Feeding Corn Snakes

Corn snakes are one of the most popular pet reptiles kept by hobbyists today.

Like all snakes, they are carnivores, capturing and eating whatever they can fit into their mouths. This means, as a pet owner, that you must be willing to feed your corn snake on other animals; sadly a corn snake isn’t likely to find a juicy salad or a tub of houmous quite as appealing as a still-warm mouse!

In this article we’ll discuss the basics of feeding corn snakes from the perspective of the pet owner, aiming to answer all the more common questions, and by the end you should be an expert on how to feed your own corn snake.  

What Do Corn Snakes Eat?

corn snake photo

Corn snakes are so-called because they are most commonly-encountered in the wild around agricultural areas, particularly corn fields and storage barns. As you might imagine, there’s a pretty obvious reason: corn snakes like to prey on the small rodents who themselves are trying to fatten up on the glut of grain such habitats provide.

There’s a further hint as to the diet of corn snakes when you consider that they belong to a large and success group of snakes collectively known as “rat snakes”. Yep – corn snakes aren’t just carnivores – they’re specialist feeders of small rodents.

Due to the size of corn snakes, this usually means mice of different sizes, though small rats may occasionally fall prey to this beautiful and popular pet snake.

In captivity, it is most common to feed corn snakes on mice of varying sizes. Fortunately, these are freely available from most reptile shops, where they vary in size from tiny newborn mice (often known as “pinks” or “pinkies” as they lack fur), through to large “jumbo” mice.

Is Dead or Live Food Better?

snake mouse photo

In the wild, corn snakes will of course capture live rodents to eat. However, in captivity this poses a number of potential issues. Firstly, it’s not the most pleasant thing to observe, and indeed in some countries feeding live rodents to snakes is deemed illegal.

Just as importantly, however, in the confines of a cage a rodent has the potential to “fight back”. They may succeed in wounding your snake by biting it out of fear; something that isn’t ideal for your pet.

Lastly, the practicalities of keeping a selection of live mice of varying sizes, and then presenting them to your snake, generally makes this rather inconvenient.

Instead, snake owners generally rely on dead mice. These are bought frozen from a reptile shop, and are thawed out as necessary before feeding them to your snake. Surprisingly, most snakes will quickly take to eating dead mice in this way, which makes feeding corn snakes a far simpler job.

How Do You Thaw Out Frozen Rodents?

There are two common ways to thaw out the frozen rodents bought from reptile stores. The first is simply to leave the mouse or rat out on the side to thaw naturally. This process can take some hours for larger rodents, so many reptile enthusiasts rely on an alternative…

The other option is to place the rodent into a plastic bag, and then suspend this in warm water. The warm water not only helps to thaw the mouse out quicker – ideal if you’re strapped for time – but also heats up the mouse.

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Most reptile keepers find that giving their snake a warm mouse, as opposed to a cool one, improves the feeding response and makes them more appealing to reptiles. This is likely because the scent is rather stronger, drawing in the reptile.   

Can I Feed Wild Rodents to My Snake?

pinkie snake photo

Whilst corn snakes in the wild will eat whatever they can find, it is generally not considered a good idea to feed wild rodents to captive snakes.

The frozen rodents available in the pet trade have been specially bred for the purpose and should be disease-free. Wild rodents, however, may carry diseases which could affect your corn snake if you are unlucky.

Are Corn Snakes Venomous?

Corn snakes are not venomous. Instead, they are “constrictors”. This means that they capture live prey such as rodents or birds, then surround them with coils from their body. The coils are gently tightened, slowly suffocating and crushing the prey item before it is eaten.

This means that corn snakes pose no serious threat to humans. Indeed, even if a corn snake tries to “constrict” your arm, it is unlikely to be a painful experience.

How Often Should I Feed My Corn Snake?

corn snake feeding photo

Generally speaking smaller corn snakes are fed more frequently than adults. Most experts recommend feeding hatchling corn snakes every 5-7 days, whilst adults are more often fed every 7-10 days.

As a general rule of thumb, think of feeding your corn snake once every week or so, though the odd delay here or there is unlikely to be a problem.

It is also worth remembering that as corn snakes grow, so too will the size of prey items they accept. As you move up from one size of rodent to the next you may want to temporarily reduce the feeding frequency of your snake, in order to allow them to properly digest their new larger meals.

What Size Food Will My Corn Snake Eat?

corn snake feeding photo

Hatchling corn snakes will normally start out on newborn mice. These are often known as “pinks” or “pinkies” because they are so young that they have not yet started to grow hair. As your corn snake grows, so the size of prey items provided can be increased. Most adult corn snakes will eat adult mice without issue.

As a general rule, snakes will successfully eat a prey item that is as fat as the largest part of its body.

Don’t be worried about how tiny your corn snake’s head looks; snakes can dislocate their jaw to swallow prey items much larger than you might think possible. Indeed, observing your snake while they guzzle that giant meal can be one of the most fascinating parts of keeping snakes as pets.

How Do You Feed a Corn Snake?

corn snake feeding photo

Corn snakes are known to be good feeders, in contrast to some other snake species like Ball Pythons, which may go off their food for months on end. As a result, most corn snakes will eat readily, and no fancy system in normally required.

Personally I thaw out the required number and type of rodents that my snakes will eat. Ensuring that these are gently warm (not scalding hot) I simply place the relevant rodent into my corn snake’s cage.

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The snakes are then left alone in peace and quiet to find, swallow and digest their meal.

Some keepers like to “tempt” their corn snake by holding the dead mouse in a long pair of forceps infront of their snake, however I have never found this to be necessary. Generally speaking your snake will soon smell the fresh mouse, and will come out to find it.

I find that feeding my snakes in the evening tends to work best, as they are most active then. If the food item remains uneaten the following morning it is removed and disposed of. I do not refreeze uneaten food to prevent the risk of them spoiling.

What Should I Do If My Corn Snake Doesn’t Eat?

corn snake photo

As discussed, corn snakes are normally very reliable feeders, so most food will be consumed without incident. On the odd occasion, however, you may find the mouse still sitting in the cage the following morning.

The most common reasons for your corn snake not eating are that it wasn’t hungry (you’re feeding too much) or it felt stressed (was there too much noise around, or is this a new snake still getting used to it’s surroundings?). The third and most common cause is that your corn snake is coming up to slough its skin.

Generally speaking there is little to worry about if a snake refuses its food once or twice. Simply take out the rodent and dispose of it, keeping a note of which snake didn’t feed. Then just try it again the following week.

Assuming your corn snake looks in good health and isn’t losing too much weight then a week or two without feeding is unlikely to do them any harm.   

Can I Handle My Snake After Feeding?

corn snake photo

After it has eaten, your snake needs time to rest and digest its meal. Stressing out your snake soon after it has fed can result in the rodent being regurgitated; hardly what either you or the snake want.

As a result, it is best to leave your snake along for some 48 hours or so after it has eaten, at which point you can resume handling if desirable.

Photos c/o angela n., highlander411, amarette., Clevergrrl & kthypryn

Richard Adams

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