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Pantherophis guttatus (Linnaeus, 1766)

Corn snake, red corn snake
guttata: Corn snake
meahllmorum: Southern plains rat snake, southwestern rat rnake

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Ophidia
Superfamily: Xenophidia (Colubroidea)
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Colubrinae
Genus: Pantherophis
Specie: guttatus

Subspecies

Pantherophis guttatus guttatus (LINNAEUS, 1758)
Pantherophis guttatus meahllmorum (SMITH, CHISZAR, STALEY & TEPEDELEN 1994)

[Pantherophis guttatus emoryi, ex Elaphe guttata emoryi, has been raised as a stand alone species (Baird & Girard 1853)]

Geographical distribution and biology

Its areal extends from the south-oriental USA (from Texas, across Arkansas, Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, till Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey), northern Mexico. Few exemplars have been spotted in some island, such as Cayman, US Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Antigua, St. Bartélmy (POWELL & HENDERSON 2003).

It lives in different biotipes: pinewoods, woods, agricultural areas, swamps, rocky areas, city outskirts. It lives both on ground that on shrubbery, due of its good climbing abilities, and uses as dens rock interstices, abandoned rodents holes (often after eating the previous dweller), hollow trees and trunks.
It has twilight and nocturnal habits, that however may vary during the seasons (colder seasons corresponds to a more diurnal activity, instead warmer seasons bring to a mainly nocturnal activity).

Pantherophis guttatus eats mainly small mammals, such as mouse, rats of suitable dimensions, sometimes even small birds, as chicks and nestlings, in young age even small reptiles and amphibians.

Description

It is a Colubridae of a certain dimension, between 100 and 130 cm, even if there are not so rare cases of some snakes over 150 cm long. Snakes we are breeding since now are all 110-115 cm to 120 cm long. Newborn babies measured 20-30 cm, with a weight of 4-6 g, but it is not rare to reach 10g.

The head is small, and not so different from the body. Teeth are conic shape and not so developed, eye do not protrude and they have a round pupil.
The body color ranges over grey to brown, and even different grades of red and orange. On the back there are the typical saddle drawing, and on the sides shield-like. The color of those drawing are general red, brown or purpura, and often around the saddles it can be seen a black surround, that may be thin or very bold.
The belly is white, o reddish, orange-like, generally white on the first third o half of the body. The lower part of the belly is darker than the first half. On the belly there is a black checkered pattern, well defined on the first half and more confused on the lower belly. In some cases those checker are well defined on all the belly, in some morphs they are completely missing.

The tail is medium length, prehensile, more thick on the males, in which can be seen the typical hemipenal bulge next to cloaca, females have a shorter tail, more regular. This is the only evident distinguish of sexual dimorphism.
Scales are smooth.

It exists some geographical variants (locality) of this Pantherophis guttatus, and many coloured morphs (many kind of amelanism, ipomelanism, 2 type of anerythism, and other morphs concerning on the main coloration, such as the amount of red color, or orange and yellow, and all the combinations) and even pattern (motley, striped, cubed, bloodred, banded, zig-zag, aztec…), without forgetting all combination of both color and pattern.

Terrarium and care

It is a very active animal, so it needs a large terrarium, even if it stands housing in a rack.

As decor, other than the water bowl as big as the snake coiled, one or more hidings, better if displaced on different side of the terrarium, some sticks, so that it can be seen crawling during the night, overlooking for prey.
Every material is suitable as substratum, except dusty and resinous ones. We are using paper, more practical and easy to change, leaving the snake in perfect hygienic condition.

Average temperature must be kept between 26-27 °C, better if with a gradient so that the snake can thermoregulate from cold spot to warm spot. Most of the breeders keep the temperature fix al the day. We prefer to make them fall by 2°C during the night. Humidity must be kept at standard values, not so dry, not so wet, in order to avoid breathing problems, shedding issues and dermatitis. (I.E. Standard humidity of temperate areas, plus the evaporation of the water bowl, will be more than suitable for the snake).

Breeding

Breeding is simple, and can happen even in bad conditions. Sexual maturity is reached very soon on this snakes. But to avoid dystocia (the female can’t eject the eggs, risking its life), is better to wait to 3 years old, and a weight of 300g.
Males sometimes are ready after one year and half, but in general, they are ready after 2 years.

This species comes from temperate areas, is better to put the snake ready to breed to hibernation. It consist in a period of life at low temperature, simulating the cold season. Animals to hibernate must be in perfect physical conditions, and after 2 weeks from the last meal, so that the stomach is empty and there aren’t any fecal material inside the body.

At winter or autumn time, we start reducing the average temperature, very slowly until we reach 13 °C – 15°C.

It is important to stay under 18°C, otherwise the metabolism of the snake will restart, and it will loss weight, risking its life. Sometimes, often with terrarium inside houses, is impossible to lower the temperature to those levels. So we can handle by moving the terrarium to the basement, or in another similar place, or after lowering the temperature as much as possible, move the snake to a box and then place it in the basement. Water must be always available, due to snake can drink.

Take control over the snake, in order to take back the temperature if the animal seems to not stand the hibernation. If necessary bring it to a veterinary. Reached the suitable temperature, it must be kept for almost a month, better two. After, in a very slow and graduate way, we bring the temperature back to standard values.

After this “winter” period, we can start feeding the snake, better with small prey at first time, in order to help the digestion. After few weeks, the female will take the “spring shedding” and it will be ready to breed.
In this period, females emits pheromones, and must be placed with the male. Courting will start immediately, and if the female is ready, the couple will start mating.

Is better to leave the couple for 2-3 days together, and then separate for the same time. Repeat this method for 2-3 times, so that the mating will bring to a success.
Some times the shedding after hibernation is not the “spring shedding” but a simple ones. In this case, the mate will fail. Is better to wait until the real “spring shedding” happens and then start with the procedure.

It is possible to have a mating without the hibernation, but it is an unnatural way, because hibernations is a physiological needs for these snakes. Results could not be greater without hibernation.

This happens because with hibernation, the snake have a physical restore. Follicles grow and sperm have more mobility. So we have more eggs, and the most are fertile.

Sometimes mating males refuse to eat, and females instead have personal habits that they repeat each time. Often they eat until the 4th week on pregnancy, others instead eat until the last shed before the lay. Others refuse to eat for all the gestation. In our experience, we have noticed all the behavior. Outstanding a female snow hi-yellow, eating all the times!
During gestation only small prey must be give, so that we can’t harm the embryos, and if the female refuse to eat, it must not be forced.

Pregnancy last for two months, and after a few weeks is possible to spot the grown of the female body, due to eggs. After this period, the snake make a shed, named “before-lay shed” and after 7-15 days the eggs will be layed. In our experience we noticed that lay take place between the 7th and the 10th day.
When the female start the shedding, we must insert the nest inside the terrarium. The snake will start entering and leaving the nest frantically after the shed, and then it will stay calm inside, one or two days before the lay. The nest can be build with every dark box with a hole on the top, large a little more of the snake. Inside the female will lay a total of 10 to 15 eggs, some times 30, it depends by the fitness, age and weight of the snake.
The eggs must be removed from the nest, gently moving the snake, that will be exhausted and skinny, and some times even aggressive, than moved to an incubator, in a box with a substrate of vermiculite or perlite suitably soaked, at a temperature of 27°C-28°C. We prefer using 27°c with a humidity rate of 80-85%, but this depends to the ventilation of the incubator.
After 55-60 days the babies will break the egg shell and in 1-2 days they will exit.

Babies weaning

After the hatching, baby will be housed in separated box, at 26°C-27°C. After 2 weeks they will take the first shed, and then they will start prey pinkies (newborn rats).
Those snakes dont bring so much problems during the weaning, eating even prekilled rats. If a baby refuse to eat, you can offer a brained pinkie (a prekilled one with the brain exposed, or try with a living one). Those methods works better if the snake is housed in a small box, so that during the night they prey can be easily be spotted. In rare cases forced alimentation is the only way to make the snake eat. Is a very stressing method, used only in extremely desperate cases. It consist in make the snake eat a pinkie, or a small piece of rat using tweezers.

Notes

Contained dimension of this species, environmental parameters not so demanding and the resistance to their variations, the calm behavior, and not for last, the huge amount of color variations, makes the Pantherophis guttatus (Elaphe guttata) a snake suitable both to newbies, that in this way can raise their skill and experience to then start keeping more exigent species, that to very keen breeders searching for a very beautiful snake.

Angelo Cabodi
Silvia Tangredi

Translated in English by Simone Marianelli

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