You've finally picked out the perfect snake. Now what? Hopefully you've done some research and know what you're getting into. If not, don't fret - you've come to the right place. Snakes are, by far, the most delightful and easy to care for pets on the market. There are some things you should know, however, to get it just right.
Once you've purchase and brought your snake home, remember that you've removed it from it's familiar environment and stuck it in a new place. It can take a few days, or up to a few weeks, for even the most amiable snake to acclimate, or get used to it's new digs. It's hard not to hold him or her, but try to be patient and give your new pet a chance to settle in. That is, put it in it's new enclosure and leave it alone for at least 72 hours. You do have it's new enclosure ready, don't you?
You want to choose an enclosure that fits the size of your snake. Babies, or hatchlings, are relatively small and don't require much room. On the flip side, keeping a hatchling in a huge enclosure may stress them. I recommend a 10-gallon aquarium. They're cheap, easy to clean and provide enough room for at least the first two years of your snakes life. Smaller would be fine, but can be difficult to heat properly. A full-grown Corn Snake will need, at a minimum, a 20-gallon aquarium size. Lager aquariums such as a thirty-gallon breeder or a fifty-five gallon take are also appropriate for adults. Now, what to put in the tank....
Substrate is the material you choose to line your cage with. Some people opt for paper towels or shredded paper. This is perfectly acceptable and inexpensive. However, it's not pretty if you want to display your snake. Also, it does nothing for odor control. I use aspen because it's relatively inexpensive, absorbs fecal material easily and cuts down on odor. Don't use cedar or pine as it could cause respiratory problems. Corncob can cause skin damage and serious intestinal issues if ingested. Reptile bark is acceptable, but watch for excessive humidity and mold growth. The substrate should be spot cleaned once or twice a week and completely changed monthly or every other month at a minimum. Your snake will need a place to hide both on the warm and cool side of your tank. This can be as elaborate or as functional as you want to make it. For hatchlings I use a water dish that has access underneath for the cool side and a toilet paper roll on the warm side. Whatever you choose to use, make it easily disposable and/or easy to clean. The water dish you provide should be large enough for your snake to get into. Often, while trying to shed, your snake may soak. Water should be changed twice a week and the dish cleaned well once a week to reduce bacterial growth. If your snake likes to defecate in the water (and many do) clean it as soon as you find it. Some people put vines and branches, these are great and provide your snake with an opportunity to explore and climb, which many like to do. Just remember that whatever you put in will need to be sterilized first, and cleaned at least monthly.
One of the most common mistakes new handlers make is improper heating of their enclosures. Snakes do not make their own body heat. Rather, they rely on their environment to provide the heat necessary for proper growth, a healthy immune system and the digestion of food. Therefore, improper heating will almost always lead to sick or injured snakes. Do it right the first time to avoid this common error! For best results, belly heat is always the number one choice. You can provide this by getting a heat mat to put under your tank (never in it). Make sure it is recommended for the type of cage that you purchase as some are not recommended for plastic, and so on. You'll also need a thermometer to check temperatures in your tank. Get one with a probe so you can move it around the tank. Place the probe at the hottest point under the substrate, directly on the surface above the heat mat. Goal is 83-86 degrees. If it's hotter than this you need to regulate it so your snake doesn't get burned. I recommend a thermostat that can be dialed to allow just enough electricity to heat to the desired temperature. Many online reptile stores offer these for reasonable prices. Hot rocks are not recommended because they're not regulated. I've seen many nasty burns related to people using these. Heating bulbs that provide basking areas are also not recommended. Lights are fine for display, but not as a heat source as snakes need belly heat to digest. Digest? Digest what? Read on....
Baby snakes start out eating small pinky mice every 4-6 days and progress to adult mice every 7-14 days when they're full grown. The rule of thumb is to feed your snake a mouse that is 1 1/2 times the girth of your snake at it's widest point. You should notice a sizable lump after eating that goes away in about 24-48 hours. Feed too small and not often enough, your snake won't grow. Feed too large or too often, your snake will become obese and/or regurgitate, or throw up. This can become a very dangerous situation because snakes loose necessary stomach fluids and electrolytes when they regurgitate. Sometimes, they will even stop eating all together. Other common causes of regurgitation are poor heating or too much handling after feeding. So - watch those temperatures, feed appropriate sized items and leave your snake alone for at least 24-48 hours after feeding. It's most likely that he/she will hide on the warm side of it's tank for this time frame anyway. Because I don't like to try and guess at my snakes girth, I utilize what is commonly called the Munson Feeding Plan. It's an easy way to plan feeds based upon your snakes weight. Go to: http://www.cornsnakes.com/forums/showpost.php?p=266140&postcount=3 It takes the guess work out of trying to pick the right size prey and makes ordering in bulk super easy. One way to know that your snake is growing properly, is to monitor their shed. Shed? Isn't that where you store your lawn-mower? Nooo...read on..!
Your snake will shed approximately once a month. More often in babies and less in adults. Your snake will go into a blue phase, that is it's eyes will cloud up and you may notice it's color quite dull as well. Your snake will look like this for a day or three and abruptly clear up for a few days, then shed. Be careful during this time as typically your snake cannot see and may strike and bite, not knowing what is out there. When your snake does shed, carefully examine it (the shed, and the snake) to make sure that it's eye caps and tail tip are there as retained shed can cause complications, infections and can lead to the loss of eyes and tail tips. Your snake should shed all in one piece. If it does not the humidity in your tank is not quite right. If you notice pieces and some shed still on your snake, soak your snake in tepid (not warm, not cold) water for a few minutes. You can also wet a washcloth or towel and run it over your snake a few times. To prevent this in the future, place some damp moss or damp paper towels under a hide when you see your snake go into the blue phase. They'll love burrowing in this and will stay there until they shed. Do take moss or paper towels out and throw away afterwards. too much humidity can lead to bacterial growth, scale problems and mouth rot.
This care sheet is great for getting started, but not intended to provide all information. If you own a snake or are planning on purchasing one, it is YOUR responsibility to thoroughly research the needs of your snake. Doing so will make for a much more satisfying experience. Cared for properly, many snakes live very long lives, decades even!
For more information or to just shoot the breeze with other snake enthusiasts, I recommend: www.cornsnakes.com for the latest and greatest in snake information! As always, don't hesitate to reach out! I speak snake.
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