The snakes in Florida are exactly like what you’d expect them to be like: wild-eyed and crazy about other reptiles. Though they may not make the news as often as the humans who live there, Florida corn snakes, also called eastern corn snakes or red rat snakes, are just as intriguing. Here are 11 facts about the Florida corn snake; let’s get started.
1) Not all Florida Corn Snakes Live in Florida
Florida corn snakes largely live in Florida. Oh, you already knew that? Well, you’re very clever.
Besides Florida, these corn snakes spread out west all the way to the Mississippi River and all the way north to New Jersey. It makes sense that they are often referred to as eastern corn snakes, seeing as they obviously have a preference when it comes to deciding between the coasts.
In the wild, corn snakes are often found in overgrown fields, forest clearings, palmetto flat woods, up in trees and other elevated surfaces, and in abandoned houses and barns. They can live from sea level all the way to 6,000 feet above sea level. They like warmer climates, though they have been sighted as far west as Utah.
If the climate is cold enough, corn snakes will hibernate during the winter. They are less active in the winter and hunt and eat less. This of course just makes them more active in the spring when their breeding season comes around.
On the coast, where it’s warmer, corn snakes will settle in rocky crevices and in hollow logs on the off chance Florida experiences some frost.
In the winter months, when it’s (relatively) colder and less sunny (again, this is relative, we all know Florida is still surfer’s paradise mid-January), corn snakes will take full advantage of the warm days and can be seen stretching out on the ground, sunbathing, not a care in the world.
I think we’re all a little jealous of the life of a snake.
2) Sadly, They’re Stuck at Number Two
Even though they’re named after the state, Florida corn snakes are actually only the second most common snake in Florida. Another non-venomous snake called a black racer claims the first place.
And honestly, if I were a snake, I definitely would not mind taking second to a snake with a name like “black racer.” Much cooler than “corn snake.” Corn doesn’t sound remotely intimidating.
In the temperament category, however, corn snakes beat black racers soundly. Black racers are known for biting, although they’re non-venomous. Corn snakes, on the other hand, are widely known as some of the most docile snakes, probably right after ball pythons. So they’re second place again.
3) They’ve Been Known to be Cradle Robbers
And by cradles, I mean cribs. And by cribs, I mean corn cribs. Corn snakes got their names by hiding out in corn cribs on farms in the country, which also explains why they stick to the south of the United States. You’d be hard pressed to find a whole lot of corn fields in New York.
As far back as the 1500’s, farmers have documented just how useful corn snakes can be to their crops. If you’re not familiar with the intricacies and mechanics of harvesting corn, first of all, I recommend spending this next summer working on a farm. It builds character, and there are a lot of life lessons to be learned there.
But, since you’re on your computer right now and definitely not working the fields, I guess I can fill you in a little.
After corn is harvested from the field, it is stored in something called a corn crib.
The rodents sneak in to nibble a little on the corn, and that just alerts the corn snakes to their presence, and before you know it, there’s a whole line of corn snakes trailing up to the corn crib door.
Snakes aren’t interested in corn, as they are strictly carnivorous. But they are interested in eating up all the fat, slow mice that litter the corn cribs. The farmers luck out and get free pest control, and in return, they let the snakes make their homes in the rafters.
4) They’ve Gone Through a Few Legal Name Changes
Currently, the corn snake is in the genus Pantherophis. Originally, they were placed in the genus Elaphe. This, of course, means absolutely nothing to you unless you’re a biologist, snake crazy, or lying.
Basically, the reason for the change was that snake crazy biologists determined that corn snakes are more closely related to California king snakes than to Old World rat snakes. Somehow, this translates to a name change.
Since then, there’s been another change to the corn snake family. The corn snake family used to have a subspecies called a Great Plains rat snake, which, unlike the eastern corn snake, lives in the Great Plains (not surprisingly).
Now the Great Plains rat snake is its own species and no longer has to be associated with their close cousin. Scotland should take a leaf out of this snake’s playbook.
5) Copy Cats… or is it Copy Snakes?
Normally in the wild, if an animal is brightly colored, it’s a warning that they are extremely poisonous. Corn snakes are very bright, coming in shades of red and orange with brilliantly beautiful patterns and bands. But they’re not poisonous. So what gives?
Animals and plants that are brightly colored are practicing what is called aposematic coloration. Basically, they are screaming, “Hey watch out, I’m poisonous! You really don’t want to be attacking and eating me! Seriously, don’t you dare hurt me! Leave me alone!” Really, in simple terms, it’s defense mechanism, and it keeps them safe from predators.
Animals and plants that are not poisonous still sometimes have bright colors. This is called mimicry. They are trying to look poisonous so that they also don’t get attacked. Corn snakes are brightly colored to protect themselves. But they are really harmless and quite safe to handle.
Because of their mimicry, corn snakes are often mistaken for cottonmouths, which are extremely poisonous. If you think you see a cottonmouth, first of all, just get away, don’t try and kill it. But if you really need, to know, just look at their eyes. All nonvenomous snakes have round pupils and all venomous snakes have cat-like slits for pupils.
6) They Don’t Exactly Fit the Mold of a Native Floridian
We all know that people in Florida aren’t exactly known for their calm attitude. Leave that to the Dakotas. No, people go to Florida to let it loose and go a little crazy. Even the animals there are absolutely out of this world, bonkers: giant African snails, alligators, cannibalistic lionfish, you name it.
So you’d expect a corn snake named after a place like that to fit the mold, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong.
Corn snakes are among the most docile snakes around. They are often kept as pets due to their adaptability, docile attitude, and low maintenance. Corn snakes will only bite if you do something truly annoying, like poke it with a stick. But, honestly, wouldn’t you bite somebody if they were poking you with a stick repeatedly?
Mostly, corn snakes are just concerned with eating as much as they can and soaking up some sun. They really do sound like they belong in California, don’t they?
7) They Are Horrible Parents
Corn snakes lay eggs, which is actually pretty common. Roughly 70 percent of all snakes lay eggs. Snakes that live in warmer climates lay eggs because the warm weather helps incubate their eggs. Snakes that live in colder climate give live births so the babies can stay warm until they are born.
The breeding season for corn snakes is from April to June, so right after winter, if you can claim that Florida even has a “winter time.”
As mentioned before, corn snakes like to hibernate- or just be really lazy- during the winter, so once the weather starts warming up, they are ready to start making babies. Males will mate with as many females as possible, wooing them through a combination of tactical and chemical skill.
Females lay between five and thirty eggs. She lays them in a moist, warm, hidden place. Then, she promptly abandons them. Corn snakes just leave their now orphaned children to fend for themselves, and they never even know if their babies hatch at all.
The gestation period lasts around sixty to 65 days. So hatchlings emerge around late summer or early fall. When the babies are ready to hatch, they use a special egg tooth to break the shell. Then, they’re on their own, relying on their instincts to survive.
8) Compared to Most Snakes, They Have a Really Refined Palette
Corn snakes have a pretty varied diet, compared to most snakes. They do eat a lot of rodents, considering it’s usually mice that eat corn, which means they’re easy pickings. And who doesn’t like fast food every now and then?
Usually, corn snakes will eat a variety of lizards, frogs, rodents, small birds, and bird eggs. Basically, they’ll eat just about anything they can find. They burn a lot of calories wiggling around all the time, so it makes sense that they would be hungry all the time.
Unlike a lot of snakes, corn snakes eat every few days. Ball pythons, for example, can go a month without eating. Most other snakes eat every seven to ten days. But corn snakes will eat any time they have a meal available, so every few days.
If you have a pet corn snake, aim to feed them every five days. And you can feed them a variety of choices, from mice to rats to small frogs. Variety is the spice of life, and it will be good for your snake. You wouldn’t like eating oatmeal every day for years,
9) They Have the Biggest Variety of Morphs
Alright, I’m just going to lay down a list for you on how many morphs of corn snakes there are. Here goes.
- Normal / Carolina / Wildtype – orange with black lines around red saddle markings going down their back. These are the most common. Most popular versions of these are the Miami and Okeetee versions.
- Miami – silver or grey body with red or orange saddle markings surrounded in black.
- Okeetee corn snakes- orange body with red saddle marks on their back bordered by black.
- Candy Cane- exactly what they sound like. White body with red or orange stripes. Their colors fade with age.
- Reverse Okeetee- white instead of black borders around the saddle marks.
- Fluorescent orange- white borders around orange saddle marks with a red body.
- Sunglow- orange body with dark orange saddle marks.
- Blood red- a solid orange-red body.
- Crimson (hypomelanistic + Miami) are very light high contrast snakes with a light background and dark red/orange saddle marks.
- Anerythristic- solid black with the occasional yellow markings around their neck.
- Charcoal- a more muted version of the anerythristic morph.
- Caramel- yellow or yellow-brown body with dull yellow saddle marks.
- Lavender pink body with purple-grey saddle marks. Strangely, they have red eyes.
- Cinder- slimmer, with wavy borders around their saddle marks.
- Kastanie- born solid black, but turn more chestnut colored as they age.
- Hypomelanistic (Hypos)- normal, except all the lighter pigments (white, red, yellow, orange) are way more vivid.
- Ultra- grey borders (instead of black)
- Ultramel- basically a lighter version of the ultra morph.
- Dilute- constantly looks like it’s about to start shedding (foggy scales)
- Sunkissed- another version of a hypo, just found in a different area.
- Lava- any pigment that would normally be black is instead grey or purple.
10) One of the Only Species of Snakes to Have a Scaleless Morph
One of the morphs I didn’t mention above is a scaleless morph. There are actually snakes without scales, isn’t that weird? Well, I say without scales. Really, they have scales; there are just a few scales dotting the underside of their body. These scales are to aid with their movement.
The patterns and colors are exactly the same as snakes with scales. And there are no health complications or adverse effects in snakes without scales. Really the only difference is what their outer skin is made of. In snakes with scales, their outer layer is called the dermal layer. In scaleless morphs, their outer skin is made of a thin layer of keratin.
A morph just means that the snake’s pattern or coloring is different than the normal, or original snake. So a corn snake with grey instead of black borders is a morph. But a corn snake with two head is a mutation. There’s a pretty important difference there.
11) Tarzan Had Better Watch Out
Corn snakes like to climb. They often hang out in branches (yes, pun totally intended) or underneath the soft bark of trees. Their favorite places are palm fronds. Sometimes, when frightened, they will drop down unexpectedly on you, so just watch out.
They also like to hide in rafters, lofts, and high, empty shelves. This is why they hang out in corn cribs so much. That, and the easy free food. So next time Tarzan is swinging from the trees, he just has to make sure the vine he’s grabbing isn’t actually a corn snake.
Is a corn snake dangerous? Corn snakes are nonvenomous, and they rarely bite. If they do bite, it doesn’t hurt any worse than a kitten scratch and heals quickly. They are constrictors, meaning they like to wrap themselves around stuff, but they are small enough that they are easy to peel off if they wrap around your arm or wrist.
Are corn snakes good pets? Corn snakes are considered one of the best snake breeds to keep as pets. They are small, nonvenomous, docile, and adaptable. They don’t require much care, and their enclosures are very simple. You don’t even need an extra light bulb. They are easy to handle and will become tamer the more you handle them. Plus, they live upwards of 20 years in captivity, so you can keep them around for a very long time.
How long can corn snakes go without eating? In the wild, corn snakes eat every few days. In captivity, they don’t have to eat as much because they don’t have to exert themselves as much as they do in the wild. As a rule of thumb, feed your adult corn snake at the very least every ten days. Feed your baby corn snake at the very least every five days or so.