Introduction: How to Feed a Corn Snake

Picture of How to Feed a Corn Snake

Corn snakes make great pets - snakes you see in zoos may look boring and lethargic, but the cornie is an intelligent, crafty beast that is active in the tank and safe to handle.

I have mentioned ways of enriching your snake's vivarium in previousInstructables, but here I will be going over something more important; feeding your snake.

Step 1: Equipment Needed

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There are a number of options, but there are some things that are important;

  • Really Useful Box.

The "RUB" is vital when feeding your snake - smaller than the vivarium, it should be a convenient size to clean later. Mine is just over a foot square. Feeding your corn snake outside the vivarium is better for both her physical and mental health. It removes the chance that she accidentally eats substrate with the meal, and it provides a disconnect between vivarium and food - if you feed your snake in her usual home, she will quickly associate any opening of the door with food; she will become harder to handle, and may attack you between meals.

  • Small container.

You need somewhere small and contained to de-frost the food. I use a plastic box with a close-fitting lid, as other members of the family are not so keen on the smell of dead mice as Elsie is...

  • Forceps.

Even the friendliest snake can get mixed up between fingers and mice - a pair of forceps fixes that. I use a pair with an angled tip to avoid her bashing herself on the hard metal.

  • Plastic bags.

For the last part of the defrosting process. I find "poop scoop" bags ideal, just make sure they are unscented.

Step 2: Choice of Food.

Picture of Choice of Food.

Corn snakes usually eat mice. Pet stores stock them frozen, in a range of sizes from newborn "pinkies", to "extra large", typically costing less than a pound (around a dollar to a dollar fifty). Use your local pet store - large chain stores tend to charge more for their mice, and small store owners usually have more expertise for you to draw on as well. You can keep a few weeks' worth of mice in a small box in your freezer with no risk to the human food in there as well.

You should select a size of mouse that is about the same diameter as your snake, or a little larger (up to around 11/4 the width of your snake's body). If your snake gets large enough, you may need to switch to small rats, but you should avoid feeding your snake "pinkies" as much as possible, as they do not contain as much of the calcium (bones) that your snake needs for healthy growth.

Do not use mice you have caught yourself, or that have been caught from the "wild" - you have no idea what they have been eating, or been exposed to, that could harm your corn snake.

Do not use live mice - aside from it being illegal in many countries, live mice prefer not to be eaten, and will fight back. They can cause serious, even fatal injuries to your snake.

Step 3: Preparing the Food.

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Snake food must be defrosted slowly. If you rush it by dumping a mouse in hot water, you risk it still being frozen in the middle. Frozen mouse cannot be digested by your cold-blooded corn snake, and may actually start to rot inside your pet. Do not microwave the mouse, as you may burn it inside, or you may accidentally burn your snake internally with scalding-hot meat.

Take your mouse out of the freezer the day before feeding day, place it in your small container, and leave it to defrost in a convenient, room-temperature location. Be aware that, as the mouse thaws, it may begin to ooze or leak blood. This is perfectly normal.

About 15-20 minutes before feeding time, place the mouse (which should now be soft and floppy) in a plastic bag, and submerge it in water that feels warm to your hand (a little over body temperature). If your snake is a fussy eater, this warming fools her into thinking she is getting fresh, live food.

Step 4: Meal Time

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When the mouse is ready, it is time to transfer your snake to the RUB.

When your snake is safely in the RUB, pick up the mouse with the forceps, so that you can present it head-first.

Present the mouse from "ground level" - this is the natural altitude for a mouse, and prevents your corn snake getting in the habit of attacking things that move over her head.

As soon as your snake strikes, pull away the forceps, and leave her alone to swallow.

This is the view from inside the RUB, thanks to my GoPro. As soon as I put it in there, she decided to hold the camera herself, which is why the shot jerks occasionally...

(The music on the video is by Scott Holmes.)

Step 5: Afterwards

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It is quite fascinating to watch a snake swallow a mouse. During the act, though, she should not be disturbed.

Be aware that, as soon as the tail goes down, she may get very active and twitchy, and is quite likely to make an escape bid in the search for somewhere quiet to digest.

She also still be in the mood for food, so be careful when handling her as you place her back in her vivarium. It is only in these few minutes that I am concerned that Elsie may bite me; move slowly, take hold of your snake from behind (avoid the head), and place her back in the vivarium.

Even the friendliest corn snake should be left alone to digest for at least 24 hours after feeding.

Step 6: Clean Up

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After your snake is back in her vivarium, you need to clean up all the mouse-contaminated equipment.

Wash it in hot water, with a little detergent, and rinse off again.

Step 7: Much Later...

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As well as only needing fed once per week, corn snakes normally only need cleaned at the same rate - it varies from snake to snake, but Elsie poops once a week, usually about three days after eating.

It is not particularly messy, and can be easily "scooped" from the substrate and disposed of.

If you poop-scoop promptly, you will find that your snake's vivarium will not get smelly at all, and you will only need to completely replace the substrate around once per month.


JessicaD152 (author)2017-03-21

I heard that snakes make really good pets. I also think that they are so beautiful, too! Do they sleep most of the time or are they pretty active?

Kiteman (author)JessicaD1522017-03-21

Elsie tends to be active in the evenings - her light is on a timer, and when it goes out she starts exploring. It's really hard to tell if they're asleep, since they don't close their eyes, but if I lift her out for a play, she's always up for a chance to escape...

SteveMann (author)2016-02-21

Snakes don't like to be handled just after they've eaten, so I see some people feed them in their vivarium so that they don't have to disturb the snake right after the meal (e.g. she could go right to her hideout without being handled after her meal). That's probably the tradeoff between using a feeding box or not....

Kiteman (author)SteveMann2016-02-21

Elsie, contrary girl that she is, gets very active for a few minutes
after eating, sometimes for an hour or more. Unfortunately, she also
starts looking for more food, and fingers and thumbs look a lot like
mice at that point, so what I do is gently "pour" her back into her
vivarium. She then has a trundle around for a while before deciding
where to sit an digest.

DEEJAY642 (author)2015-12-11

totally awesome snake dude!!! But where the hell did yah get it??? are you australian or american

Kiteman (author)DEEJAY6422015-12-12

I'm British, and she's captive-bred.

Corn-snakes are originally an American species, but they've been bred to show a range of patterns and colours.

DEEJAY642 (author)2015-12-11

totally awesome snake dude!!! But where the hell did yah get it??? are you australian or american

cheergirl (author)2015-11-24

this looks awesome

Kiteman (author)cheergirl2015-11-25

Thank you!

tj2424 (author)2015-11-21

I would like to know do snakes have stomachs, or do they just digest it in 24 hours without a stomach?

Kiteman (author)tj24242015-11-21

They have many of the same organs as you do, including stomachs.

See this diagram, from here:

tj2424 (author)2015-11-21

A very good Instructable and very fascinating to watch!

Kiteman (author)tj24242015-11-21

Thank you!

Ninzerbean (author)2015-11-17

I love corn snakes, here is a photo of one where I live out for a crawl. I also have a photo of it as my screen saver on my computer but on my sweater.

Kiteman (author)Ninzerbean2015-11-17

A wild local?

Ninzerbean (author)Kiteman2015-11-17

No, not wild but I think he was at one time, now he lives in the nature center but they take him out every once in awhile for fun.

Kiteman (author)Ninzerbean2015-11-18

Taking the snake for a walk... now that would upset my neighbours!

ashleyjlong (author)2015-11-16

Thanks for such a thorough write up on a reptile pet! I'm always glad to see reptiles given a little time in the spotlight and there are certainly a lot of first time keepers out there who would do well to learn more about how food choices and prep affect their animals. She's a gorgeous snake! Did you inherit her from a previous owner? She's bigger than a lot of the corn snakes I see in pet shops (even the family owned ones).

Kiteman (author)ashleyjlong2015-11-17

I found her on a local site similar to Craigslist - her previous owner had bought 8 baby cornies, but she was badly advised on the vivarium, and it was a lot cheaper for her to sell off four or five than to knock down a wall to fit in a bigger viv.

As a first-time owner, it made more sense to buy a snake that was known to be eating, pooping and shedding well, than to buy a baby and not realise when things are wrong.. She's also turned out to be a lot more intelligent that we expected - we have had to put a lock on the vivarium, because she has figured out how to open sliding doors...

ashleyjlong (author)Kiteman2015-11-17

I've always heard that snakes are very good escape artists. They are one of the few animals I've never owned because mom wouldn't allow it. I'm glad she found a home with you guys!

Kiteman (author)ashleyjlong2015-11-17

Hehe, according to some snake forums, corn snakes are about the most notorious escapologists.

Josehf Murchison (author)2015-11-16

My wife said she likes the colors of your snake.

Do you ever feed her live fish.

When I had a Butlers Garter I fed it live food all the time.

Kiteman (author)Josehf Murchison2015-11-16

Thank you!

Corn snakes don't eat fish, and it is unwise to feed captive-bred snakes with live mice - rodents can inflict quite serious injuries, and have even been known to kill pet snakes if left alone with them.

Josehf Murchison (author)Kiteman2015-11-16

Mine was wild bred and it wouldn't eat dead but its favorite food was frogs, tad pols, fish, and insects. I would get it's food bate fishing. in the winter I fed it gold fish.

Kiteman (author)Josehf Murchison2015-11-17

Cool. Also, garter snakes aren't corn snakes ;-)

sunshiine (author)2015-11-16

How long have you had her? Have you been bitten? How long did it take her to completely swallow the mouse? I was kind of surprised it took so long. I thought they grabbed the food and swallowed it right away, creating the huge bulge in their bodies. I am not a snake fan but this instructable was very entertaining. Thanks for sharing your pet Elsie with us. Best wishes in the contest~


Kiteman (author)sunshiine2015-11-16

Let's see...

We've had her about 4 months, she's getting on for two and a half years old, about four feet long.

I haven't been bitten, but my son has (don't wave your fingers in the face of a hungry snake with poor vision because they are in the middle of shedding their skin!). It wasn't serious, but Elsie got a heck of a shock when "lunch" jumped and she got twanged across the room (soft landing on the sofa). It was some time before he'd stroke her again, but they're friends now.

The video is full-length, about 10 minutes. That's a typical time for Elsie to swallow a mouse.

The bulge is there, but not for long (things get squished as they move down). The bulge is more prominent in larger snakes, because they take much larger prey and spend longer digesting - if you have a python or boa large enough to take rabbits, then you're only going to be feeding it once a month. In the wild, very large constrictors take deer and then wait several months or a year before hunting again.

sunshiine (author)Kiteman2015-11-16

I got a kick out of his profile. He sounds like he is an independent thinker like my son. How much or long does a bite from a corn snake hurt? We have a lot of rattle snakes here. I had no idea a large snake could consume a deer, interesting. I read about one swallowing a porcupine though. He died. I watched most of the video but noticed the tail was still hanging out at the end.Thanks for the info~


Kiteman (author)sunshiine2015-11-16

Independent is the word right now - 15 years old, and an expert on everything...

The bite was really a small group of deep scratches. Since Elsie is a constrictor (she squeezes things to death), and not venomous, her teeth are just for holding on to things that are dead, so, think "grabbed by a rose bush", rather than "stabbed by needles", and it healed in a couple of days.

sunshiine (author)Kiteman2015-11-16

Thanks so much for the information~ Oh how I remember 15 both from my son and grandson. Well, I learned something new today. It reinforces my desire not to want to be friendly with a snake even though some are harmless. I will keep an eye out and see if you make finalist. You could win a petcube to keep an eye on little Elsie~ Have a grand day Mr. K.


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