VET 217: Introduction to Laboratory, Zoo, and Wildlife Medicine

Corn Snakes




Corn Snakes (Elaphe guttata) are native to the southeastern United States.  They are a smaller, slim snake that grows to an average length of 4’-5’ feet.  They are docile, easily tamed animals that have simple environmental needs.  They consume whole prey (mice) and are easy to care for.  They come in dozens of colors and patterns (refer to web sites below).  Most Corn Snakes available on the market today are domestically bred.



For additional information regarding Corn Snakes, please visit these web sites:



Snakes are covered with scales.  They must shed their skin periodically as they grow (ecdysis).  The frequency of shedding will depend on the snake’s rate of growth. 

The eyelids of the snake are fused creating a clear covering called the spectacle.  The spectacle protects the cornea.  The outermost layer of the spectacle is shed during ecdysis

Snakes have many vertebrae (100-300 precloacal vertebrae).  Each precloacal vertebrae has a set of ribs attached. 

Most snakes only have one functional lung on the right side.  The left lung is small and nonfunctioning.  In most species the lung extends for 1/2 to 2/3rds of the body length.  The last third is composed of an air sac.




Body temperature

Keep cage between 75-85 degrees F


Heart rate



Respiration rate



Blood pressure



Blood volume






Water consumption



Food consumption


Offer appropriately sized prey every 10-14 days for adults and up to 2x/week for juveniles









Sexual maturity is based on size

Estrous cycle

Seasonal breeders (spring)


Breeding age

1-2 years old





Weaning age

N/A able to fend for themselves at hatching





Litter size

Egg-bearers (oviparous)


Breeding duration



Life span

10-15 years





Corn Snakes are active primarily at dawn, dusk and during the night.  They are solitary animals that should be housed separately.  They are easily tamed with quiet gentle handling.  They are hunters and are not as sedate in their behavior as some of the larger species of snakes.



Male snakes have a right and left testicle that are intra-abdominal.  They have paired hemipenes that are located in the base of the tail.  Snakes do not have a true uterus, instead the oviducts empty directly into the cloaca.  Females can store sperm for long periods of time.



Blood can be drawn from the ventral tail, jugular and palatine veins and via cardiac puncture. Use Microtainers containing lithium heparin for blood collection.

Medications can be administered via gavage, subcutaneously in the lateral body wall and intravenously. The intraceolomic route should be used with caution.  A snake’s lungs extended down approximately 40% of their body length.  In aquatic species the lungs extend the entire length of the body.  It is possible to drown a snake with intracoelomic fluids. Injections should be given IM or SC in the front half of body due to the renal portal system.



Ideally the cage length should be at least half the length of the snake being housed.  A 20 gallon long aquarium works well for Corn Snakes.  The lid should lock down into place.  Snakes are escape artists and are perfectly capable of pushing open a loosely secured lid.  Temperature should be kept between 75-85 degrees F and 50-60% humidity.  Hygrometers and thermometers should be set up inside the cage to facilitate monitoring.  Snakes should be offered a temperature gradient with one side of the cage warmer than the other.  Hot rocks should be avoided as these have been associated with severe thermal burns.

Indoor/outdoor carpeting and newspaper are the most commonly used substrates.  The flooring should be such that the snake can not ingest it by accident or at feeding time.

Water should be offered in a shallow dish.  Many snakes will soak prior to shedding. 

A hide box and a climbing branch should also be provided.



Corn Snakes are constrictors and eat live prey usually mice.  It is recommended that the mice be fed dead in order to avoid injury to the snake.  Frozen mice can be purchased from suppliers for feeding purposes.  Defrost the mouse prior to feeding.  The mouse should be approximately the size of the largest part of the snake’s body.





Mouth Rot and other bacterial infections


Trauma (bite wounds from prey)

Thermal burns




Wash hands as a precaution against the possibility of Salmonella infection.  Some reptiles carry this potentially zoonotic bacterium in their gastrointestinal tract.