Before you bring your new snake home, be sure to have a proper habitat ready with adequate substrate, water, hidey places, a place to climb, proper ventilation and a secure lid. Corn snakes are strong and very good at climbing. They can easily push open a lid that is not securely fastened and can squeeze out of very small holes, making them excellent escape artists. New hatchlings can escape through the tiniest of holes, like those of a soda straw. Make sure all holes are plugged and all means of escape are eliminated. More beginners lose their snakes to escapes than death.
Corn snakes are relatively small, and as such, they do not require large enclosures. A baby corn snake can happily live in a ten gallon aquarium or enclosure of similar size. Upon reaching full adult size, however, a corn snake will require an enclosure with the minimum dimensions of a standard 25 gallon aquarium. The larger the snake, the more room it requires. A 40-50 gallon aquarium will provide the adult snake with enough room to move and exercise. A good rule of thumb is that the enclosure should be no less than 1/2 the length of the adult snake. If the proper size tank is not provided, your snake will be miserable, and may even become stressed to the point of illness.
It is a good idea to house your corn snake in an environment that is close to natural as possible. Use plants and hiding spots in a large tank so the snake will feel secure.
The substrate of a cage is the material that is on the bottom. When choosing a substrate, be sure it is easy to clean and change frequently. Urine-soaked material becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus.
There are acceptable and inappropriate choices of substrate in corn snake housing. Cedar and pine shavings are inappropriate because they have harmful oils that can kill your snake. Corn cob bedding (manufactured for use with birds) should not be used as a substrate because it causes excessive drying of dermal tissues and can cause serious intestinal blockage if swallowed. Acceptable substrates include reptile bark, butcher paper, paper towels, indoor/outdoor carpeting or "Astroturf," cypress mulch, and aspen shavings.
Reptile bark can be purchased in pet stores, and is attractive and natural-looking. Butcher paper can be acquired in many places such as building supply or art supply stores. This substrate, while not particularly attractive, allows one to keep the cage very clean by continuously replacing the soiled paper. Paper towels have the same advantages and disadvantages of butcher paper. If carpeting or "Astroturf" is used, you must wash it then let it dry thoroughly before it can be used in the tank again. This type of substrate tends to rot easily, so it is best to have several pieces cut to fit the cage so you can rotate them as needed. Corn snakes love to dwell and dig under the substrate to give themselves a sense of security. Aspen shaving and cypress mulch is a good choice for burrowing, but if you use either of these for substrate you will have to place your snake in a secure area to feed it as you do not want it to ingest the substrate. The advantage to this type of substrate is, the urine and feces can be scooped out with a cat litter scoop, with fresh substrate added as needed.
Feces should be removed by spot cleaning daily and the whole tank should be washed and disinfected regularly. Replace all bedding when cleaning the entire tank.
Corn snakes, like all reptiles, are ectotherms, meaning that their surrounding environment determines their temperature. Since they do not make their own body heat, their body temperature is regulated by a behavioral mechanism called thermoregualtion. That is, when a reptile is too cool, it moves to an area to warm itself, and when it is too hot, it moves to a cooler area.
Access to warm areas are critical to the health of your snake. Appropriate heating is required for proper digestion and the effective functioning of the immune system. If the enclosure is too cool, the snake can regurgitate its previously eaten meals. Repeated regurgitation can lead to death.
Your corn snake's enclosure should gradiate in temperature, with one end of the enclosure set at 82-88 degrees and the other end set at approximately 70 to 75 degrees. Place a thermometer in the cage near the bottom of the tank and on the inside, directly on the substrate in or near the warm-side hiding place.
Under tank heating pads and over-head basking lights can provide adequate sources of heat. Care should be given, that the snake should not be allowed to come in direct contact with the heat source because of the danger of being burned. Snakes will not avoid these hot heat sources because they lack feeling on their scales. For this reason, hot rocks should never be placed in the enclosure. The snake will curl itself about the rock in an attempt to raise its body temperature, but the direct contact with the hot rocks will burn the snake.
Under tank heating pads are plastic with one adhesive side. The adhesive side of the heater is attached to the bottom of the outside of the tank on one side of the cage. These heaters can only be used with certain types of cages, be sure to read the instructions before purchasing. A thermostat or rheostat is essential to regulate the heat source. If the temperature under tank heating pads is not thermostat or rheostat controlled, it is possible for the pad to reach 130 °F, which will burn the snake.
Snakes in general require fresh air, but too much ventilation can cool the cage unacceptably. If your only ventilation is on top of the cage, you should be using an under tank heater for your primary heater.
If the tank has a screen top, a shop light or an incandescent light bulb in a reflector shield may be placed on top of the cage, to one side, with a heating bulb to create an over-head basking area of 80-85 degrees F. Since snakes are good climbers, the basking light should be on the outside of the tank, instead of on the inside, to prevent the snake from coming in direct contact with the hot bulb.
Heat lamps can be turned off at night and temperatures can dip as low as 70 °F but it is better to keep the temperature constant. There should be a natural cycle of light and dark periods, just as there is day and night, so lights should be turned off at night. If you must have a light source at night, use a dim red or blue light.
Appliance timers can be set to turn the light on and off at set times during the day. Reset the hours of operation to adjust for seasonal fluctuations in ambient air temperature.
Because snakes have poor long-range eyesight, they do not like to be in the open and will spend a great deal of time hiding. Providing a hide-a-way is advisable for the mental health of your snake. Appropriate decorative plastic or ceramic hide-a-ways can be found in pet stores. An empty box like the kind tissues come in, or the tube from a roll of paper towels can be used if changed frequently. A snake's instinct to hide is often greater than its sense to be in the right temperature so be sure the hide is not in the hottest or coldest part of the enclosure. Like people, each snake has its own personality. Some will hide less often than others. When choosing a hide-a-way, be sure it is large enough that you can safely remove your snake from it. Corn snakes kept without appropriate hiding areas become stressed and may refuse to eat.
A climbing branch should be placed toward the middle of the encloser to give the snake a place to climb. Care should be given, however, to place the branch in such a position that the snake cannot push up on the lid and make his way out. Make sure the lid is weighted down or locked. Branches collected from the wild will need to be debugged by soaking first in a chlorine/water solution, rinsed thoroughly and soaked in clean water, then left to dry in the sun.
Corn snakes like to immerse themselves in water. Your snake will soak in the water when the cage is too hot or to soften its skin before shedding. The water should be changed several times a week or more if it gets soiled or cloudy. If the snake defecates in it, the bowl must be cleaned and disinfected immediately. The water dish should fit the size of the snake. An 8 ounce Cool Whip container is the right size for a 30-inch juvenile. Replace with larger containers accordingly as the snake grows in size. Use dechlorinated bottled or spring water, do not use distilled or tap water. Distilled water lacks valuable minerals essential for proper nutrition in your pet. Tap water contains chlorine and floride which are toxic to your snake. Water softeners add too much sodium to the water.