, teaching them they aren’t allowed to open the cage in your absence, or fitting a secure cage lock.
Other household pets can pose a risk to pet snakes. Cats can be a particular risk as they may not only want to attack your snake, but they may try to sit on the warm lid of the cage.
Ensure your corn snake cage is secure, with no gaps through which they can escape, and that all doors/lids are securely fastened at all times. Personally I like to do a quick check every evening before bed and every morning before work.
400;”>Reptile heaters can get very hot indeed. I have heard stories of people losing their pet reptile by literally cooking it to death. I’ve also seen blackened and melted reptile tanks. Don’t use a reptile heater without a thermostat to be certain.
Also, be aware that direct sunlight can cook your corn snake if it falls in their cage. In sunny weather keep the blinds closed, or position the tank where sunlight can’t hit it.
Lastly, take care when handling your corn snake. Be gentle, slow and deliberate. It can be a good idea to hold them low, such as by sitting on the floor or a bed, so if you accidentally drop them they won’t come to any harm.
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