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Site updated:
25th June 2016

Problems with Feeding Hatchling Corn Snakes

Why won't my new hatchling corn snake eat?

Out of all the emails I get from visitors to this site, more are basically asking this same question than anything else.... Why won't my new hatchling corn snake eat???    Well, the short answer is, I don't know - without seeing the snake it is impossible to know what may be wrong... Actually, the problem usually solves itself pretty soon - because the problem is merely an over anxious owner and nothing wrong with the snake at all...

But, still, there are many many reasons why a corn snake may decide to not eat and to try and answer this most vexing of questions for new owners I have written down the following few thoughts and hopefully anyone thinking of buying, or who has just bought a young corn snake, may find this useful.

To start with, really, you should ONLY buy captive bred (NOT wild caught) corn snake hatchlings that are proven good regular feeders on frozen and thawed pre-killed pinkies (one day old hairless baby mice). I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. I say again, I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough.

If the snake will only take live food or hasn't eaten at all or has eaten only once or twice since hatching, then DO NOT BUY IT. It may well be that if it has already taken one pre-killed pinky, then in a couple of weeks or so, when it has eaten a few more times, it would be a good one to buy - but until you know it is a good feeder, then I would advise you not to buy it. (Quick digression here: If this is your first snake, if you get a choice, buy a standard Carolina corn rather than a fancy, highly inbred 'morph' - the Carolina is generally a more hardy snake, less prone to genetic problems and tends to live longer).

Pet shop owners and breeders who want to build and maintain a good reputation and so stay in business in the long term will be caring, responsible people and won't sell you a snake that is not feeding well. However, as with everything else in this sorry world we live in, there are bound to be some irresponsible people who will try and pass you off with a dud.

You should be aware that there is quite often one or two hatchlings in an otherwise perfectly ok clutch of eggs that, for no apparent reason, just refuse to eat and wither away and die. The kindest thing to do with these snakes that are obviously going to die anyway is to simply put them (in a container) in the freezer. You should never get to the stage of doing this, of course - if your pet snake refuses to eat for an extended period of time, you should return it to the shop or breeder and either sort the problem out or think about replacing it with another. So, to save a lot of heartache, go to a good specialist reptile pet shop or breeder - I wouldn't recommend the very large pet-supermarket type of franchise stores that are springing up recently - they are fine for cats and dogs, but they just don't have the necessary knowledge of reptiles.

It is easy for you to check up on your snake when buying - just ask to see the feeding record of the snake you are interested in. A young hatchling, once it has shed for the first time, should begin feeding on pinkies, taking one every 3 or 4 days. There may be the odd gap in the record, when it might refuse to eat just prior to shedding it's skin, but other than this, the record should show that it has eaten fairly regularly. (When young like this, they shed quite frequently - every four or five weeks or so). The record itself may only be a piece of paper, taped to the lid of the box the snake is kept in, but so long as it shows the dates the snake took a mouse, then this is enough.

On a more practical note, if you have only very recently brought a young corn snake hatchling into your home, then you would probably do best to not try feeding it for four or five days - just leave it alone in it's new home (the vivarium or tank) to settle in and get used to it's new surroundings. Make sure the temperatures at the cool and warm end of the vivarium are within the correct range - around 75 at the cool end and 78-85 at the warm end. Change the water in it's bowl every day but don't disturb the snake any more than necessary.

Corn snakes are more active in the evening and after a few days, hopefully, yours will be beginning to explore his new home and clambering about (trying to figure a way to escape, probably!). So, try feeding your snake with a pinky. Simply place the thawed (room temperature) pinky in the vivarium with the snake and leave it alone. Hopefully the pinky will be eaten promptly - but if the snake doesn't show immediate interest, leave the pinky in the vivarium for a few hours (or overnight if feeding in the evening). If it is still not eaten by then, remove the pinky and throw it away. If a snake ate a pinky that was going 'off' then it could have disastrous results for the snake.

If it refused a pinky the first time, don't worry, but leave it another three days before trying again. If you keep offering pinkies every day and the snake keeps refusing, it can be counter productive - you may put the snake off the idea of feeding even more. So leave it at least three days.

Oh, by the way, when did the snake last shed it's skin? Snakes, in general, go off the idea of eating once they have gone into the pre-shed phase, which can be anything up to ten days before actually shedding. They will hide away and not want to know you or have anything to do with the rest of the world until the old skin is gone - but once it has shed, it will probably be much more eager to eat. So if you see the tell tale signs, like blue/grey eyes etc, then forget feeding until after shedding. (However, there are some exceptions, of course. Some snakes will continue feeding, even with blue eyes - if your snake will feed ok like this, then carry on).

If it doesn't show immediate interest the next time you try feeding, you may try enticing the snake with the mouse a little. The way to do this is to hold the rear end of the mouse in a pair of round ended tweezers. Move the mouse toward the snake and catch it's attention - gently wiggling the mouse back and forth in front of the snake should hopefully encourage it to strike at the mouse. If it does, then let the mouse go and withdraw your hand. This may be all that is needed to 'kickstart' your snake into eating - once the first one is successfully fed, the rest is usually much easier.

OK, so wiggling or 'jiggling' the mouse didn't work. If the snake backed away and hid, as if frightened, then just leave the mouse sitting there in the vivarium for a few hours. As always, throw it away if uneaten after a few hours.

Patience is the key - but presentation helps. Perhaps you wear some perfume, the odour of which may be getting transferred to the mouse, which may in turn, be putting the snake off eating it. So try washing the next pinky under the tap, holding it in tweezers. Don't touch the pinky with your fingers. Place it in the vivarium as normal.

If this still doesn't work - this will be around the fourth or fifth time it has refused a mouse - then not only will the snake be getting quite hungry by now, but you will probably be getting worried, too... Well, don't worry - so long as it has fresh water every day then it could easily go a month or more without food. However, I would contact the pet shop or breeder you bought the snake from and ask them if there is a particular technique they used to feed the snake prior to selling it to you. Perhaps take your snake along and see if they can get it to feed - or maybe just watch them feeding other snakes to see if they do anything different from you.

There are several more techniques that are used to get a hatchling to start feeding - as said already, once started, there is usually no looking back - corn snakes really do love eating mice. Some people have asked me whether to try crickets - no is the definite answer to that one.

But one of the first tricks to try, if you have a hatchling that won't eat, is to simply warm the pinky up a bit in some hot water for a few minutes. If this doesn't work, you could confine the snake in a much smaller than usual container, along with a pinky. I have seen styrofoam cups used (like from coffee vending machines) - pop the snake and mouse in one (still inside the vivarium) and leave for a while.

Another thing that is tried, is 'braining', where you puncture the head of the mouse with a knife point. The increased smell from the mouse may attract the snake better. Or, whilst holding the snake carefully, try offering just the tail of a pinky, held in tweezers.

There are a few more tricks to try - I don't know all of them - different breeders come up with their own ideas. For instance, I have heard of the skin, shed from a small lizard, if moistened and stuck to a pinky can sometimes do the trick - the lizard being another food item for corn snakes in the wild and the skin stuck to a pinky fools the snake. Or else you could try feeding a small lizard to the snake - but obviously you will want to get the snake onto mice as soon as possible, being much more easily bought and cheaper than lizards.

After this, if all else fails, then a live pinky will have to be tried. If this is successful, you want to get the snake onto eating pre-killed mice as soon as possible. Live feeding is both unnecessary and later when feeding larger mice, can be injurious for your snake if the mouse turns on the snake and bites it (it does happen!).

If it still refuses to eat, then it is definitely time to take it back whence it came for the seller to sort out the problem - he probably shouldn't have sold it to you in the first place. Force feeding is the final last resort and works in some cases, but this is not something you should get involved with if you have no experience of it.

You may have noticed and wondered why at no time have I mentioned the idea of taking your snake to a vet. Well, I have nothing against vets in general - in fact, I admire them highly: my grandfather was a much respected vet in Somerset, England, for over forty years and was one of the very first people to ever successfully mend a broken leg in a horse - pioneering stuff, a long time ago. But he knew nothing about snakes - and most vets today still have no real training or experience of snakes. In the majority of cases, you would do far better to take your snake to a breeder or someone experienced in dealing with snakes.

Sorry this page ended up so long - well done for reading this far - thanks! If you are still worried about your snake and wish to email me, then please feel free to do so, but make sure you have read this page thoroughly a couple of times and tell me so in your email - otherwise the first bit of advice I'll give you is simply to read this page....

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And finally......

Just to add one more useful tip, here is the text from an email I got recently from someone in Texas, USA...

"I find it successful to put the baby snake in a brown paper lunch bag along with the pinky, and then fold closed the top of the bag. (Make sure there are no holes in the bag, though, for the snake to get out.) Leave snake there overnight and then check in the morning. The snake can breathe thru the paper bag. If unsuccessful, then try again in 3-4 days. A much higher percentage of the baby snakes will eat live pinkies, but I will usually try frozen thawed pinkies first, since their future owner may end up feeding them frozen pinkies."

And after enquiring exactly what kind of paper bag brown lunch bags were, I got the following reply...

"I had no idea that my e-mail was traveling all the way to England. I assumed that everyone used brown lunch bags everywhere! Sorry for the assumption. Brown paper lunch bags are sold here in the grocery stores at usually 100 bags per package. They are used a lot with middle school/high school students (since they appear to be "too old" for lunch boxes). They are small thin brown paper bags (size: 5 1/8 x 3 1/8 x 10 5/8 inches or 13 x 7.9 x 27 cm). I find that my newborn baby corn snakes seem to be on their own timeclocks. They eat when they are ready. Some will take their first feeding a couple days after they first shed...others will wait another week. It's a bit frustrating, but over the last few years, I've only had one baby snake that never would eat. They seem to all eat "sooner or later". I just have to be patient. They can even go 3 weeks or longer without eating, so I no longer worry. A few years ago before I knew that, the snake eggs hatched a few days before we went on vacation. Half of the baby snakes ate, but the other half had not eaten by the time we were leaving. I was afraid that if I left them at home, they'd we took the baby snakes with us on our vacation. (I learned later that they would have been just fine at home.). Our two grown corn snakes always eat ... the only time the female doesn't eat is shortly before she lays the eggs. She lays eggs every April and then the eggs hatch in early August. I bury the eggs half way in vermiculite soil in a sweater box that I've punch holes in the top and the side. Then I put the sweater box up on the shelf in a closet and about every 3 weeks I check to make sure the soil is still damp (that's why vermiculite soil is holds in the moisture). All the eggs will hatch within 24 hours of each other. A baby snake will take hours to totally venture out of the egg once he has slit the egg. My success rate of the baby snakes hatching has been at 100% ... so this method is a keeper for me. We've had our corn snakes for maybe 7 years. I have no idea how many more years they'll lay eggs, but it has been a lot of fun ... and a lot of fun when we give a baby snake to someone who really wants one (and who's parent knows what he/she is getting themselves into)."

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