Exotic Explorations: Corn Snake Edition

corn snake edition

Hello once again, CHS Supporters!

We hope you are enjoying our extension on exotics month at Calgary Humane Society! All September long we have reduced adoption fees on some of the more… unusual animals that call Calgary Humane Society home.

Today we bring you another exotic exploration of an often misunderstood species… the humble corn snake!

Ahh the corn snake. What’s not to love about this small, sleek and brightly coloured little snake? Well, unfortunately for the corn snake the number one thing that keeps adopters away is a general stigma towards snakes and snake ownership. As an exotic animal, snakes do require some special husbandry but much of the stigma faced by snakes is a result of myths. In reality, a corn snake can be a great pet for the right family. So let’s spend some time busting myths and looking at the reality of corn snakes as pets!

Myth 1: Snakes are slimy

Nope. Snakes are shiny but not slimy! This myth seems to come up because people confuse reptiles and amphibians. Snakes are reptiles, which means they are covered in smooth, shiny scales while amphibians, like frogs and salamanders, have slimy skin. If you ever get a chance to pet a friendly snake you will find that they feel very smooth – just remember that you should always pet a snake in the same direction their scales grow (petting them the other way could hurt the snake!)

Myth 2: Snakes are dirty and stinky

To be fair, if you don’t clean your snake’s enclosure regularly and you leave their poop everywhere then yes, there is some truth to this myth because your snake’s enclosure will be dirty and stinky, and if you make your snake live in it they will also become dirty and stinky… but we don’t really think it’s fair to blame the snake for that! (The general lack of arms makes snakes lousy housekeepers). With good tank hygiene practice, snakes are actually very clean animals and they do not tend to have a strong smell. Snake poop on the other hand (like most reptile poop) does have a strong smell, as does snake musk (a substance snakes may release if stressed, scared or upset). Snake poop tends to smell because of a combination of the snake’s diet (meat) and the bacteria in the snake’s digestive system that breaks that food down. Snake musk smells bad because it’s a defense against being eaten – snakes will release a smelly musk when threatened to make themselves less appealing as a meal!

So how do you keep your snake smelling fresh? Clean their enclosure as quickly as you can after they poop (this is easier than it sounds because snakes really don’t poop all that often and poop will happen on a pretty regular schedule that coincides with feeding). When handling your snake or cleaning their tank, take steps to avoid stressing your snake to prevent musking.

Myth 3: If you own a snake you have to own mice too

Ooo, this myth is a popular one. This myth is the result of a small contingent of snake owners who believe in “live feeding” their snakes. At Calgary Humane Society we do not live feed snakes nor do we recommend this method of feeding – it is both cruel (to the mouse) and dangerous (for the snake). In the wild a mouse who becomes dinner for a snake is unfortunate, but part of the natural order of things. It also has at least some chance to escape becoming dinner. In a tank, the mouse cannot escape and, because they cannot escape, they experience much more stress than a mouse in the wild would (a mouse could wind up trapped and trying to escape the tank for quite some time before the snake eats it). In addition, mice can bite and injure captive snakes because captive snakes often do not have the finely honed hunting skills of their wild cousins.

Now, snakes do have to eat and they have to eat the right foods. For corn snakes dinner should be a properly sized mouse meal. At CHS we recommend purchasing frozen rodents (purchased in the right size for your snake) that are warmed up before feeding using warm water. It is important to note here that diet is one of the factors that definitely means snakes are not the pet for everyone. If you struggle with feeding a meat-based diet to your pet (particularly a meat-based diet that is comprised of whole animals) then a snake will not be a good choice for you. Snakes are obligate carnivores and cannot be fed vegetarian diets.

Myth 4: Your snake will get bigger and try to eat you

No snake you can legally own in Alberta (or adopt from CHS) will ever get large enough to eat you. Even the largest legal pet snakes are not big enough to eat anything larger than a small rabbit. In fact, there are very few snakes in the entire world that would ever get large enough to pose a threat to humans.

Where does this myth come from? Well large tree-dwelling and constricting snakes can pose a threat to humans if the human carries the snake around their neck and the snake becomes scared. In the wild, tree-dwelling snakes will constrict around a tree branch to hold on and will constrict tighter if the wind starts to blow the branch around. The snake really can’t tell the difference between a tree branch blowing and you walking around, so if they feel like they might fall they could constrict and, if you have them around your neck, the snake could injure you by accident. This isn’t a problem you are likely to see with a corn snake though, because they are a smaller snake (which is one of the things that makes them so appealing as pets).

Myth 5: Your snake will escape and live in the walls

Ahh, the Houdini snake! OK, this one is only partly a myth. Snakes certainly can be escape artists… because they often climb better than people expect them to and they can fit through small spaces. In reality though your snake probably isn’t looking to make a big jail break for freedom so much as they are curious and are just taking the chance to explore. Properly securing your snake’s tank with a locking lid will go a long way towards preventing escapes. Think of your snake like a curious toddler – if it’s something they shouldn’t be into that is exactly what they will want to check out! ‘Snakeproofing’ the tank and area your snake lives in will help to prevent wayward adventures.

The Reality of Corn snakes

Corn snakes are one of (if not the #1) most popular pet snake in Alberta. They come in a wild variety of bright colours and striking patterns, they stay relatively small and they are docile by nature making them easy to handle and reluctant to bite. The size is probably one of the most appealing aspects of a corn snake, as the adult snake will reach about 6 feet or so which sounds big but really isn’t (your snake will spend much of its time curled up).

Corn snakes, like all legal pet snakes in Alberta, are non-venomous, so even if a pet corn snake does bite you are not in serious danger (as with all animal bites you will need to wash the area well and watch out for infection). In general corn snakes are good-natured snakes who tolerate handling well, but they do need to be acclimated to handling, so patience will be needed if you adopt a corn snake that has not been previously handled.

Keeping a corn snake as a pet will require a moderately sized tank or vivarium that is equipped with foliage and tank decorations to mimic where the snake would live in the wild. Corn snakes enjoy hiding and burrowing, so providing rock hides, leafy decorations and burrowing opportunities will make your snake feel at home.

Corn snakes can also be a great pet for families that have busy schedules! While regular cleaning is important, reptiles do not need the same amount of daily attention as a dog or a cat and are perfectly content to hang out on their own for longer periods of time. Certainly spending time with any pet is important, but snakes demand much less time and attention than most other pets, so if your schedule is irregular a snake could fit in well to your home.

What’s the best thing I can do if I am thinking of getting a pet snake?

Research, research and more research! Pet snakes can be long-lived (a corn snake in captivity can live up to 20+ years!) so they are a huge commitment. Talk to reptile clubs in your area to see what type of reptile could be a good fit for your home (in Calgary we have a branch of The Alberta Reptile and Amphibian Society or T.AR.A.S. and they can be a great resource for anyone considering a reptile or amphibian as a pet). You can also check out all of the adoptable exotic animals on Calgary Humane Society’s website and come down to speak to our adoption counselors if you would like more information about one of our animals. Our adoption team members will help you decide if the pet you are thinking of will be a good fit for your family.

Do you have an exotic pet you would like to see featured on the blog? Let us know by connecting with us on our Facebook page!