BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Red corn snake

Pantherophis guttatus

What do they look like?

Corn snakes are mild-tempered, nonvenomous snakes. Large spots run along their backs and their undersides have a black and white checkered pattern. The body tends to be brown and red-orange, but colors vary with region and can include gray and yellow. Males are larger than females, adults have lengths of 70 to 120 cm. Snakes in warmer climates tend to be shorter, with an average adult length of approximately 48 cm. Hatchlings are paler and duller when they first hatch, and measure 20 to 35 cm. Corn snakes can sometimes be confused with venomous southern copperheads, but the two can be differentiated by the narrower head, lighter coloration, and square-shaped spots that are found in red corn snakes. Corn snakes are popular pets and, in captivity, breeders have created a wide variety of color patterns, from white to yellow to black.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    900 g
    31.72 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    48 to 120 cm
    18.90 to 47.24 in

Where do they live?

Corn snakes are found throughout the eastern and southern central United States and into northern Mexico.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Corn snakes can be found in a wide variety of habitats. They prefer areas with rocks and logs for nesting and basking and are found in deciduous forests, fields, grassy areas, and in suburban areas near homes and barns. They may be found in mountains up to about 1800 m in elevation.

  • Range elevation
    1800 (high) m
    5905.51 (high) ft

How do they grow?

Young corn snakes are fully developed when hatched. As they grow, corn snakes shed their skin several times, and continue to shed after reaching adulthood. After shedding, the coloration of the scales turns more vivid and the patterns become clearer. Growth is directly related to how much food is available to the snake; young snakes grow faster on a regular diet of warm-blooded animals. In general, a young corn snake reaches its full length shortly after reaching sexual maturity, at around two years of age.

How do they reproduce?

Not much is known about the mating systems of corn snakes. During mating season, the snakes find each other using chemical cues, or pheromones. Males fight each other for dominance, with the dominant male earning mating rites to the female.

Corn snakes reach sexual maturity at 16 to 18 months of age. Depending on the climate, the breeding season lasts from March to May, or year-round in the south. Gestation lasts one to two months, with females laying 10 to 15 (up to 30) eggs from May to early July in stumps, logs, or burrows that are warm and humid. The eggs are white and cylindrical, measuring 3.8 to 6.4 cm in length and 1.3 to 2.5 cm in diameter. Finding a corn snake nest is very rare, because females seek out secluded nesting sites. After approximately two months of incubation at an ideal temperature of 27.8 degrees Celsius, the eggs hatch between July and September. Not all healthy eggs hatch, as some hatchlings cannot get through the tough eggshell. Females in the wild lay one clutch of eggs per year. In captivity, female corn snakes may lay a second clutch of eggs.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Wild corn snakes breed once annually.
  • Breeding season
    Snakes mate in spring; eggs hatch during the summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    10 to 30
  • Average number of offspring
    10-15
  • Average number of offspring
    12
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    35 to 68 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    16 to 18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    16 to 18 months

Corn snakes provide no care to their young. Male snakes leave the female after mating, and females leave their eggs after laying them in a secluded nest. (Mattison, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

How long do they live?

The longest recorded lifespan of this species in captivity was just over 32 years. No information on lifespan in the wild is currently available.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    32.3 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    32.3 years
    AnAge

How do they behave?

Corn snakes climb trees or bushes to hunt for prey. In areas where they eat mostly rodents, they also spend time underground in the burrows of their prey. When they are not hunting, they spend much of their time basking on rocks. Corn snakes are usually diurnal, but during warmer periods or in warmer climates they may be active at dusk and dawn. They hibernate in crevices like logs or caves during the winter. In most of their range, corn snakes begin hibernation around October, emerging in the spring around April. Corn snakes in southern regions may hibernate for short periods or not at all. When shedding their skins, corn snakes become aggressive and reclusive. They first rub their nose against rocks and sticks to loosen the skin from the head. Once this is accomplished, they slither forward and the rest of the skin slides off in one long piece.

  • Range territory size
    39800 to 269500 m^2

Home Range

Corn snakes have home ranges that increase and decrease in size with the seasons, being largest in the late spring and early autumn.

How do they communicate with each other?

Corn snakes have rather poor eyesight and depend mainly on their sense of smell to find they way around and find prey. Like other snakes, they use their tongues and chemical receptors in their mouths to smell. They also feel ground vibrations throughout their body, which are used to locate small or otherwise hidden prey or predators. During the mating season, males give off pheromones that are detected by females. Communication is rare outside of mating season, as corn snakes are solitary animals.

What do they eat?

Corn snakes are carnivorous and do not need to eat often. They eat every few days in the wild. They kill prey by constriction and consume anything smaller than they are, including other corn snakes. Over half of their diet consists of rodents such as hispid cotton rats, white-footed mice and other mammal prey, such as eastern moles. In Florida, their diet consists mainly of reptiles and amphibians, which this may be a cause for this region's smaller snake sizes. Corn snakes will also climb trees and swallow bird eggs from unguarded nests.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Corn snakes have few natural predators, mostly larger snakes and birds of prey. Carnivorous mammals may also eat corn snakes. Larger snakes, such as eastern kingsnakes and black racers, will consume corn snakes. A corn snake’s primary method of avoiding predators is by camouflage and fleeing from danger. Young may hide from predators under tree bark.

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

The biggest impact that corn snakes have on their ecosystem is their ability to control populations of small mammals and birds. Several species of parasites infect corn snakes.

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • Hepatozoon guttata (Order Eucoccidiorida, Phylum Apicomplexa)
  • Cryptosporidium serpentis (Order Eucoccidiorida, Phylum Apicomplexa)
  • Cryptosporidium saurophilum (Order Eucoccidiorida, Phylum Apicomplexa)

Do they cause problems?

Although a corn snake's preferred defense is to flee, cornered snakes will bite humans. (Bartlett and Bartlett, 2005)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

How do they interact with us?

Like many snake species, corn snakes play a vital role in controlling rodent populations, helping to prevent the spread of disease in areas inhabited by humans. Corn snakes are also popular pets.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Although some natural habitat has been lost to human development, corn snakes show no sign of being a threatened species. (Hammerson, 2012)

Some more information...

Contributors

Sarah Hogrefe (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Kiersten Newtoff (editor), Radford University, Melissa Whistleman (editor), Radford University, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

References

Arbuckle, K. 2010. Suitability of day-old chicks as food for captive snakes. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 94/6: 296-307.

Bartlett, R., P. Bartlett. 2005. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Eastern and Central North America (North of Mexico). Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida.

Burbrink, F. 2002. Phylogeographic analysis of the cornsnake (Elaphe guttata) complex as inferred from maximum likelihood and Bayesian analyses. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 25/3: 465-476.

Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Ernst, C., R. Barbour. 1989. Snakes of Eastern North America. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University Press.

Friedel, P., B. Young, J. van Hemmen. 2008. Auditory Localization of Ground-Borne Vibrations in Snakes. Physical Review Letters, 100/4: 4 pages.

Hammerson, G. 2012. "Pantherophis guttatus" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Accessed February 07, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/63863/0.

Kimbell III, L., D. Miller, W. Chavez, N. Altman. 1999. Molecular analysis of the 18S rRNA gene of Cryptosporidium serpentis in a wild-caught corn snake (Elaphe guttata guttata) and a five-species restriction fragment length polymorphism-based assay that can additionally discern C. parvum from C. wrairi. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 65/12: 5345-5349.

Mattison, C. 2007. The New Encyclopedia of Snakes. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Plutzer, J., P. Karanis. 2007. Molecular identification of a Cryptosporidium saurophilum from corn snake (Elaphe guttata guttata). Parisatology Research, 101/4: 1141-1145.

Pyron, R., F. Burbrink. 2009. Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 52: 524-529.

Seigel, R., N. Ford. 1991. Phenotypic plasticity in the reproductive characteristics of an oviparous snake, Elaphe guttata: Implications for life history studies. Herpetologica, 47/3: 301-307.

Sievert, L., D. Jones, M. Puckett. 2005. Postprandial thermophily, transit rate, and digestive efficiency of juvenile cornsnakes, Pantherophis guttatus. Journal of Thermal Biology, 30/5: 354-359.

Sperry, J., C. Taylor. 2008. Habitat use and seasonal activity patterns of the Great Plains ratsnake (Elaphe guttata emoryi) in central Texas. The Southwestern Nautralist, 53/4: 444-449.

Stake, M., F. Thompson, J. Faaborg, D. Burhans. 2005. Patterns of snake predation at songbird nests in Missouri and Texas. Journal of Herpetology, 39/2: 215-222.

Stewart, J., T. Ecay, D. Blackburn. 2004. Sources and timing of calcium mobilization during embryonic development of the corn snake, Pantherophis guttatus. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, 139/3: 335-341.

Telford, S., J. Butler, R. Telford. 2002. Hepatozoon species (Apicomplexa: Hepatozoidae) of the corn snake, Elaphe guttata (Serpentes: Colubridae) and the pigmy rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri (Serpentes: Viperidae) in south Florida. The Journal of Parasitology, 88/4: 778-782.

Utiger, U., N. Helfenberger, B. Schätti, C. Schmidt, M. Ruf, V. Ziswiler. 2002. Molecular systematics and phylogeny of old and new world rat snakes, Elaphe Auct., and related genera (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae). Russian Journal of Herpetology, 9/2: 105-124.

Zug, G., L. Vitt, J. Caldwell. 2001. Herpetology, Second Edition: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

de Magalhaes, J., J. Costa. 2009. A database of vertebrate longevity records and their relation to other life-history traits. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22/8: 1770-1774.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Hogrefe, S. 2012. "Pantherophis guttatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 24, 2018 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Pantherophis_guttatus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2018, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan