What is the Best Substrate for a Corn Snake?
The best substrate for a Corn Snake will be one that mimics their natural habitat, allows them to have a healthy shedding cycle, and is safe for their respiratory system. To choose the best substrate for a Corn Snake, it is important to know where they are found. Corn Snakes are native to the southeastern United States, where the soil is rich in clay and organic matter. The soil tends to dry out very well during dry seasons and absorbs water during wet seasons.
How To Create Your Own Substrate Mix For A Corn Snake
Now that we know what type of soil is found where Corn Snakes live, we can use our knowledge to create a similar mix in captivity. Using a blend of 40% organic top soil, 30% peat moss, 20% sand, and 10% clay will make a well-draining mixture that can also support burrows if your Corn Snake decides to dig when the soil is damp. You can experiment with your ratio of soil to sand/clay to find what works best with your enclosure and your personal preference. Ideally your substrate will be able to hold a bit of humidity without becoming muddy and be able to dry out without becoming dusty.
Ensure that whatever soil you choose do not have added fertilizers or weed inhibitors.
How To Create A Bioactive Enclosure For A Corn Snake:
Bioactive is a great option for Corn Snakes because it makes their habitat naturalistic and low maintenance. Using the mix described above, you can add a cleanup crew to help keep the enclosure waste free. The most common cleanup crew are tropical isopods and dwarf white springtails. You can also add isopods that are tolerant of more moderate humidity levels, like powder orange isopods. You should still remove waste when you notice it to keep the enclosure clean, but shed skin can be left in as a source of calcium for your cleanup crew. A layer of leaf litter is important when creating a bioactive terrarium to sustain the isopods and springtails nutritionally.
To watch us set up an enriching bioactive enclosure for our Corn Snake, check out this video: STUNNING Corn Snake Enclosure Setup! Upgrading Our Snake's Habitat! | Zen Habitats - YouTube
Substrate For A Corn Snake
Corn Snakes are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat and facilitates moderate humidity levels. Soil is generally best for meeting this need. Provide a substrate layer that is around 3-4” deep. For a 4x2x2 enclosure, that will take at least 80 quarts of substrate. I also recommend laying down a generous layer of clean leaf litter on top to help retain humidity and give your snake something to explore.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and the contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. The substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Solid vs. Loose Substrate. What’s the difference?
Substrate is the term used for the “bedding” inside a reptile’s habitat. Many people may choose different substrate options for their Corn Snake depending on their ambient household humidity and ideal setup. Here is a breakdown of a few commonly used options.
A solid substrate is a liner used at the base of the enclosure. Some commonly used solid substrate options used for Corn Snakes include:
- Newsprint / Newspaper / Paper
- Paper towels
Pros for Solid Substrate:
- Easy to clean
Cons for Solid Substrate:
- Does not allow for natural burrowing behaviors
A loose substrate is any sort of bedding that is made up of “loose” materials like dirt or sand. Some common loose substrate options include:
- Commercially available soil mixes
- Coco chip
- Aspen shavings
- EcoEarth / coco coir
- Bioactive mixes
Pros for Loose Substrate:
- Provides a natural environment
- Easier to maintain high humidity levels
- Less maintenance (bioactive setups)
Cons for Loose Substrate:
- Higher initial cost
Substrate options that are not recommended:
Some solid and loose substrates, even though are commercially available, are not appropriate for ball pythons. Please see the attached list and reasons why:
- Reptile carpet: Harbors bacterial growth and threads can wrap around the animal and cause injury or strangulation.
- Softwood shavings: Softwoods (cedar, pine) releases volatile oils that can be harmful to the respiratory system of Dusty. Molds in the presence of humidity or moisture.
- Aspen shavings: Some may use aspen shavings without issue, but wood shavings are prone to molding when exposed to moisture and can often be
- EcoEarth/Coco Coir: Becomes dusty when dry, so must be kept damp at all times. Does not allow for a dry out period and can be too moisture retentive for some.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your Corn Snake’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice! Cork rounds, cork flats, grape wood, ghost wood, magnetic ledges, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a Corn Snake terrarium. The more hiding places your snake has access to, the more likely it will be comfortable hanging out in the open where you can see it. Hides should be small enough to provide a tight fit for the snake when coiled.