Corn Snake and Rat Snake Care

Corn snakes (Scientific name: Pantherophis guttatus), also known as red rat snakes, are a member of the rat snake family. In this guide I’ll be talking about care and setup for corn snakes and North American rat snakes. Rat snakes from other areas can have similar setups and care but you should look into specifics on that species of rat snake. For example a Vietnamese Blue Beauty Rat snake may have somewhat similar care but they get much larger than corn snakes so they would need a different setup. 

 

North American rat snakes include:

 

  • BLACK RAT SNAKE

  • GRAY RAT SNAKE

  • YELLOW RAT SNAKE

  • TEXAS RAT SNAKE, Renamed the WESTERN RAT SNAKE

  • BAIRD’S RAT SNAKE  

  • TRANS-PECOS RAT SNAKE

  • EVERGLADES RAT SNAKE 

  • GREEN RAT SNAKE

  • BAJA RAT SNAKE

  • FOX SNAKES

  • RED RAT (CORN) SNAKE

 

Size: 

North American rat snakes on average are under 5 feet long, and slendered bodied with a few getting up to 6 or 7 feet long. 

  • BLACK RAT SNAKE: 3.5 to 5.5 feet

  • GRAY RAT SNAKE: 3 to 6 feet

  • YELLOW RAT SNAKE: 3 to 6 feet

  • TEXAS RAT SNAKE, Renamed the WESTERN RAT SNAKE: 4 to 5 feet

  • BAIRD’S RAT SNAKE: 3.5 to 4 feet

  • TRANS-PECOS RAT SNAKE: 3 to 4.5 feet, most on the smaller side

  • EVERGLADES RAT SNAKE: 4 to 6 feet some upto 7 feet 

  • GREEN RAT SNAKE: 4 to 5 feet

  • BAJA RAT SNAKE: 4 to 5 feet

  • FOX SNAKES: 3 to 5 feet 

  • RED RAT (CORN) SNAKE : 2.5 to 5 feet some as long as 6 feet but not as common

 

Lifespan:

On average 10 to 12 years, but have been known to live up to 15 years with proper care. 

 

Diet:

Rat snakes eat rodents, so having a source for food is important.

 

Temperament: 

Rat snakes make great pets & are a good choice for first time snake owners. However, babies can be a bit flighty and nippy at times. This is just their natural defense and they quickly grow out of it. For a very young child I would recommend finding a subadult or already established juvenile over a hatchling. Hatchlings will normally become more tame with daily handling, but keep in mind a hatchling will be very small. 


 

Housing: 

Some of these species do get large and require a larger enclosure but for a hatchling of any of these species you can start with a 10 gallon aquarium or similar sized PVC or custom built enclosure. Tubs are an option as well when they are smaller, it’s just very important to have a tight well fitting lid. 

 

Baby rat snakes are very small and anything they can get their tiny nose though they can get out of, or at least try. Generally speaking unless you keep your house very cold you will only need one heat source. Take a look at which part of the US your rat snake comes from. Is it from a state where the highs are only in the 80s? In that case you would not need more than one heat source. A heating pad powered by a thermostat that covers less than half the tank is ideal for most rat snakes. 

 

Supplies needed: You can also find out Basic Starter Kit Here

 

Setup:

When setting up a home for a corn or rat snake, be aware that most need temperatures on the warm side, around 85℉. The cool side can dip to 75℉. This is the case for most North American species. Asian species will normally like higher temperatures and higher humidity. Be sure to look into the individual species to determine appropriate temperature ranges. Normally your home's humidity will be enough for a corn or rat snake unless you run your A/C a lot, or live in a very dry climate. Normal home humidity of 40% to 50% most of the time is adequate for a corn or rat snake. During shed you can up the humidity by adding a humid hide, or moving the water bowl over/under the heat source (if you have a ceramic heater above). Corn snakes, especially babies, should not be kept at temperatures higher than 85℉. I’ve found that keeping an ambient temperature for corn snakes of around 80℉ works very well. 

 

If setting up a tank: Attach your heat mat under one side of the tank on the outside. Be sure to put the probe for your thermostat between the heat mat and the glass, then plug the heat mat into the thermostat and plug the thermostat into the wall. The heat mat should NEVER go inside the tank. Add your substrate, hides, decor, and water bowl. Add the thermometer somewhere in the middle of the cage. For larger cages it’s a good idea to have one on each end. After about 30 minutes check the cage's temperature. If it’s too low you might have to add a ceramic heater from above the tank, but if the warm side is reading 85℉ above the bedding where the heat mat is, you’re good to go!

 

Feeding:

Feed 1 appropriately sized meal once a week until they reach 2 years of age. After that they can eat every 2 weeks, unless brumating for winter (see below) or if you plan to breed them.  It’s a good idea to have a gram scale handy to get your snake's weight to figure out what it needs to eat. As a general “rule” 10% to 15% of the snake's body weight is ideal for a feeder. Babies will normally start out on pinky sized mice, and will be eating an adult sized mouse around 2 years old. Once fully grown they can also eat small rats or rat pups. 

 

Brumation:

Brumation is not necessary unless you plan to breed, but many will find that their corn or rat snake will eat less in the cooler months. If your home is well insulated and you run your heater regularly in the winter, most snakes won’t even notice a change of season. I keep my home pretty much 75 to 76℉ year round. If the snake does stop eating or skips a few meals this is nothing to be alarmed by unless your snake is dropping weight. I brumate my corn and rat snakes starting in December, again this is not something you have to do, and I don’t do this with babies or snakes out of the breeding cycle. If you do brumate your snake it is extremely important to stop feeding them 2 weeks before and to make sure they have emptied their bowels before you start to cool them. An undigested rodent can go bad inside a snake's stomach if they don’t have heat, resulting in a sick or even dying snake. In December I start to slowly cool the snakes I plan to breed with the final temperature dropping to 55℉. Snakes are still housed with a water bowl but food is not offered at this time. After 8 weeks the temperatures are slowly brought back up by a few degrees each day. 

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©2020 by Alchemy Reptiles Brian & Nina Bolen