One of the reasons why corn snakes make such spectacular beginner pets is that they are one of the few reptile species hardy (and patient) enough to put up with regular handling. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about corn snake handling.
How to tame a corn snake
You will need to wait a little while after bringing your new pet home to let it settle in. This usually takes about 2 weeks, but you shouldn’t start handling until it’s eating regularly.
Once your corn snake is ready for handling, take it slow at first — just like any relationship. Start with brief handling sessions (no longer than 5 minutes), and don’t return the snake until it is calm. This teaches your pet how to behave during handling by using rudimentary positive reinforcement. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to 10 minutes, and then gradually up to half an hour. Handling sessions should not exceed 1 hour, as the snake will get too cold.
Corn snake handling should occur least 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily. Snakes do not require social interaction for their mental health, but handling helps the snake stay tame and can be a good opportunity for exercise as well.
How to hold your corn snake
Before you pick up your corn snake, make sure it’s awake by gently tapping it with a paper towel roll or stroking its body with a snake hook. This will help it realize that it’s handling time, not food time. Once its tongue starts flicking, you’ll know that the snake is awake. If you are worried about getting bit, wear a pair of light gloves.
Use your hand(s) to approach your snake from the side — approaching from above may trigger a defensive instinct, as predators often attack from above in the wild. As you pick it up, hold as much of its body as you can, and avoid grabbing the tail or restraining the head.
Once the snake is in your hands and out of its enclosure, hold it close to your body and gently guide its movements with your hands. Corn snakes like to explore, so expect it to start climbing up your arms. Many like to drape themselves around their owner’s neck or attempt climbing up the features of their owner’s face (I’ve heard that glasses are especially popular for some reason). If this makes you uncomfortable, use a hand to gently guide the snake’s head away from your face.
When NOT to hold your corn snake
If your snake has taken a meal in the last 48 hours, it’s not a good idea to start a handling session. At worst, handling shortly after a meal can cause regurgitation, which is highly stressful and can even kill the snake. At best, it’s a very uncomfortable experience.
If your snake is in shed, hold off on corn snake handling. A snake “in the blue” will appear to have bluish, cloudy eyes, which means it may be extra defensive because it can’t see well. Wait until your pet has shed its skin, then resume regular handling.
Will it bite me?
Any animal with a mouth can bite, and will bite with enough provocation — even I would bite someone if they were annoying enough!
Hatchlings and young juveniles are very nervous and defensive at this stage of life (a bit of a Napoleon complex, really) and will strike at anything. This can be intimidating, but don’t be discouraged — you probably won’t even feel it.
Even bites from adults are not serious or very painful, so really you don’t have anything to worry about.
If the snake doesn’t “strike and release,” resist the urge to yank it off of you. This risks ripping out its teeth, which can result in a nasty infection on the snake’s part. Instead, poor some cold water or a little Listerine mouthwash over its head and it should release on its own. Treat the “wound” with soap and water and you’ll be right as rain.
Corn Snake Body Language
Corn snake body language is very simple, but there are a few cues you should know in order to create the best relationship possible with your pet.
Tongue flicking in and out: Snake is “smelling” the air. This is how it knows when prey or a human is nearby. Also signals that the snake is awake.
No movement or tongue flicking: Snake is probably asleep (they don’t have eyelids to close). Approach with caution.
Head retracted, neck coiled into ‘S’ shape: Snake feels threatened and is preparing to defend itself if necessary. May also be preparing to strike at prey.
Hissing: Snake is telling you to “go away.”
Tail shaking/rattling: Snake feels threatened and is trying to scare away the perceived predator.
Musking/defecating during handling: Snake perceives you as a predator, and uses poo or an unpleasant-smelling musk to try to get away.
Clouded/bluish eyes: Snake is preparing to shed. May be extra defensive because it can’t see well.
At the end of the day, respect your snake’s mood. If they seem cranky or uncomfortable, leave them be.
PRO TIP: Wash your hands after handling prey items or food for your other animals, as the scent might lead the snake to mistake your hands for food.