One of the most important aspects of corn snake care is understanding how to properly feed a corn snake. This article discusses their diet, how and when to feed as well as some special considerations for picky eaters or hatchlings.
Corn snakes in the wild may feed on rodents, lizards, frogs or birds. In captivity this is not a practical diet. Instead, most keepers feed their corns rodents, usually mice. A 100% mouse diet is both healthy for the animal and the most economical for the care giver. Offering other types of food for variety may be an option, but is not necessary.
Naturally corn snakes eat as often as they choose to hunt and are successful. This means they may have periods of gorging and starvation when found in the wild. Snakes have the ability to both kill and consume large prey. This allows them to eat less often than other kinds of animals. They are also able to forgo food for relatively long periods of time without any negative effects. Kept in captivity, it is desirable to feed a corn snake on a consistent schedule. Opionions vary on how often corn snakes should be fed, but one simple rule is to feed them about once a week. Many keepers choose a feeding day of the week to make things easy. Generally speaking, younger snakes should be fed a little more often and adults a little less. Females are often fed more as they naturally expend more energy in egg production. Females often will lay a clutch of unfertilized eggs even if she has not been with a male.
As explained above, most snakes, including corn snakes can go without food for extended periods of time. If your snake has not taken food for a few weeks, don't panic, this may be completely natural and safe if the snake is otherwise healthy. There are a few times when corn snakes often don't want to eat. During their period of brumation in the winter corn snakes will stop eating naturally and slow down their energy usage. During this period they can go without food for months with no negative effects to their health. It is important for your corn snake to drink water more often however, and snakes will drink throughout brumation as needed. During breeding season many males will go on a "hunger strike", where they will refuse eating, possibly in favor of finding a mate. When snakes are going through the shedding process they often will refuse food. For the most part, snakes should be fed when they are willing to eat, provided that it isn't overdone and the snake doesn't refuse for too long a period.
Since it's completely safe and natural for a snake to go for short periods of time without food it's important to know when it's been too long. This depends on a few factors such as the length of time, the activity level of the snake and its size and general health. Hatchlings can sometimes be difficult to get started on food. They may be picky or simply not know what to do. Even without a single meal eaten during their life they sometimes can go a month or more before dying of starvation. Although babies may go weeks without any problems, it's important to get them eating as soon as possible. Feeding corn snakes can be frustrating at times. As often is the case, non-feeders simply need a little coaching or variety to pique their interest. Older snakes with more mass on their bodies can usally go for longer periods. In either case, be sure to monitor the snake more closely during these times and ensure the snake is drinking water regularly. If the snake is not feeding or drinking normally a visit to the vet may be in order.
Some people prefer to have their corn snake eating live food for various reasons. They way corn snakes hunt and kill their prey naturally is fascinating and many people enjoy watching this process. Others may argue that how snakes eat in the wild is natural, therefore good. Although it is natural, it's also natural for corn snakes to live a much shorter life span out in the wild. Reasons to not to feed live prey are many:
With all of these reasons against feeding live, why would anyone do it? As mentioned before, a corn snake feeding can be an exciting spectacle. Please be considerate of these other concerns if this is the sole reason to do so. There are other, better reasons why live feeding may be necessary at times including hatchlings that have not yet learned to eat frozen/thawed mice or adults who are just too picky. If necessary, be sure to monitor live feeding and don't leave live prey in with the snake without supervision.