What do corn snakes eat?
If you are thinking about adopting a pet corn snake, you definitely need to know!
For first-time snake owners, this can be a little intimidating.
This in-depth article will answer the question, “What do corn snakes eat?” and provide other information on corn snake care.
Fun facts about corn snakes
The corn snake, or Pantherophis guttatus, is a really fascinating reptile.
Their name gives a hint about their dominant colors!
Orange, brown, yellow and red are common color morphs, or color patterns, for corn snakes.
However, corn snakes can also display some quite unusual morphs, including albino, lavender, snow (actually a pale pink/yellow), and black.
One interesting fact about corn snakes is that the higher the elevation of their home, the darker their coloration tends to be!
Several theories exist about how the corn snake might have gotten its common name.
The most obvious is that this snake’s predominant body colors and markings can make them look quite a bit like a long, slithery ear of Indian corn.
Corn snakes also like to make their homes in corn fields and in barns where corn is stored.
Another common name for corn snakes is the “red rat snake.” The corn snake and the rat snake are non-venomous reptile cousins. Other than body color, they look quite a bit alike!
Corn snakes are extremely popular reptile pets in the United States and elsewhere. Some estimates indicate the corn snake is the most popular captive-bred pet snake.
Corn snake size
Corn snakes can be as small as 8 inches at birth.
However, they are fully formed when they exit the egg and are completely on their own from day one.
Corn snakes grow quickly and will reach their full adult size around the age of two.
Many adult corn snakes measure 4 to 5 feet long and some can grow to 6 feet!
How do corn snakes eat?
The corn snake’s overall slim girth even into adulthood hides quite impressive constricting abilities.
Corn snakes are non-venomous.
In the wild, a hungry corn snake must catch and then subdue a prey by first biting it and then wrapping themselves around it and squeezing.
Then they typically swallow the prey whole.
Corn snakes can expand their jaws to wider than the size of a prey animal.
While this makes it possible for the snake to consume its prey whole, it also means the snake will be more vulnerable to predators while it is busy swallowing and then digesting the prey.
In captivity, corn snakes are generally fed pre-killed prey that has been frozen and thawed out.
This is for the snake’s own safety as well as for the owner’s convenience.
What do corn snakes eat in the wild?
This can vary depending on what type of protein is at hand, which can change seasonally.
The most common prey for wild corn snakes includes:
- other small mammals
- bird eggs
When the occasion presents itself, corn snakes may also eat other corn snakes!
The type of prey a corn snake eats in the wild will also change over time as the snake gets bigger, stronger and more skilled as a hunter.
For example, a hatchling or baby corn snake might start out eating lizards or small frogs which are small and easy to catch and swallow.
As the baby corn snake grows up, his diet may expand to include larger and more challenging prey such as bats, birds, rats and mice as well as eggs.
Wild corn snakes will get some hydration naturally from what they eat.
But wild corn snakes also drink water and bathe in water – this can be especially soothing and beneficial during skin sheds.
How often do corn snakes eat?
Wild corn snakes will eat opportunistically, which means every few days or as prey becomes available.
In captivity, of course, your pet corn snake will rely on you to provide timely and appropriate meals.
You should offer your corn snake food every few days, making sure the food size and type is appropriate to the age and size of your corn snake.
What do pet corn snakes eat?
Corn snakes are carnivorous. They have evolved to eat animal protein exclusively. Your corn snake will need to eat pure protein at every meal to stay healthy.
Your snake will also need access to a source of fresh clean water at all times – a shallow heavy dish works well for this.
Frozen mice tend to be the most economical and logical food source for a pet corn snake.
If you are wondering, “What do corn snakes eat besides mice?” frozen rats make another very good protein source.
Some corn snakes will also eat lizards.
However, lizards can be hard to come by as a commercial food source for captive pet corn snakes.
You should avoid trying to catch and feed wild lizards to your corn snake, since the wild lizards might have parasites.
What do baby corn snakes eat?
What can corn snakes eat when they are babies?
The baby snake would probably start out catching lizards or frogs and then move up to eating mice or rats.
A young pet corn snake will need appropriately sized mice.
You should always feed frozen, thawed prey and NOT live prey.
There are too many risks when you feed live prey, including that the prey will turn the tables and attack your snake!
You can leave the prey out to thaw for a few hours or place it in a plastic bag and submerge the bag in a bowl of very warm water for an hour or two.
You should never microwave the prey!
How to choose the right size prey for your corn snake
Frozen mice come in many sizes.
Pinkies are generally the smallest prey mice, followed by fuzzies and then adult mice.
Within these major categories you may have a choice between small and large pinkies, peach fuzzies and regular fuzzies, and adult mice from size small to X-large.
Since prey sizing can differ from one seller to the next, what you need to look for is frozen mice that are about the size of the width of your snake’s body and no larger.
Larger mice might be too difficult for a young corn snake to swallow.
When in doubt, always talk to the seller and measure your snake’s body diameter to identify the right size prey from their inventory.
How to feed your corn snake
A young corn snake in the wild doesn’t receive any help from their parents to find food.
Baby corn snakes must learn to hunt for themselves right away if they are to survive and grow up.
So it can come as a surprise to new pet corn snake owners when their snake doesn’t seem to know what to do with their dinner – or to even to realize it is there!
This typically occurs because in the wild the prey would be scampering about and would catch your snake’s attention.
Your snake may not recognize lifeless prey as food even if you put it right in front of them!
For this reason, you may need to help your snake learn to eat by wiggling the prey as if it were alive.
For your own safety, use long, stainless steel tweezers to grip the prey.
Another time-honored tactic for encouraging your snake to feed is to open the head of the prey mouse or rat to let your snake scent the brain matter.
This can trigger your snake’s feeding instinct.
Before offering a prey to your snake, make sure the mice or rat is fully thawed inside and out.
Otherwise the cold temperature may discourage your snake from eating.
You may want to warm the prey in your palms or by holding it next to a warm source (such as a heat lamp) for a moment and then offer it to your snake.
Tips for feeding
It is typically wise to feed your snake outside their main enclosure.
This will avoid ingestion of any substrate material and encourage your snake to concentrate on the prey free from other distractions.
Offering the prey in a smaller enclosed container (with air holes, of course) can help your snake feel more secure and safe to feed.
This is especially true for young corn snakes!
Another tip is to try to order from the same supplier every time.
Mice and rats from different areas can have different smells. A young snake in particular may be reluctant to eat if the smell suddenly changes.
If you can’t seem to get your snake to eat, you can also try changing prey suppliers – this can work when nothing else does.
What does it mean if your corn snake stops eating?
Snake experts state there are several main reasons a pet corn snake might refuse a meal:
- insecurity (fear, rehoming anxiety)
- the environment is not right (too hot/cold, lighting/humidity is wrong)
- the snake doesn’t feel well (illness, injury, preparing to shed its skin)
- the food is not right
However, snakes, like most animals, will do their best to hide signs of illness or injury. So by the time you see signs of illness, your snake may be very unwell!
Knowing the most common reasons why a corn snake might stop eating can help you troubleshoot to see if you can rekindle your snake’s desire to eat.
If everything you do fails to revive your snake’s appetite, it is time to make an appointment with your exotic vet!
Choosing the best corn snake food
Now that you know how to answer, “What do corn snakes eat?” let’s go shopping for corn snake food and supplies! We’ve put together a few suggestions.
The first thing you will need to get are some stainless steel tweezers so you can safely offer the prey to your snake.
VORCOOL Stainless Steel Straight and Curved Feeding Tongs
These long, strong tweezers have a curved tip to make it easy to grip and drop the prey.
Zoo Med Reptile Ramp Bowl
This easy-access bowl comes in small, large or X-large so you can upgrade as your corn snake grows up.
Now you need to order your corn snake’s food!
The two easiest options are frozen mice and frozen rats.
Strive (20) 1 Day Old Pinky Frozen Mice
These frozen mice are one to two days old and are packaged in a USDA certified facility.
These frozen rats are one to two days old, pink in color and hairless.
What do corn snakes eat?
We hope this in-depth article has given you all the information you were seeking about what do corn snakes eat so you can provide a nutritious, tasty menu to your pet corn snake!
Leave us a comment to let us know how it goes!
Peters, A., et al, “Corn Snake,” Smithsonian’s National Zoo, 2018.
Kaplan, M., “Caring for Corn Snakes,” Anapsid, 1994.
Hedley, J., “Corn Snake Care,” Royal Veterinary College University of London, 2018.
Szalay, J., “Corn Snakes: Morphs, Colors & Other Fun Facts,” Live Science, 2014.
Hogrefe, S., “Red Corn Snake,” National Science Foundation/BioKIDS, 2012.
Niland, S., “Help! My Snake Won’t Eat!,” VMS Professional Herpetoculture, 1990.
Everson, K., DVM, “Even a Corn Snake Needs a Vet,” St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center, 2012.