In this instructable, I'm going to give you an overview in what is involved in keeping your first pet snake, with particular reference to corn snakes. I am most knowledgeable about corn snakes, how ever because they quite like King snakes, and their living requirements are not dissimilar either.
I'm going to cover considerations before buying a snake, what to look for when buying your snake, housing and husbandry, feeding, and suitability as pets, and anything else that I think of as I go along. I think I shall write a bit about their origins as well.
Step 1: Considerations
before you rush out and buy a snake you have to consider a few things,
can you actually get one that has been bred in captivity in the first place? I dunno, you'll have to do the leg work
do you have the space? they don't take up much room, but it is a consideration.
breeder or store? - both will be able to offer support so it is a personal choice
Do you have the money? trips to the vet will be expensive (esp with reptiles), food is really cheap as is upkeep, so it does offset the vet care aspect, its more expensive to set up than anything generally though.
will you be ok with feeding such an animal? If you are really squeamish a snake isn't going to be for you, while they are small and they eat small food you may well be able to cope, but corn's can eat quite big fully formed mice so you have to be comfortable with feeding them dead/thawed mice
where will you get food for the snake? generally if it is a store brought snake they will have food you can give it and generally it's really cheap I get 10 fuzzy mice for about ÃÂÃÂ£4 ($7.95/$8) and that lasts squirm about 5 weeks currently. If you get the snake from a breeder they should be able to point you in the right direction.
can you get to a reptilian vet? Your regular vet is no good, most regular vets do not have much experience with reptiles, whilst most will just admit it, some won't want to admit they are out of their depth with such an animal and "have a go." It is therefore important you know you can get to a Reptilian Specialist, although they are generally more expensive!
do you have the time? to be honest snakes won't take up much time, but it is important you can feed it regularly change water on a daily or every other day basis.
they live for a long time 15 years on average and 20 isn't uncommon for a well looked after snake. are you going to be willing to look after it for that long?
I'm not trying to put you off with this list but they are all things that you must consider and be prepared to have to deal with if/when you need to, and finding out when you need to is not the way to go!
Step 2: orgins of the corn snake.
corn snakes are small snakes, descended from rat snakes and related to rattle snakes (although corns are completely non venomous)
the name corn snake, most likely comes from the fact that they hid in the corn cribs of native north American Indians, because mice eat corn, and corn cribs were often quite warm places, the Native north Americans have respect for these snakes, and were quite happy for them to reside in their corn cribs!
Corn snakes are native to the southern regions of the USA. their Latin name is Elaphe guttata guttata.
they are nocturnal but it is ok to wake them up during the day, but just don't keep them up all day (this is because they hunt at night, when they can't be seen by predators, small snakes may be quite shy.
Step 3: temperment
Corn snakes are very docile creatures, very calm and probably for that reason the best species of snake to keep as your first pet snake.
they will occasionally nip you, don't take it personally, they aren't the brightest animals out there! how ever there are reasons why they may do this, 1) you may smell of a prey item always wash your hands before handling the snake for this reason (its not fair to let them think that you have food) 2) they see you as a threat, this is most likely because you a putting your hand in the vivarium to fast so just slow down a bit, sometimes if a loud noise makes them jump similar results will be incurred.
they are great if you want to pass them around a bit, with kids and such as long as they are calm and quiet and don't startle the snake. some other snake species really don't like this!
temperament in corn snakes, and others such as rattle snakes varies from individual to individual, just like humans, some snakes will be very chilled and relaxed while others will be more on edge, and they do tend to mellow with age, youngsters tend to be more jumpy (they are more likely to end up as prey items)
they may do their business on you, don't take it personally, they just lack good bowel control and will go where ever, though again this gets better with age.
Step 4: selecting your snake
you want to select a healthy snake from the outset for a long and happy life.
generally you want to look for a snake that is aware of its surroundings and responds to them, is active when you handle it (if it is shedding it will be less active). If it is shedding it will be hard to know if it is an active snake or not so best leave it alone or come back another day once it has shed. they won't be very active during the day so don't expect any acrobatics.
make sure the mouth is closed, and that it is dry and there is nothing around the mouth, (if their is the snake may have mouth rot, and thats a vet trip right of the bat!)
Make sure the vent (anus) is closed and dry, unless it wants to go toilet on you!
close your hand around the snake and gently apply a little pressure once it has run through that hand open it, if you can see any little red or coffee coloured specs, the snake may well have snake mites, although these are easy to cure, it can be a sign that the snake may not be very well cared for and could lead to further problems.
Step 5: Housing
when you go to select a snake you may well notice that they live in rather small terrianums/vivariums (fancy words for different reptile houses). You may even think this is cruel, how ever it isn't because young snakes are scared of the outside and are in fact, agraphobic. so if you gave them a big open space, they would just hide under a rock or a log in the corner.
as a rule of thumb in terms of size, if the snake is more than twice the length of the house then it's time to upgrade, normally you will start off with a small house for the first year and then upgrade when the snake outgrows it, but after the first change ther is normally no need to ever change again. You could opt to keep another corn snake in the old house if you want!
You may well be able to buy a kit to start off with, this would be the ideal and would contain everything you need to get going. you may even save a bit of money this way. how ever if you can't you will need a terrianum, the kind i have with the sliding lid is pretty common, even for gerbils (although larger for gerbils). Also you need a couple of places for snake to hide I have a fake rock and a log both of which I brought from the specialist reptile centre up the road from me (how lucky am I?) when I got Squirm. A small thermometer is needed also. A drinking bowl, one intended for a hampster will do.
in terms of bedding, newspaper can be used but it is unsightly from a human point of view, and i can't imagine its that nice to slither around on. Your store or breeder should be able to advise you here, just don't go for cedar chippings/bark or what ever, its poisonous to corns.
husbandry - basically remove any poops and wee wees as you see them, or at least once a week. change bedding about once a month would be a good time frame. simple and not to time consuming either, when changing the bedding use a reptile safe disinfectant to clean the housing.
in terms of lay out please refer to the below pictures because it is so much easier than trying to type up!
Step 6: Feeding.
Feeding is an important thing, I'm also going to cover water here too.
First I'm going to cover water, there is some debate over if giving tap water is ok or if you should give distilled water or if you should use bottled water. personally I give squirm tap water that has been left to stand for 24 hours, I spoke to the people at the reptile rescue centre up the road about this, and one of the kind ladys there (who was a reptile vet at London zoo for 25 years) said that tap water is fine and She has never had any problems with using it.
feeding, ok so generally the best thing to do is to take the mice out of the freezer and allow them to stand until they are fully thawed out, using warm water can make them lose the scent that makes the snake go after them (watch cats, mine never seem to interested but you never know.) feed the snake in a seperate area to the normal living environment, two main reasons for this, if you are using a wood chipping substrate or similar, if the snake swallows this it may very well die as a result, secondly if you do, it will begin to assiate your hand with food and could strike you. Squirm does sometimes try to strike me when he's in his feeding box.
Have a seperate area for feeding, make sure it is quiet when you do this, because snakes feel very vulnerable when eating, so a noisy environment may put them off eating, make sure it is a clean environment wit hnothing loose they could acidently swallowed, a cheap plastic box from tesco/wallmart/asda somewhere like that will work wonderfully.
hold the prey item with tweezers, and dangle in frount of snake, it will after a while gain interest at this point put it infront of the snake, some may strike and coil around it to constrict it (have to make sure it really is dead) then eat. sometimes snakes won't be interested in eating, around shedding time for instance, so if you snake is shedding then (it will be darker in colour, look like it has been dipped in milk almost, have what some people call "blue eye") it may not want to eat, here are some other reasons
not hungry (obvious) - skip a feeding if this seems likely
over handling - handle less for a couple of days and try again
food or snake too cold - allow the snake to warm up first, or allow the food to reach room temp for an hour or so
changes in feeding environment - can be disturbing to a well routined snake, happened with squirm
food has lost scent - new mouse
if it does not apear to be the above take it to the vet
a few other things that may be helpful if the snake hasn't been eating for a period of time is tease feeding (this really seems to work) use the food to rub along the length of the body and tap the snake with it (not near the head) if you get some interest let the snake sniff it but not go for it, when you really have their interest let them take the food.
squirm eating, he is much younger in this video, hence why he seems smaller than the other photos, the music is really corny (no pun intended.) its a long video but It shows you good practice.
Step 7: Suitablity of cornsnakes as pets
As you can see from this instructable, corn snakes are quite happy to be left by themselves, handled quite regulary, friendly and docile so they make great pets.
in fact there is no reason why they shouldn't be a first pet for a child with the help of a responsable adult, and snake sheddings are great at show and tell I imagine!
IF you feel i have left anything out, please get in touch and I will try to help you as much as I can.