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