The corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) is a North American snake species found throughout the southeastern and central United States, from southern New Jersey south through Florida and west into Louisiana and parts of Kentucky.
The corn snake previous classification placed it in the genus Elaphe, it was recently changed to Pantherophis. Some studies have shown that they are actually more closely related to king snakes (genus Lampropeltis) than the Old World rat snakes with which they were previously classified. It was considered to have 2 subspecies until 2002 when the Great Plains rat snake was split off as its own species
The corn snake is found in habitats such as wooded groves, rocky hillsides, overgrown fields, meadow lands, forest openings, trees, palmetto flat-woods, barns, and abandoned or seldom-used buildings. They prefer lower altitudes but can be found anywhere from sea level up to 6,000 feet (1800 m).
They are primarily active at night, and are both a terrestrial burrowers and extremely good climbers. In colder regions of their range, they hibernate during winter. But in the temperate climate along the coast they take shelter in logs and rock crevices during colder weather, and come out on warmer days to bask.
There are 2 theories to explain the species common name, corn snake. In one is stated that the name derives form the similarity of their belly markings to the checkered pattern of kernels of corn. The other relies on the snake's regular presence near grain stores, hunting mice and rats that ate the harvested corn.
These are slender non-venomous snakes with a length ranging from 24 to 72 inches (60 to 180 cm), with males being larger than females. Their base color is usually an brown to red-orange, speckled with many large red blotches with black edges down their backs. Their colors vary from region to region and can also include gray and yellow. They have a black and white checkered belly.
In captivity, breeders have been creating a wide variety of color patterns, called morphs, ranging in color from white to black, and patterns that include spots, stripes or solid coloring.
They have even been bred in captivity with other snake species like the California kingsnake to produce hybrids known in the pet industry as "Jungle corn snakes". In an unusual fashion these hybrids are fertile.
They have very few natural predators that consist mostly of larger snakes, birds of prey and sometimes carnivorous mammals. The larger snake species, like the eastern kingsnake and black racers, will eat corn snakes. Their lifespan is up to 23 years in captivity, but is considerably less in the wild.
Diet / Feeding
Adult corn snakes feed on larger prey items like mice, rats, birds, bats and bird's eggs while the young hatchlings feed mainly on lizards and frogs. The corn snake feeds every few days, and being constrictors they first bite the prey to obtain a firm grip, then quickly wrap around the victim. Then they squeeze tightly to suffocate the prey, and swallow it whole, usually head first.
The corn snake breeding season of occurs from March to May. The male snakes may engage in ritualistic combat, in a form of body-shoving contests, when 2 or more meet in the presence of a receptive female.
These are oviparous snakes, the female deposits a clutch of 10 to 30 eggs during the summer in late May to July. The eggs are laid in hidden locations with sufficient heat and humidity to incubate them, like rotting stumps, piles of decaying vegetation or similar places.
Adults don't care for the eggs, and once laid their gestation period is around 60 to 70 days. The eggs will hatch sometime in July through September, when the hatchlings using a specialized scale called an "egg tooth" slice the shell and escape.
The young snakes are born 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) long and reach maturity at 18 to 36 months of age. They are patterned like adults but their blotches are much darker, from brown to nearly black on a grey or light-orange body.
Conservation / Threats
The corn snake isn't considered an endangered species, but they are listed as a Species of Special Concern by the state of Florida, because of habitat loss and destruction in the lower Florida Keys.
The corn snake is often mistaken for the venomous Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and killed out of fear.The species is the most frequently bred pet snake, and are sometimes captured in the wild to be sold as pets.
Did You Know?
One bite of the australian inland taipan contains enough venom to kill up to 100 full grown men.