Clad in bright orange and red patterns, the corn snake is endemic to the southeastern part of the United States. In the wild, it likes to take up residence in large fields, tall trees, forest openings, and abandoned or empty buildings, where it feeds upon rodents, bird eggs, amphibians, and other reptiles. The origin of the name isn’t known, but it’s probably either named after the fact that its color patterns resemble corn or that it’s often found near grain stores. While superficially resembling a venomous copperhead, this harmless snake is a huge benefit to people by keeping populations of disease-carrying vermin in check; it’s closely related to the non-venomous rat snakes. You can read more about the differences between corn snakes and copperhead snakes here.
Corn snakes are fairly popular in the exotic pet trade. At their full size, they’re large and fascinating creatures, surprisingly easy to handle, but also not intimidating or dangerous. They come in a variety of different patterns, including striped, motley, and sunkissed; white and dark brown variants are available as well. If properly fed and cared for, they can reach their full potential size and live for 20 years or more in captivity. This article will cover some important details about how big corn snakes get and how to ensure they reach their full size. All values are given in inches and feet.
How Big Does the Corn Snake Get?
The answer to that question depends on their age. A healthy adult corn snake normally reaches a length of anywhere between four and six feet, or about 48 to 72 inches, and a diameter of about an inch. They also weigh around two pounds. Their impressive size is first evident immediately after hatching from the egg when they measure about eight to 12 inches long, or about one foot. This begins a period of very rapid growth. By the six-month mark, they should reach a length of about 20 to 30 inches or about 1.6 to 2.5 feet. By the time they reach about a year old, they should reach anywhere between 35 and 40 inches or around three feet. It will achieve a full size after about two to three years and remain there for the rest of its life.
The corn snake is not the largest species in the United States. That honor goes to the forest-dwelling eastern indigo snake, which can easily reach a length of anywhere between seven and nine feet or 84 to 108 inches. Nor does it come anywhere close to the largest tropical snakes in the world. But the corn snake is nevertheless among the larger, non-aggressive snakes you can reasonably find in the pet trade. They grow about the same pace (maybe even a little faster) in captivity as in the wild.
How Often Does a Corn Snake Shed?
Snakes are shed regularly to replace their entire skin. It’s thought that shedding can allow young snakes to grow progressively larger with each successive molt to eventually reach their full adult size (though the main point of shedding is to replace worn skin and remove any parasites like ticks from the body). After first hatching, corn snakes will shed quite often, approximately every three to five weeks. As a fast-growing juvenile, the length of time in between sheds will increase to about five to eight weeks. Once it reaches adulthood, however, your corn snake should shed no more often than four to six times per year, and it will continue to shed at this regular interval for the rest of its life. If it doesn’t shed regularly or experiences an incomplete shed, then it could be a sign of something wrong.
How Do You Ensure a Pet Corn Snake Reaches Its Full Size?
A well-cared-for snake should achieve all of its growth benchmarks with ease, eventually reaching a full length of four to six feet. The diet is the most important factor in the growth of a young snake. Owners should provide a frozen mouse or rat, thawed or warmed (not microwaved) to room temperature, about once every week or two during the daytime hours. A pinkie mouse should be an appropriate size for a juvenile snake, whereas larger rodents should be fed to an adult. If the snake doesn’t eat immediately, then you should take the food away and offer it the next day. Feeding should also occur in a separate enclosure so it doesn’t associate your hand with food.
Another factor that will affect the growth rate is the environmental condition of the tank. The habitat should be set at an appropriate temperature (usually between 70 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity level (between 40% and 60% under normal circumstances; as much as 70% when it’s shedding). It should also have about eight to 12 hours of exposure to ultraviolet light, followed by a nocturnal or infrared light at night. This should serve to replicate the preferred conditions that it needs in the wild.
Keep in mind that a small adult snake measuring four feet or less isn’t necessarily the sign of a development problem; genetics also play an important growth factor. But proper nutrition and care as a juvenile will maximize the potential size of your snake in captivity.
What Habitat Size Is Appropriate for a Corn Snake?
That depends on how big they are. The maximum habitat size for an adult corn snake should be somewhere in the range of 20 to 40 gallons (the larger tank is recommended, but a smaller one will do just fine). It should preferably have a secured locking lid to prevent the snake from escaping. A juvenile corn snake needs a much smaller habitat, perhaps somewhere in the range of five to 20 gallons.
Even though you might be tempted to just buy the largest tank possible for your juvenile or hatchling, some experts recommend upgrading the size of the tank progressively (starting with a smaller one and then graduating to a larger tank) throughout the snake’s early development. This is because if you place a juvenile in a large adult tank, then your snake could feel afraid and intimidated by the open space, forcing it to find a hiding place. The tank shouldn’t be too small, either, because if the snake feels boxed in or bored, then it definitely will have the desire to escape from its habitat.
Knowing the signs and behavior of your snake will help you determine the appropriate habitat size, but in general, if you start with a small juvenile tank, you will need to replace it within two or three years, perhaps sooner, to keep up with the growth of your snake. By the time it’s an adult, your corn snake should be ready for its full-sized tank, which it should enjoy for the rest of its long life. The habitat will also need appropriate bedding (such as paper, carpet, or shavings), a large log or branch, a heater or bulb, and appropriate lighting.
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