One of the reasons why corn snakes are such popular pet snakes is down to their size.
They’re large enough to be safely handled without the risk of hurting them, but small enough to be easily accommodated in the home.
Hatchling corn snakes can be very small indeed, measuring in at less than 30cm in total length.
Of course, they look even smaller when they’re curled up in their cage and they could easily fit in the palm of your hand.
Adult corn snakes can vary somewhat in adult size, but a good rule of thumb is that they’ll reach 4-5 feet (120-150cm) on average.
The males are often slightly bigger than the females at maturity. This is quite unusual for snakes, where the females are typically the larger of the sexes.
In ball pythons, for example, females tend to be slightly longer and chunkier overall. This difference in size can help you to distinguish between the sexes.
Corn snakes take around 2 years to reach their full length, though this may vary depending on a range of factors.
How warm your corn snake is kept, and how often it is provided food can result in adult size being reached sooner or later.
What Your Corn Snake Needs to Reach Full Size
If you’re the proud owner of a small corn snake then it’s essential to provide the right conditions if they are to thrive.
Fortunately, corn snakes are pretty easy snakes to keep in captivity.
In this section we’ll cover all the crucial details you’ll need to consider if your pet is to live a long and healthy life with you…
Best Enclosures for Corn Snakes
One of the most elements of all that you’ll need to consider when keeping a pet corn snake is the cage that it will live in.
This cage needs to provide all the right environmental conditions, it needs to prevent your snake from escaping, and it should also encourage natural behavior wherever possible.
In this section we’ll discuss how to choose and set up the ideal vivarium for your snake…
What Size of Cage for a Corn Snake?
Seeing as this guide focuses on corn snake size it makes sense to consider how this also applies to your pets cage.
While it can be tempting to provide your corn snake with as much space as possible, this isn’t always the best idea. Corn snakes can naturally fall prey to all sorts of larger animals, so they’ve learned to be wary and to avoid danger.
This means avoiding wide open spaces with nowhere to hide, and instead spending more time around covered areas where they can hide in a hurry.
The end result of this is that larger cages can make some corn snakes feel unsafe. On the other hand, of course, your snake should have enough space to move around and behave normally. What we’re searching for, therefore, is a “happy medium”.
Cage Sizes for Hatchling Corn Snakes
Due to their small size, hatchling corn snakes don’t require an overly large vivarium.
A small plastic shoe box, Exo Terra terrarium or even a large tupperware container can all be used.
A cage of around 30cm long by some 15cm wide (12 inches x 6 inches) can work well for baby corn snakes.
In terms of volume, a good starting point is a 10 gallon tank.
It is important to appreciate that corn snakes grow surprisingly quickly when cared for properly, so you’ll likely need to re-house your pet two or three times before it reaches full size. Bear this in mind as it can add to the costs of owning a pet snake.
Cage Sizes for Adult Corn Snakes
Adult corn snakes certainly aren’t particularly big, so even adults can be easily kept in the home.
A good rule of thumb when choosing a cage for adult snakes is to choose one where the length added to the width is at least that of your snake.
As an example, a cage that is 3 feet long (90cm) and 2 feet deep (60cm) should be suitable for a corn snake up to 5 feet (120cm) long.
If in doubt, offer a little more space.
In this case you might opt for a cage that is 120cm long to give your pet a little more space to move around in.
A fully grown corn snake needs at least a 20 gallon tank if not more. It won’t do any harm to have a tank which is a bit bigger, even up to 40 gallons, so that your snake can have plenty of room to move.
Corn snakes are terrestrial – that is to say they live on the ground rather than up in the trees. And while they may burrow in their substrate, they don’t tend to need to much depth to hide in.
As a result, the height of the cage is much less important than the floor space.
Types of Corn Snake Cages
Once you’ve established the size of the cage you need, the next obvious question is which options are best.
Let’s look at some vivariums that have been used successfully by corn snake keepers…
Hatchling Snake Tubs
For baby corn snakes it is possible to purchase hatchling snake tubs in some exotic pet stores.
These tend to be made of clear, solid plastic, and have a close-fitting lid. They’re cheap to buy, easy to clean and practical to use. They can therefore be a decent starting point for a baby.
That said, there are a number of things to keep in mind.
Firstly, you’ll want to ensure your snake cage remains dry. Moist conditions can lead to health issues like scale rot. Ensure any cage you choose therefore has decent ventilation, to allow any water to evaporate out.
Secondly, I’ve had a few corn snakes – and a few hatchling tubs – where the snake managed to push off the lid and go for a wonder.
While I’ve always found the snake, it’s still not a pleasant experience for you. Of course, your snake is also in danger as it climbs around your home.
As a result, ensure the lid closes firmly, or consider adding extra security such as holding it on with a strong elastic band or placing some books on the lid to weigh it down.
Lastly, hatchling corn snakes grow rapidly, so accept that even if you go for this option it’ll likely only be a very temporary solution.
Within months – or even weeks – you’ll want to upgrade to a slightly more generous alternative.
Glass fish tanks can be a good option for corn snakes. They’re widely available and come in a huge range of sizes. They also allow you some creative input in making a more “naturalistic” setup.
There are two key difficulties with glass fish tanks as snake cages.
The first is that you need to make sure that the tank is fully escape proof. Corn snakes can climb surprisingly well, and a cage without a lid – or with one that doesn’t fit properly – will soon become an empty cage.
One option here is to build your own lid, as I have done in the past.
A simple wooden frame of the right dimensions can be knocked up in a matter of minutes. Then simply cover it in fine mesh and place it over the top of the cage.
A better alternative, to my mind, is to buy one of the specially-made tank toppers now available online or in some specialist stores.
These come in a range of sizes, they don’t require any DIY skills, and some of them have hinged sections which makes it easier to access your snake.
The second issue is that an all-glass cage can mean a lack of privacy for your snake.
Be sure to include lots of places to hide – from artificial plants to pieces of cork bark – so your pet can feel safe in their home.
I use glass terrariums for a lot of my exotics these days, and if you can find one of a suitable size then they can be ideal for corn snakes.
Think of them rather like an “improved” glass fish tank. They offer the same visual appeal and great visibility, but they come with a mesh lid already fitted and with front opening doors for ease of maintenance.
Both the lid and the doors have a built-in “lock” to prevent escapees.
As these can be a pricey option, you might want to hold off buying one for your hatchling corn snake. It may be a wiser idea to invest in a larger model that can house your snake as it gets larger. In essence, a “forever home”.
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Wooden vivariums can represent a great option, and can either be bought or even made.
If you opt to make your own cage then be sure to use melamine/contiboard – this is coated wood so won’t bubble if it becomes moist.
Also be sure to include suitable ventilation. Some specialist reptile stores sell “parts” for building vivariums, such as door runners and cage locks.
While I’ve both built and bought wooden vivariums, I tend to purchase most of mine at the moment. Here in the UK I’m a fan of VivExotic models, which look great and are very reasonably priced.
There are two particular benefits of wooden vivariums.
Firstly, the timber helps to keep the warmth in. This can make heating your corn snake cage easier in the winter months.
Secondly, the solid sides can make snakes feel rather more secure. That said, wooden vivariums aren’t as commonly encountered in the US as they are in Europe so finding one could be a challenge.
Really Useful Boxes (RUBs) & Similar
Some professional breeders use large solid plastic containers even for adults.
One popular brand in Europe is the Really Useful Box – often known to hobbyists simply as “rubs”. They have a solid construction and the lid locks into place to prevent escape.
While plastic boxes like these can be very practical – making cleaning nice and easy – they do have some downsides.
Firstly you’ll need to add ventilation. Either use a drill or soldering iron to add breathing holes, or even better cut out a section and replace it with mesh.
Additionally, these tubs don’t really look great.
Personally, while I do use them for some of my breeding stock, I would suggest you opt for something with more visual appeal – a wooden vivarium, Exo Terra or fish tank.
That way you can enjoy watching your snake going about it’s day.
Temperature & Heating
Snakes are cold-blooded and do need a heat source so that they can function. In the wild corn snakes will rely on the sun, but in captivity they need us to provide them with heat.
As with other reptiles, you should aim to heat just one section of the cage, allowing the other end to remain cooler. In this way your snake can choose the area that suits them best.
The hot end should be around 80-85’F (26-29’C) with the cool end around 75’F (23’C). A little cooler won’t do your snake any harm.
Also note that these are just ballpark figures; all corn snakes are individuals so some may appreciate more warmth while others prefer their cage on the cool size.
Watch your snake’s behavior and modify the temperature in response.
A snake that rarely moves from the basking spot would probably appreciate some additional heat.
A snake that hides in the cooler area may be feeling too warm.
Over time you can adjust conditions to perfectly match your corn snake’s requirements.
There are a range of possible reptile heaters that are suitable for corn snakes…
Heat mats or pads are some of the cheapest and easiest snake heaters available.
- UPGRADED DESIGN: Temperature can be adjusted manually. POWERFUL FUNCTION: Helps reptile for daily activity, appetite and metabolism. It can keep reptile tank warm without any harm to your pets and also won't disturb animals sleep pattern.
- Durable material: made of high quality PVC material, its soft surface can be flexible and folded. The heat mat is easy to clean, convenient to use and low energy.
- ENERGY-SAVING: This heater uses a solid state nichrome heating element Which only use 8 watts of electricity and costs only pennies a day to operate. HIGH EFFICIENCY: High-quality heating wire heating, stable performance and long service life.
If you have a glass or plastic cage, and use only a little substrate, then they can be placed beneath the cage.
For wooden vivariums you’ll need to place the heater actually inside the cage.
In cases where thick substrate is used the heater can instead be fixed to a wall of the cage using tape (outside the cage) or aquarium silicon sealant (inside or outside).
Aim to only heat ⅓ or so of your corn snake cage with a heat mat, so there are cooler areas to escape to.
Heat mats and pads only produce a very gentle heat, so they can be ideal for wooden vivariums or where you just need to raise the temperature by a few degrees.
In colder home or when using better ventilated cages they may struggle to achieve the required temperatures.
Ceramic heaters are a strong option and can produce an impressive amount of heat.
Due to their heat output they can be ideal for better ventilated cages like Exo Terras or glass fish tanks where a heat mat might struggle to raise the temperature enough.
Ceramic heaters require specialist fittings; a ceramic bulb holder and a reflector.
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You also need to make sure your snake can’t touch the bulb as this can cause burns. This is easy with cages like Exo Terras where the bulb can be placed outside the cage, above the mesh, pushing heat down into the cage.
Ceramics don’t produce visual light, so can be safely left on at night without upsetting your snake.
Some thermostats (see later) can even vary the heat output by time of day, turning things down a few degrees at night while still keeping your corn snake comfortable.
Like ceramic heaters, heat lamps can get very hot so you’ll need to be certain your snake doesn’t come into contact. A bulb guard is essential if the bulb is used inside your corn snake cage.
- Mesh lampshade made from high-grade stainless steel, strong enough to guarantee years of usage
- Reptilesand amphibians are more likely to approach to heat source, the metallampshade can protect your turtles, lizards and other crawling pets fromhigh temperature lamp surface
- With coil spring design, easy for installation, just clip and go
These typically give off visual light as well as heat, so can create an attractive display in a naturalistic setup.
The downside of course is that you’ll want to turn the bulb off at night so your snake can behave naturally. You’ll therefore need to consider how to keep the cage warm during the hours of darkness.
These aren’t suitable for plastic cages which could melt under such extreme heat.
If you have a particularly warm room in your house then your corn snake may not need any supplementary heat at all.
As my exotic pet collection has grown over the years, I now have an “animal room” for all my reptiles and invertebrates. This is kept at a toasty 23-25’C all year round, and most of the animals therefore thrive without any extra heat.
Whatever option you choose a thermostat should be considered non-negotiable. This helps to prevent the risk of your corn snake cage overheating if there’s a problem with your electrics. Choosing a thermostat isn’t easy so I suggest you check out my buyer’s guide here.
Lastly, I recommend you use one or more thermometers to independently monitor the temperature in your corn snake cage.
I either use a digital thermometer with two probes (one for the hot end, one for the cool) or increasing an infra-red heat gun. This lets me check the temperature of any part of my snake cages – or even the animals themselves.
You’ll need to line the bottom of your corn snake cage with some kind of substrate.
This helps to absorb any mess (drinking water, faeces etc.), keeps the cage smelling sweet, encourages natural burrowing behaviour and adds visual appeal.
There are plenty of options, and each corn snake owner develops their own preferences over time. There’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation when it comes to cleaning time!
Astro-turf is the ‘in thing’ at the moment. Yes, it’s cheap, but it doesn’t soak up the feces and odor so that’s not so good for your corn snake nor for the smell in your home. In my opinion it doesn’t look great either, and of course it doesn’t support natural behavior.
Newspaper and paper towels can be used. They don’t look wonderful and they have to be changed frequently, but they do work and don’t let off much odor.
Aspen shavings or cypress mulch are two of the best options to my mind. Both smell nice and hold humidity well.
- Green product made from a renewable resource
- Easy to clean
- 99.9% dust free
Coconut fiber bedding is growing in popularity too. I use it for many of my tarantulas, and having started testing it with some of my snakes it seems to work well. It also looks great; ideal if you want a naturalistic vivarium.
- ECO-FRIENDLY ORGANIC and 100% BIODEGRADABLE unlike some reptile substrates that are contributing to deforestation and then go to the landfill
- INCREASES HUMIDITY for animals that need moderate to high humidity
- ABSORBENT composition allows it to soak up messes and odors, leaving a cleaner habitat for your pet
Corn snakes are known for their relaxed, docile nature which can make them ideal pet snakes. However even a corn snake has the potential to become “nippy” if it is too stressed. A stressed snake may also refuse to eat, and as a result may not grow as quickly or as large as a happier specimen.
One crucial aspect of making your corn snake feel at home is the provision of a hide.
This should allow your snake to fully conceal itself. In this way they have somewhere to retreat to – a safe haven away from the hussle and bussle of everyday life.
For hatchling snakes a toilet roll tube or small cardboard box can work well.
Alternatively half a coconut shell with an access hole cut out can be used, or many commercial options are available in reptile shops.
Adults can be given suitably-sized cork bark tubes, larger cardboard boxes, or specially made hides.
- Create a naturalistic forest look in your terrarium
- Great for use as natural hiding places or shelters
- Safe for all reptiles, amphibians and arachnids
Cork bark is my standard “go-to” option with most of my snakes.
Water & Humidity
Corn snakes may thrive in relatively dry, prairie areas in the wild, but it is a good idea to ensure drinking water is always available.
Personally I use ceramic cat or dog bowls for larger specimens, which can sometimes decide to soak their entire body in the bowl.
Smaller plastic bowls such as those for pet rodents can work well for smaller corn snakes.
Change the water regularly and disinfect the bowl weekly.
Damp, stale conditions can cause issues for corn snakes. This is especially so if their substrate is allowed to remain damp – such as from spilled water.
Scale rot can be fatal at the worst, very painful at the least. It is a bacterial infection which eats away at the snake from the outside which certainly won’t help your snake to grow.
Generally aim to keep your corn snake enclosure dry. There’s no need to spray the cage as you might for some other exotic pets.
Only consider a temporary rise in moisture if your snake struggles to moult as it grows.
Another aspect which can affect the size of your snakes is their diet. As with people, if we don’t get adequate nutrition and enough food we are not going to grow properly.
Corn snakes eat mice and it is easy to determine what size to get them. Just make sure that the girth of the mouse is no bigger than the girth of your snake.
Your hatching will just need pinkies, while an adult corn snake will require adult or jumbo mice.
If you want your corn snake to grow as quickly as possible and achieve its maximum size it can be tempting to feed your snake frequently. Sadly, this can result in an overweight snake.
I suggest feeding baby corn snakes every 4-6 days. As they grow, and the prey items they accept increase in size, you can reduce this feeding frequency to once every 7-10 days.
A slightly longer break occasionally won’t do your snake any harm.
Corn snakes tend to be strong feeders, only really refusing food either when they’re going to change their skin or when the environmental conditions aren’t right.
Remove any uneaten food from the cage to prevent it going off and consider trying again a week later.
Don’t handle your snake for at least 24 hours after feeding. If you handle your snake right after feeding it could regurgitate the mouse – not a pleasant experience for either you or your snake.
As can be seen, with the correct care your corn snake will grow to the length it’s supposed to be. Don’t worry if yours doesn’t reach 5 feet. If it seems healthy there is nothing to be concerned about.
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