Introduction: Your First Pet Snake.

Picture of Your First Pet Snake.

In this instructable, I'm going to give you an overview in what is involved in keeping your first pet snake, with particular reference to corn snakes. I am most knowledgeable about corn snakes, how ever because they quite like King snakes, and their living requirements are not dissimilar either.

I'm going to cover considerations before buying a snake, what to look for when buying your snake, housing and husbandry, feeding, and suitability as pets, and anything else that I think of as I go along. I think I shall write a bit about their origins as well.

Step 1: Considerations

Picture of Considerations

before you rush out and buy a snake you have to consider a few things,

can you actually get one that has been bred in captivity in the first place? I dunno, you'll have to do the leg work

do you have the space? they don't take up much room, but it is a consideration.

breeder or store? - both will be able to offer support so it is a personal choice

Do you have the money? trips to the vet will be expensive (esp with reptiles), food is really cheap as is upkeep, so it does offset the vet care aspect, its more expensive to set up than anything generally though.

will you be ok with feeding such an animal? If you are really squeamish a snake isn't going to be for you, while they are small and they eat small food you may well be able to cope, but corn's can eat quite big fully formed mice so you have to be comfortable with feeding them dead/thawed mice

where will you get food for the snake? generally if it is a store brought snake they will have food you can give it and generally it's really cheap I get 10 fuzzy mice for about £4 ($7.95/$8) and that lasts squirm about 5 weeks currently. If you get the snake from a breeder they should be able to point you in the right direction.

can you get to a reptilian vet? Your regular vet is no good, most regular vets do not have much experience with reptiles, whilst most will just admit it, some won't want to admit they are out of their depth with such an animal and "have a go." It is therefore important you know you can get to a Reptilian Specialist, although they are generally more expensive!

do you have the time? to be honest snakes won't take up much time, but it is important you can feed it regularly change water on a daily or every other day basis.

they live for a long time 15 years on average and 20 isn't uncommon for a well looked after snake. are you going to be willing to look after it for that long?

I'm not trying to put you off with this list but they are all things that you must consider and be prepared to have to deal with if/when you need to, and finding out when you need to is not the way to go!

Step 2: Orgins of the Corn Snake

corn snakes are small snakes, descended from rat snakes and related to rattle snakes (although corns are completely non venomous)

the name corn snake, most likely comes from the fact that they hid in the corn cribs of native north American Indians, because mice eat corn, and corn cribs were often quite warm places, the Native north Americans have respect for these snakes, and were quite happy for them to reside in their corn cribs!

Corn snakes are native to the southern regions of the USA. their Latin name is Elaphe guttata guttata.

they are nocturnal but it is ok to wake them up during the day, but just don't keep them up all day (this is because they hunt at night, when they can't be seen by predators, small snakes may be quite shy.

Step 3: Temperment

Corn snakes are very docile creatures, very calm and probably for that reason the best species of snake to keep as your first pet snake.

they will occasionally nip you, don't take it personally, they aren't the brightest animals out there! how ever there are reasons why they may do this, 1) you may smell of a prey item always wash your hands before handling the snake for this reason (its not fair to let them think that you have food) 2) they see you as a threat, this is most likely because you a putting your hand in the vivarium to fast so just slow down a bit, sometimes if a loud noise makes them jump similar results will be incurred.

they are great if you want to pass them around a bit, with kids and such as long as they are calm and quiet and don't startle the snake. some other snake species really don't like this!

temperament in corn snakes, and others such as rattle snakes varies from individual to individual, just like humans, some snakes will be very chilled and relaxed while others will be more on edge, and they do tend to mellow with age, youngsters tend to be more jumpy (they are more likely to end up as prey items)

they may do their business on you, don't take it personally, they just lack good bowel control and will go where ever, though again this gets better with age.

Step 4: Selecting Your Snake

you want to select a healthy snake from the outset for a long and happy life.

generally you want to look for a snake that is aware of its surroundings and responds to them, is active when you handle it (if it is shedding it will be less active). If it is shedding it will be hard to know if it is an active snake or not so best leave it alone or come back another day once it has shed. they won't be very active during the day so don't expect any acrobatics.

make sure the mouth is closed, and that it is dry and there is nothing around the mouth, (if their is the snake may have mouth rot, and thats a vet trip right of the bat!)

Make sure the vent (anus) is closed and dry, unless it wants to go toilet on you!

close your hand around the snake and gently apply a little pressure once it has run through that hand open it, if you can see any little red or coffee coloured specs, the snake may well have snake mites, although these are easy to cure, it can be a sign that the snake may not be very well cared for and could lead to further problems.

Step 5: Housing

Picture of Housing

when you go to select a snake you may well notice that they live in rather small terrianums/vivariums (fancy words for different reptile houses). You may even think this is cruel, how ever it isn't because young snakes are scared of the outside and are in fact, agraphobic. so if you gave them a big open space, they would just hide under a rock or a log in the corner.

as a rule of thumb in terms of size, if the snake is more than twice the length of the house then it's time to upgrade, normally you will start off with a small house for the first year and then upgrade when the snake outgrows it, but after the first change ther is normally no need to ever change again. You could opt to keep another corn snake in the old house if you want!

You may well be able to buy a kit to start off with, this would be the ideal and would contain everything you need to get going. you may even save a bit of money this way. how ever if you can't you will need a terrianum, the kind i have with the sliding lid is pretty common, even for gerbils (although larger for gerbils). Also you need a couple of places for snake to hide I have a fake rock and a log both of which I brought from the specialist reptile centre up the road from me (how lucky am I?) when I got Squirm. A small thermometer is needed also. A drinking bowl, one intended for a hampster will do.

in terms of bedding, newspaper can be used but it is unsightly from a human point of view, and i can't imagine its that nice to slither around on. Your store or breeder should be able to advise you here, just don't go for cedar chippings/bark or what ever, its poisonous to corns.

husbandry - basically remove any poops and wee wees as you see them, or at least once a week. change bedding about once a month would be a good time frame. simple and not to time consuming either, when changing the bedding use a reptile safe disinfectant to clean the housing.

in terms of lay out please refer to the below pictures because it is so much easier than trying to type up!

Step 6: Feeding.

Picture of Feeding.
Feeding is an important thing, I'm also going to cover water here too.

First I'm going to cover water, there is some debate over if giving tap water is ok or if you should give distilled water or if you should use bottled water. personally I give squirm tap water that has been left to stand for 24 hours, I spoke to the people at the reptile rescue centre up the road about this, and one of the kind ladys there (who was a reptile vet at London zoo for 25 years) said that tap water is fine and She has never had any problems with using it.

feeding, ok so generally the best thing to do is to take the mice out of the freezer and allow them to stand until they are fully thawed out, using warm water can make them lose the scent that makes the snake go after them (watch cats, mine never seem to interested but you never know.) feed the snake in a seperate area to the normal living environment, two main reasons for this, if you are using a wood chipping substrate or similar, if the snake swallows this it may very well die as a result, secondly if you do, it will begin to assiate your hand with food and could strike you. Squirm does sometimes try to strike me when he's in his feeding box.

Have a seperate area for feeding, make sure it is quiet when you do this, because snakes feel very vulnerable when eating, so a noisy environment may put them off eating, make sure it is a clean environment wit hnothing loose they could acidently swallowed, a cheap plastic box from tesco/wallmart/asda somewhere like that will work wonderfully.

hold the prey item with tweezers, and dangle in frount of snake, it will after a while gain interest at this point put it infront of the snake, some may strike and coil around it to constrict it (have to make sure it really is dead) then eat. sometimes snakes won't be interested in eating, around shedding time for instance, so if you snake is shedding then (it will be darker in colour, look like it has been dipped in milk almost, have what some people call "blue eye") it may not want to eat, here are some other reasons

not hungry (obvious) - skip a feeding if this seems likely
over handling - handle less for a couple of days and try again
food or snake too cold - allow the snake to warm up first, or allow the food to reach room temp for an hour or so
changes in feeding environment - can be disturbing to a well routined snake, happened with squirm
food has lost scent - new mouse

if it does not apear to be the above take it to the vet

a few other things that may be helpful if the snake hasn't been eating for a period of time is tease feeding (this really seems to work) use the food to rub along the length of the body and tap the snake with it (not near the head) if you get some interest let the snake sniff it but not go for it, when you really have their interest let them take the food.

squirm eating, he is much younger in this video, hence why he seems smaller than the other photos, the music is really corny (no pun intended.) its a long video but It shows you good practice.

Step 7: Suitablity of Cornsnakes As Pets

Picture of Suitablity of Cornsnakes As Pets

As you can see from this instructable, corn snakes are quite happy to be left by themselves, handled quite regulary, friendly and docile so they make great pets.

in fact there is no reason why they shouldn't be a first pet for a child with the help of a responsable adult, and snake sheddings are great at show and tell I imagine!

IF you feel i have left anything out, please get in touch and I will try to help you as much as I can.


KellyM268 (author)2017-11-30

Hello, my name is Kelly. I know a lot about corn snakes, but I've never owned one. I was wondering if you could help me with a little issue ive been having on housing a corn snake. I've done extensive research on housing corn snakes, but everyone has something different to say. I have a 55 gallon tank that I would like to use for housing a corn snake. I have heard that you don't want a tank to big when getting a baby corn snake, because they won't feel secure. I have also heard that a large tank would be fine for a baby corn snake, as long as you have enough hides and not a lot of open space. I want to get a corn snake very badly, but i dont want to get one if it's going to be unhappy in it's new home. Please help me resolve this issue. Thank you.

katherine.nader.5 (author)2015-04-04

I bought a baby corn snake yesterday along with its tank setup. I forgot to ask the breeder about the gender and if it was fed because I wouldn't have time to buy the mice until tomorrow. So I followed the tank instructions which is to put the heating pad on the side of the tank. I usually see it under the tank so I thought this was a different case. I also read to turn of the light at night, which I did. Anyway I woke up this morning and found my snake stretched out and not moving. I'm too afraid to pick it up and see if it's dead. It was near the side where the heating pad is. Did it freeze to death?

Katherine, I am sorry to hear about your snake. If your snake is streched out and happen to have died, there is a number of things that could have been wrong. Now the heating pads are mainly used to help the snake digest its food so it would be a good idea to get a heat lamp as well to ensure its warm enough. Also, when you get a snake from a breeder, don't be afarid to ask a lot of questions. Some if the questions you might want to ask are; Was the mother healthy when she had the clutch? How many eggs did she lay and how many of them did not hatch? Finding out exaxtly hoq many eggs didn't hatch can tell you a lot about how the breeder xares for his/her snakes. After that, you would want to ask for a feedind demonstration on the snake you're about to purchase to make sure he dosen't have any problems feeding. Hope this helps with your next purchase.

Nick :-)

Did the instructions mean to put the heating pad off to the side of the tank? It doesn't sound right having on the side of the tank. I keep mine under the far side of the tank.

Darth_Aquaya (author)2016-03-04

hi, I recently got my first corn snake, and she is very sweet, cute and curious, so she's a nice pet, but I was wondering if there was any fun activities I could do with her? thanks :)

abigail1997 (author)2015-05-18

I have a female corn snake and she shed her skin yesterday she was perfectly fine yesterday I didn't touch he or anything . But I woke up a morning and she was dead. What is the cause of this sudden death

AlexK72 (author)abigail19972015-12-05

Shedding gone wrong

omg that must of been cool

AlexK72 (author)2015-12-05

Ok so im getting a snake after xmas can i just buy the snake and bedding and every thing els together

nicole.j.murray.7 (author)2015-04-23

Hi so I am very keen to buy a snake but I have no idea if i am ready!
I done some research and I know I would like a corn snake but I am not sure whether or not to go buy one or adopt one as I was told there are a lot of snakes needing rehomed. Also I am not sure if I am better getting a young or older snake. I read your "Considerations" and nothing put me off so just looking for some insight from someone who owns a snake :)

baileef (author)2015-03-17

I will be getting my first snake soon, and was wondering if there were any tips you could give me? I've been doing a lot of research (staying up until around 4:30 each morning) to get all of the information I can so I know the generic information and care, but was wondering if there were any things that you learned from experience that would help me and my snake? Any help would be appreciated!

F1X0R (author)baileef2015-03-19

One thing which is very common, especially with younger snakes is in the first year or two around spring time they become incredibly active and they don't want to eat at all. This often panics a lot of new keepers. Its pretty normal though. They generally go off their food at this time, they are looking for a mate and that is also why they become very restless. They should return to normal in a month or maybe too. they can easily go this length of time without eating. Its not a problem.

Another thing to be aware of is any wheezing noises. If they're close to shedding then I wouldn't worry too much, its most likely loose skin rather than anything else. However corn snakes (and others) can suffer from upper respiratory infections. If they're not close to a shed and their breathing is noisy then its best to turn up the temp in their viv for a couple of weeks and see how they progress if it doesn't clear up in this time then its a trip to the vet I'm afraid.

nada.abh.3 (author)2015-03-12

How often is it necessary to take the corn snake out to wander and play?

Skeyekb (author)2015-01-24

So I just got a corn snake, and I know you're not supposed to handle them until a couple days after they eat. So how do you get it from the eating location back into the tank?

F1X0R (author)Skeyekb2015-02-03

Hi there, sorry its taken me a little while to get back to you on this one.

Very simply you pick them up and put them back. It isn't a zero tolerance thing. However think of it like this. if you just ate a great big meal you wouldn't be too impressed if you were made to go for a jog straight afterwards. Corn snakes will like to move around a lot when they're handled and this upsets them. Very quick handling (just for logisitics) isn't really a problem. The point is that they shouldn't be picked up and handled excessively during this period rather than not touched at all.

Another thing which is worth while noting, especially as they get a little bit older is that they can mistake your hand for food and strike when you go to put them back. If you're not confident on this use a motorcycle glove (or something similar). Just be firm when you handle them. Hand straight in, away from the face, pick up firmly and swiftly and they should generally realise what's going on and be fine from that point. Hesitating can give you issues at this point.

frances.washington.9 (author)2014-11-12

me and boyfriend has a corn snake and we love it ! he's like our baby and he's the cutes thing all.

They are surprisingly cute really. A lot of people don't see it but you have to watch them for a bit I think

frances.washington.9 (author)2014-11-12

this is our corn snake

Gosh. It's been a good few years since I posted this and I can't believe that Squirm was once that size. He's now a shade under 5feet! You'll be amazed how fast corns grow.

frances.washington.9 (author)2014-11-12

him eating

max.moore.984349 (author)2014-11-07

this is my 1st corn snake so i am precarious of handling her and she has a tendency to curl up, i feed her once per week on a pinkie, two days after i have tried numerous times taking it real slow to pick her up but she backs off and bolts, even when i find her she simply curls up and buries her head between her coils, how cant i handle her if she's not willing to be handled, i put her on the bed 2 week ago and the first thing she did was disappear into a pillow, so i simply put her back in the viv i use a wheelchair so i have to wash more regularly and still she wont come any where near me, i have tried many things but still nothing, whats my best plan of attracting her to come and spend 3-5 minutes per day until she gets used to me

F1X0R (author)max.moore.9843492014-11-07

Hello there,

Firstly try not to worry too much. All animals have a slightly different personality. A lot of what you've described is fairly normal. Curling up is normal. Very young snakes do tend to be more nervous. Snakes are preyed on by birds so when it comes to picking them up just do it quickly and firmly so that they don't feel they're under attack. That may help with some of the problem.

Personally I haven't tried this but you might want to give it a go. I've heard it can help a lot with nervous snakes. Try putting a used t-shirt (one that you don't care about) in her viv with her. Let her get used to your scent. Snakes after all are really very, very good at smelling things! Once she learns yours is not a smell to be scared of then you might have a bit of an easier time.

Again if a snake is out in the open, ie on your bed, the first thing they will do every time is look for somewhere to hide. When she's in her viv, is she out in the open or under a hide or buried herself in substrate? Bet she's hidden herself, its perfectly normal.

The way you smell (with regard to washing) isn't really an issue. Snakes don't care about your personal hygiene, if anything if you shower/bathe a lot then it might actually put them off as shampoos, deodorants, body washes all have a pretty non-natural smell.

Try the T shirt trick for a couple of days first. See how it goes. When you try to pick her up just assess the best way to do it then go for it. Don't be rough but you really don't want to be taking more than one attempt or you may scare them and then that will make any handling harder.

Once you've picked them up try just holding her in her viv, its an environment that she's familiar with. If you take them out and your picking them up, might be a bit much all at once. Just try it for about 5 minutes at a go, 2 or three times a day at first. Shouldn't be too much stress. Any visible signs of stress just put her down.

Snakes aren't the most animated creatures at the best of times. in fact they rely on their state of suspended animation in order to catch their prey in a lot of instances. They wait for prey to come to them, not the other way round. That's why corn snakes used to be found hiding in native American corn cribs all the time. They have no interest in corn but rats and mice do!

In short expect them to want to hide, Try getting her more exposed to you and then go for longer handling sessions after a while. In time it'll come I don't doubt it.

bcopley1 (author)2014-02-09

I've not long had my carolina cornsnake but he hasn't been eating but when I got him they said he was a really good eater but for some reason he hasn't eaten for me could someone tell me why this could be ?

F1X0R (author)bcopley12014-11-07

Sorry I know this a is a long time but given around the time you posted this comment given the time of year, not uncommon at all that they go off their food. Its mating season. Eating makes them lethargic and they don't want to be lethargic during this time. You'll probably notice a pick up in their physical activity too. They tend to mellow with age where this issue goes though so try not to worry about it. Corns in general are good feeders. Some species will quite often decide not to eat for a long time for no real reason at all.

Treshaun_tyson (author)2014-11-03

If a corn snake bites you should u be worried

Krasen (author)2014-01-28

Why are you giving him 2 mice ?

Riverfire (author)2013-06-03

Anything about wild snakes such as Queen snakes or Garter snakes?
I caught a adult queen snake and am keeping it in a medium terrarium with a little pond and grass/reed around it. It is about 2ft long and is eating well. Her name is Lily

monkey666 (author)2008-08-01

since this would be my first reptile and i dont think im ready for somthing longer then a meter. what kind of snake do you think would work for me?

bman401045 (author)monkey6662012-10-24

well if yr lik me then u should go for a rat snake

F1X0R (author)monkey6662008-08-10

Corn snakes only grow to about a meter and a half maybe 1.6 in extra-ordinary cases. The main concern is not size, as long as you have the room for the housing. What is really important is the attitude and temperament of the snake. Corn snakes are very forgiving of the mistakes likely to be made by a novice keeper. Also don't forget that if you keep the snake from when it is young that you are going to be dealing with something under a meter for about a year (squirm is just over a year, and just under a meter now) which is about right. Males grow shorter than females.

Hoooyyat (author)F1X0R2011-08-27

Ive never heard of the male female thing, wait is it males grow to be smaller, or males grow slower. A meter and a half?!!??! Even though they grow as long as they live, most corns dont get much more than 2.5-3 feet. My cousins corn corny is about 15 and only 3 feet. (My corn is nothing to go by because Selesst is only a month old.)

F1X0R (author)Hoooyyat2011-08-29

Squirm is now about 4 and a half feet, maybe a bit more so yes about 1.5m.

Hoooyyat (author)F1X0R2011-08-30

That's big for a corn. How old is he?

F1X0R (author)Hoooyyat2011-08-30

Now I need to think. About 4 years old.

MikePri37 (author)monkey6662008-09-25

Kenyan sand boa males get to about 2ft female 3ft 3ft=1yard1yard=to about 1.4 meters(I think) but they don't require hides as they burrow, docile and very easy first pets

Charlie24601 (author)monkey6662008-09-04

Try the African House Snake. Don't get more than 3 feet (typically), VERY handleable and tame, and great eaters. Pretty much as easy to keep as a Corn, just not as colorful.

freeza36 (author)2012-01-22

they are not related to rattlesnakes any more than a garter snake is. corn snakes are collubrids, while rattlesnakes belong to viperidae

An Villain (author)2009-07-25

R.I.P. Steve.

freeza36 (author)An Villain2011-12-24

yep. he was a cool guy

An Villain (author)freeza362011-12-25


ccoppola6 (author)2008-07-22

How long should you wait before handling a cornsnake after feeding time? Great tutorial by the way, I've always wanted a snake.

freeza36 (author)ccoppola62011-12-24

i wait about 2-3 days

Flie-Ing GOOse (author)ccoppola62008-08-31

with my corn, jerry, i leave him about 2 days, nor more and no less than 1 and a half days.

F1X0R (author)ccoppola62008-07-23

I would say a lot depends on the size of the meal. How ever most of the time, I don't handle squirm until he comes out of hiding in the evenings of his own accord. How ever an absolute minimum would be 24 hours to ensure that they don't throw the meal back up. But until they come out by themselves, its like asking you to go running after a huge meal, just just won't want to do that.

freeza36 (author)2011-12-24

umm you don't need a shovel. My teacher has 3 Burmese pythons. I have much experience

GorillazMiko (author)2008-04-07

Nicely done! Corn snakes rule-- I hope my mom will let me get one.

Hope = when pigs fly/ hell freezes over.

Hoooyyat (author)GorillazMiko2011-08-27

My mom was originally against it but once i reminded her that she grew up with snakes and lizards, and that she had a corn once, she agreed.

freeza36 (author)Hoooyyat2011-12-24

my dad was against mine. Then he realized (after about 6 years) that i needed one

harhar same problem

F1X0R (author)GorillazMiko2008-04-08

hahaha, the way i got my mum to agree was to start of with saying "mum can I get a tarantula" and worked back from there! in the end mum ended up wanting to get some barking tree frogs but never did, though can you imagine it, bloody frogs keep barking in the night! squirm has grown on my whole family over the course of the last 9 months or so (3 months old when i got him!) except maybe dad, who is convinced that squirm doesn't like him, because he has handled him only twice and both times squirm went to the toilet on him!

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More by F1X0R:Corn Snake Habitat.Feeding a corn snake. If you like mice, you won't want to watch this.Handling corn snakes.
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