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Corn Snakes: Facts, Food & Bites

corn snakes, facts
Corn snakes can climb trees and like to hide under rotting bark, logs, and rocks.
Credit: Tim Nowak and Hamidreza Marvi.

Corn snakes are non-venomous snakes found primarily in the southeastern United States. They are medium-size snakes, brightly colored with individual patterns. Corn snakes are fairly calm, and easy to care for. They are popular as pets; in fact, they are the most commonly bred snake species in the United States. But watch out, corn snake owners — these elegant serpents are skilled at escaping from their homes.

There are two stories behind how the corn snake got its name. According to one tale, corn snakes’ belly markings look similar to the kernel pattern on Indian corn. Others say the name came from back when Southern farmers stored corn in wooden crates. Rodents would feed on the corn, and corn snakes would come to eat the rodents.

Corn snakes are closely related to rat snakes and sometimes known as “red rat snakes.”

How big do corn snakes get?

Corn snakes are slender and range from 18 to 44 inches (45 to 112 centimeters), with the record at 72 inches (1.8 meters). Their “red rat snake” nickname comes from their coloring, which is usually reddish-orange or orange-brown. Snakes at higher elevations tend to be browner. Corn snakes have large, black-edged, red, orange, or brown blotches on their backs and a spear-shaped pattern on their heads and necks.

Their bellies usually have a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, occasionally with orange accents, and two black stripes under the tail. They have weakly keeled (mid-ridged) scales and round pupils. Corn snakes’ patterns and colorings vary considerably from region to region and the age of the snakes.

Sadly, corn snakes are often mistaken for copperheads and killed in the wild. People can tell the species apart by the markings. Copperheads have hourglass markings whereas corn snakes’ markings are blotchy and random. Copperheads also do not have the black-and-white checked belly.

Corn snake morphs

There are hundreds of corn snake morphs, or color variations, including:

Albino corn snake

Typical albino corn snakes are not actually white. They are only missing their black pigment, so these snakes are whitish with orangey-red markings and ruby-red eyes. They are also called amelanistic snakes because they lack melanin.

Okeetee corn snake

This is a regional locality morph. Okeetees are found mostly in South Carolina. They have wonderfully bright coloration and bold patterns in vibrant oranges, reds, and blacks.

Snow corn snake

These stunning snakes lack both black and red pigment, leaving them with pale coloring in shades of white, pink, green, and yellow. They have red eyes.

Black corn snake

These are also known as anerythristic corn snakes. Unlike amelanistic (red albino) corn snakes, these snakes lack red pigment called erythrin. They have gray bodies with dark gray blotches outlined in black. Adults usually have yellow splotches on their chins and necks and sometimes their blotches fade to brown. Their eyes are brownish gray.

Blood-red corn snake

This is a selectively bred corn snake designed to produce an almost solid red animal. The hatchlings’ patterns fade as they age and by adulthood, these snakes have deep red backs. Their eyes are dark and their bellies are white, lacking any markings.

corn snake, facts
Corn snakes can grow from 18 to 44 inches (45 to 112 centimeters), with the record at 72 inches (1.8 meters). They are non-venomous.
Credit: Tim Nowak and Hamidreza Marvi.

Habitat

Corn snakes are found in the eastern United States, from southern New Jersey to Florida. They live west as far as Louisiana and parts of Kentucky. They are most abundant in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

Corn snakes may be especially active during the warmer months. They climb trees, slither into abandoned buildings, and invade rodents’ nests looking for prey. Nevertheless, these snakes are generally quiet and shy.

They dwell in woodlands, tree groves, rocky hillsides, swamps, fields and meadows when they live in natural environments. Corn snakes are mostly nocturnal and like to hide under rotting bark, logs, and rocks during the day. They enjoy man-made habitats, too, such as woodlots, abandoned buildings, and barns. [Image Gallery: How Snakes Slither Up Trees]

What do corn snakes eat?

Corn snakes enjoy a diet of rodents, lizards, frogs, small birds, bats and bird eggs. Rodents are their favorites. Not being venomous, these snakes don’t just bite their prey to kill it — they constrict it. First, they bite the prey to get a firm grip on it, and then they quickly wrap their muscular bodies around the victim in tight coils. Corn snakes squeeze their victims tightly until they suffocate and die. Then, corn snakes swallow their dinner whole, usually head first.

Occasionally, they will swallow small prey alive.

Reproduction

Corn snakes typically breed in the spring, from March to May. They are oviparous, meaning that the mothers lay eggs. Any time from May to July, the mother pops out 10 to 30 eggs. She lays them in rotting stumps, piles of decaying vegetation, or other places where there will be enough heat and humidity for the eggs to incubate. Then, she slithers off, never to see the babies.

The babies gestate for about 2 months. When born, they are 10 to 15 inches long and patterned like adults. Their blotches, however, are much darker, being brown to nearly black on a grey or light orange body.

They can live to be about 10 years old in the wild.

Are corn snakes poisonous?

Corn snakes are not venomous, and their bite is not dangerous to humans. They do have fangs, but they are relatively weak and probably will not break human skin. If you are bitten, clean the bitten area with soap and water. If your skin is broken and you have not had a tetanus shot, you should seek medical attention because the corn snake’s mouth may contain bacteria that can lead to infection.

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