Corn Snake (Elaphe [Pantherophis] guttata)

Photos by Amanda Hurst unless otherwise noted

Description: A fairly large — 76-122 cm (30 – 48 in) — relatively slender snake that is orange, reddish brown, brown, or gray with 27-40 squarish black-margined brown or reddish blotches. The belly is checkered with white and black markings, resembling a piano keyboard or Indian corn. Other distinguishing characteristics include a spear-shaped blotch on top of the head, pointing toward the nose, black stripes on either side of the bottom of the tail, smooth scales, and a stripe extending from the back of the eye past the corner of the jaw. Corn snakes are often mistaken for venomous copperheads. Copperheads, however, have hourglass-shaped (rather than square) blotches, and are generally browner than corn snakes.

Range and Habitat: In North America, Elaphe [Pantherophis] guttata is found from southern New Jersey to Virginia, with their main range from North Carolina to the Flordia Keys and west to eastern Louisiana and southern Tennessee. There is also a disjunct population in Kentucky. Although found throughout our region, corn snakes are patchily distributed in the Piedmont and mountains and are most common in the Coastal Plain. Corn snakes are found in upland, terrestrial habitats that are relatively dry, exposed, and have subterranean mammal burrows. They especially favor sandy pinewoods. This species is relatively tolerant of human disturbance and can be found in suburban and agricultural areas. They are often found around old buildings and barns and often enter people’s homes in search of rodents or hiding places.

Habits: Corn snakes spend most of their time underground or hidden under objects such as logs, boards, or pieces of roofing tin. They climb well and young ones are often found hiding under tree bark or climbing in brush. Corn snakes are active both day and night, but become primarily nocturnal in the warm summer months. They eat a variety of mammals, birds, and reptiles, and young snakes are particularly fond of lizards. Corn snakes lay large clutches of oval eggs in the spring in rotten logs or other warm, moist places.

Conservation Status: Corn snakes are common in our region and are not protected throughout most of it. This species is protected throughout the state of Georgia.

Account author: Alicia Hudson, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson