Corn snakes are escape artists.
They will flee their tanks for happier surroundings if you do not provide them with a comfortable, clean, escape-proof home.
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about how to give your corn snake the right kind of enclosure, with the right substrate (cage liner), shelters, and hide boxes.
Choosing the Right Cage for Your Corn Snake
Any enclosure you buy for your corn snake must be escape-proof.
Escaped corn snakes can be very hard to track down, and very upsetting to unsuspecting family members, friends, guests, landlords, and repair people who come across them by surprise.
The best cages for corn snakes are the all-glass reptile enclosures with sliding screen tops that are now available in many pet stores.
One-piece fiberglass and plastic units also work well. Look for an enclosure that has a sliding pin locking mechanism.
Minimum Size Enclosure for Your Corn Snake
If you keep a single adult corn snake, you need an enclosure with approximately the dimensions of a 20-gallon aquarium, 12 inches wide x 12 inches tall x 30 inches long (30 cm x 30 cm x 76 cm).
Larger enclosures that give your corn snake plenty of room to hide and play are even better.
You can make an exception to this size rule for corn snakes from hatchling size to about 18 inches (45 cm) long.
Starting them in a 5- or 10-gallon plastic terrarium or even a shoebox so you can keep a close eye on them is a good idea.
Keeping your corn snake in a small enclosure makes it easier to check for diseases, clean up feces, and so on.
You can’t keep your corn snake cooped up in a tiny enclosure forever, however, so plan to move them to a permanent, larger home before they are one year old.
Be careful about putting baby snakes in an adult enclosure, because there may be tiny openings that allow them to escape.
Larger cages are designed to keep adult corn snakes in, not hatchlings.
Materials for Your Corn Snake’s Cage
Whether you buy a cage or build it yourself, the material you use for its walls should be smooth and nonporous.
This makes cleaning and sterilization easier. Glass is best, although plexiglass, fiberglass, sealed wood, and aluminum can also work.
Make sure there are no cracks or crevices, even if you know they are too small for your corn snake to use them to escape.
Corn snakes will test cracks, crevices, and other openings with their snouts (because they don’t see very well) to see if they are large enough to go through.
Snakes can injure their snouts while trying to use a crack or crevice or tiny hole to get out of their cage.’
It is especially important to seal any crevices or cracks in the lowest 2 or 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) of the cage. Sealing openings in the bottom of the cage keeps leaky excreta out, and prevents the growth of bacteria and odor.
You also need to make sure any sealants or glues are completely cured before you place your corn snake inside the enclosure, so it won’t be exposed to any toxic fumes.
Give Your Corn Snake Good Ventilation
Every corn snake cage needs at least two openings of at least 4 square inches (26 square centimeters) on different sides of the cage for air exchange.
The mesh covering the ventilation windows should have individual holes no wider than 1/8 inch (3 mm), and should be smooth to the touch from the inside of the cage.
When the mesh feels rough and abrasive, corn snakes will rub their snouts on it to see if they can make it break.
What About Racks for Corn Snakes?
Plastic storage boxes stacked on racks are a popular way of housing large numbers of corn snakes.
Corn snake enthusiasts who breed hatchlings for show or for trade often house their snakes in plastic boxes on racks.
Some plastic cages for corn snakes are square, so they are stackable.
There is a tremendous variety of designs for these plastic boxes.
Some have front-facing sliding glass doors. Others have rear cling hatches. They are all easy to clean and sterilize.
You can use Tupperware or plastic shoe boxes for housing hatchlings. Don’t forget to drill 1/8-inch (3-mm) holes along the top of the box for ventilation.
Drill more holes to let the air out if you live in a humid climate, for instance, in Florida.
Drill fewer holes if you need to keep humidity in because you live in a desert climate, like Arizona.
Shelving for Plastic Boxes for Multiple Corn Snakes
Pet shops can sell you both plastic boxes and shelving that lets you stack boxes so your snakes cannot escape.
These racks are designed so each box fits on a shelf with a clearance of just 3/16 of an inch (4.5 mm) above it.
Even if you accidentally leave the box open, the snake does not have enough room to slip out of the box.
There are other systems for boxes that don’t have any lids at all. The bottom of the box above serves as the lid for the box below it.
These shallower boxes allow more boxes to be stored in the same area.
Do You Need Lighting If You Use a Plastic Enclosure?
Snakes don’t need either sunlight or artificial light. They get all the vitamin D they need from the whole animals they eat.
Plastic boxes aren’t designed for showing off your snake, the way glass terrariums are, so you don;t need a light shining down on your snakes.
They may even feel more secure in low-light conditions or in the dark.
Never Underestimate Your Corn Snake’s Ability to Get Out of Its Cage
No matter what kind of containment system you use, make sure all openings are escape-proof. Your corn snake, after all, has nothing to do all day but to plot ways to get out.
Once your snake has found a way to get out of its cage, it will come and go (mostly go) as it pleases until the opening is closed.
How to Choose the Right Substrate for Your Corn Snake’s Enclosure
The substrate is the material you place in the bottom of your corn snake’s cage as a kind of liner.
A good cage substrate
- Absorbs feces and urine and keeps it from spreading,
- Covers the floor of your corn snake’s cage and gives it traction for moving, and
- Looks good from outside the cage.
A newspaper will work.
It isn’t pretty, and it gets folded and wadded up when your corn snake defecates on it. But it is cheap and easy to change when you clean the cage.
A small piece of indoor-outdoor carpet is another possibility. The carpet has to be cut to the exact dimensions of the floor of your snake’s cage so feces and fluids won’t roll under it.
Even when the carpet is cut perfectly, moisture can accumulate under it and grow odor-causing germs.
Your corn snake may hide under it and lie in filth unnoticed so long that it gets skin infections.
Soiled carpet must be replaced the same day your snake defecates on it, so you need to have a backup substrate ready at all times to keep your snake’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free.
Carpet takes a long time to dry out after you have run it through the washer, so you will need to have multiple pieces on hand.
Wood Fibers and Wood Chips
Most owners of corn snakes prefer wood chips and wood fiber for the substrate to line their corn snake cages.
You need to add enough wood chips or wood fiber to cover the floor of the cage to a depth of 1 to 2 inches (25 to 50 mm).
Many corn snake owners use shredded aspen wood as their substrate. It’s absorbent, soaking up urine and feces for easy removal.
Aspen wood is porous, forming little tunnels your corn snake will love to explore. They create “caves” to hide in it. Aspen wood is non-toxic and odor-free.
Cypress mulch, the kind used in the South for gardening, is also a good substrate for your corn snake’s cage.
It shares many properties with aspen mulch. However, some kinds of wood chips, such as cedar, juniper, pine, fir, and walnut contain toxic chemicals which can kill hatchlings and make adult corn snakes sick.
How to Choose Shelters and Hide Boxes
Corn snakes are shy and reclusive by nature. They like nothing better than to curl up by themselves in a tight place that conceals them from the rest of the world.
In nature, corn snakes hole up in tree trunks, in crevices in rock formations, under debris, and in walls and roofs of buildings.
Providing a similar place of concealment for your corn snake is helpful for their psychological health.’
The Ideal Hiding Place for Your Corn Snake
The perfect hiding place for your corn snake is a concealed opening that is large enough to cover your snake’s entire body, but not so large that another snake could crawl inside with it.
Juvenile corn snakes, in particular, like to hide in snug places.
They will spend several days poking their snouts into every possible opening that would allow them to escape, and then spend most of their time in their hiding place until they feel large and confident enough to be seen.
Why Corn Snakes Like to Hide
Corn snakes live boring lives, by human standards. They seldom come out of hiding, except to eat, drink, or mate.
They especially like to hide in dark places while they are digesting their food, while they are getting ready to shed, or, for females, when they are carrying their eggs in anticipation of laying them 30 to 45 days later.
Some Possible Hiding Places for Your Corn Snake
Something as simple as a piece of newspaper rolled up to make a tunnel may keep your corn snake happy.
However, corn snakes prefer hides that won’t tip over and can’t be easily lifted and removed.
All kinds of common containers can serve as hiding places for your corn snake as long as they have an opening that is a little wider than the thickest part of your corn snake’s body.
A hide for your corn snake to use when it is digesting its food must be wide enough to fit the lump in your snake’s stomach.
Cardboard boxes, hollow pieces of wood, even margarine containers you have washed out and fitted with an entry hole make inexpensive hiding places that your snake will use.
If you want to display your corn snake in its terrarium, you may want to spend a few dollars (usually less than $15) at a pet supply store for something that looks better on display.
Hanging a hollow hiding place from the side or the top of your corn snake’s enclosure makes cleaning up feces easier.
Your corn snake will like it, too, because corn snakes like to hide in high places, out of reach of the predators that could attack them on the ground.
Or place half of a hollow log over the length of the cage, part of it over the heating pad, part of it on the cool side of the cage.
This gives your corn snake the option of shedding or digesting its food at the temperature it prefers while maintaining privacy.
Consider a Shedding Box
Hiding places with rough surfaces give your corn snake an easier way to shed. The enclosure increases humidity, loosening old skin.
The rough edges give your corn snake something to scratch against to pull off its skin. Shedding boxes are available online and in pet supply stores.
What About Putting Two Corn Snakes in the Same Enclosure?
It is generally best to give each of your corn snakes its own enclosure, with no roommates, except for mating.
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