Cornsnake

(Elaphe guttata)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in a variety of terrestrial habitats, including deciduous forests and grassy areas, in eastern and southeastern United States (mostly in Florida), northern Mexico, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and the Virgin Islands.

Size: 24-70 inches

Wild Diet: Mice, rats, birds, bats, and bird eggs. Young hatchlings tend to eat lizards and tree frogs.

Predators: Larger snakes, birds of prey, and carnivorous mammals.

Reproduction: Cornsnakes are ready to mate at 16-18 months of age. The breeding season depends on the climate, lasting from March to May in cooler areas and lasting year-round in the south. In late spring, after a gestation of about 75 days, females find secluded nests in humid stumps, logs, or burrows and lay 10-30 eggs. The eggs incubate for two months at an ideal temperature of 82°F. Juveniles hatch between July and September, fully developed and requiring no maternal care.

Behavior: Cornsnakes are primarily diurnal and explore trees, abandoned buildings, shrubs, and leaf litter in search of prey. When threatened, they strike repeatedly, but often become docile after the threat has left. They are non-venomous but sometimes mimic the venomous rattlesnake by vibrating their tails on dry leaves to imitate the rattle and assuming an S-shaped striking pose. Cornsnakes grow continuously and shed their skin regularly throughout their lives. When shedding, they rub their nose against rocks and sticks to loosen the skin around the head, then slither out of the old skin and leave it behind. They shed even their eye caps!

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

In Florida, cornsnakes have been listed as a Species of Special Concern because of habitat loss and destruction. They are also sometimes mistaken for venomous copperheads and killed. Aside from these concerns, cornsnakes face no major threats.

Did you know?

  • Selective breeding of cornsnakes for the pet trade has produced genetic pattern and color variations that can vary dramatically.
  • Snakes rely on their powerful sense of smell to detect predators and prey. They flick their tongues to collect scents. They can identify the odor by inserting their tongue into a special organ, known as the Jacobson’s Organ, located at the base of the nasal cavity.
  • The cornsnake is also known as the "red rat snake."
  • The name "cornsnake" may have originated from the similarity of its belly markings to the checkered pattern of maize (Indian corn). Another idea is that they got this name because they spend time in corn fields pursuing small rodents.