The corn snake vivarium
The habitat created for a corn snake in captivity is usually called a terrarium, which is simply a vivarium simulating a dry habitat which corn snakes are comfortable in. It is important to prepare the vivarium in advance of getting a corn snake; set it up with all equipment and check you are able to sustain the suggested conditions such as temperature and log humidity levels.
Corn snakes are not particularly active snakes and so do not need large enclosures. Expect to provide one square foot of floor space for each foot in length your corn snake is in the region of 90cm x 45cm for a fully grown adult snake. Height is not very important for corn snakes however climbing will help them build muscle and keep healthy. With this in mind, providing 1 to 2 feet of head space in the vivarium would be beneficial to the corn snake.
Converted aquariums also make great habitats for corn snakes, the lid however must be suitably secure as all snakes will push and rub on all parts of an enclosure trying to find a way out. They are excellent escape artists and so care must be taken when planning their housing. Make sure your vivarium or tank has a tight fitting lid or secured sliding doors.
Corn snake terrarium substrate
There are many substrates available to purchase in pet shops covering a very wide range of needs and requirements individual to certain types of species and reptile. Cedar shavings for example are unacceptable for corn snakes as they hold moisture and cause respiratory problems. Aspen wood shaving however, is light and particularly soft which encourages natural burrowing activity. Aspen is also especially good at absorbing odours and clumping waste particles making spot cleaning easy.
Repti Carpet is a carpet like substrate that can be bought and cut to size. It comes in packs of two and can be machine washed, meaning it can be changed regularly and easily cleaned. Repti Carpet both looks good and performs well for corn snakes however spot cleaning is a little more difficult.
Reptile bark can also be purchased in pet stores. It is attractive and natural-looking however more appropriate again for maintaining moisture and humidity. This can be avoided by not allowing the substrate to get wet.
Corn snake heating, humidity and lighting
Like other reptiles corn snakes are cold blooded and so it is important to provide heating in the vivarium. The snake will absorb this heat in order to carry out bodily functions such as digestion of food. In the wild corn snakes bask in the sun to keep warm or move to a shady spot if they are too hot, this is called thermo-regulation. A similar solution can be provided in captivity using a temperature gradient.
Heat mats are an ideal source of heat; they go under the tank and should not cover more than one half of the floor space. This is so that once side of the terrarium is heated and one side is not, allowing for the corn snake to thermo-regulate. Ceramic heaters or heat lamps can provide a source of heating however these are expensive, need specialised thermostats and require protective screens. You can expect a heat mat to last as long as your snake but light bulbs, heat lamps and most other heating elements will expire several times in one year.
Corn snakes should be provided a thermal gradient ranging from 21 °C at one end of the vivarium to 31 °C at the other (70-88 °F). At night time the temperature may drop to around 26 °C (78 °F). Use a suitable thermostat to regulate the heat mat, this can be a Ministat or Habistat provided at all exotic pet suppliers.
Corn snakes require a day and night cycle which can be provided via a light bulb or simply letting day light penetrate the vivarium is sufficient. Do not place a corn snake vivarium in a room that will have lighting on during the night which may confuse and cause the snake stress.
Corn Snakes like to be in a dry environment and humidity regulation is not a requirement. Ensure that the humidity does not get high as this can lead to problems of mould and respiratory infections.
Hiding places and climbing branches for corn snakes
It is important to place two or even three hiding place in the vivarium of your corn snake. Placing a hide at either end of the temperature gradient allows your corn snake to thermo-regulate while not feeling exposed. Snakes like to feel secure; if a hide is too spacious your corn snake may feel exposed and so ensure a tight fit.
As well as hiding places, something to climb on such as a branch should be provided for exercise. Corn snakes love to climb and the rough surface will also provide a means to remove shed skin. All decor items should be securely placed within the vivarium and thoroughly disinfected by soaking in a 1:10 bleach solution and then rinsing thoroughly.
Drinking and bathing water
Corn snakes like large open water bowls where they can submerge themselves. The reason they do this is to soften their skin prior to shedding. It is essential to provide a large water bowl half-filled with fresh water somewhere in the vivarium and it must be large enough for your corn snake to fully submerge and bathe in. Replace the water regularly and do not fill it fully as the water will overflow when the snake gets in.