Wait... This Site is Dedicated to Herping... Why are you starting a Series of Care Guides?
If herpetology is botany, than herp husbandry is horticulture. - Ty Smith 2024
This is a bit outta left field I am sure, but we have all been to numerous facilities such as museums, parks, and nature centers and have sometimes been amazed and sometimes horrified of exhibits. These education exhibits are often people's first, real introduction at a species. These experiences are crucial to educating people on these animals, and how important they are to the ecosystem. For snakes especially, is one of, if not the best way, to get people over their fears and to stop the vilification of snakes. That said, there has been a huge disconnect between people who care for these animals, and people who find these animals in the wild. There are many ways to display an animal and give it all it needs. That said, we need to make sure we are telling the story that we want to. For example, a glass box with two inches of aspen shavings, a cat's water bowl, two black-plastic hides, and a plastic bin (with a hole cut in) full of wet sphagnum moss provides pretty much all of a Cornsnakes "needs" (I will go more in depth later), but does it make a connection with nature? I do not think in most cases it does. The reaction from guest is often, "Oh, cool! They have a pet snake." What we want, is people to see that animal as if it was in nature. This isn't a "pet" but a piece of what this state has to offer. We want people to be awestruck about a beautiful animal in a beautiful setting.
Now, I will say straight forward, all care guides, including mine, are mostly opinion. Sure, they are all backed-up by facts. For example: In my opinion you should provide a water bowl, because the fact is your animal will die without water. You don't have to follow my advice to a "T", but at least listen to the reasoning behind it and account for these considerations accordingly. I am writing these not only to give guidance on displaying animal, but because care has changed a lot in even the ten years. I have worked for state parks, and I see animals pretty much passed down to "generations" of new rangers as well as the care information. Often rangers are trained to care for the animal as part of their job, but often we see rangers are listening to what they were taught, and not exploring newer care information. This is why I have been places, not just state parks, and have seen care guides from 1992 laying around offices. Almost all of the science of the 90's for herp care was pretty much: "I did this, and it died. Don't do that. I did this, and it didn't die. This is okay." Now we have learned more, and we understand these animals so much more. There is still a lot of trial and error studies, but it is not as dangerous to the animals and we have had over 30 years worth of it since then. The internet has made care information so much more available as well. What makes me very angry however, is going to a big-box store and seeing a outdated, minimalistic care guide because they want to sell an animal to a child. It truly bothers me when these store treat animals this way. Many are very anti-breeding of the animals they are selling, yet they are usually buying them from "farms" which are usually the the equivalent to puppy mills but for Bearded Dragons. On top of this, activist groups support these places because of the general misinformation they are fed by the media and these chains. Get your animals from a reputable breeder, or good local pet store that buys from breeders or wholesalers that buy from breeders. These people care about the animals, and care for the animals enough to answer your questions.
I really don't want to see educator get turned on by animal advocacy groups or worse, face charges for animal neglect. There is always some self-righteous individual who wants you to lose your animals. Whether they don't think animals should be kept as pets or they just want to troll. I hope to share some tips to keep you out of legal trouble. That said, some people are delusional, and will provoke situations out of such delusions or, worse yet, for fun. A lot of snake keepers stopped selling snake sheds (usually to jewelry makers), because activism groups would buy them and stage them in malls, mailboxes, and other public spaces in hopes that the public outrage of a large or venomous animal on the loose would lead to the banning of the reptile keeping hobby. This is the same type of misinformation pushing that leads people to think all of the Burmese Pythons in Florida are discarded pets. That is not what the hobby is about, and while there is a few bad apples, most people strive to keep their animals happy and healthy. Drunk drivers kill many people in the US every year, but we don't ban drinking or driving because not everyone who drinks alcohol or drives a car is a hurting anyone or anything. We want to keep this kind of drama out of our nature centers. We want to be the most professional and safest "drivers" on the reptile-keeping road.
Introduction to the Cornsnake
Their other name is/was the Red Ratsnake, which I think was much better, but what do I know... Speaking of names, you may see in some places the scientific name is Elaphe guttata, which sorta rhymes with "Hakuna Matata", but unfortunately after some genetic research scientist discovered that North American, Central American, and Eurasian Ratsnakes are not that closely related, and evolving to hunt rats and birds is a very common evolutionary path for colubrid snakes to take... So, in short, Elaphe now only contains the Eurasian or "Northern Ratsnakes" while our Eastern US species are all now of the genus Pantherophis. While Pantherophis guttatus is definitely harder to substitute into late 90's Disney songs than the old name, it is the current scientific name of the Cornsnake. That said, let's debunk more throughout the care guide.
The first infuriating piece of old information I want to... well, vent about for a second is the enclosure size. There are old and "current" care guides that will say the minimum enclosure size is a 20 gallon long. I never understood this after I got my first Cornsnake, and yes this was the "correct" way of thinking ten years ago. Cornsnakes often get around four feet in length, with males averaging slightly longer than the heavier females. Keep in mind that is the baseline average and is the equivalent of saying the average US male is 5'9". There are cases of captive and wild Cornsnakes reaching six feet in length. Now, you mean to tell me a snake four or more feet in length, should ever be kept in a glass box measuring 30"x12"x12" (we measure enclosures length x width x height)? Doesn't that feels like stuffing a 5'9" man in a 3'6" coffin? Granted the way snakes are built, a large Cornsanke is not really a large animal, and can easily curl-up under a baseball cap. The thought was as well that, being a snake, they weren't very active (funny how being kept in a small, glass box with no stimulation can make an intelligent animal inactive).
I recommend no less than a 4'x2'x2' (this is a 120 gallon equivalent) enclosure for an adult Cornsnake. This still might sound small, but when your see how big this size enclosure is and how small a large Cornsnake is, it does work. That said, more is always better. At least the snake will have close to six feet across the diagonals to stretch out. This size enclosure is easy to find online, and I am not the only person suggestion this be the minimum. Cornsnakes are also semi-arboreal. I fully believe if you have the space to go 4'x2'x4' you will be surprised how much they enjoy climbing. Despite what we thought in the 1990's, Cornsnakes are very active and curious snakes.
For hatchling Cornsnakes, I do however recommend a 20 gallon long. There is a "new" thought that upgrading enclosures for reptiles as they grow is somewhat unnecessary, and for some herps I agree, but I totally disagree with this on Cornsnakes. It is not because a baby Cornsnake cannot get from warm to cold to the water bowl fast enough to not dies, because they are fast little noodles. It is for two reasons. First, unless you use newspaper for substrate, good luck finding a ten inch snake (less than the width of a pencil) in a 1,152 square inch enclosure when it is swimming away from you in the bedding. Second, these enclosures are meant for larger animals, and may have gaps for cords that a "spaghetti noodle" can escape through. Oh, and maybe I forgot to say it, but a good, secure, screen lid with some kind of locking mechanism is a 100% must have. Some enclosures have the lid built in and unremovable. I like this. Two "doors" are harder to remember to keep locked than one. The enclosure shouldn't feel like a prison cell, but it should me more secure than a prison cell.
Now, most snakes, while enjoying to peep out of their window and see you, like privacy. We jokingly call snakes noodles. I am sure hawks, raccoons, foxes, and other predators do as well, but for different reasons... Being afraid of predators is a natural, subconscious feeling? We has humans in Virginia have no predators. That said, why are so many people afraid of what hides in the dark? Are they subconsciously afraid of hidden predators even though they, nor their parents, nor even their grandparents probably had to fight off an animal trying to eat them... Other than maybe mosquitoes... but our pets have the same fears. How do we mitigate these fears? First, hawks (well same concept at least), foxes, Bobcats all will pounce a snake. So, in a snake's mind death hails from above. It is quite scary for the animal to have a giant towering over them and suddenly they are grabbed from above. Not everything coming from the ground level is a threat for a snake. Front opening enclosures have in my experience alway yielded less defensive snakes, and snakes more willing to "come out to play". We have to remember, snakes have emotions. They may not be as complex as ours, but they are used to convey how that animal is feeling. Fear and frustration are bad emotions we are going to address all through this article. A fearful snake is a defensive snake, and a defensive snake is not great to handle.
We can also help keep these animals more comfortable by blacking out all but the front of the enclosure. Then, they can see out, you can see in, but they don't feel like they are being as watched. Would you rather live near a highway in a house that the only window is a picture window, or an all glass house? Also, make sure the enclosure has ample ventilation. Mold is not caused by humidity as much as stagnant air.
Conventional care guides are going to give your conventional substrates for Cornsnakes, but you are an educator that is displaying the habitat of a local snake in a local habitat. So, I am throwing aspen shavings and newspaper out of the equation and we are talking bioactive. This means we are creating a micro-ecosystem in the substrate to help with keep it natural and cleaner than you would normally have at a petstore. First and foremost, you will need real soil. Not coconut husk, not mulch. I hate hearing people say how "natural" mulch is. Where have you ever visited and found the ground to be 100% mulch? A flowerbed? A playground? Loggers chip and mulch clear-cuts. These don't sound very natural do they? It is almost like the microbes in the soil digest natural mulch very quickly, giving it to the soil... Passive-aggressiveness aside, you can buy Reptisoil at a petstore, or you can use organic potting soil. If you use reptisoil (which cost more), I recommend mixing organic compost (another expense) into it. I just like to cut cost and use a high-quality organic potting soil. I like to put a good amount in a bucket, and mix it with a ratio of about 3:1 soil to sand; not that I measure it... I am kind of like your grandma baking a cake with it... Nature doesn't have perfect, equal blend so don't feel bad. You can also mix some desert substrate in, like Exo Terra "Desert Stone". To replicate the clay and stones found in your soils. I personally like to mix in some lump charcoal (not briquettes as they are bound by toxic chemicals to encourage combustion), to cut down on the smell and add a different source of carbon for the clean-up crew. Mix it in a your bucket and then spread it in the enclosure. You don't have to mix it perfect. Rocks and soils erode shift meaning not all areas are perfectly blended. I recommend a good 2-3 inches of soil at least, deeper for live plants. When placing plants or decor in the enclosure, now is a good time. Then I like to crunch dry leaves into tiny pieces, and sprinkle them a handful of untreated cypress mulch. Then I like to rake it all in a little with my fingers.
Now we can add the botanicals. These can be collected from the forest near you that you know is pesticide-free. You can sterilize these of pest and fungi in an oven on low heat (research this practice so you don't burn your house down). Leaf litter, twigs, mosses (don't sterilize it in the oven, but you can soak it in water for a day to kill mites), spent seed pods (Trumpet Creeper, Magnolia, Eastern Redbud, etc.), or the like are all good choices. Avoid cedar, as it is toxic. Collected leaves should be dropped autumn leaves and not freshly picked. This is to help your clean-up crew, as they chemistry of these leaves are different. Variety is the spice of life. I have never been in a forest and saw one type of leaf on the ground. Leaves blow around and mix as well. That said, leaf piles are not all perfect mixtures, so a large "accent leaf" can be quite aesthetically appealing. If using decor like cork rounds, I will sprinkle some extra mulch in and around them to replicate deteriorating wood.
You can now safely release your clean-up crew, and I suggest temperate springtails and isopods. You can sometimes find these at pet stores, but definitely online. So, what do these guys do? Springtails feed mainly on mold, feces, and decomposing leaves. Having a strong springtail colony will help keep mold outbreaks at bay. If your colony is large enough, they can outcompete Fungus Gnats, which are an annoying little pest... They probably already live in your home, but you will find out as soon as you have a potted plant or box of soil with with an animal living in it. Anyway, the springtails will also clean-up after the isopods as well.
So, what kind of isopods should you use? Well, you can't go wrong with Porcellionides pruinosus. Many call this species the "Powdered Blue Isopod", particularly the wild-type, but "Powdered orange", "Oreo Crumble", "White-out", and "Orange Cream" are some of the well known morphs of this species. Some Porcellio species may do better due to their higher tolerance to dry conditions. That said, no isopods will survive if there is not a moist, mossy area at all times. I currently am using Porcellio laevis 'Dairy Cow' (scientific name subject to change) and have had no issues. This species is known to be an aggressive eater, and many fear they may nibble on their animals, but I have never seen them chew on any type of animal material that was alive. That said, they will demolish a shed in hours, as will the Powdered Blues if in high numbers. This means, if you are partial to keeping a shed, you may want to remove the shedding snake and put it in a temporary bin to shed. Both of these species are active, and "protein-loving". This means though they will stay near their humid area most of the time, they will be drawn out to the other side for a delicious meal of... well, snake poop...
I would not recommend the Dwarf White Isopod (Trichorhina tomentosa), because they are small and more fossorial, meaning you will get a good colony under your humid spot, but not on the dry end. They are so small, they aren't going to run to the other end to feed. If you really want to use this species, I recommend putting at least six-eight inches of soil to get a good moisture gradient on the dry end. This will allow them to move up and down in the soil a few inches for food and moisture, and not several feet across the enclosure.
By the way, if any of these invertebrates escape, they will die quickly without a wet spot, meaning these will not run-loose and take over the building in which they are kept.
Heating and Lighting
Let's just knock the controversial part out real quick. Here are some quick facts. Consnakes do not need UVB lighting to live a full life. UVB lighting has been shown to help boost the levels of vitamin D3 of Cornsnakes astronomically. D3 is very important for the calcium intake of the animal. Calcium is very important for not just the bones, but blood, muscle growth, metabolism, and general pH balance of the animal. There is a huge debate over if UVB lighting is therefore essential or just beneficial for these animals. Now, in my opinion, no matter where you fall in this debate, it seems you should give your animal access to UVB. They are in our care, and we love them, so why not give them something that benefits them greatly. I recommend a T5 bulb marketed as a "shade dweller" or "tropical". I will recommend something else here, that someone will get upset about, but hear me out. Many people will recommend for most reptiles to have a UVB that extends the full length of the enclosure. I don't recommend that. In nature animals bask in direct UVB for a few hours, and then they go about their day (many avoiding the sun and heat altogether). Have you ever been riding in a car with the windows down, and noticed though the thermometer read a comfortable temperature in your car, it felt 10-20 degrees fahrenheit hotter. That us UV exposure from the sun. Getting out of the UV exposure at times is important for your animal, and if the entire enclosure is UV light, they will stay in their hides or under the substrate constantly. Many people argue that there is UV in the shade as well, and their is, but a lot less and none under leaves, rocks, logs, and underground. The animal knows what UV is, and if it needs UV, it will sit in the UV light.
So, I recommend keeping a two-foot UVB strip on the "warm-side" of the enclosure. With Cornsnakes, you can get away with a coil as well, as long as it is in a cage in the enclosure so the snake can "coil" in the UBV projection.
Now, when I say warm-side, it is common knowledge that most reptiles need a thermogradient, and we dumb-it-down to a "warm-side" (with a basking site) and a "cool-side" (with a humid site) with a spectrum in-between. I like to have the basking site somewhere within a foot of the sidewall of the enclosure. There is two ways to handle this. First, you can use a heat lamp. If you go this route, I recommend having it in a cage in the enclosure, or hanging over the screen-top a few inches. The domes concentrate the heat downwards, and that is fine, but the snake can get too close to the bulb and burn itself if the dome sits on the screen. In a lightcage, there is no dome, so it radiates evenly and means a snake can get closer before it gets burned, but can't get that close do to the cage around the bulb. You can also use a heat pad under the enclosure. This simplifies things a bit, but does not offer natural lighting. Either route you go, heat sources should be kept on a thermostat.
Now, don't stress about temperatures too much. If you check the temperature and it is 89 F on the basking site, you are not abusing your animal. In nature, there is no such thing as a constant temperature. If you have your temperature gradient throughout the enclosure, your snake will find a comfortable temperature for it. As long as it is not so hot that your animal would get burned, don't panic. If you use a light, cut it on in the morning, and check the temperature of the basking site after an hour it may be 83 F. If you check it when you turn-it-off at night, the site may be 88 F. This is normal. The temperatures tend to get hotter as the day progresses, and as long as there is a cooler retreat, your snake is fine. If you see after an hour it is 86 F and when you check it before turning-off the light at night and it is 92 F, repeat it a couple more days. If after three days, it is consistently high, dial down the thermostat a couple degrees and check it for a few more days.
Now, radical activist are a real concern. I don't mean your typical animal lovers, but the "animals in captivity is slavery" people. Many of these people do not understand how care works in depth, and they will google temperature parameters when they see a thermometer displayed in the enclosure. At 86 F they may use it as a reason to become confrontational or file a complaint. Furthermore, those "disk" thermometers/hygrometers that suction-cup to the glass are notoriously inaccurate. To make them worse, people hang them on the glass in a random part of the enclosure... If you know your basking and cool-side temperatures, there is no real need to know what is in-between. I recommend using either two digital thermometers with probes or use a temp-gun. If you go the digital route, place one probe on the basking site and the other on the cool side, and keep the outputs somewhere guest cannot see. The best solution in my opinion is a temp-gun. Then you can quickly check the temperature anywhere in the enclosure you like, and you don't have to hide probes and cords. These temp-guns run about $15 and can be found online or at a hardware store.
After setting up the lighting, you will notice that half of the enclosure is not lit. Your snake does not care, and in all actuality, probably loves this shady area. If you can't stand it, or want to grow plants on the cool-side, you can supplement light with a grow-light for plants or a LED. Grow-lights can be intense, but the plants will give shade for your snake. LEDs are great for lighting, but I would still set-up your decor with some shade in mind.
Some people like to keep lights on a timer, and some people like to cut them on and off themselves to make sure they are monitoring the enclosure daily. Do what suits you, but a consistent 10-14 hour day-time period is important. These snakes are active in Virginia from April through October. You can use the light outside as guidance if you like, or maybe you want to see your snake at 10pm and you aren't worried about seeing it at 10 am and you can adjust accordingly. What I wouldn't recommend is cutting it on and off at random times. For example don't cut it on 10am-8pm one day and then 8am-7pm the next. Give the animal a consistent cycle. You can shorten or lengthen it a few minutes at a time (like the real sun) to imitate the seasons. This can be beneficial, though its probably not necessary.
Humidity and Water
Cornsnakes are generally found in dry areas, but this doesn't mean they like it bone dry. Granted, too much moisture will cause scale rot. Luckily, like in nature, these snakes are not mindless animals and can regulate their humidity needs as they can heat if given options. I keep most of the enclosure (2/3rds) dry. This replicates the surface of their natural habitat. That said, there are microhabitats in their general habitat that hold more moisture like leaves, tunnels, rotting logs, and under rocks. I have noticed the large rock next to Ash's basking site naturally holds moisture under it, and even though it is 80 degrees, it is still humid enough from my occasional mistings for the isopods to hang-out as well as Ash will burrow under there occasionally. General wisdom has said to keep a humid hide on the cool-side, but when we are herping, we find sometimes snakes want warmer, humid places. So, a warm, humid microhabitat can be just as desired by the snake depending on its circumstances. I think it is optimal to do both a humid hide on the warm-side and the cool-side. Keep in mind that hatchlings are much quicker to dry-out (and die) than adults.
Humid hides can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. You can cut a hole in a tub, fill it with damp sphagnum, and bury it in a corner to hide it. You can take a normal hide and fill it with sphagnum. I like to put some sphagnum or peat in the soil in a corner, and put a pile of leaves over it on the cool-side for the isopods and the snake. If you have a live plant that needs good moisture, you can mix sphagnum or peat in the soil around it and cover the soil with leaves, and this will also make a very natural humid refuge. You can take a cork-round and fill it with damp cypress mulch to replicate a rotting log. There is just so much you can do. Just monitor these and make sure they stay moist (not soggy) and don't start growing mold.
For water, conventional wisdom will say to give them a bowl big enough to soak their whole body in. This information predates the humid hide, as the snake would soak in the water dish to aid with shedding. That said, I have never seen a Cornsnake that seemed to prefer soaking in a water dish over laying in a moist log. I think it may well be unnecessary to have a bowl that large for this species, but I do it anyway. In nature, if they wanted to soak they can, and it doesn't hurt anything in the enclosure, so why not... There are many naturalistic water bowls on the market, so find one that fits your build the best. Keep clean water in the enclosure at all times.
Ambient humidity is important for many reptiles, but I don't think it is as important for Cornsnakes. When I Googled "ambient humidity for Cornsnake", the top three answers are "65-75%", "40-60%", and "30-40%"... Well, our average humidity in VA is about 78%. Cornsnakes can be found in many humid and drier places in the eastern US, so I feel these numbers are pretty much taken from people who care for these animals, and more along the lines of "reports" than real guidelines. Many people probably keep their Cornsnakes at 30-40% with a humid hide, and have no problems, and others probably keep them at 70-80% also with no issues. If you are in Cornsnake range, your ambient humidity is probably fine unless you are running a dehumidifier. I have never dwelled on ambient humidity for this species, and I have never had an issue with respiratory infections or poor shedding.
I like to mist the enclosure every-so-often. You probably want me to say to mist x number of times per week, but that is not exactly how it should work. I probe the humid hides with my fingers, and if the feel like they are getting too dry, I spritze them with water. Never allow the hides to dry out completely, but don't keep them soggy. When it rains, I like to mist the whole enclosure just to simulate the moisture and humidity that comes with the change in air pressure. That said, if it rains for days at a time, I only mist it once, as to not oversaturate the enclosure. This also gives the isopods some time that they can travel out of their hides to clean-up scraps.
Cornsnakes come in contact with a lot of textures in nature. It is a good idea to give many different items for your snake to interact with in its enclosure. Cork-rounds are excellent hides as well as climbing surfaces. They are mold-resistant, and can be stuffed with humid materials too. These can be stood up, to look like stumps or laid-over like logs. There are many plastic rocks and logs on the market as well that do fine. Real rocks and logs can be collected from your local forest and sanitized in the oven at low heat.
Feeding and Health
I believe the dietary needs Cornsnakes are far more complicated that people suggest. We talk about how important a varied diet is in every reptile except for snakes. Literally, every guide just suggest feeding straight mice. But what do they eat in the wild? Well, the majority of their adult diet is small mammals and most sources will say "rodents". While rodents such as mice, rats, voles, and chipmunks are on the table, other mammals such as moles, shrews, and roosting bats are common prey items as well. That is not to mention bird eggs and chicks, and lizards. In fact, some sources suggest juvenile Cornsnakes primarily feed on lizards. While I can't find any real percentages, I would be shocked if more than 80% of the Cornsnake diet was small mammals, and maybe 40% actual mice. Now, don't get me wrong, that is a huge chunk of the diet, but that is also a huge chunk we are missing. Adult mice are incredibly fatty compared to lizards and birds. I don't even know where shrews fall dietarily, but they have an incredibly high metabolism, so they are probably quite lean... I always believe, when it comes to organisms that eat a variety of prey items, variety is the spice of life. Also, I doubt a fat, captive House Mouse is leaner than a wild White-footed Mouse... To me, it seems these fatty foods are part of why Cornsnakes get so obese in captivity.
Quail eggs can be a really good treat once in a while. I do it between feedings as well, as though they are packed with protein, calcium, and other good stuff, they are not really meal-sized.
I used to feed live mice, but I have switched to purely frozen-thawed. I could hand-feed every Cornsnake I have ever feed frozen-thawed prey without fear of getting bitten (but I don't recommend you try). The live-prey-fed snakes will strike and constrict any thing mistaken for food. Frozen-thawed prey will not defend itself either. Now, if you lose power for an extended time, throw-out the frozen mice if they thawed. I once had two snakes die after a feeding, and all I could figure is it was where we had lost power four times earlier that year, and we missed some mice in the freezer and fed them to the snakes. I was heart-broken, and I am now paranoid about this. We keep all of our mice in a plastic bin now, and if we lose power, it gets dumped.
It can be really hard to judge a snake to determine if it is obese. One must pay close attention to the fine details until he/she has seen enough to really make a judgement right away. It's infuriating though when someone looks at a health animal and claims they are too skinny. If you keep any animals, you will hear this eventually. There is a large group of people that think if an animal isn't obese, it's underweight. Think of the dogs where people grimace at the sight of seeing the dogs ribs. You are supposed to be able to see a dog's ribs. It is when you can see the vertebra and other bones you have a problem. Many people think it is cute to overfeed animals and make them "hecking chonkers". It is not cute, it is abuse. Obesity is a disease for a reason, and all the issues it causes in humans, it causes in our pets. Let's look at some snakes to judge a good BMI.
The snakes above demonstrate different BMIs. The snake on the left (captive) is underweight. Notice the way the skin looks to fold in the coils, and how the vertebra forms a distinct keel down the back. The middle snake (wild) is a good weight for an adult. The snake on the right (captive) is obese. Note how it looks tubular, the white skin can be seen between scales, the head looks small (compared to the middle snake), and there is a pinch at the vent separating the body and tail. If you take a cross-section of a Cornsnake, it should look like a slice of bread and not tubular.
No one talks exercise with snakes. In the wild, Cornsnakes are active predators. They climb trees, open-ground travel, and explore rodent burrows. In captivity they don't exercise much. Get your snake out a couple times a week, handle it, don't stress it out, but let it climb all over you or something safe. Don't let them get away from you outside, but you can take them out to get real sun and exercise on tree trunks and the like. Playground equipment (that isn't too hot or cold) can be a great "jungle gym" to play on. Of course, don't take your snake out when it is 95 degrees, nor when it is 50 degrees. 65-90 F is probably a good window. Keep and eye out for any holes, as they can shoot-down a burrow quickly. You don't want to lose your snake, especially outside.
Do you have a vet for your Cornsnake? You need to. That said, they are bullet-proof and I have not had to take a Cornsnake to a vet, but health problems can arise. You could however find yourself in a pickle though, as mouth infections, upper-respiratory infections, and egg-binding can be an issue among many other things. Monitor your snake daily. If you notice your snake is acting unusual for several days, and it is not be caused by seasons' change (they may slow down fall-winter naturally), take them to a vet. If you see discharge from the eyes, mouth, nose, see a vet.
If an animal refuses a meal, this is no big deal, just skip the meal and try on the next scheduled date. If it misses three meals and is visibly losing weight, take it to the vet. Cornsnakes don't go on hunger strikes in my experience. Ball Pythons may go on six month hunger strikes with no issue, but everytime one of my Cornsnakes rejects food, there was a reason. They may not eat around shedding, and that is normal.
If you are trying new foods, they may not eat. Unless your snake is underweight, don't cave in and give them what they want. I will usually thaw the reptilinks with a mouse to get the scent on them. I will try three times (an 30-60 minutes apart each time). If they don't take it, then too bad. We will try again next time. You have to give them some tough love, as you do to get kids to eat vegetables. A Cornsnake missing a meal, is about like you missing 2pm snack-time. Two meals is about like missing lunch.
Wait at least two days after feeding to handle the snake. Handling too early may trigger the snake to regurgitate food. If your snake regurgitates a meal, wait 7-10 days before trying to feed it again.
The clean-up crew will not solve all of your problems. They are not going to eat the white, powdery uric acid you see in your snake's poop. But they will get the juices and other materials your normal spot-cleaning misses. Obviously, you don't want to leave a big pile of snake feces out in the enclosure for guest to see. Occasionally poke-around the enclosure for any missed feces and to check for mold, mites, and that your clean-up crew is healthy. I have luckily never had a mite issue, but that doesn't mean you won't. Consult your vet on how to handle mites.
Eventually, your soil will run out of the materials that your isopods need and nitrogen will build up. If you have plenty of live plants, you won't face this issue normally. If you don't, you may need to change about 1/3-1/2 of the substrate per year.
Wrap-up... (Pun Intended)
So, I thought I would rate these animals' needs on a scale of 1-10 in our ten care categories and give them a "report card". I did a few (top right) for you to compare this animal to. Now animal will likely ever get a perfect score on everything, and a perfect score pretty much means it probably doesn't get any better. Now there is more to what an animal great than what I have included here, and you should take that into consideration. The point is, a Cornsnake is a much easier animal to take care of than a dog or cat. So, how does the Cornsnake rank?
Ty (the SnakeMan) Smith
Ty is a Master Naturalist (with over 1,000 hours of volunteer service), former State Park Naturalist, and Virginia Herpetological Society (VHS) member with an expertise in East Coast Herp identification and southeastern species habitat/distribution.
Herping Virginia encourages all naturalists to practice ethical, safe, and sustainable herping. The use of proper herping methods and techniques is beneficial to both wildlife and herpers. Visit the links below for more information.