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The Corn Snake and its Relatives – Natural History and Captive Care

Corn SnakeAlso known as the Red Rat Snake, the Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttata), is one of North America’s most beautifully-patterned reptiles, and the world’s most popular serpent pet.  Corn Snakes figured prominently in the development of American snake-keeping, and their history is tied up with the legendary Carl Kauffeld and his famous collecting site, Okeetee, South Carolina.  My own history leads me to Corn Snakes as well…I was in awe of Mr. Kauffeld as a child, and in later years I was the consultant for the renovation of his beloved reptile house at the Staten Island Zoo.  So, despite having crossed paths with hundreds of species, I reserve a special fondness for these interesting, undemanding beauties.

Recent Name and Classification Changes

The taxonomy, or classification, of the Corn Snake and its relatives has recently been revised. All have been moved from the genus Elaphe to Pantherophis; several species have been combined, and new ones have been described.  We are left with the following (please see article below for details): Read More »

Corn Snake Notes: History, Breeding Preparations, Color Phases – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for information on the history of corn snakes (Elaphe/Pantherophis guttatus) in the pet trade and breeding preparations.

Color Strains

Young herpers may find it hard to believe that there was a time when only normally colored corn snakes were to be found in the pet trade. Today, a bewildering array of color phases and patterns are available, far more than exist for any reptile. I just reviewed a wholesaler’s price list and counted 48 color and pattern strains being offered!


Corn snakes have also been hybridized with closely and even distantly related species, including, respectively, black ratsnakes and gopher snakes. Indeed, the corn snake’s genetic propensity for producing numerous color morphs and hybrids is at the core of its popularity and its value in revealing to us the details of snake color inheritance and captive breeding.

Natural vs. Captive-Produced Corn Snake Colors

Oddly, the naturally colorful “Okeetee Phase” corn snakes are now less in evidence than other forms, and consequently are becoming highly prized. They really are gorgeous, and, in light of their history, hold a special interest for me. However, some of the captive-generated morphs are quite unique and its great fun to work on producing new strains. Some of the more descriptively named corn snake varieties include:

  • Sun Kissed
  • Sunglow
  • Rootbeer Striped
  • Reverse Okeetee
  • Snow Striped
  • Lavender Motley
  • Hypo Striped
  • Golddust
  • Ghost Striped
  • Ghost Blood Red
  • Creamsickle
  • Christmas
  • Charcoal
  • Caramel motely
  • Butter Striped
  • Black
  • Albino Recessive Okeetee
  • Albino Abberent

I’ve often thought someone should establish a collection comprised of representatives of every known corn snake color phase and hybrid…if you are on your way to that, please let me know!

Further Reading

The taxonomy of corn snakes and related species has been revised in recent years. To view its current status and learn more about corn snake hybrids, please see http://www.jcvi.org/reptiles/species.php?genus=Pantherophis&species=guttatus.


Corn Snake Notes: History, Breeding Preparations, Color Phases – Part 1

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.


Further Reading

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.

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