Snakes can make excellent pets but for a beginner I’d recommend starting with an easier, friendlier, and cheaper snake. A good example would be a corn snake, which also comes in a variety of colours. This guide will show you how to build and maintain a corn snake terrarium.
Corn snakes are also fairly common in stores so it shouldn’t be a problem finding one to purchase. In addition, their smaller size means that the terrarium does not need to be as large compared to other reptiles such as a green iguana.
Selecting a suitable corn snake terrarium
Fully grown corn snakes are almost 2 metres long (6 feet) so a 150 L (40 gallon) terrarium should suffice. We recommend that the terrarium be at least 1.5 metres long (5 feet) so your corn snake will be comfortable. We also advise having a second corn snake terrarium to hold your pet while you clean the main terrarium. Aquariums are a good choice but make sure that the lid of the terrarium is tightly fitted so no one can escape!
You also don’t want to have your corn snake terrarium too large as this can be stressful. You will need to place extra shelters and hiding spots in order to compensate for this increase in size. We will discuss shelters and hiding spots later on in this guide.
Larger terrariums will be needed for housing multiple corn snakes. And while it is possible, we don’t recommend it. This is due to the high chance of cannibalism, bullying, extra stress on one or more corn snakes, and even the spread of disease. If you still insist on using the same corn snake terrarium, we will provide advice later on how to improve the chances of survival of multiple corn snakes living together.
Furnishing your corn snake terrarium
You will need a substrate to layer the bottom of your corn snake terrarium with. There are various reptile carpets that you can purchase or you can opt to use bedding such aspen chips. Remember that you will need to replace loose substrates such as the chips. With carpet you will need to take it out when disinfecting/cleaning the terrarium and replace the carpet every other week.
Corn snakes are also known to enjoy burrowing so using chips also has the added benefit of allowing them to do this. A depth of 5 to 7.5cm (2 to 3 inches) should suffice. Do NOT use any substrate that dusty such as sands or cat litter. This can cause respiration problems for your pet. Do NOT use cedar chips as these are toxic to all reptiles including corn snakes.
Next you will need shelters or hiding spots in the corn snake terrarium. This will serve to not only make your terrarium look more aesthetically pleasing, but also make your corn snake feel more comfortable and provide areas in which they can relax. Having branches and plants also add to the aesthetic value of your terrarium and may help your corn snake feel more at home. Make sure that these are properly secured and if you are using real plants, that they are non-toxic and any fertilizers used are reptile-friendly.
There are commercially available options for shelters such as half logs or plastic homes but you can chose to make your own if you wish. Just make sure that the materials used are non-toxic and have no sharp edges which could harm your corn snake. Make sure that there is at least one shelter per temperature section of the terrarium. We will discuss temperature gradients next.
Temperature, Humidity, and Lighting
The temperature in the corn snake terrarium should be around 24 to 26ºC (75 to 79ºF) during the day and drop to about 22 to 24ºC (72 to 75ºF) during the night. You will also need to designate a section for basking with a temperature of 29 to 31ºC (85 to 88ºF). If the temperature is too cold, your corn snake will be unable to digest his food properly. Too hot and he’ll become dehydrated, burn, and eventually die so make sure you keep an eye on the thermometer and adjust the temperature accordingly!
It is advised that you have multiple thermometers placed in various parts of the terrarium so you can get an accurate measure of the temperature and a thermostat may help with temperature regulation. I recommend that you use a heater that can be placed on the underside of the terrarium. The heatpad should cover a third to half of the terrarium, so you’ll have warmer and cooler sections, creating a temperature gradient. This gradient allows your corn snake to move around adjusting his internal temperature to his liking. The heat lamp for basking should either a UVA or full spectrum. We will further address lighting below.
The humidity levels should ideally be at 50% but can fluctuate between 35 to 60%. You can check the humidity by using a hygrometer. There are also two-in-one thermometer and hygrometer devices which you may want to invest in. Humidity can be increased in various ways including misting, leaving bowls of water in the terrarium, placing damp sphagnum (peat) moss in the substrate, and/or using a commercial or homemade humidity box.
Maintaining higher humidity levels is especially important during shedding season as it helps make the process easier. If you notice your pet’s skin coming off in patches, it is a sign that the corn snake terrarium needs to be more humid.
The last thing this section will address is lighting. Most snakes, including corn snakes, don’t require UVB light for health. Which is why the basking light can be either full spectrum or just UVA. Some people say that there is a small benefit to have UVB light but using UVB light is entirely up to you. You may want to use a rheostat to help regulate the basking bulb.
Multiple corn snakes
I still advise that you have individual terrariums for each corn snake. However, if you still decide to house multiple snakes in the same terrarium for whatever reason, the following tips should improve the success of the snakes surviving and reduce stress.
First, make sure that you have a spare corn snake terrarium set up so that you can quickly separate the corn snakes should anything happen. This includes heat source, substrate, hiding places, etc. etc.. Next having the snakes of similar size should also reduce the change of one corn snake bullying the smaller one. It is also advised that both snakes are of differing genders and/or adults so as to reduce the chance of unwanted or early breeding.
Lastly, you’ll want to double the number of hiding spots (triple if you have 3 corn snakes, quadruple if 4, etc. etc.) in the corn snake terrarium so that each snake can comfortably hide away as they see fit. You will most likely need a larger terrarium anyways if you were housing this many corn snakes together. If you have new corn snake, you should quarantine it in a separate terrarium for a few weeks before introducing him to the other corn snakes. This will reduce the chance of spreading diseases.