Corn Snakes - Hidden Beauties

Corn snakes are beautiful and harmless reptiles. Their orange, red  and brown bodies make them easy to spot and identify. There is no reason to fear the beneficial corn snake.

Corn snakes are sometimes referred to as the red rat snake, however, they are more closely related to king snakes. The corn snake ( Pantherophis guttatus) is typically about three feet long but may grow as long as four feet.

The record is 72 inches! WOW!

Snakes have a bad reputation that is undeserved. Snakes are valuable members of their ecological niches. Leave a comment below on if you learned anything from this blog and what you wonder about snakes.

Fox Run EEC director,  Ame Vanorio , with Corny.

Fox Run EEC director, Ame Vanorio, with Corny.

What Do Corn Snakes Look Like?

The back of the snake has a pattern of red and orange colored blotches. The underneath has a black and white checked pattern. There patterns markings are in a square shape. The belly is said to resemble “Indian Corn”.

Corn snakes sometimes are mistaken for copperheads, a venomous snake found in the same regions. Copperheads markings are duller and have an hourglass or bow tie shape when you are looking down upon it as you can see by the photo on the right.

The corn snake has brighter markings, round eye shape and is more slender than the copperhead. It also lacks the heat pits that the copperhead has. A corn snakes eyes are typically red or orange.

Corn Snake photo by H. Zell Copperhead photo by Jeff Kubina

You may be wondering:

What’s In A Name? Do Corn Snakes Really Eat Corn?

The corn snake was so named because they often were found in corn cribs or around grain mills. They don’t eat corn but they do eat mice! Corn snakes are very beneficial to farmers because they feed on mice and rats that damage crops.

Corn snakes eat predominantly rodents and small mammals. They also eat lizards, frogs and small birds. Corn snakes hunt there prey and kill them using constriction.

Constriction is used by most non venomous snakes. The snake strikes at the prey and then coils around it which shuts off the preys blood flow causing death. The snake then eats the prey whole using muscles to push the food down into its body.

The snakes sense of smell is there primary means of locating prey. Sight would be secondary. The size of the prey they eat is in relation to the size of the snakes body. Hatchlings eat newborn mice while adults can eat a small rat or larger field mouse.

Kentucky Impact

Red Corn Snakes are considered a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. This means that their population and range is being monitored.

In Kentucky the corn snake has limited distribution. Two distinct populations occur in the Mammoth Cave and Red River Gorge areas.

Kentucky does not have any protections for corn snakes.

Where Are Corn Snakes Found In Kentucky?

By Acapella - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8986683

By Acapella - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8986683

Species Variation and Region

Nationally corn snakes are found throughout the southeastern United States. They are widespread from North Carolina to the Florida Keys and west to eastern Louisiana and southern Tennessee.

Corn snakes are protected in the state of Georgia. In Kentucky, as in many states, it is illegal to take snakes from their environment to sell them.

While not as populous farther north the corn snakes territory extends into New Jersey.

This is crazy:

Species taxonomy has become very complicated for corn snakes.

One species that lives in the western states was at one time considered a sub species. The Great Plains rat snake (Pantherophis emoryi) is now considered its own species.

The Slowinski’s corn snake (Pantherophis slowinskii) was considered a sub species until recently. This species occurs in Western Louisiana and Eastern Texas and is grayish brown in color with large, alternating, darker brown splotches.

Living Habitat

Corn snakes live in a variety of places but prefer upland areas that are dry and exposed. Woodlands, brush areas outside of fields and under barns. They are common in agricultural areas and have easily adapted to urban areas. In the south they may go into foundations of homes in search of prey.

They live in areas where field mice and other small mammals live and often travel in rodent burrows or tunnels made by tree roots. They are more common in sandy pinewood habitats along coastal regions then mountainous ones.

Corn snakes are superb climbers and the young especially can often be spotted in trees or brush.

Depending on the weather Corn snakes are active in both the daytime and nighttime. During hot months they will often curl up under a log or brush and sleep. Coming out at night to hunt.

During the spring and fall they come out and sun themselves during the day. Corn snakes are fossorial, which means burrowing, and are not often seen in the wild.


Corny loves pockets!

Why Does A Corn Snake Shed?

All snakes shed their skin. This is also called sloughing or molting. Scientists call this process ecdysis.

Humans shed their skin too. We just do it continuously by shedding individual cells. Our skin grows along with the rest of us.

A snake can not shed individual skin cells so they shed the outer layer of skin as a unit. This allows the snake to continue to grow.

Snakes grow (and shed) their entire lives. They do not stop growing. However, they do slow down. My corn snake sheds once or twice a month. As he gets older I can expect him to shed once every two months.

Check out our video on corn snakes

Reproduction

Corn snakes are solitary and only seek out another corn snake during mating season. The males will look for females by smell and use chemical cues to “court” them.

Mating occurs in spring. Corn snakes lay large clutches of three to thirty oval eggs in the spring. They often lay eggs in rotten logs, old foundations or other warm, moist places. The eggs are oval in shape and have a thick leathery shell.

The eggs take approximately sixty days to incubate in temperatures around eighty two degrees Fahrenheit. They hatch in late summer. Like baby chickens the snakes have an egg tooth that helps them to break out of the egg.

Adults do not care for babies. The baby corn snakes are about one foot long and the width of a pencil when they hatch. It takes two years for them to reach maturity.

In the wild corn snakes live between four and six years.

Rescue and Rehabilitation

At Fox Run Environmental Education Center we rehabilitate non-venomous snakes although we have very few come in each year. Snakes most often come into rehabilitation because they have been hit on the road.

We can use your help! Become a member and support reptile rehabilitation for snakes and turtles

100% of monies goes back into our programs.

Our education ambassador, Corny, was adopted from Arrowhead Reptile Rescue in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had been abandoned during a move and was in very poor health when he was taken to Arrowhead. I adopted him with the intention of using him as an education ambassador and giving him a forever home.

Threats To Livestock or Property

Want to know the best part?

Corn snakes are not a threat to people or livestock. They are non-venomous, however, they may vibrate their tail as a threat. Corn snakes prefer to slither away and hide when you get too close.

They are not known to raid chicken houses and the standard chicken egg would be too large for many snakes to manage eating.

Want to learn more about snakes and popular misconceptions. My friend David Steen just came out with a new book. Check it out.

Improve Habitat for Species

I love when people ask me what they can do to help wildlife!

Corn snakes, like many reptile species, are in decline due to habitat destruction. Unregulated commercial collecting has also reduced the population. People continue to steal wildlife from their homes and sell them into the pet trade.

The best way to encourage snakes in your yard is to provide hiding places. A pile of stones, a rotting log or an old piece of roofing metal on the ground. Corn snakes like to climb, so having some bushes and small trees are ideal.

Water is necessary for all animals and snakes are no different. A bird bath on the ground is great for snakes.

Remember, organic gardening provides a clean, safe habitat for all animals.

Volunteer, Miss Hanna, works on socializing Corny

Corn Snakes As Pets

Corn snakes are a docile snake compared to many other species.

Because of their laid back nature and smaller size, corn snakes are a popular snake to keep as a pet. Our corny was an abandoned and neglected snake that came in to Arrowhead Reptile Rescue.

I adopted corny and he now serves as one of our animal ambassadors.

I highly recommend adopting a rescue snake if you are looking for a pet. Snakes sold in pet stores must come from captive breeding programs. It is illegal to take snakes from the wild.

Captive breeders have introduced several color lines including albinos. This is actually unfortunate since those genetic lines have been introduced into the wild when snakes escape or are abandoned. As you can imagine an albino snake is at greater risk from predators.

Getting a pet snake is a serious decision that you should think about before purchasing. Corn snakes can live thirty years in captivity. You need to consider if you can be available to your corn snake for that length of time.

Corn snakes also need to be fed on a regular basis and require a habitat suitable for their needs. Putting a snake in a ten gallon aquarium is cruel. Your snake needs to have adequate room to stretch out, move around freely and have things to climb and hide under. 

Corn snakes are active and need a tank that is 40 - 60 gallons. I have just a glass tank but I am dreaming of one of the front opening tanks for snakes like the one below. Also don’t forget a nice water dish. My snake loves to soak.

If you are interested in pet snakes I definitely recommend the goherping videos on YouTube. Alex Greene does a great job of talking about proper care for pet reptiles and he is very pro wildlife rehabilitation.

Literature/Folklore

Snakes are common in mythology around the world. Many times they are associated with evil doers. Think about Medusa and her head of snakes.

Many of the tribes in the southwest revered the snake and gave them a position of power in their folklore.

The Aztecs worshiped Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent who gave science and mathematics to his people and enlightened them.

The Hopi preformed a Snake Dance in late summer where members of the tribe danced with snakes in their mouths. The snakes were from a variety of species which included venomous rattle snakes and harmless garter snakes.

The Hopi felt having a good relationship was important and that being friends with snakes encouraged rain.In late summer they preformed a dance called the “Snake Dance” . During this ceremonial dance they carried snakes. It is not a form of serpent worship but a attempt to encourage rain and good crops in a very dry area. The snakes are the messengers to the Gods and the dance asks the Gods to bless them with rain and a good harvest.

Here is a very old recording of the Snake Dance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P64AuCIKOh4

 Ame Vanorio is a former science and special education teacher, the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She teaches classes locally and online about organic gardening, green building, living off-grid and wildlife conservation. In addition, she is a freelance writer and writes for several gardening, tiny house and pet websites. She lives off grid on her Kentucky farm with a myriad of domestic and wild animals. 

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