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

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

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.

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

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.



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    82 Discussions

    SJ Hope

    3 months ago

    I have a juvenile corn snake. I just got him yesterday and the person I bought him from recommended feeding him either today or tomorrow, but I've heard you should let new snakes adjust to theeir environment for 3-5 days before feeding. Should I go ahead and feed, or should I wait?


    1 year ago

    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.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 months ago

    We separated our 40 gallon tank in half with a piece of cardboard and plan on expanding as she grows, it's also efficient Bc we can purchase new hides/decoration over time instead of spending on a large amount of things all at once. I personally wouldn't give them free range of the whole large tank Bc they're going to live in it their whole lives & we want them to have new experiences as they grow but you could probably give them the whole tank if you really wanted to but I personally wouldn't as like the post says they're just going to hide and stay in one or two spots.


    Question 10 months ago

    Hi! My 9 month old blizzard morph female corn seems to be very anxious and avoids handling. Let's start with that she's perfeclty healthy in an appropriate sized viv at about 22 inches long & eats enthusiastically regularly & always seems to want more when we feed her which is 2 pinkies every 5-7days. Once she's out of her viv she's comfortable enough as long as we give her a hand towel to hide in and peek her head out of. (She really enjoys watching tv and will lay with her head poked out of the towel for extended periods of time watching tv with us) We give her the hand towel Bc she's a notorious pooper and we've had to wash our bedding & clothing multiple times due to this. But she's very very anxious and will hide/immediately jump back/try to burrow at any sudden movement and really doesn't like being scooped up out of her viv, she runs away every time. She also is very very sensitive to brightish light and will avoid it at all costs. Is this because of her red eyes? I've read that the red eyes are more susceptible to light damage as well as reading it has no impact on the snake. Most importantly is there anything we can do to make her more comfortable with us or is it just something that will go away with time? We recently got a baby 2 mo male ball python as well which seems to have eliminated the progress we've made with her comfort. (She smelled his scent on our bed & we showed them one another through their tanks, we since blocked off visual contact through vivs) She used to openly lay in sight of us on our blankets and seemed comfortable and now she hides every chance she can get outside of her viv. Sorry for the long post and thank you!


    Question 10 months ago on Introduction

    Hi my name is shells I'm confused on feeding I read once you feed your corn snake to leave them alone for 2 to 3 days now if I use a separate environment so I move her to that place feed her and after put her back in her home or how does that work I'm trying to learn everything I can before we get ours and am very excited thank you for the information it has really cleared a lot of my questions!!

    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?

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    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.


    3 years ago

    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 :)


    3 years ago

    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

    2 replies

    3 years ago

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

    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 :)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    4 years ago on Step 7

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


    4 years ago

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    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.


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