Scientific Name: Elaphe guttata (Pantherophis guttatus)
Abundance: Most common in southeastern Coastal Plain (blue)
Species Profile (PDF)
Photo: Jeff Hall
The corn snake is a colorful and popular reptile that averages between 30 to 48 inches in length as an adult. Its common name is likely derived from its resemblance to the color and pattern of Indian corn, particularly on its belly, not from diet or habitat. It is also sometimes called the "red rat snake" and is closely related to the rat snake.
A corn snake’s dorsal side is orange, reddish, gray or brownish with prominent large reddish brown blotches and smaller lateral blotches bordered with black. The belly is boldly marked with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern. There is usually a blotch resembling a spear point on top of the head. Some large males may have four faint, dark longitudinal stripes. The glossy, almost iridescent scales usually have weak keels that are faint or absent in juveniles. A corn snake’s relatively slender body is shaped like a loaf of bread in cross-section, the flat belly meeting the sides of the body at an angle, unlike the more cylindrical bodies of most snakes. This body shape may be an adaptation for climbing.
Corn snakes eat mostly rodents and other small mammals and birds and their eggs. Juveniles in particular also eat lizards and frogs, especially tree frogs.
Corn snakes mate in the spring. Females lay a clutch of 3 to 31 white, leathery-shelled eggs in late spring, in a damp, sheltered spot such as a rotten log, tree cavity or sawdust pile. Eggs hatch in late summer with no parental care.
For more information read the Corn Snake species profile.
The corn snake is classified as a nongame species and has no open season. It is unlawful for any person to take, or have in possession, any nongame mammal or bird unless that person has a collection license or is collecting fewer than 5 reptiles or fewer than 25 amphibians that are not endangered, threatened, or special concerned species.
The corn snake is non-venomous. Many people fear snakes and worry for the safety of people and pets when snakes are present. In reality, snakes are shy creatures that pose little to no threat to us when left alone. Snakes are an important part of our environment, keeping populations of pests such as rodents, slugs, and insects in check. Plus, snakes are a food resource to other animals such as foxes, raccoons, bears, eagles, hawks, and owls.
When someone encounters a snake, usually the person and the snake are both caught off guard. The best plan is to leave the snake alone and give it plenty of space. In most cases, given time, the snake will move out of the area on its own. Like all reptiles, snakes are cold-blooded, meaning that their internal temperatures follow that of the ambient temperatures where they are found. On a cool day, a snake encountered basking may not yet have the energy to move away from you, so it may require more time and warmer temperatures before it can retreat.
The Wildlife Commission does NOT send people out to trap and remove snakes. The best plan for citizens of North Carolina is to learn about snakes and alter habits to minimize negative interactions, and in the process, learn to coexist with snakes.
Snakes can be difficult to monitor and survey, as most of them possess great camouflaged patterns and remain hidden within certain habitats. One way biologists monitor corn snakes is through the use of artificial cover materials such as plywood boards, roofing tin, concrete blocks, and other materials. Plywood tends to be better at attracting smaller snake species, while larger snakes are more often found under tin. Snakes will seek out these artificial shelters for thermoregulation and as a result, this method is particularly successful during spring and fall.
Corn snake species profile (PDF)
Co-Existing with Snakes (PDF)
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports
Corn snake (Photo by Jeff Hall)