If maybe you were thinking that corn snakes eat corn, we have to give you bonus points for imagination, but, unfortunately, that idea isn’t correct.
Corn snakes, like all snakes, are carnivores.
And although corn snakes can eat a variety of animal foods (we will get into the specifics a little later), most corn snakes do best on a steady diet of rodents: pinky mice, hopper mice, and older mice of all sizes.
Corn Snakes Have a Distinctive Style of Eating
Corn snakes are constrictor snakes.
That means that they wrap themselves around their prey and squeeze to stop its heart, and then swallow it whole.
Even if you are feeding your corn snake a dead animal (and you always should, because live rodents can bite back and injure your snake), it may want to constrict around it first.
This won’t happen if the food you are offering your snake is too cold.
Corn snakes are extremely nearsighted. They can see their prey when it is very close, but they depend more on their ability to sense body heat.
Your pet corn snake knows something is food by the heat signature it senses through its pit organ, the vase-shaped indentation near each nostril.
Corn snakes don’t register something as food unless it is heated to at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ice-cold mice and other prey animals won’t register as “food” to them.
What Kinds of Foods Do Corn Snakes Eat?
Corn snakes are common in the wild throughout the Southeastern United States.
They live in forests, fields with tall grass and weeds, abandoned buildings, and woodpiles.
They mostly eat animals that live in those locations, provided they are not large enough to fight back.
Wild corn snakes like to live where there are lots of mice and rats.
Hatchling corn snakes will seek out a nest of baby mice left alone when their mother is out looking for food.
Older corn snakes will ambush young mice that have reached the hopper stage. Fully mature corn snakes will ambush adult mice of all sizes and smaller rats.
But corn snakes don’t have to eat mice. They also visit birds’ nests when their parents are away.
They can eat eggs up to about the size of a quail’s egg (a chicken egg is too large for them to swallow), and birds that have not yet left the nest.
It is a relatively rare event for a corn snake to eat an egg, and that is a good thing. Raw egg white contains a compound called avidin, which deactivates B vitamins in the snake.
In the wild, of course, corn snakes will never eat cooked egg whites, which are avidin-free. (You should never offer your snake any kind of cooked food. It confuses your snake.)
Corn snakes can also feed on small lizards, small frogs, baby squirrels, baby rabbits, moles, voles, and other snakes.
Corn snakes kept in the same cage may even eat each other. But your best choice for feeding your corn snake is a steady diet of mice.
Captive Corn Snakes Do Best on a Steady Diet of Mice
Mice of any age provide complete nutrition for your corn snake.
Because your corn snake eats the entire mouse, any mouse that ate a balanced diet becomes a balanced diet for your snake.
Corn snakes, for instance, don’t need sunlight to make vitamin D, the way humans do. They get all the vitamin D they need from the fat and liver of their prey animals.
Corn snakes don’t need plant chemicals like beta-carotene that people and some animals get from plants.
Their prey animals have already used those phytonutrients to make the vitamins that the corn snake needs to stay healthy.
You might wonder “But doesn’t my snake get bored eating the same thing all the time?”
Actually, snakes never get tired of eating mice. That is because of the way a snake’s brain responds to the heat and scent of food.
Even the gentlest corn snake becomes agitated when it senses the heat signature or the scent of food.
When a potential food object is about three feet away, and its temperature is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a number of sudden changes take place in your snake’s body:
- Your corn snake’s heart starts pumping blood about four times faster than normal. It expands as it beats faster.
- Your corn snake’s lungs take in about five times as much air as they usually do. This allows the snake to continue to breathe when it constricts and then eats its food.
- Your corn snake’s brain activates RNA to begin coding new proteins just as soon as the amino acids are digested from the prey animal.
When your corn snake even senses food, it is ready to spring into action. It is never a good idea to get between a hungry corn snake and what it senses as its next meal.
But there can be a problem if your corn snake senses heat from your fingers but not from its food.
How to Feed Your Corn Snake Safely
Bites from hungry snakes can be painful.
When a corn snake nips at you to tell you it wants to be left alone, it will use just a few teeth on one side of its mouth.
These teeth will usually not break the skin. You might not feel a thing. Defensive bites almost never cause injuries.
Feeding bites, on the other hand, can do serious harm to snake owners.
When a snake bites you because you got between it and its food, or maybe because it thought you were the food, it uses all of its teeth.
They stick into your skin. Your snake can’t let go even if it wants to, because its teeth are shaped like fishhooks, designed to pull food into the throat.
Your pet corn snake’s teeth are designed to make sure food does not escape.
You have to pull your snake’s mouth off your body, breaking its teeth (they’ll grow back) and breaking your skin in the process.
For your safety and for the safety of your snake, you need to avoid feeding bites.
Fortunately, avoiding bites from your corn snake while it is feeding just takes a little advanced preparation.
- If you have two or more corn snakes, separate them before you start feeding them. You don’t want two snakes trying to “ambush” the same food animal. One of them is sure to miss, and they may accidentally bite the other snake or you instead.
- Invest in a second enclosure that you use just for feeding your corn snake. This way, it will never suppose that your hand is part of its meal, when you reach into its enclosure to pet it or to take it out. It will only become excited about food when it is in the other cage.
- You should be fully clothed when you feed your corn snake. Clothing obscures your heat signature. It is a good idea to wear long sleeves, and, the first few times you feed a new pet corn snake, protective gloves.
- Never dangle food in front of your snake with your fingers. Use metal tongs, so it strikes at the tongs, not at your fingers.
- Always approach your snake’s enclosure slowly, even when you are bringing it food. Snakes get defensive when they are approached by fast-moving mammals, including their owners.
- Lower the prey animal to the snake’s level from the side, not directly above its mouth. Corn snakes instinctively try to protect themselves from large animals that approach them from above.
- Give your corn snake about 15 minutes to swallow its meal. Then gently transfer it back to its cage so it can begin the process of digestion.
Why Mice Are the Best Food for Captive Corn Snakes
As mentioned earlier, mice provide complete nutrition for corn snakes. There are no corn snake gourmets.
Corn snakes need complete nutrition, but they get all of their nutrients from a well-fed mouse.
However, there is another reason that you should feed your pet corn snake mice from the very first feeding and never offer anything else.
Suppose the first time you feed your new pet corn snake you offer it some animal that you may not be able to get on a regular basis.
That might be a newborn rabbit, a lizard, or a frog. Your corn snake may get the idea that it is the only kind of food it can eat.
Corn snakes can become picky eaters.
They may not grow as fast as they should. Some corn snakes will starve if they are not offered familiar food. So, make sure they are familiar with mice!
Your corn snake can only swallow food that is slightly wider than its head. For this reason, give your hatchling corn snake a pinky mouse for its first meal.
As your corn snake grows, give it a hopper mouse, and then larger mice, or maybe two or three mice.
Other foods are OK if you run out of mice, for instance, if your freezer goes out and the frozen mice you bought at the pet store go bad.
But always try to give your pet corn snake foods with which it is familiar.
What About Reptilinks for Corn Snakes?
Reptilinks are a commercial reptile food product made from a mixture of ground mouse, duck, rabbit, frog, and other meats.
They are scented to give your snake the sensation of eating a prey animal.
People who are squeamish about feeding their pet snakes whole animals, or who hate handling mice, may prefer to use them.
But make sure your corn snake will eat Reptilinks before you give up feeding mice.
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