Classification and Range
Corn snakes, also called red rat snakes, belong to the largest snake family, Colubridae. This family represents more than three-fourths of the world's 2,700 snake species. Members of this family are found on all continents except Antarctica. Most colubrids are non-venomous, but some species are equipped with grooved fangs in the rear portions of the upper jaw. Some, like the cat-eyed snake, are venomous but are scarcely dangerous to humans. Corn snakes range from southern Pennsylvania south to Florida, and west to south Louisiana. Small pockets of corn snakes are found in Kentucky.
Length and Weight
Corn snakes reach an average length of 30-40 inches (76-102 cm); the maximum recorded length for this species is 72 inches (183 cm). They usually weigh about 2 pounds (.9 kg)
Life span in the wild is unknown. In captivity, they typically live 12-18 years, with a recorded maximum life span of 24 years.
In the wild: small rodents At the zoo: Domestic rats and mice
Corn snakes usually reach sexual maturity at about 18-36 months. They mate from March to May. The male will follow a selected female for hours. When the opportunity presents itself, the male crawls repeatedly over her back, executing wave-like body movements. With a sudden movement of the posterior part of the body, the male entwines the female's tail and establishes cloacal contact. Both snakes raise and lower their tails, usually in synchronized fashion. The male inserts one of his paired copulatory organs, called hemipenes, into the cloaca. Clutches vary from three to 21 eggs, which usually hatch in July through September.
Newborn bushmasters are about 20 inches (50 cm) long. They are pale-colored, with a bright orange or yellow tail tip they gradually lose as they get older. This may help the young bushmasters attract small, insectivorous mammals to eat. The colors of the young bushmaster will usually change to their dark adult pattern when the snake is between 1-2 years old. Sexual maturity is typically reached around 4 years.
Corn snakes, as all reptiles, play an important role in nature's web of life. Wild habitat needed by these reptiles, however, is quickly disappearing. The pet trade is also lowering numbers of certain reptile populations to the point where they may become extinct in the wild. Each of us needs to take action to protect wild habitats so snakes and all animals can continue to perform the vital roles they play in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.
Humans need snakes and other reptiles. Here are only a few of the benefits they provide:
•Reptiles help keep animal populations in balance. Reptiles consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops.
•Snake venom is used in medical research and provides effective medicines to fight certain human diseases.
Humans Need Snakes
The population of bushmasters in the wild is unknown, due to their secretive habits and the dense forests and difficult terrain they typically inhabit. The extensive degradation and destruction of the tropical rain forests of South America is a major threat to this and many other plant and animal species.
Reptiles as Pets
We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area.
In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource. If you do choose to get a reptile as a pet, please learn as much as possible about their care and the best species before making your decision and never accept wild-caught animals as pets or release non-native reptiles or amphibians into the wild.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.
To learn other ways you can help, contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org about supporting conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about snakes by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at 303 W. 39th St., PO Box 626, Hays, KS 67601, or the American Federation of Herpetoculture: AFH, P.O. Box 300067, Escondido, CA, 92030-0067. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and habitats by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Burton, Maurice. 1984. Encyclopedia of Reptiles, Amphibians & Other Cold-Blooded Animals. BPC Publishing Ltd., San Sebastian, Spain. 252 p.
Mattison, Chris. 1986. Snakes of the World. Facts On Life Publications, New York, NY. 190 p.
Markle, Sandra. 1995. Outside and Inside Snakes. MacMillian Books, New York, NY. 40 p.
Resmick, Jane P. 1996. Eyes on Nature: Snakes. Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p. Zoobooks. 1992. Snakes. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 16 p.