The corn snake is one of the most popular nonvenomous snakes in the United States. This snake’s magnificent saddle pattern and vibrant color combinations make it a favorite among breeders and reptile enthusiasts.
In addition to good looks, this snake has an even temperament and is generally reluctant to bite. These qualities make it the perfect pet for snake lovers and a harmless backyard companion.
If you’re unfamiliar with this cute and colorful creature, you might be wondering, what are corn snakes? Where did they get that interesting name?
That’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in this handy guide to corn snakes! Read on to learn more about these extraordinary reptiles and their types, origins, appearance, and habitat.
Corn snakes, also known as red rat snakes, are slender, warm-colored, nonvenomous snakes found in the United States. Adult corn snakes can reach 4–6 feet in length and weigh around 1–3 pounds.
These snakes are crepuscular, which means that they’re most active at dawn and dusk. They’re mainly terrestrial, but they can climb trees and elevated spaces when searching for prey.
What’s more, corn snakes are carnivorous constrictors. They wrap their long bodies and coil their powerful muscles to crush, suffocate, and eventually kill mice, birds, and other small animals.
Breeding season for corn snakes typically occurs from March to May. When bred in captivity, these snakes can live for up to 23 years.
Corn snakes got their name from the alternating black and white spots on their bodies, which resemble the kernels of Indian corn or maize. These snakes also come in orange or yellowish colors, similar to corn.
The constant presence of corn snakes in corn stores and grain warehouses is another possible reason behind their interesting name. Although the appearance of corn snakes in these areas seems alarming, it can benefit humans.
Corn snakes are frequently spotted in corn stores because they have plenty of mice and rats for the snakes to feed on. These snakes help control the population of wild rodents and pests that damage the stored crops and carry diseases.
Corn snakes have thin bodies that are either orange or yellowish-brown in color. Their skins have a saddle pattern of large, red blotches with black borders.
You’ll spot alternating rows of black and white marks around these snakes’ bellies. The marks look similar to a checkerboard pattern or kernels of corn.
Corn snakes are often mistakenly killed because they resemble the venomous copperhead snake. A major difference between the two is that the copperhead snake has hourglass-shaped blotches instead of saddle-shaped ones.
Additionally, you can distinguish a corn snake from any other rat snake species by its checkerboard belly. Plus, the corn snake has a colored stripe that extends from the back of its eye to the corner of its jaw.
The corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) is classified as a North American species of rat snake. In total, there are about 40–55 known species of snakes worldwide that belong to the rat snake family.
In addition to red rat snakes or corn snakes, the following snake species are well-known members of the rat snake group as well:
- Black rat snake
- Eastern rat snake
- Baird’s rat snake
- Mandarin rat snake
- Radiated rat snake
On top of that, there are over 800 recognized corn snake morphs. These are corn snakes that have genetic mutations, resulting in rare patterns, unusual colors, or varying stripes.
Here are a few noteworthy and popular corn snake morphs:
The sunkissed mutation manifests in an incredibly bright sunset orange skin color in corn snakes. Instead of having jagged or pointy saddle patterns, these snakes’ patterns are round-cornered and uniform.
Tessera corn snakes got their name from the tessellated pattern on the sides of their bodies. Their patterns usually consist of a light background color with gray, black, or brown outlines.
This morph stands out from other corn snakes due to its thin bold dorsal stripe that runs from tip to tail. Some morphs have an unbroken stripe, while others have small and straight dashes.
These attractive and recognizable snakes strongly resemble candy canes due to their white background and bright red pattern. This corn snake morph is a popular pet because it’s easily spotted and has a fascinating appearance.
As the name implies, a lavender corn snake has a unique purple tint. There are many variations of this morph, but the most common ones have a pinkish base color and lavender blotches.
This morph has one of the simplest yet most stunning colorations among all corn snakes. It has a pure white skin color and a pair of striking red eyes.
Blizzard corn snakes are ideal for snake collectors who want a pristine-looking snake.
Like other nonvenomous snakes, corn snakes have tiny teeth that look like the blade of a wood saw. Their set of 20–30 pearly whites is arranged into semi-circular rows along the top and bottom of their jaws.
Corn snakes’ teeth are thin and brittle, yet sharp. They have significantly more teeth on the uppermost part of their mouths than at the bottom.
What’s more, corn snakes’ teeth are angled backward for two main reasons. First, angled teeth serve as grips that force food into the body for better swallowing and digestion.
Next, having angled teeth allows the corn snake to maintain a tight grasp on its prey while constricting. This ensures that the captured animal doesn’t escape.
Corn snakes don’t have fangs.
Unlike venomous snakes that immobilize prey by injecting venom through their fangs, corn snakes use their teeth to grab and kill prey.
Other species of rat snakes, such as the Great Plains rat snake and the European rat snake, have no fangs as well. The majority of rat snakes are nonvenomous and pose no threat to humans.
At first glance, it might seem as if corn snakes have no bones since they’re so flexible! However, corn snakes have over 300 bones and lots of stretchy ligaments that hold everything together.
These snakes have skulls, jawbones, and flexible backbones. The top of a corn snake’s skull is set in place, but its powerful jawbones can dislocate and open almost 180 degrees wide.
This special ability allows the corn snake to easily swallow its prey whole. Additionally, corn snakes have vertebrae and numerous ribs.
Like human bones, corn snake bones can get damaged from strong pressure or from the sudden impact of falling. Fractured bones can lead to snake paralysis or in severe cases, death.
During the day, you’ll find corn snakes hiding underneath logs, rocks, and tree bark. These snakes favor dense woodlands, overgrown fields, and rocky hillsides, too.
Additionally, corn snakes inhabit savannas, wetlands, shrublands, and agricultural areas. On warm summer nights, these snakes are frequently spotted crossing forest roads in search of prey.
When breeding, corn snakes prefer to lay their eggs in piles of decomposing vegetation, decaying tree stumps, and surrounding areas with enough heat and humidity.
Corn snakes are originally from North America. However, introduced populations of these snakes also exist in several Caribbean islands.
What’s more, corn snakes have sizable populations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, the Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas as well.
These snakes prefer areas with temperate climate conditions. The ideal humidity for corn snakes is 40–50% with a basking zone temperature of 88–92°F.
Corn snakes’ natural habitats include broadleaf and mixed forests, coniferous forests, and grasslands. You’ll find them in tropical hardwood hammocks and rocky regions, too.
Corn snakes are native to the Eastern United States region. They’re most abundant in southeastern states, such as Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Populations of these snakes are found in Southern New Jersey, Kentucky, and Virginia as well.
It’s worth mentioning that corn snakes are adaptable and tolerant of human disturbance. They’re able to thrive and survive in agricultural lands and suburban locations.
In cities, corn snakes often wander around parks, barns, dumps, and abandoned buildings where rodents and small animals are abundant.
Yes! Corn snakes are clever at navigating their environment when hunting and capturing prey. Aside from slithering on the ground, these snakes also know how to swim in rivers and climb trees.
What’s more, corn snakes are brilliant escape artists. When kept in captivity, they can easily find and open the sliding doors of their terrariums.
One study from the University of Rochester involved 24 captive-bred corn snakes and a brightly lit plastic tub. The snakes’ goal was to find the hole at the bottom of the tub that provides a dark and comfortable hiding spot.
During the first day of training, the corn snakes took more than 700 seconds to find the correct hole. However, the snakes’ intelligence and memory allowed them to find the hole in only 400 seconds by the fourth day.
The study showed that corn snakes are smart enough to understand visual cues and to change behaviors in response to their environment.
When hunting, corn snakes are strongly attracted to the scent of prey, such as mice, birds, lizards, and frogs. These snakes also love to linger in cornfields and granaries where mice are present.
In terms of habitation, corn snakes are attracted to warm areas with tall grass, fallen logs, and piled rocks. Additionally, they prefer places with dark and quiet spots for them to hide in.
Corn snakes are beautiful creatures—both inside and out!
In addition to their fantastic colors and patterns, these serpents have surprisingly smart minds and sharp hunting instincts.
Hopefully, this guide has answered your question on “What are corn snakes?” and other queries you might have about these slithering friends.
Remember, corn snakes are nonvenomous, and pose little to no threat to humans. If you’re struggling with a pest infestation in your garden or yard, this reliable reptile is more than happy to help you out.
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.