Here is some basic information about rat snakes and corn snakes that can help you decide which pet is better for you:
All corn snakes are rat snakes. Corn snakes are sometimes referred to as red rat snakes. But not all rat snakes are corn snakes.
The requirements for keeping rat snakes and corn snakes are very similar. But corn snakes come in many more colorful morphs than their cousins in the rat snake family.
The Basic Facts About Red Snakes and Corn Snakes
Rat snakes and corn snakes are both members of a family of snakes called Colubridae.
This family also includes king snakes, vine snakes, and indigo snakes. All of the colubrids have one important characteristic in common:
They are constrictors.
Rat snakes, corn snakes, and the other snakes in this family wrap around their prey to stop its heart before they swallow it whole.
When you feed your pet rat snake or your pet snake, they will instinctively coil around their food.
They will even do this when you provide them with pre-killed, frozen and thawed mice, despite the fact the mice are already dead.
Other Things Corn Snakes and Rat Snakes Have in Common
Corn snakes and rat snakes have a lot in common.
In North America, when you call a snake a “rat snake,” you are usually referring to a black rat snake.
Both corn snakes and the snakes we usually call rat snakes are found in the wild in the southeastern United States.
Some other members of the rat snake family such as the Eastern indigo snake are also native to the southeastern USA, although the king snake comes from California and the West, and the Asian vine snake is found in South and Southeastern Asia from India and Bangladesh to Vietnam and Indonesia.
Corn snakes and black rat snakes have wedge-shaped heads. Their eyes have round pupils. (Poisonous snakes have slitted pupils.)
Both corn snakes and rat snakes reproduce by laying eggs. Corn snakes mate a little earlier in the year than black rat snakes, in the spring, while black rat snakes wait until summer.
Both corn snakes and black rat snakes hunt a variety of small animals. They mostly eat field mice, but they will also eat lizards and frogs, and climb up into trees to eat unguarded bird eggs.
Neither corn snakes nor black rat snakes are venomous. They always kill their prey by constricting around it to stop its heart.
Both corn snakes and black rat snakes defend themselves by releasing a foul-smelling musk from glands in their tail when they are frightened.
Both corn snakes and black rat snakes make docile pets. They are not especially aggressive, and they can be trained so they like to be held.
Corn snakes and black rat snakes that receive good care can live up to 25 years as pets.
They both prefer temperatures of 80° to 85° F (26° to 29° C) on the warm side of their cages, and 70° to 75° F (21° to 24° C) on the cool side of their cages.
Differences Between Corn Snakes and Black Rat Snakes
Now let’s consider some of the differences between corn snakes and rat snakes.
Corn snakes are among the smaller members of the rat snake family.
The most common corn snake, a species called Pantherophis guttatus, reaches a length of 2 to 6 feet (60 cm to 2 m) when they are fully grown.
Being smaller, corn snakes are easier to handle than black rat snakes.
The most common black rat snake, a species called Ptyas mucosus, can grow to a length of 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 meters).
Corn snakes are colorful. The most popular morph of corn snake has scales of bright orange and red.
There are also corn snakes in white, pink, gray, and yellow.
Most black rat snakes are, well, black, but there are rat snakes in yellow, black, brown, red, orange, and black-and-white. Among closely related snakes:
- The Eastern indigo snake is bluish-black with a red chin, cheeks, and throat.
- The High White morph of the king snake has white scales with black accents. The High Yellow Banana morph is banana-yellow with black accents on its back. There are morphs with single, double, and vanishing stripes running down their backs, a morph with dots, a morph with “racing stripes,” and a morph with tiger-like markings.
- Most Asian vine snakes are bright green.
If you go looking for a rat snake in a pet store or at a snake expo in the United States, it will be black.
What You Need to Know Before Bringing a Black Rat Snake Home to Be a Pet
Black rat snakes are popular pets. More people keep corn snakes, but the black rat snake comes in at a close second.
In the wild, black rat snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. They freeze before they strike their prey, and they can rattle their tails in warning.
Black rat snakes kept as pets, however, don’t act like rattlesnakes if they are regularly handled and treated gently.
The thing to remember about taming your black rat snake is to approach it slowly in a non-menacing way. In nature, a predator that eats black rat snakes will normally approach its victim suddenly from above.
So, when you are reaching into your snake’s enclosure to take it out and pet it or feed it, approach it slowly from the side.
Remember that snakes can be fragile. Never pick them up by the head or by the tail. Hold them securely by the middle of their body, minimizing the stress placed on the snake’s spine.
Making a habit of treating your black rat snake gently will make it a gentler pet. It will be a lot more fun to interact with a snake that trusts you.
Now, let’s consider the setup you need for a black rat snake.
The thing to keep in mind when you are buying an enclosure for your black rat snake is easy to remember: Bigger is better.
Black rat snakes need a vivarium of at least 30 to 40 gallons (up to 150 liters).
Black rat snakes are great climbers, so taller sides are better than shorter sides. The lid needs a strong latch to keep your snake from escaping.
Your black rat snake likes water. It needs a water bowl big enough to soak in at all times.
You need to change the water in your black rat snake’s bowl every day, or sooner if it has used its bowl as its restroom.
Black rat snakes are native to parts of the United States that have freezing temperatures in winter.
They find a relatively warm, safe spot to spend the winter brumating, the snake’s equivalent of hibernating. They are inactive, and don’t eat, but they do come out occasionally for water.
You don’t want your black rat snake to think it is winter and go into brumation mode, so you need to keep its enclosure above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) at all times.
During the day, your black rat snake’s enclosure should be kept at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 29 degrees Celsius).
That’s a little cooler than the best temperature for some other popular species of pet snakes, such as ball pythons.
The best heat source of your black rat snake is a ceramic heater or an incandescent light bulb, mounted where your snake will not accidentally bump against if it manages to lift the lid and get out.
Don’t use under-the-cage heating mats or hot rocks, because they can burn your snake.
Monitor air temperature with a thermometer.
Black rat snakes don’t need sunlight or artificial UV light. Full-spectrum white light is fine. But you need to put your snake’s light source on a timer.
Black rat snakes are diurnal. That is, they are more active during the day.
If you leave the cage light or overhead lights on all the time, they will not get the rest they need. Put lights on a timer so they only illuminate the cage for 10 to 12 hours a day.
In the wild, black rat snakes live in places where it rains a lot throughout the year.
They can tolerate high humidity, but you should not let the air in their enclosure get so soppy that condensation forms on the walls of their cage.
It’s OK to keep humidity between 35 and 65 percent, except when they are shedding, and benefit from 75 percent.
Measure humidity with a hygrometer. If the relative humidity falls below 35 percent, usually because you use forced air heating in the winter, use a mister to moisten your snake’s cage lightly.
Then check the hygrometer again later in the day to see if another application of mist is necessary. Usually, it will not be.
In their natural habitat, black rat snakes spend most of their time in the woods. They hunt for rodents hiding in leaf litter or pine needles.
They burrow into loose organic matter to hide while they lie in wait for their next meal.
The best “liner” for the bottom of your black rat snake’s cage, however, isn’t dry leaves or pine needles. It’s snake carpet.
This material looks a lot like Astroturf. You should get two pieces that are big enough to cover the bottom of your snake’s cage.
That way, you can pop in a fresh piece of snake carpet every time you take the other piece out for washing, sanitizing, and drying out.
Sand isn’t a good substrate for your black rat snake’s enclosure.
Inhaling it can cause them breathing problems. You should also avoid cedar shavings, because they have a strong scent. Aspen shavings and cypress mulch are OK.
In the wild, black rat snakes eat mice, rats, lizards, small birds, and eggs. When many farmers in the southeastern United States raised chickens, they were well known for raiding chicken coops.
They were known as chicken snakes.
In captivity, black rat snakes won’t necessarily recognize everything you could give them as food.
To make sure they eat, feed them the same thing they were given while they were still at the pet shop.
Your pet shop can tell you what that is. Black rat snakes do well on a steady diet of whole, pre-killed, frozen and gently thawed mice or rats.
Because live mice and rats can fight back, give them pre-killed prey only.
What You Need to Know Before Bringing a Corn Snake Home to Be a Pet
Corn snakes appeal to beginning snake owners because they are so easy to manage. They appeal to experienced snake owners because they come in so many colorful morphs.
A pet corn snake can add some excitement to your life with its frequent attempts to escape.
Corn snakes are experts at probing for the tiniest openings in their cages with their noses, and then prying their way to freedom. Newly hatched corn snakes can wriggle through any hole the size of their snout.
And because corn snakes can also act like rattlesnakes when they are threatened (even though they are not venomous), they can give your guests and neighbors a good scare when they are on the lam.
If you give your corn snake a secure enclosure, however, they make great pets. Here is what you need to get started.
Also read: Are Corn Snakes Good Pets?
Adult corn snakes need an enclosure that is about half as long as they are. They do well in 30- to 40-gallon (120- to 160-liter) enclosures.
It is OK to start a hatchling in a 10-gallon (40-liter) enclosure as long as you find it a larger home in the first year.
Corn snakes only have one lung, so they do not get a lot of exercise in nature.
They are happy as sedentary snakes, although you can add a forked stick for climbing.
Their fun activity is curling up into a hide that just barely holds them most of the time. Corn snakes prefer two hides, one on the warm side of their cage and one on the cooler side.
Corn snakes are most common in subtropical areas of the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.
They do not need tropical temperatures like some other snakes. Keeping their enclosure at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 29 degrees Celsius) is fine.
Give them a basking side at 85 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 32 degrees Celsius) and a cooling side at 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius).
The best hearing source for your corn snake’s cage is an incandescent lamp mounted high enough above the cage that your snake will not bump it if it tries to escape.
Avoid heating pads under the cage and hot rocks in the cage, because they are too hard to regulate.
Corn snakes prefer humidity of 35 to 60 percent most of the time, and up to 75 percent when they are shedding.
Monitor humidity with a hygrometer and mist the enclosure if the relative humidity falls below 35 percent.
Never let your corn snake’s enclosure get so much that moisture condenses on the sides.
Corn snakes don’t need artificial UV light. Any overhead lighting that allows you to see your snake is suitable.
Be sure it is set on a timer to allow your snake to rest at night.
Corn snakes need loose substrates, like aspen shavings, or snake carpets (Astroturf). Sand can cause respiratory problems.
Corn snakes can get all of the nutrients they need on a steady diet of pre-killed, frozen, gently thawed mice. Some picky eaters will insist on live prey, however.
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