Does it ever feel like your pet corn snake is watching you from its corner in your room? How do corn snakes see, anyway?
Snakes, in general, don’t see the same way we do. For example, most of them only see two of the primary colors and are sensitive to UV light as well.
Let’s take a closer look into the corn snake’s sight to get to know them better.
Gazing into a corn snake’s eyes, you can see that they usually have orange or red irises and round pupils. Some morphs, like the albino corn snake and snow corn snake, can have pink eyes.
Snakes don’t actually have eyelids. What helps protect their eyes are scales called eye caps. They shed these eye caps regularly, along with the rest of their skin.
This means that it looks like corn snakes have their eyes open while sleeping. Instead, they can close their retinas to block out the light when it’s time to rest.
According to this study on serpent sight, researchers have observed that snakes have two cones in their eyes that allow them to see the colors blue and green in the daytime.
Research also shows that most snakes are sensitive to ultraviolet light. This helps them to navigate in the dark.
Corn snakes are crepuscular, meaning that they’re usually active during low light hours. This may be because they need to avoid predators that might hunt them during the day. This makes it likely that the same attributes found in these studies apply to this breed as well.
We don’t know exactly how far corn snakes can see, but we can assume that they don’t have the best eyesight.
Because of the nature of their eye caps, their sight can become blurry just before they start to shed their skin. However, this doesn’t mean that they become completely blind.
Once the old eye caps have been shed, their sight will improve again. They’ll go through this every shedding cycle.
In this study from the University of Rochester, neuroscientist David Holtzman took 24 corn snakes and had them navigate through an arena inside a tub.
The goal was to find the way out, which was a hole at the bottom of the tub. Holtzman set up colored cards around the arena and tape on the floor to guide the snakes towards the exit.
He noted that because the corn snakes weren’t fond of the lights and open area in the arena, they could be trained to locate the exit. The snakes were able to find the hole quicker every time they were brought back to the arena.
Holtzman also found that younger corn snakes were able to navigate the arena quicker than older ones. He proposes that this was because younger corn snakes are more adaptable and use more of their senses.
On the other hand, older corn snakes seemed to rely heavily on their sense of sight. When the researchers tampered with the colored cards, it confused the older corn snakes and they had a more difficult time locating the exit.
While corn snakes do use their eyes to roam around, they’re known for mostly relying on their keen sense of smell to navigate the world around them. This also allows them to sniff out their prey even when they’re hiding.
Corn snakes may have nostrils, but their main way of smelling is actually through their mouths. Snakes have a sensory organ in their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ.
Upon observation, it seems that when snakes smell something interesting with their regular nostrils, this will make them want to flick out their tongue to identify the smell further.
Using their long forked tongues, they can collect chemicals in the air or on the ground. The Jacobson’s organ then sends this information to their brain so they can interpret the chemicals.
Scientists also say that the snake’s forked tongue helps it recognize which direction the “smell” is coming from. This depends on whether the snake senses the chemicals stronger on its tongue’s left or right side.
Researchers from the University of Colorado have studied the chemosensory responses of several species of snakes, including the corn snake. Under their observation, they found that corn snakes were more responsive to chemical cues rather than visual cues.
These slithering creatures are interesting to study, especially when it comes to how corn snakes see and navigate the world around them.
They may not have the best eyesight, but they have other senses that evolved to suit their needs. Even with their blurry vision, now you know that they’ll never lose a staring match to you.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.