The Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) is a harmless species belonging to the Colubrid family (the family that contains most non-venomous snakes besides the Boas and Pythons). Because of its medium size, relative ease of care and docile temperament, the Corn Snake has been kept and bred in captivity since before 1950. It has grown in popularity ever since, and is now probably the most popular pet snake in the world. There are a number of important characteristics that make the Corn Snake an ideal choice for the beginning reptile owner.
When the reptile hobby originally began gaining popularity, most of the reptiles available were taken (sometimes illegally) directly from the wild. In addition to the legal, environmental and ethical concerns raised by this practice, wild caught animals are difficult to keep successfully in captivity. Many specimens are afflicted with natural parasites which, when confined in a captive setting, proliferate and may cause illness or death in the animal. Wild-caught animals frequently refuse food in captivity, and some species may sustain injury from stress or escape behaviors. Undoubtedly a large percentage of these original animals did not survive very long.
Wild-caught animals are still a problem in the pet-trade today. When considering a reptile pet it is vital to inquire about the animal’s origin, and to avoid wild-caught animals whenever possible. Fortunately, Corn Snakes have a history of captive-breeding that dates back nearly to World War II. They are so widely and easily bred that there are almost no wild-caught Corn Snakes in the pet-trade today. With this in mind, it is easy to feel comfortable and confident when purchasing your new pet.
Size is one of the most important considerations to be taken into account when acquiring a pet of any type. Many would-be reptile keepers have fallen in love with a baby animal at the store, only to discover later that it grows far too large for them to care for. This often results in surrendering the pet, improper care causing illness or death, and in some cases injury to the owner.
Its moderate size makes the Corn Snake perfectly manageable. An average, adult Corn Snake can be expected to grow to approximately 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5m) in length, and can be comfortably housed in a standard 20 gallon aquarium for its entire life. A Corn Snake is never large or strong enough to cause any significant harm to a person – a bite from even the largest individual would scarcely produce a drop of blood.
Many reptiles available in the pet trade originate in exotic places, like the rainforest or the desert. These animals may require temperatures well over 30°C and humidity near 100%. These conditions can be nearly impossible to replicate in captivity, and many of these animals develop respiratory conditions, skin problems or digestion issues. On the other hand, Corn Snakes are native to the south-eastern United States and live as far north as New Jersey. They are well accustomed to a temperate climate, and with the appropriate care they fare well in the average North American home.
Because of their extensive captive-breeding Corn Snakes are now available in a vast array of colors and patterns, usually known as morphs. The Corn Snake shopper will likely get lost in terms like Motley, Hypo, Anery, Snow, Sunglow, Candy Cane and Creamsicle. These are only some of the names that breeders use to brand and market their new and exciting morphs. In fact, there are well over 100 different combinations of color and pattern. Unless you are a serious collector or breeder, the key is simply to pick one that you like. Keep in mind that you will pay a premium for what breeders consider “special” morphs, and decide what you are willing to pay for that must-have color.
Perhaps the most endearing characteristic of the Corn Snake is their docile temperament. While other snake species may be flighty, fast or nervous, a properly socialized Corn Snake will be calm and slow-moving. This does require a small amount of work at the hatchling stage – young snakes are prey for many different predators in the wild and are understandably wary – but given the appropriate attention a Corn Snake can be easily handled by adults and children alike (though young children should always be supervised with any pet).
There are countless other reasons that Corn Snakes make excellent pets. They are hypoallergenic, they are eager feeders and they don’t shed on the furniture, just to name a few. As with any new pet, it is essential to do as much research as possible – the more you know, the healthier and happier the animal will be. If properly cared for, a Corn Snake might reward you with 15 to 20 years of happy ownership. They truly are the best pet snake.