Getting started with your corn snake or kingsnake

The corn snake

Corn snake
Corn snake

Corn snakes are one of the most popular pet snakes, due to their calm temperament, ease of care and wide variety of beautiful patterns. They originate in the corn fields of the southeastern United States of America, and this is the environment that we try to replicate when keeping them. As hatchlings, they are usually about 30 cm (1 foot) long. As adults, they normally grow to between 1 metre (3.5 feet) and 140 cm (4.5 feet), taking around 2 to 3 years to obtain that size. They should normally live for about 14 years, though the record is significantly more than 20 years. Like most snakes, they are constrictors, and are not venomous.

Corn snakes rarely bite, even if frightened or hurt. If they do bite, the bite from a hatchling usually causes no pain at all, and may not even be noticed due to the small size of the teeth. A bite from an adult may perhaps be enough to draw a little blood, like tiny pin pricks. It is normal for keepers never to experience a bite from an adult corn snake, even after encountering many hundreds of them over the course of several years.

Corn snakes are terrestrial, living on the ground, though they can climb trees too. They are crepuscular (awake at dawn and dusk), and spend most of the day sleeping in their hides. They usually become active shortly after their lights go out.

The kingsnake

Nelson's milk snake
Nelson's milk snake

Kingsnakes (including milk snakes) are also popular pet snakes, due to their ease of care and wide variety of strikingly bright patterns. They originate over much of the United States of America and Central America, and this is the environment that we try to replicate when keeping them. With so many different types of kingsnake from so many different areas, some will require higher or lower temperatures than others, and potentially different levels of humidity. However, they all tolerate the same basic conditions as a corn snake, with only minor variations neeed. As hatchlings, they are usually about 30 cm (1 foot) long. As adults, they normally grow to between 1 metre (3.5 feet) for small species and 215 cm (7 feet) for the largest species, taking around 2 to 3 years to obtain that size. In general, the milk snakes and mountain kingsnakes are relatively small, the common kingsnakes are medium sized (similar to a corn snake), and the largest milk snakes are the largest of all. They should normally live for about 15-20 years, though the record is significantly more than 20 years. Like most snakes, they are constrictors, and are not venomous.

Kingsnakes do sometimes bite for defence, when frightened or hurt. Some individuals may also bite just to investigate. However, with regular handling, they almost all calm down, and grow out of it. If they do bite, the bite from a hatchling usually causes no pain at all, and may not even be noticed due to the small size of the teeth. A bite from an adult will normally draw a little blood, like tiny pin pricks. In general, the common kingsnakes (such as the Californian, Mexican black, desert and Florida kingsnakes) are the most likely to bite, while the milk snakes are more likely to musk (produce a bad smelling fluid from their vent).

Kingsnakes are terrestrial, living on the ground, though many can climb trees too. Common kingsnakes are diurnal (awake during the day), and often like to watch what is going on around them. Most other kingsnakes are crepuscular (awake at dawn and dusk), and spend most of the day sleeping in their hides. They usually become active shortly after their lights go out.


A snake's enclosure is its home. The place where it is happy to spend its time, and the place it feels safest. Snakes are generally happiest when kept in an appropriately sized enclosure. Hatchlings in particular can become quite stressed and afraid if kept in an enclosure that is too large, and may refuse to eat. The enclosure needs to be fairly well ventilated, with several air holes. Snakes are very skilled at searching for openings in their enclosures, and can easily escape if their enclosures are not properly closed, or have tiny gaps that the snake can squeeze through. Escaped snakes can live for several months or even years, hiding in a house or a garden, but can be difficult to find, so try not to let it happen in the first place.

The general rule for most snakes is that once the snake reaches a length that is greater than one length and one width of the enclosure, it is time to get a larger enclosure. For example, an enclosure that is 45 cm (1.5 feet) long and 30 cm (1 foot) wide, should not be used for a snake that is longer than 75 cm (2.5 feet). Snakes will not stop growing just because they outgrow their enclosure. An ideal enclosure for a hatchling is a faunarium (plastic box with air holes), such as one that is about 45 cm (1.5 feet) long and 30 cm (1 foot) wide. Eg. the Exo Terra Large Faunarium or Exo Terra Large Breeding Box.

The enclosure needs to have some unscented substrate (bedding) on the bottom, such as aspen shavings, hemp bedding, lignocell, beech chips, layers of old newspaper or paper towels. Avoid toxic pine and cedar shavings used for rodents. Sand is not suitable. Aspen and hemp are preferred, as they allow the snake to dig, and generally don't cause much harm if accidentally eaten. Beddings designed for digging should be perhaps 1 or 2 cm (less than 1 inch) deep.

A heat mat must be placed at one end of the enclosure. Ideally, this is stuck on the outside (not the inside) of the end wall of the enclosure. Alternatively, it may be placed on the table surface below one end of the enclosure, outside the enclosure not inside it. This heat mat should be about one quarter to one third of the overall size of the enclosure, but if you have a heat mat that is too big, just put the enclosure partly over it, so that the correct amount of the enclosure is over it. The heat mat must be an electric heat mat (not a heat rock or microwaveable heat pack), designed for use with reptiles. Examples include the Habistat, ProRep or Lucky Reptile 7 Watt heat mats. Most faunariums have feet so that if the heat mat is placed under the faunarium, they will provide the essential air gap between the heat mat and the faunarium. This helps to spread the heat, and prevent any hotspots from forming, which could burn the snake. If your faunarium does not have these feet, use small pieces of plastic or wood to lift the faunarium about 0.5 cm (¼ inch) above the heat mat. The intention is to have a temperature of about 27°C (81°F) at the heated end of the enclosure, and room temperature at the other end, but corn snakes and kingsnakes will tolerate a wide range of temperatures. This heat gradient provides lots of choices of temperature, allowing the snake to warm up when it needs to, and cool down when it needs to. Kingsnakes from desert areas (such as the Mexican black and desert kingsnakes) may prefer their hot end to be a little hotter, perhaps 30°C (86°F). The snake will choose which temperature it wants to be in. A mat thermostat or pulse proportional thermostat can help to ensure that the temperature never rises too high inside the enclosure, and is recommended if putting the heat mat under the enclosure instead of on the wall.

Note that heat mats, like most heaters, work by radiated heat, not by heating the air. Thermometers usually measure the air temperature, so will give a false reading. The important temperature is the one that will be reached by an object - the animal or something representing it - when it is placed near the heater for long enough to absorb the radiated heat (a number of hours). Infrared thermometers allow you to measure the temperature of the substrate, ornaments, and animal, rather than the temperature of the air. Wet substrates will appear to be colder than dry ones. Test dry surfaces when measuring temperatures.

The enclosure should contain a hide for the snake, and a water bowl. The hide should be big enough for the snake to curl up inside, and should have an opening appropriately sized for the snake to get in and out. Typical hides are made of plastic, curved cork bark or halved coconut shells. The hide should be placed at the warmed end of the enclosure, or one can be provided at each end, so that the snake can choose which one to use.

The water bowl should be big enough for the snake to curl up inside it, completely under the water, without spilling the water out. For a young hatchling, a bowl about the size of the palm of your hand should be sufficient, filled half way up the bowl. The bowl size needs to be increased as the snake grows, but should never be larger than about a quarter of the size of the enclosure, as this will increase the humidity too much. The bowl should ideally be heavy enough to prevent the snake from tipping it over, and should be located at the cold end of the enclosure. Snakes will dig under water bowls and tip them, so ensure that the bowl rests close to the floor of the enclosure, not on top of deep bedding.

Other ornaments and sanitised branches can be used in the enclosure, allowing the snake to exercise on them. Branches can be natural but must be reptile-safe. After the initial move into your first enclosure, avoid making too many changes all at once, as this can make the snake feel insecure. Add decorations slowly, one at a time, with a few days in between for the snake to get used to the new content.

The enclosure should not be placed in direct sunlight at any time of day, and does not need any dedicated lighting - the ambient light in the room will be enough to promote the snake's daily cycle. At all times, the animal and enclosure must be kept away from smoke, fireplace and cooking fumes, aerosols, chemical/alcohol sprays, air fresheners, and any scented or fragranced products that are not safe for use with reptiles.

Care and cleaning

The water should be replaced every couple of days. Weekly, or immediately if the snake has left faeces in it, the water bowl should be cleaned with a reptile-safe disinfectant, and the water replaced. Normal disinfectants can contain dangerous toxins.

Snake faeces usually appear as a black and white clump. Remove faeces from the enclosure whenever they are seen.

Once every two months, or whenever the substrate becomes too damp or too dirty, clean the enclosure and ornaments with a reptile-safe disinfectant, and replace the substrate.

Adult enclosures

Once a corn snake or kingsnake outgrows the largest faunariums, it needs a larger enclosure. One option is to use a Really Useful Box (RUB), available from stationary suppliers. The lid is lockable and has an air gap around the edge, so additional air holes are not needed unless the enclosure suffers from significant condensation. A 70 litre RUB is sufficient for most adult corn snakes (or a 50 litre RUB for smaller adults), and can be used in the same way as a faunarium.

Alternatively, once a corn snake or kingsnake is about 60 cm (2 feet) long, it can be moved into a wooden display vivarium with sliding glass doors, available from pet shops (optionally with a lock or rubber wedge to keep the doors closed). An appropriate size for an adult corn snake or smaller kingsnake is about 90 cm (3 feet) long, and 45 cm (1.5 feet) wide, normally also 45 cm (1.5 feet) high. Common kingsnakes and honduran milk snakes will normally need a 120 (4 feet) long vivarium, and a black milk snake may need an enclosure as long as 150 to 180 cm (5 to 6 feet). Examples include the Vivexotic Repti-Home vivariums. The enclosure does not need any lighting, but LEDs or a regular compact fluorescent light can be added, if desired. Protect non-LED lights with a heater guard to prevent the snake from touching them. If lights are used, patterns should match the sun, switching on in the morning and off in the evening, eg. 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, with no difference between summer and winter day lengths.

A display vivarium can be heated with a large heat mat stuck to the wall (not the floor) at one end of the enclosure, using brown packaging tape stuck over the edges to hold it in place if it is not a self-adhesive type. Ensure that the snake cannot get behind it, and get stuck to the tape, since it can tear their skin. A mat thermostat or pulse proportional thermostat can help to ensure that the temperature never rises too high inside the enclosure, but is normally not required for wall mounted heat mats. Alternatively, a ceramic heat emitter can be suspended from the ceiling at one end of the enclosure, protected with a heater guard to prevent the snake from touching it. Snakes cannot detect heat very well, and can easily suffer fatal burns from heaters, without them even realising it is happening. When using a ceramic heater, a pulse proportional thermostat can help to ensure that the temperature never rises too high inside the enclosure. Consult your pet shop to see what they can supply.

Common kingsnakes are awake during the daytime, and like to bask in the sun. They often appreciate a combination of a heat mat 24 hours a day, and a low power (25 to 40 Watt) basking lamp during the daytime, at the hot end of their enclosures. This approach may also be used for corn snakes, particularly in colder houses, but corn snakes are unlikely to actively bask. Basking lamps must be protected with a heater guard to prevent the snake from touching them. Optionally, a more powerful bulb may be used, with a dimming thermostat reducing its power output so that the temperature in the hot end of the vivarium is correct.

It is possible to convert old aquariums for adult corn snakes and kingsnakes. A very secure ventilated lid needs to be constructed to prevent escape, such as a strong mesh lid. Heat can be provided by a heat mat placed on the table surface underneath the aquarium, with an air gap just like a faunarium. Alternatively, the heat mat can be attached to the outside of a glass wall, with the heat projecting through the glass into the enclosure. It is generally easier to purchase a dedicated display vivarium.

Display vivariums need air vents, but must not have any ventilation mesh holes, wire holes or gaps large enough for the snake to squeeze out through. They can squash their bodies to fit through surprisingly narrow gaps, and any gaps that can be pushed larger than about 6 mm (¼ inch) should be filled. Unwanted holes can be filled with aquarium silicone or draught excluder. Sliding doors need a lock (either built-in or a sliding glass door lock) that prevents the snake from being able to slide the doors open, or a rubber wedge may be used in the gap between the glass doors. With 70 litre RUBs, the long wall can become quite flexible, and a snake may push out between the wall and the lid. A bulldog or foldback clip can be used to clip the middle of the long wall to the lid.

Living together

Although they do prefer their own territory, corn snakes can normally live together. Males can be kept with other males, and females can be kept with other females, as long as they are of similar sizes. If one snake begins to bully the other, they should be separated into their own enclosures. Males and females should not be kept together, as they are likely to breed while the female is too young, causing medical problems and stunted growth. Repeated breeding from living together permanently can also cause a large amount of stress to the female, and will shorten her life. Sexing young snakes can be inaccurate, and the sex should be re-checked by a specialist as the snakes mature.

For snakes that are co-habiting, a larger water bowl is needed so that both snakes can bathe at the same time, and additional hides are a good idea, so that the snakes can be alone when needed. For adults, a 120 cm (4 feet) long enclosure is best.

Kingsnakes must never be kept together, as they eat snakes.


Our snakes are quite used to being handled on a daily basis, but they may take a few days to get settled in to their new home. If possible, avoid handling them until after they have accepted their first meal, or at any time if they are refusing food. Corn snakes are one of the most tolerant snakes, and are very unlikely to bite, especially as they grow older (individuals vary, of course). Avoid handling them on the day that they are going to be fed, to clearly separate the feeding and handling. Avoid handling snakes for at least 48 hours after they feed, as this can cause them to regurgitate their food. Regurgitation is a serious thing for a snake, and must be avoided.

With young snakes, the first few times you handle them, do so over their enclosure, so that if they fall, they will land in their enclosure. Once you become more familiar with them, you can handle them wherever you want. Begin by handling them for only a few minutes at a time, once per day. Over the course of a few months, progress to handling them for up to an hour, or a few times per day. Give them at least an hour to warm up and rest in between handling sessions. Try to pick up the snake confidently, without nervously jerking your hand backwards and forwards towards the snake - this can frighten it. Snakes in general dislike having their heads stroked, and their tails suddenly grabbed. All other pets should be kept away from the snake, especially cats, dogs, birds and rodents.

Before handling snakes, always wash your hands to remove any possible smell of rodents or other food from your hands. After handling snakes (or just touching their enclosures), wash your hands again, to avoid catching any illnesses from the snake. While you are much more likely to catch illnesses like salmonella from your food, there is a small chance that you could catch these from reptile faeces.

Snakes may hold on tightly if placed around your neck, in the same way as they hold on to a tree branch. Avoid placing snakes around your neck unless you are certain that you can safely remove the snake, if it begins to hold on too tightly for your comfort.

If a snake has coiled around an ornament and needs to be removed, uncoil them gently from the tail end first. Avoid pulling snakes backwards if they have hooked themselves around something, or squeezed themselves through a gap; this could rip their skin or injure them. They need to be allowed to finish so that they can be gently taken out head first, or they need to be allowed to give up and decide to back out on their own.


Hatchling corn snakes and kingsnakes should be offered one meal every 5 to 7 days. Juveniles should be offered one meal every 7 days. Adult corn snakes of about 3 to 4 years old or more should be offered one meal every 14 days. Adult kingsnakes should normally continue to be fed every 7 days, but some smaller species and some milk snakes may prefer to eat only once every 14 days.

Corn snakes and kingsnakes normally eat mice. (They can also eat rats, but these can be more fattening. Large and medium sized adult kingsnakes may optionally be fed an occasional similar-sized rat in place of a mouse.) The size of the mice should be chosen to suit the size of your snake. Their food should normally be about as fat as the widest part of the snake's body, but never be more than 1.5 times as fat as the snake. A normal meal would be just one mouse, but the snake may be fed two or more smaller mice in place of one larger mouse, if needed. Available sizes are normally "pinkie", "fuzzy" or "fluff", "hopper" or "crawler", "small adult", "medium adult", "large adult" and "extra large" or "jumbo". An adult corn snake will normally not need anything larger than "large adult".

Avoid feeding live prey to your snake, to prevent the prey from harming the snake, and to avoid potentially unnecessary suffering to the prey (UK law requires that vertebrates are not caused any unnecessary suffering; consult your vet about the use of live food if there is no other option). Their food can usually be bought frozen from pet shops and online suppliers in a variety of sizes. Consult your local pet shops.

Defrost the mice in water that is a little over 39°C (102°F, the temperature of a reasonably warm bath). Refresh the water if needed, so that the eventual temperature of the food is close to 39°C - the natural body temperature for a mouse. This will help the snake to realise that it is food. Corn snakes and kingsnakes are usually very good feeders, and will eat even if their food is a little too cold, but ensure that the food is thoroughly defrosted before feeding it to the snake, and not so hot that it will burn the snake. This can take half an hour or more for large mice.

Dry the food on a paper towel, then offer it to your snake using feeding tongs (large tweezers). Using your hands will teach the snake to associate fingers with food, and could train them to accidentally bite you. The snake may take the food immediately (strike feeding) and constrict it before eating, or they may need to be left overnight with the food in their enclosure (drop feeding). Some snakes may be easily distracted or frightened, and may not want to be watched while they are eating. If multiple snakes are kept together, these should be separated into separate boxes for feeding, then put back together after they have finished swallowing. Once snakes have fed, avoid putting hands near them for at least half an hour, as they can become very excited, and mistakenly bite a finger, thinking it is a second meal.

Snakes may occasionally refuse food for a week or more. In some cases, they may refuse food for a month or two. This is not a problem for a healthy or large snake, as long as it has enough reserves to continue without feeding. It is normal for snakes to refuse a meal or two after moving into a new enclosure. Do not re-freeze or reuse uneaten food. Check with your vet if the snake appears to be ill, or persists in refusing food. If a snake has regurgitated a previous meal, avoid feeding it for a couple of weeks, then begin the normal (eg. weekly) feeding routine, building up from the smallest possible meal up to their normal size of meal.

Our snakes are already used to eating reliably on mice. However, some snakes refuse to eat mice when they are young. Grey-banded kingsnakes are one of the species where this is common. Owners should ensure that their prospective pets are already reliably feeding on mice before purchasing them.


Corn snake and kingsnake hatchlings usually shed their skin once every month or two, becoming perhaps once every few months to half a year as an adult. Before they shed, their colours will fade a little, and their eyes will turn hazy or blue. Avoid handling snakes whose eyes are blue - they are essentially blind, and can be very nervous. Snakes may refuse to feed as they approach a shed. When the snake sheds its skin, it should ideally all come off in one piece. If it comes off in many small pieces, or parts are still stuck to the snake, the snake is having problems shedding. This can cause problems if the skin fails to shed from the snake's eyes, or the tip of its tail. If this happens regularly, avoid feeding the snake once its eyes have turned blue, until after it has shed (it is perhaps best to do this anyway, even if the snake always sheds perfectly). Also, add a shedding box; an extra hide containing a lot of moist substrate, such as sphagnum moss. A clean tupperware pot with an access hole cut into the lid is perfect.

If the snake has failed to shed completely, and unshed skin is still stuck to the snake, put it in a faunarium or transport box which contains several scraps or sheets of damp newspaper (preferably a couple of months old), and allow the snake to move through it for as much as an hour. This is usually sufficient for it to complete shedding.


Corn snakes and kingsnakes are generally very healthy snakes, with few major problems. Like all animals, they can get ill sometimes, and may need veterinary care. A clean enclosure helps to keep snakes healthy. A constantly damp or dirty enclosure can cause health issues. Common signs of problems include:

Rarely, snakes may fail to close one side of their mouth properly after eating, if their jaw does not fold back properly. The day after they eat, if it is still wrong and the snake is struggling to close it, carefully hold the snake behind its head with one hand. Gently push a pencil or credit card sideways into the snake's mouth (not pointing down its throat) so that it opens its mouth very wide, and the pencil/card is resting against the jaw hinges at the back of the snake's mouth. Remove the pencil/card again, and the the snake will usually close its mouth properly. Before trying this yourself, ask a specialist to show you how it is done.

On a monthly basis, or whenever you suspect they are ill, you may wish to weigh your snakes, after they have finished digesting any food that they recently ate (eg. the day before they are due to feed again, or after they produce their main faeces after feeding). This is known as their empty weight. This record of their weight can be very useful for a vet, if your snake appears to be ill at any point.

Reptiles can be quite sensitive to non-reptile medications. Only use medications which can be safely used with reptiles, or which are prescribed by a vet. They are particularly sensitive to alcohol and solvents. Any use of treatments where alcohol is used as a solvent must be done in a well ventillated environment, not in the confined space of the animal's enclosure.


Reptile enclosures often have harmless winged and wingless small flies that are attracted to reptile faeces, and harmless tiny speck-like springtails which can float on water and clean up waste. Small black bugs that crawl on the animal, particularly if they are rounded in shape and found in the bottom of the water bowl after the snake has been bathing, are snake mites. These are the reptile equivalent of cat fleas, which bite the animal and cause significant discomfort, but which cannot affect humans or other animals. If squeezed between hard surfaces, they normally burst, leaving a small smear of red or brown blood (their last meal). Snakes often bathe just to keep clean or cool, but persistent bathing is also common when a snake has mites.

They are normally spread between animals via direct contact, human clothing (which also allows them to spread between animals in different locations), migrating short distances between enclosures, or they can pass to an animal when it is placed into an enclose which was recently used by another animal. They cannot live for more than about 2 weeks without a host animal, and despite the popular claim, they cannot be caught from bags of unused substrate unless they fall into the bag shortly before using it. Most often, infestations start when a new pet reptile brings them into the house, or from your clothing after you held a reptile at a shop or a friend's house, or brushed against someone else whose pet had them. Many owners will encounter mites at some point, but they are easily dealt with.

Effective treatments for snake mites are available without a prescription from pet shops. Many are based on ivermectin (such as Beaphar Insect Spray) which is applied to the animal, pyrethrins (such as White Python No More Mites) which are applied to the enclosure without the animal in it, and synthetic equivalents like d-Phenothrin (such as Callington Mite Spray) which are applied to the enclosure while the animal is inside. With a prescription, there are other effective treatments based on fipronil (preferably alcohol-based such as Effipro, rather than sticky like Frontline Spray for Dogs, since sticky types need to be rinsed off afterwards) which are applied to the animal (usually sprayed onto a cloth then wiped onto the animal) and provide longer-term protection. These are far more effective than traditional cooking-oil-and-water baths, which do not normally stop an infestation. The old trick of smearing vaseline around the air vents and gaps can help stop migration between enclosures, but surface treatments have the same effect with less mess.

Always consult an expert and read the documentation before using these treatments, as each has its own usage restrictions and re-treatment schedule. Most require the water bowl to be removed for 24 hours, to prevent the animal washing off the treatment, and potentially drinking it. Some, such as ivermectin, cannot be used with certain types of reptile. Most cannot be used near tarantulas and scorpions. All are used only after an animal is affected, they are not used as a regular preventative. (Note that other surface treatments such as Provent-a-mite and Ardap Universal Pest Control - based on pyrethrin and synthetic equivalents like permethrin - may be recommended by some reptile keepers, but they are not certified for use with reptiles in the UK, at the time of writing.) Some owners prefer to use predatory "defender" (Hypoaspis miles) or "Taurrus" (Cheyletus eruditus) mites, which eat snake mites then die once there are no more snake mites to eat; these are not as effective as dedicated treatments, but may be preferred if the treatments cannot be used for a specific animal.

Quarantine and re-using enclosures

Quarantine is not needed with your first reptile. However, as you gain more reptiles, it becomes more important. The general idea is to keep newly acquired animals away from your existing animals for long enough that you can be sure they are not bringing in any illnesses which could harm the existing animals. This quarantine period could last around 2 to 4 weeks for a basic quarantine, or as much as 6 months for an ideal quarantine. If any existing animals become ill with a potentially communicable disease, they can also be immediately moved into quarantine to protect the other animals.

A basic quarantine would simply be to keep the animal in a separate enclosure from existing animals, even if they will end up sharing an enclosure later. A more advanced quarantine would be to to keep the quarantine enclosure in a separate room, using bowls and feeding tongs that will never be used for the others. Disposable rubber gloves can be worn when touching the animal or any part of its enclosure, and thrown away after each use. Changing clothes after handling can also help prevent any mites from spreading. Although animals in quarantine need to be monitored, all work with quarantined animals should take place after any other work has been done with non-quarantined animals, to avoid carrying illnesses back to the non-quarantined animals. If food is refused by a quarantined animal, the leftover food should not be offered to a non-quarantined animal.

A quarantine enclosure would ideally be made of something that can be easily and completely disinfected, perhaps even steam cleaned or covered with boiling water, leaving nowhere for any diseases or parasites to hide in it. A RUB with paper towel substrate normally serves this purpose very well. All ornaments should be similarly easy to clean and disinfect, and considered disposable, so that they can be thrown away if an occupant turns out to be carrying a communicable illness.

If an animal (whether in quarantine or not) is to be put into an enclosure that was previously used by another animal, the enclosure and ornaments should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with a reptile-safe disinfectant first, and any substrate replaced. If the previous occupant died from a communicable disease, it is perhaps better to dispose of the old enclosure and ornaments, and purchase a new one. Although rare, some of the most serious parasites (such as cryptosporidium) can survive for 2 years in an empty enclosure, and cannot be killed by simple disinfectants.


Snakes can travel for many hours in a small, ventilated box, with tissue for bedding. Alternatively, they may travel in a fabric bag such as a knotted pillow case, which may optionally be placed inside an open box. The box or bag should be placed on your lap in a car with the heating on if needed. They should not be heated from below with anything hot. Hot water bottles and electric heaters should be avoided. If they soil the box, replace the tissue.

Other snakes

This care guide may also be applied to some other snakes:

Brown house snake (eg. cape house snake)
African. Normally 60 to 120 cm (2 to 4 feet) long as an adult. Requires the same care as a corn snake. Cannibalistic, must be kept alone.
North American hognose snake (eg. western hognose)
Males up to 75 cm (2.5 feet) long as an adult but usually less than 60 cm (2 feet). Females up to 90 cm (3 feet) long as an adult, and twice as heavy as males. Diurnal, but does not need a basking lamp. Requires the same basic care as a corn snake. Cannibalistic, must be kept alone. Mimics rattlesnakes when afraid, hooding (flattening its head/neck), hissing and pretending to bite (actual biting is almost exclusively used for feeding), or may musk, play dead, and vomit blood. Has rear fangs but no active venom (may have mild saliva toxins that can affect amphibians, but these have no significant effect on most people). Uses its pointed nose for digging and burrowing. Needs a substrate designed for burrowing, twice as deep as for a corn snake. Adults may be housed in a low, wooden terrainium instead of a vivarium. Feed youngsters twice per week, and adults once per week. Males often refuse food for several weeks at a time. Hatchlings should not be purchased until they are reliably feeding on mice.
Other pantherophis ratsnakes (eg. Baird's rat snake, great plains ratsnake)
Treat these as corn snakes. Some, such as the yellow rat snake, may appreciate more climbing branches, and are much more likely to bite.
Hybrids such as corn-king (jungle corn) and corn-rat
Treat these as kingsnakes if they are a kingsnake hybrid. Treat them as a corn snake if they are a ratsnake hybrid.


This is just a quick guide to get you started. It is not intended to be a complete book, and cannot replace a well written book, or the advice of an expert. It is based on our own best knowledge at the time of writing, and advice may change over time as new techniques, technology, or medical advice becomes available. Owners are responsible for ensuring that their knowledge is kept up to date. This guide is based on the British Isles, but the basic principles may be applied to other areas too.