Corn Snakes have for many years been the starter snakes in our reptile hobby when it comes to keeping snakes. Today many of us reptile keepers look over Corn Snakes for being very common, but I think that it is important that we still appreciate them as after all they are still a snake! Even after the many years of keeping snakes and although I have many other more rare, expensive and highly sort after species of snakes I still get a sense of excitement when breeding my common corn snakes. From feeding them to mating them to them laying eggs and hatching out the babies it is still very rewarding to me. Corn Snakes may be common but if you are interested in colour mutations no other colubrid can rival the amazing variety of colour and pattern mutations that we find in Corn Snakes.
Although keeping Corn snakes is great on its own I think that breeding takes the enjoyment to a whole another level as it is the ultimate proof that you have provided the best possible care for your snakes and have allowed it to fulfil it’s most import function of it’s life. It is also an interesting, educational and maybe even be profitable (or at least pay to feed your adults for the year!). The experience you learn from breeding Corn Snakes can also be used to breed other colubrids in the future and will allow you to be more successful with other species in the future! So lets take a look the finer details of breeding Corns!
First of all you have to make sure you have a mature male and a female. Corn Snakes can mature around 18 – 24 months if fed well, otherwise it can take up to 3 years for them to be ready to breed. When it comes to breeding Corn Snakes it is important to understand their natural cycle they need to go through which will stimulate them to breed. Our brumation period or cooling period we use in Durban is through the winter months, which is the whole of June and July. It is important to also prepare your animals for this cooling period, as they will need to be in good condition and in the best possible health. In the beginning of March we start to feed our females a bit extra (two mice per week) to help them put on extra weight. This might sound very early to start ‘feeding up’ your females considering you will only be mating them in September or October but the extra weight also helps them to get through the brumation period and come out in prime condition and ready to breed as healthy animals hardly loose any weight during brumation. In the first week of May we begin to turn off night temperatures and maintain day temperatures as normal. The second week of May we feed their last meal, in the third week we keep dropping night temperatures and in the fourth week we turn off heating all together. Our room does still get to about 25°C during the day with the heating off. This adjustment period allows snakes to slowly adjust to the cooler temperatures as if you take them straight from their warm cages and suddenly into a cold dark room they can end up getting sick due to the shock of the sudden change. It is essential for all feeding to come to a complete halt at least two weeks prior to the date you intend to cool your Corn Snakes. You want them to be able to give them enough time for their food to pass through their digestive tracts. You do not want any undigested food or even old fecal matter resting in your snakes gut as this can cause health issues and even be fatal.
After the forth week or beginning of June we then move our Corn Snakes into a darker, cooler room where they will brumate for the whole of June and July. During burmation no food is offered only clean drinking water. Temperatures need to be anywhere from 7 – 18°C for around 60-75 days. The temperature does not have to be constant and for us it naturally goes up to about 14-18°C and then drops to around 10-12°C at night. We keep the room as dark as possible. If you have heat waves and the temperature gets warmer for a few days you don’t have to stress as this will not effect their cycle.
In the first week of August we open up all the curtains and start to let light in. We slowly start increasing the temperatures over two weeks until they back to normal. Feeding starts with a small meal to get their digestive system working again and then their feeding regime is returned to normal. So how do we know when to start putting them together? We find that after the brumation period they go through a shed in a few weeks time, generally after this shed we start introducing females into the males cages. I don’t think it makes a difference if you put the male in with the female or the female in with the female, with Corn snakes that are ready to mate they will get the job done when they are put together.
When you first place them together you will notice the male will be very eager as he will smell the ready-to-breed female which will be emitting a pheromone that will excite the male into a vigorous urge to copulate. The males and also sometimes the females will move in a series of spasmodic, jerking pulses as soon as he knows a female is nearby. If you supposedly female turns out to be another male then you will notice allot of thrashing around the cage allot of pushing in a contest of strength and also some biting.
If all goes well your Corn Snake will begin mating and stay locked in this position almost motionless, it is important to not bother them during this time. After about 10 – 20 minutes they will quietly separate and go their separate ways. After the mating females are the returned to their separate cage. Males will need about three days of rest before they can mate again with the same female or another female which ever you choose. I like to try and mate each female about 3 – 5 times each season to insure the best possible fertility. This doesn’t mean that one mating wont do the job by why not have more just to be safe! The most females you can use on one male is 4 to 6, anymore may result in infertile eggs.
Females will continue to eat for an additional three to five weeks after mating has occurred. After this enlarging eggs will make it difficult for passing food and therefor feeding will slacken and possibly even stop. Ten to fourteen days before the female is going to lay her eggs she will have a pre-lay shed and this is a good indication to place a egg laying box in the enclosure. An egg laying box can be as simple as an ice-cream tub with a hole cut into the lid large enough for the female to easily enter. We put down a 1cm thick layer of damp sphagnum moss. Make sure to keep it damp the whole time, as this is what they will need to lay the eggs.
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