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Husbandry and Basic Care General stuff about keeping and maintaining cornsnakes in captivity.

Husbandry and Basic Care FAQ
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Old 12-28-2005, 03:40 AM   #1
Husbandry and Basic Care FAQ

Still a work in progress until all of them are up and linked to each other, so just bear with me for the next day or two (I mean, it's already been 7 months ).

Husbandry/Basic Care FAQ:

Q: What substrates can I use, and which shouldn't I use?
A: Most recommend aspen, as do I. It is cheap, totally safe, and easy to find. Other perfectly acceptable forms of substrate include but are not limited to Reptibark, newspaper, newsprint, paper towels, Eco-earth (or similar substrates like bed-a-beast) and cypress mulch. You should not use cedar, pine, sand, gravel, or astroturf. Cedar and pine are toxic to small animals and the others are either irritating to the snake or harbor bacteria and are very difficult to clean.

*Note about substrate- If you are using any substrate that can adhere to the mice, you need to feed the snake outside of it's cage. Feeding inside the cage on substrate can lead to the snake ingesting the substrate and causing an impaction. Impactions will be discussed further in the Health Issues FAQ.

Q: Do I need to supply extra heat to my snakes?
A: Maybe. It depends on where you live and what the temperatures are like wherever your snake is being held. More than likely, extra heat will be needed at some time during the year.

Q: Do I need to supply a temperature gradient for my snakes?
A: No, you do not. It is not necessary to supply a gradient for your snakes. However, would you enjoy being in a place where you could not control the temperature? Letting the snakes choose it's optimal temperature is best, if possible.

Q: What can I use for a cage?
A: There are a wide variety of choices. Most 'breeders' use some form of sterilite boxes/tubs, but glass aquariums are perfectly fine. Homemade cages are also fine, provided that wood is sealed and the cage is secure proof.

*A note on the cage being secure. Every single snake owner that has any decent amount of snakes has had snakes escape. And I do mean everyone, including breeders. Having a great secure cage is worthless if you do not take the time to make sure your cage is locked, shut, and tight. Snakes in general are escape experts and will get out of a cage if there is the slightest space/hole anywhere.

Q: How big does my cage need to be?
A: Most adult cornsnakes can be housed in 20 gallon long aquariums. All-Glass makes 'Critter Cages' that have a sliding lid with back latches that work great. If you choose to go the sterilite route, adults can be housed in 28qt sweater boxes and hatchlings through sub-adults in boxes ranging from 6qts to 12qts.

Q: What is a better source for extra heat, an under tank heater (UTH) or a heat lamp/light?
A: Again, it depends on your situation. If you live in a moderate climate, chances are you do not need much extra heat, so a light might do the job. If you live somewhere where it gets very cold, chances are you're better off with a UTH. Myself, being in Florida, I just use a red light as needed to keep temperatures in the range that I want.

Q: What are good temperatures?
A: 75-80F for the 'cool' side, and 80-85F for the warm side. Try to avoid temperatures below 70F and above 90F.

Q: Are stick on thermometers good to use?
A: NOOOO!!! Those measure ambient air (with poor accuracy) and that has nothing to do with what you need to know. Temperatures on the surface of the substrate are much more important than ambient air temperatures, or the temperature of the glass where the thermometer is stuck.

Q: What should I use for a thermometer then?
A: A digital one with a probe. These are available all over the place. I personally got mine from Walmart for about $7. Again, check the temperatures on the substrate, not up several inches--that accomplishes nothing.

Q: What about humidity?
A: Cornsnakes do not requite high humidity to thrive and will do quite well with average humidity. What's average, you say? 40-50% will do just fine.

Q: How do I measure the humidity in my cage?
A: You need to buy a hygrometer. They sell stick on dials at pet stores, or you can buy a combo humidity/thermometer from places like Walmart for around $15.

*Note- Low humidity can cause shedding problems, which will be discussed under "Health Issues FAQ".

Q: Do I need a water bowl?
A: Of course. Your snake needs to drink. Make sure you get a water bowl big enough so your snake can fully soak in it if need be, but not too big so that it has problems getting in and out.

Q: Does my snake need a hide?
A: Absolutely!!! In fact, it would be optimal for them to have two hides, one on the cool side and one on the warm side of the cage. These can be as elaborate as $15 cave hides, or as simple as half of a tissue box or a single serving cereal box.

Q: What can I put into my snake's cage for decoration?
A: Pretty much anything you want. Avoids things with foul plastic smells and sharp edges. Fake silk plants work very well, but can be difficult to clean. Half logs found at pet stores work great for hides and add a natural look to cages. Most pet stores also sell branches that you can use if you wish. You can also buy silk vines and use them in the same fashion as branches by affixing them to a glass cage with small suction cups. Remember, anything you find outside you must disenfect with either a bleach solution, baking in the oven on low temperatures, or both.

*Keep in mind that the more decor you put into a snakes cage, the more you will have to clean. Are you willing to take everything out once a month and scrub it all down with a bleach solution to disenfect it? Probably not. If you're prepared and willing to spend that amount of time cleaning, then by all means add decor, but if not, keep it simple. Most people with a sizeable collection will simply have substate, a water dish and a hide.

Q: How do I disinfect my cage and items inside the cage?
A: You can use a bleach solution (capful or two of bleach mixed with a gallon of water) and soaking very well afterwards, or by using Nolovsan, or it's generic counterpart. Nolovsan is a veterinary disenfectant that is perfectly safe for all reptiles.

Q: Can I house two snakes together in the same cage?
A: No! This is the eternal debate here on, and there is normally a post about this every week or two. There are literally hundreds of threads about this, and linked are a few of them. If you need an explination why, do a search. The top of the list is cannibalism, disease/parasite transmission, refusal to eat, and a variety of other things.


Q: What does my snake eat?
A: Cornsnakes eat appropriately sized mice and rats. Please do not try to feed your cornsnake crickets or any other insect no matter what your pet store says.

Q: My hatchling is really small and there is no way it can eat a pinkie mouse, what do I do?
A: You'd be very surprised, but most all hatchlings can handle day old pinkies without a problem. Most owners greatly underestimate the size of prey their snake can handle.

Q: What are the size stages for mice?
A: Pinkie, fuzzy, crawler, hopper, sub-adult, adult. If you would like to see size comparisons and weight, please visit:

Q: Oh no! My snake regurgitated, what do I do?!
A: Please see the Health Issues FAQ, located here:

Kathy Love's FAQ ( :

Housing snakes together - my very, very long opinion

I see that this subject has been discussed here A LOT lately, with lots of opinions and experiences that have supported both sides of the question. A number of members have privately emailed to me and asked me to post my opinion over the past few weeks, so here it is, and very long winded it will be, lol! Sorry for the length, but it seems such an active subject that I want to say everything I have to say at one time.

I generally do not house babies or adults together myself, but might consider doing so under certain conditions. I have colony bred Sinaloan milks in the past with good luck. And I have kept partial litters of baby corns together until their first meal, since that is when the most problems, stress or cannibalism, are likely to start. I have had at least 2 occasions since 1985 when a baby corn did eat another, even though they had never fed on anything before. Both cases were bloodreds, but I don't know if that means anything.

I am going to post 2 relevant FAQs that I email to those who write asking for advice (I have written a number of them on commonly asked questions). They are long and are meant for those who have little experience and need help getting started. Those who are already experienced don't really need to read them, as they will already have heard enough to make up their own minds on whether the risk justifies the benefits. Some will agree with me, and some not. But they are my opinions based on my experiences. So here it is, for what it is worth:

FAQ - Housing Snakes Together:

Please DO NOT keep babies (or any newly obtained corns) together!
Although some people have done it successfully, many more have had a lot
of problems. If you have to keep some together, do it with the well-established corns that have been in your collection for a long time.
The babies are already under stress with new homes, travel, and just
generally growing up. Please don't add to the stress anymore than you
have to. Cannibalism is possible, although not likely. More likely
problems include: going off feed, regurge, passing disease, early /
difficult pregnancy, etc.

It is a much better idea to get a bunch of little plastic shoeboxes or
"critter keeper" type terrariums and stack them on top of, or next to,
each other. After you have had the snakes for AT LEAST 3 or 4 months
and have gotten to know them individually, you could try combining some
of the best feeding, best growing ones in groups of two per cage.(be
sure to separate while feeding, and for 1/2 hour afterwards) There will
always be differences in feeding habits, timidity, etc. Some animals
are more prone to stress than others. You won't know which ones at
first, but after a few months you will know. Be ready to separate them
at the first sign of one going off feed, regurging, behaving unusually,
etc. They may look happy all curled up together, but that doesn't mean
they aren't stressing out. Snakes are not really social animals and
generally only willingly spend time together during mating or
hibernation, although they may sometimes choose the same basking or
hiding spots when vying for the best places. In my opinion, optimum
site selection is what you are probably seeing when they are curled up
together, rather than friendship. However, once they have gotten very
used to a cage-mate over a long time, they probably grow to prefer that
situation, since any change is stressful. Just remember that they are
individuals and that each individual is different. Knowing your
particular animal is paramount to providing the best situation for it,
and that takes time and observation.

The reason I keep referring to babies is because that is what most
people buy from a breeder. But the same would be true of newly
acquired yearlings or adults - they would also be new and suffering
from the stress of travel and adjusting to a new home. Any new animals
should be quarantined and their habits observed for a 2 - 4 months
anyway. I would not suggest that you put two (or more) together unless
they have both been in your collection for at least a few months and are
approximately the same size.

If you follow these instructions, you will often be able to EVENTUALLY
keep 2 or 3 together once they are well acclimated. Just depends if you
get a shy one. The more you keep in one cage, the more likely
complications will occur (as mentioned above, going off feed, regurge,
passing disease, etc.)

Please feel free to call if I can answer any other questions for you.

Good luck!
Kathy Love

FAQ - Success in "going against the usual advice"

Although it is easier to be successful following the usual advice, such as keeping them separately and feeding frozen/thawed rodents, there are many who are successful doing the exact opposite. To those who are very careful and doing everything right while going against the norms - you can't argue with success! Even though it is more difficult to keep track of things with two or more together (and often, but not always, more stressful for the corns and can result in early pregnancy and other problems), it doesn't mean it can't be done. There are added precautions to be taken as well as added risks. It is not usually worth the added effort or additional slight risk for most people, but that is something that each person has to decide for themselves. The main problem is that it is usually beginners with new babies who want to try it - just asking for more problems than they might already have. I can tell you that even though I consider myself pretty experienced in corns, if I start working with a totally new species, I will follow the generally accepted advice with that species while gaining experience. Only when I feel I have some success with that species will I start to tinker with the accepted "recipe for success" that has already been established. On the other hand, nothing new would ever be learned if some people didn't experiment, keep records, and report their success and failures.

On the subject of risk, we do risky things every day and have to judge the risk vs. the benefits. The most dangerous thing IMHO is probably shipping them, although if done properly it is not terribly risky. In carefully controlled circumstances, I feel that housing together and feeding live rodents can be a lot less risky than shipping and other risky things we do (such as driving to work!). But please do not construe this as an invitation for beginners to throw all of their newly acquired corns together in a bin with a bunch of live rats!

Some experienced keepers offering advice get into the "never" or "always" do or don't this or that. But I go more for "usually" something works better than another thing . But each circumstance is different. Keepers who have a little experience and actually think about the likely consequences of what they are doing (and how to deal with them) can often successfully do things that beginners or "non-thinkers" will do haphazardly and unsuccessfully. Listen to all good advice, and then make your own informed decision based on your own circumstances and judgment.

Good luck!
Kathy Love
Kathy Love

Care Sheets on Housing, Heating, and Feeding from Don Soderberg at South Mountain Reptiles ( :


Corn snakes are resourceful escapists so be sure the cage you get has a secure and tight fitting lid. Snakes in general require fresh air, but too much ventilation can cool the cage unacceptably. If your only ventilation is on top of the cage, you should be using an under tank heater for your primary heater. For hatchling corn snakes a small enclosure with adequate ventilation will be suitable. Until they reach 24" in length a cage 12" by 8" will suffice. Remember, these neonate snakes can escape any cage with gaps or holes the size of their snout. When they are adults the cage length should be approximately 1/2 the length of the snake. A 15 or 20 gallon aquarium with a locking lid is adequate space for an adult corn. As a substrate for the cage remember the three "don'ts". CEDAR, ANY BARK, SAND and GRAVEL. These are either toxic to your snake or are not absorbent, therefore promoting the growth of bacteria. Folded newspaper while not aesthetically pleasing is sanitary, inexpensive and convenient. Be sure to put many layers on the bottom of the cage so as to create a barrier between snake and heat source if you're using an under tank heater. Aspen beddings are natural and absorbent substrates that most breeders and keepers use. Pine shavings are sometimes used, but I only recommend them for adult snakes. There is talk lately about the toxic properties of pine and fir. Especially when it gets in your pets drinking water. Avoid using BARK forms of pine and fir. The most toxic chemicals in those trees are concentrated in the bark and can harm your pets. You only need to remove the soiled portions of the beddings routinely and only have to completely change the contents periodically. Let your eyes and nose dictate the frequency of maintenance. Each cage should also contain a water dish that is large enough for the snake to submerge in. Your snake will soak in the water when the cage is too hot or sometimes to soften skin before shedding. The water should be changed at least twice a week or more if it gets soiled or cloudy. Tap water often contains chlorine and fluoride that can be harmful to your snake. It is recommended that you at least dechlorinate tap water or bottled water. Water softeners add too much sodium to the water. Snakes have poor long-range eyesight and therefore do not like to be in the open. A hide is advisable for the mental health of your snake. A piece of bark or an empty box of appropriate size will suffice. Most pet shops sell decorative plastic or ceramic hides that will enhance the looks of your vivarium, but be sure they are large enough that you can safely free them in case you want to remove them from their hide. In the wild, corn snakes climb for many reasons, but in captivity climbing is not necessary. In the wild, they climb to escape detection by predators and prey, to find prey and to cool or warm their bodies. If you use a branch in the cage, your snake will be able to get closer to the top so recheck any gaps around the lid and be sure the lid is weighted or locked down.


Heat is the most important element in the success of keeping snakes alive and healthy. In the wild, they prefer daytime temperatures between 79 and 85 deg. F. Nighttime temperatures can fall to 70 deg. F. with no ill affects. I prefer to keep the temperatures the same in the cage day and night and as the temperatures in the house fall at night, the slight change will not adversely affect your snake. If you don't use a thermostat to control the temperature, I recommend that you have an under tank heater under one side of the tank. These are designed to be on all the time. If you supplement the heat with a light over the tank, put it over the heated side or slightly toward the center. Be sure there is one side of the vivarium that has no heat so the snake can cool off if necessary. The instinct for a snake to hide is often greater than their sense to be in the right temperature so be sure the hide is not in the hottest or coldest part of the enclosure. Observe all cautions on the label or box of the under tank heater and light to avoid the risk of fire. HOT ROCKS are dangerous as they concentrate the heat in one place and contact burns to your snake as a result can be deadly. Whatever you use, it is recommended that you have a thermometer in the cage near the bottom of the tank and on the inside. It is preferable to place the thermometer DIRECTLY ON the substrate in or near the warm-side hiding place. You don't need to know the cage temperature six inches above your snake or on the outside of the glass where your snake hopefully cannot go. Essentially, you are taking the snake's body temperature by monitoring the temperatures in or near the hide they frequent most. All snakes will benefit from fluorescent UV light, but it is not necessary for corns. Corn snakes are considered to be nocturnal and for thousands of years have not required direct sunlight to survive.


In captivity corn snakes should be fed captive bred rodents only. Wild lizards, birds and rodents can transfer parasites to your snake. If your snake refuses domestic rodents consult a professional to recommend temporary alternatives. Hatchling corns will eat one mouse pink (newborn mouse) once or twice a week. They will often want more, but feeding more than this can be dangerous to the health of your snake unless you have adequate temperatures and space for exercise. A rule of thumb regarding the size you feed is that the "lump" from the prey item should be visible for 12 to 24 hours after feeding. If it is not visible during this time, you may need to move up to the next size rodent. If the "lump" is still visible after several days, it might be advisable to reduce the size of the prey. Prey items that are too large can result in regurgitation as the rate of decomposition exceeds the rate of digestion and there isn't room for the swelling meal. It is advisable to feed prekilled or stunned rodents, as there is a slight possibility of damage from the prey during the kill. If you feed live prey, be sure not to leave the snake unattended. If the snake refuses the rodent for any reason, remove it and offer it on another day. If your snake unexpectedly refuses food, consult a professional for advice. Do not repeatedly offer what it does not want to eat as the snake may become conditioned to not want that prey item in the future and you may be wasting valuable time in correcting potential health problems. Corn snakes can fast for long periods, but only if they have to. I recommend that you establish a routine feeding schedule. You don't have to adhere to it strictly, but long periods of fasting are not recommended unless you are brumating your snake in preparation for breeding under proper temperature conditions.
Old 03-16-2006, 04:04 PM   #2
hope you dont mind commnig back to the old post and sorry for my english but does anynybody even consider that it is niether cannibalism nor snake nature in viv to eat each other?
viv is relatively new enviroment for snakes. nature of the nature is to try survive so ones in the while, there is chance they will eat each other when thay together(thay cant if in seperete tanks). i could not find any data on wild cornsnakes (i live in a country where tempetature drops below -4 farh quite often in winter) but can anybody say that this does not take place in the wild?
Old 03-16-2006, 04:06 PM   #3
messed up. can you remove it from here.
Old 09-02-2006, 07:28 PM   #4
I really wanted to thank you for your post. Its really helped me to understand what I'll need to do when I get my snake and how much I need to do to care for it. I was wondering though if you recommend live prey for the snakes. My friend refuses to anymore to a mouse hurting one of her boas, but what would you suggest.
Old 09-02-2006, 07:51 PM   #5
Originally Posted by Cathbodau
I really wanted to thank you for your post. Its really helped me to understand what I'll need to do when I get my snake and how much I need to do to care for it. I was wondering though if you recommend live prey for the snakes. My friend refuses to anymore to a mouse hurting one of her boas, but what would you suggest.
This thread is more of a sticky than an post to reply too. So future questions on this subject should be in Husbandry and basic care.

Most would recommend frozen/thawed mice than live for the same reason as your friend.

Good Luck
Old 09-03-2006, 10:27 PM   #6
Originally Posted by Joejr14
Tap water often contains chlorine and fluoride that can be harmful to your snake. It is recommended that you at least dechlorinate tap water or bottled water.
What is your opinion of Britta/Pur water filtering pitchers? I use a Pur pitcher for my own drinking water, and use the same, allowed to warm to room temp, for my snake.

If the snake refuses the rodent for any reason, remove it and offer it on another day.
What is your opinion on re-freezing pinkies a snake has refused? I was afraid that the pinkie would become freezer-burnt and unappetizing, so I kept it in the fridge for just one day and then threw it out when the snake refused it again. How long is a thawed pinkie still safe to feed if kept refrigerated?
Old 09-03-2006, 10:42 PM   #7
Originally Posted by jaxom1957
What is your opinion of Britta/Pur water filtering pitchers? I use a Pur pitcher for my own drinking water, and use the same, allowed to warm to room temp, for my snake.

What is your opinion on re-freezing pinkies a snake has refused? I was afraid that the pinkie would become freezer-burnt and unappetizing, so I kept it in the fridge for just one day and then threw it out when the snake refused it again. How long is a thawed pinkie still safe to feed if kept refrigerated?
Great questions but don't waste it here....this thread is only a sticky.
You will get less responce to it. Post a new thread in ...Husbandry and Basic Care.

Good luck
Old 02-12-2007, 01:59 AM   #8
Great FAQ.. thanks alot.
Old 06-06-2007, 04:59 PM   #9
Nice Thread
Old 06-25-2007, 11:56 PM   #10
Repti bark

I just wanted to quickly say that reptibark is not a safe substrate for snakes or any snakes. I have a amelanystic corn and she ended up getting an upperrespitory infection about 6 months ago. I took her to the doctor and the vet told me that reptibark is dangerous for your snakes. Because of the dust on the wood chips. The dust can get into the snakes lungs and cause harm. I was doing everything right as far as keeping her cage up. Her temp was correct and the humidity was perfect. Since then I have gone with astro turf wich is the cheapest and easiest route I have found. You take it out once a week. Clean it, let it dry and put it back in. Its easier then the reptibark cause you dont have a big mess to worry about and also on that note the reptibark you cant see when your snake urinates or poops bacause it soaks into the bark. So they lay on that stuff and most corns like to burry themselves in it. I know mine did she had a blast digging in it. Anyway its very unsanitary. But thats just my opinion and the opinion of one vet. Just thought I'd share that peice of info. Astro turf is the best thing I've found to keep up with. you can buy two peices so you can switch them out with eachother and its so easy. I'll post some pics of my little one when i figure out how to do it lol. Im new here.

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