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.
Step 1: Equipment Needed
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...
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.
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.
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
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
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
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...
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.