Corn Snake Habitat: What Is the Ideal Tank Setup?

The habitat needs of different snake species vary considerably. Some require elaborate habitat designs and copious amounts of space, which most hobbyists are unable to provide. But other species – such as the corn snake – are fairly easy to house, as they don’t require anything complicated nor especially large.

We’ll explain everything you need to know to provide your corn snake with a suitable habitat below.

corn snakes in their habitat

Providing the proper habitat for your new pet corn snake is one of the most important things you’ll do as a keeper. Your snake’s habitat effectively becomes his entire world. Many of the health problems that afflict captive snakes can be traced back to improper habitat design and maintenance, so it is imperative that you acquire the proper enclosure and set in up in a sensible manner.

One of the neat things about corn snakes is their ability to thrive in either utilitarian or natural-looking habitats.

You can maintain your pet in a spartan, relatively “sterile” habitat, or you can decorate it so that it looks like a small version of the corn snake’s natural habitat. In fact, many keepers who’ve maintained public corn snake exhibits (including yours truly) have set up corn snake habitats that mimic the forests, wetlands and farms in which these snakes thrive.

Natural Habitat: Where Do Corn Snakes Live?

Wild corn snakes are primarily confined to the southeastern United States. Their range essentially covers the area stretching from Louisiana to North Carolina, and scattered pockets of corn snakes can be found as far north as New Jersey. Corn snakes are even found living in the Florida Keys.

Within this range, corn snakes inhabit several different types of habitats. Historically, corn snakes were likely most common in the hardwood, pine, and mixed forests of the southeast, and some individuals undoubtedly inhabited fields and wetlands too. Once humans began altering the North American landscape, corn snakes also began living in the farms they created.

Modern corn snakes inhabit the same types of forests, fields and wetlands they always have, and they’ve also managed to populate farms and other disturbed areas, ranging from backyards to gardens to vacant lots.

Corn Snake Tank Size

Corn snakes are relatively inactive snakes, who don’t need particularly large enclosures. Generally speaking, they require a habitat with a perimeter that measures twice their body length. In other words, a 2-foot-long young individual would require a habitat with a 4-foot perimeter. Similarly, a 6-foot-long adult would require a habitat with a 12-foot perimeter.

However, these should represent the minimal requirements – you can always provide your snake with a larger habitat if you like. Some advanced keepers report that large habitats can make snakes feel insecure, but this is simply incorrect. It is true that large empty habitats may make snakes feel nervous or exposed, but they’ll feel completely at ease in complex habitats with plenty of visual barriers and hiding spaces.

Corn snakes don’t necessarily need habitats that provide a great deal of vertical height, but because they are avid climbers, it is often helpful to do so.

corn snake care humidity

>Further Reading: Corn Snake Care Sheet: A Simple (But Complete) Guide for Beginners

Heating and Temperature Range for Your Corn Snake Enclosure

Corn snakes are ectothermic animals, whose body temperature fluctuates with the ambient temperatures. This means that you must manage the temperatures in your pet’s habitat carefully.

The best way to do so is by establishing a thermal gradient. This means that the habitat should provide your snake with a range of temperatures – this way your snake can move around the habitat to adjust his body temperature.

Creating a thermal gradient is pretty easy; you simply need to place the heating device at one end of the enclosure. The spot closest to the heating device becomes the basking spot, while the far side of the habitat will then serve as a cool retreat, which your snake can use when he needs to cool off.

Heat lamps are typically the best heating devices for beginners, but you can also use heat pads, heat tape or radiant heat panels. Just be sure that you invest in a good digital thermometer so that you can monitor the temperatures carefully. Place the thermometer at one end of the enclosure and position the remote probe (if present) at the opposite side of the habitat.

Shoot for a basking spot temperature of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should fall with increasing distance from the basking spot, with the cool side of the habitat remaining in the low- to mid-70s. It isn’t always possible to achieve such a drastic gradient in small habitats, but this should be your goal.

It is generally wise to turn the heating devices off at night, to mimic the temperature drop that occurs outdoors. Just be sure that your pet’s habitat doesn’t drop below the mid- to high-60s. If it does, you’ll need to add a nocturnal, light-free heating device to the habitat to prevent your pet from falling ill.

Suitable Humidity in a Corn Snake Terrarium

Temperature isn’t the only thing you need to monitor for your pet corn snake – you must also monitor the humidity level in the habitat. Fortunately, corn snakes will tolerate a fairly wide range of humidity levels, unlike some other snakes, which have fairly specific humidity requirements.

As a ball-park figure, shoot for a humidity level in the 50% to 70% range. If you keep the habitat much drier than this, your snake will likely have trouble shedding properly; keep it wetter than this, and your snake may develop bacterial and fungal infections.

There are several ways to raise the humidity level of your corn snake’s habitat (because of the presence of the heat lamp, it’ll rarely be necessary to reduce the habitat humidity in practice). You can use a moisture-retaining substrate and dampen it periodically, or you can simply provide a larger water dish. You can also mist the habitat regularly or reduce the amount of ventilation (carefully) to increase the relative humidity.

Another approach that is often helpful is to provide your snake with a moist retreat. This is essentially a hide box that’s kept slightly damp by keeping a layer of moistened moss or wood chips inside. This gives the snake a chance to rest in a high-humidity environment when necessary, without forcing them to remain in a damp habitat at all times.

corn snake bedding

What Is the Best Corn Snake Bedding?

There are a variety of different beddings you can use for your snake’s habitat. Some of the best include:

  • Newspaper or Paper Towels – Newspaper and paper towels are excellent substrates for beginners and any other keeper who likes to keep things simple. Not only are these substrates free (or nearly so), they make it very easy to keep the habitat clean. Contrary to what some new keepers think, your snake probably doesn’t care whether or not his habitat looks “natural.” As long as their needs are met, they’re typically “happy” with simple substrates like these. Just be sure that you change the newspaper or paper towels when they become soiled.
  • Aspen Shavings – Aspen mulch is one of the most popular choices among professional corn snake breeders (although many opt to use newspaper instead). Aspen is safe for corn snakes, it is relatively affordable, and it smells quite nice. You can also “spot clean” aspen shavings, instead of having to change the entire substrate such as you would when using newspaper. Just be sure that you keep the shavings pretty dry, as aspen will rot when allowed to remain wet.
  • Cypress Mulch – Cypress mulch is an acceptable substrate for corn snakes that some keepers (including the author) prefer above most others. Cypress mulch maintains moisture well, it lasts for a long time, and it is easy to spot clean. It’s also affordable (although this varies with your location), and it looks great.  
  • Orchid Bark – In a perfect world, most keepers would probably use orchid bark as a substrate for most snakes. It is attractive, it smells pleasant, it lasts for a very long time, and it’s too large for most snakes to accidentally swallow. The primary drawback to orchid bark is its price – orchid bark is quite expensive.  

>Further Reading: What Do Corn Snakes Eat? A Diet & Food Guide

Corn Snake Supplies and Accessories

We’ve discussed most of the things you’ll need for your corn snake’s habitat in the preceding sections, but we’ll run them down one more time to make it easier for you to pick up everything you need.

  • Enclosure
  • Heat lamp and bulb
  • Digital thermometer
  • Water dish
  • Hide box (at least one, but multiple hide boxes are ideal)
  • Climbing branches
  • Substrate

corn snake in its hide

Remember: A Proper Corn Snake Habitat Is Critical for Success

Your corn snake’s habitat becomes his world, so make sure that you do everything possible to provide him with the best enclosure you can. Just heed the advice presented above and be sure to think about things from your snake’s point of view. This will help ensure your snake enjoys the enclosure and give him the best chance of living a long, healthy life.

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Ben Team

Ben Team

Ben is a life-long environmental educator who writes about the natural world. He’s kept and bred a diverse array of reptiles and amphibians over the last three decades, but he’s always been particularly fond of snakes in the genus Morelia and monitor lizards. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler.

10 thoughts on “Corn Snake Habitat: What Is the Ideal Tank Setup?”

    1. Avatar

      Hey, Mark.
      You can, but you’ll still need to remove the dish and wash it regularly, so it’ll end up being a TON of work.
      I’d recommend just keeping things simple – especially if this is your first snake.
      Best of luck!

  1. Avatar

    Ben,

    Wonderful article. Thank you. I’ll be acquiring a corn snake soon, which will be my first snake; so, I’m new to all of this. I have a few question about lighting. Does a corn snake enclosure require overhead lighting? I’m not talking about as a heat source (I would use a pad or heat lamp). Rather, I’m curious about lighting just to light the enclosure. Is the ambient room light sufficient for a corn? Does it prefer to have direct overhead lighting to mimic the white light from the sun? Is there such a thing as “moon lighting” to mimic the outdoors during a full moon, for example?

    Thanks,
    Sean

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for the kind words, Sean! Glad you enjoyed the article (and I appreciate your use of semicolons — lol).

      No – your corn snake does not require any supplemental lighting. The ambient light in the room will be more than sufficient. However, you can install lighting if you’d like, and it will likely make him more attractive (just be sure to measure your temperatures – even fluorescent lights produce some heat).
      There are some “moon lights” on the market, which you could use to illuminate the habitat slightly at night. I doubt your snake will care, but it shouldn’t cause any problems if you’d like to include one.

      Best of luck with your new pet!

  2. Avatar

    Hello,

    Today I brought home my first corn snake. I have a question about humidity. Why do sources online vary so much? I’ve seen 35-50, 40-50, 40-60, 50-60, 65-75. I’d love to take your great article at face value but I’m having trouble with all the contradicting sources, what do you think?

    1. Avatar

      Hey there, Qozeem.

      The more you read about reptile care, the more you’ll notice that maintenance advice varies wildly from one author to the next. This is especially true of humidity. Fortunately for your case, corn snakes aren’t terribly sensitive to humidity levels. Just make sure the enclosure isn’t dripping wet nor bone dry, and your corn snake will remain healthy while you dial in the perfect humidity level.

      I would, however, recommend that you err on the dry side, unless your snake exhibits poor sheds. As long as your corn snake has access to water, he or she should be able to tolerate slightly dry conditions without suffering serious harm. You can also keep a damp hide in the enclosure, which will give him or her a more humid place to hang out.

      But if you notice rough sheds, bump up the humidity level slightly.

      Best of luck!

  3. Avatar

    Hey I’m 13 and I’m thinking of getting a corn snake but I want to make sure I’ve done my research first as it is my first. I was wondering how warm my room would have to be on average or would the heat lamp keep it warm? I also have a really small room and only 1 window so would that be enough natural light or not? It would really be appreciated if you could help xx

    1. Avatar

      Hey, Gabby.
      Kudos on doing your research first!

      The lighting won’t be an issue, but the only way you’ll know about the temperatures is to set up the enclosure, monitor the temperatures with a thermometer, and make any changes necessary.
      But in most cases (unless your house is unusually cold), you should be able to keep the habitat warm enough with a heat lamp.

      Best of luck!

  4. Avatar

    Your opening picture suggests multiple corn snakes in a single tank, is that really a good idea? Wouldn’t they fight or worse? I only ask because I have a corn and I’m not sure as to whether it is male or female “thank you surplus pet store” and I feel horrible sexing them because if not done right it could hurt them and my corn is still quite young. This is my third corn and I love them as they are so easy to care for and such wonderful pets, I’ve never been struck by any of my corns. But, back to the original comment, housing more than one in a single tank? Possible?? If so yay and how??? I’d love more my slithery friends.

    1. Avatar

      Hey, Angela.

      That is just a stock photo. 😊 Some keepers do keep corn snakes together, while others keep them singly.

      Typically, I discourage beginners from keeping more than one snake in a habitat. However, I have kept numerous corn snakes together in the same enclosure without issue – they typically get along fine. It is, however, usually advisable to avoid housing mature males together.
      Also, keep in mind that if you purchase another snake, you’ll need to have access to a separate enclosure in case the two don’t cohabitate peacefully.

      Long story short: You can try keeping corn snakes together but be ready to intervene and separate the two if they don’t get along. And understand that “not getting along” may involve biting, which means you’ll have to put your hands in the middle of a couple of irritated snakes.
      It’s probably best to just house your corn snakes individually.

      Best of luck!

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Ben Team
Ben Team
Ben is a life-long environmental educator who writes about the natural world. He’s kept and bred a diverse array of reptiles and amphibians over the last three decades, but he’s always been particularly fond of snakes in the genus Morelia and monitor lizards. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler.