The Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) is a North American species of rat snake. Their docile nature, reluctance to bite, moderate adult size, attractive pattern, and comparatively simple care make them commonly kept pet snakes. Though superficially resembling the venomous copperhead and often killed as a result of this mistaken identity, Corn snakes are harmless and beneficial to humans. They are named for their regular presence near grain stores, where they prey on mice and rats that eat harvested corn.
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Corn snakes are usually orange or yellowish-brown in color with large, black-edged red blotches down their back. There are black and white marks on their bellies, which resemble a checkerboard pattern.
Corn snakes are found in the Southeastern United States ranging from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and as far west as Utah. Wild Corn snakes prefer habitats such as overgrown fields, forest openings, trees, palmetto flatwoods, and abandoned or seldom-used buildings and farms. They can also be found in rocky open areas and tropical hammocks.
Corn snakes are solitary creatures. They are active at night and spend most of their daytime underground in burrows or hiding under logs, rocks, or loose bark. Typically, these snakes remain on the ground until the age of four months but can ascend trees, cliffs, and other elevated surfaces. In colder regions, Corn snakes brumate during winter. However, in the more temperate climate along the coast, they shelter in rock crevices and logs during cold weather; they also can find shelter in small, closed spaces, such as under a house, and come out on warm days to soak up the heat of the sun. During cold weather, snakes are less active, so hunt less. Corn snakes have a very sharp sense of smell which they use to hunt their prey. They usually eat every few days and hunt on the ground, climbing trees or in tunnels underground.
Corn snakes usually breed from March to May. Females lay eggs slightly more than a month after mating; 12-24 eggs are deposited into a warm, moist, hidden location. Once laid, the female abandons the eggs and does not return to them. The eggs are oblong with leathery, flexible shells. About 10 weeks after laying, the snakelets use a specialized scale called an egg tooth to slice slits in the eggshell, from which they emerge. Young Corn snakes hatch well-developed (precocial) and become reproductively mature when they are 18-36 months old.
There are no major threats to Corn snakes at present. However, habitat destruction is a local threat in some areas and these snakes are also often killed being mistaken for the venomous copperhead.
According to IUCN, the Corn snake is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Like all snakes, Corn snakes play a very important ecological role in their environment. They help control populations of small mammals they prey on. Corn snakes are also beneficial to humans as they help control populations of wild rodent pests that damage crops and spread disease.
Corn snakes are one of the most popular types of snakes to keep in captivity or as pets. Their size, calm temperament, and ease of care contribute to this popularity. Captive Corn snakes tolerate being handled by their owners, even for extended periods. After many generations of selective breeding, domesticated Corn snakes are found in a wide variety of different colors and patterns, and new variations, or morphs, become available every year.