The books Snakes: the Keeper and the Kept and Snakes and Snake Hunting, written by Staten Island Zoo curator Carl Kauffeld, turned “Okeetee, South Carolina” into a household name for legions of snake enthusiasts worldwide (myself included). An incredibly productive snake collecting area, Okeetee was especially noted for its brilliantly colored corn snakes, Elaphe (Pantherophis) guttata, and abundant Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus). A road sign from the area still graces the corn snake exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, where I worked for many years, and photographs taken from collecting trips to Okeetee in the 60’s and 70’s line the back rooms of the zoo’s 100 year old reptile house.
The Influence of Okeetee
These “Okeetee corns”, as they became known, were largely responsible for the explosion of interest in captive snake breeding in the late 60’s and 70’s, and ushered in a new age of husbandry innovations; today the corn snake remains the world’s most commonly bred snake species. Corn snakes have provided untold numbers of aspiring herpetologists with an introduction to snake keeping and snake breeding, and have played an important role in a number of research efforts.
Preparing Snakes for the Breeding Season
For those of you who plan to breed corn snakes, now (late summer) is the time to begin preparations. Your snakes should be fed heavily until autumn, at which time they can be chilled to 50-59 F (after a 2 week fast) for 6-8 weeks. Although corn snakes may reproduce at the tender age of 11 months, breeding should be withheld until they are at least 2 years of age…females that are bred too early often fail to attain full size, and tend to produce small clutches and weak offspring.
Mating occurs from March to June in most regions, with the eggs being laid 25-50 days thereafter. A second clutch may be produced in late summer/early fall. An average clutch consists of 16 eggs, but may range from 6-26. At 82 F, incubation time averages 62 days in length, and the young are 8-11 inches long upon hatching.
As we will see in Part II of this article, years of intense captive breeding efforts have produced a mind-boggling array of corn snake morphs, strains and hybrids. The reproductive cycle of all parallels that just described, but individual details, such as clutch size, etc., will vary among the various types of corn snakes.
The Southwestern Center for Herpetological Research has posted some informative notes and blog entries concerning the influence that Carl Kauffeld and Okeetee, SC have had on the snake-keeping community:
The care of corn snakes roughly parallels that of black rat snakes. Please see my article The Captive Care of Black Ratsnakes for more information.