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How Can We Help Our Timid Corn Snake?

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 23 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Corn Snake Timid Handling Shy Secure

Q.

We are a school and we have inherited a corn snake which we think is about a year old. She is very timid - obviously not been handled, how can we reverse this, at the slightest touch she is really tense. Also we have a much smaller male, he is very tame, can we put them together?

(S.W, 26 March 2009)

A.

An interesting question and one which opens up some important areas for snake-keeping in general – handling and housing.

I’m assuming that there isn’t any obvious reason for the timidity, that the snake is eating normally, and this behaviour was “inherited” along with the snake – it hasn’t suddenly started to be so withdrawn.

Obviously, if any of those assumptions is wrong, it’s time to see your vet!

Naturally Timid

Although snakes as pets don’t tend to have much of what you might call “personalities” in the same way as cats or dogs do, it’s still important to remember that they are all individuals – which means some are naturally just a bit more shy than others. All young reptiles tend to be fairly timid – it comes from being small, bite-sized potential meals for so many other creatures in the wild, so they are instinctively designed to be wary of things that might eat them. In captivity, they generally grow less “flighty” as they get older and more confident of their environment, but that said, while some snakes really seem to take to being handled, others never really do.

I don’t know how long ago you “inherited” your female, but if it was quite recently, it may be that she’s simply feeling a little disorientated and may settle down once she’s secure in her new home. It might be worth checking with the previous owner (assuming the snake wasn’t literally bequeathed to you in their Will – in the which case you’ll have a few problems!) to see if this is something new. If so, make sure she has plenty of places to hide in her tank and then, when she feels more settled and used to the people caring for her, she could well be coaxed back to her old self.

On the other hand, if you’ve been the new owner for a few weeks/months now – and she’s nicely settled in to her new abode in every other way, you may just have to accept that your corn snake just isn’t big on being handled.

It may be possible to gradually acclimatise her – try gently handling her for no more than a couple of minutes, three or four times a week, gradually extending the length of time over a couple of months to perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, provided she doesn’t show any signs of distress. It’s important that only one or at most two people who are really competent with snakes do this – and you’ll need to stop straight away if she’s not responding well.

Take it gently and with a bit of care and patience, you could well find she’ll get used to the whole idea after all.

Individual Or Community Housing?

The pros and cons of keeping snakes together is a debate that seems set to run forever. Some keepers have no problems at all, while other have found out all too graphically what can happen if you house snakes together. There’s a school of thought that suggests when it comes to corn snakes, females generally can be housed together, while males are best kept separately and true pairs probably should only be together for breeding purposes during the season – and then watched carefully for any signs of stress.

With your male being very much smaller, I would worry that he might end up on the female’s menu – not by design – but simply if they both tried to eat the same meal; the way snakes' teeth point, it’s actually quite hard for them to stop swallowing, once they’ve started!

Aside of this concern, there’s always the possibility that forcing the two of them together could cause undue stress to either or both – which mightn’t help your efforts to make your female feel any braver.

On balance, you’re probably best advised to leave things as they are – at least for the moment; once she’s more settled and he’s a bit bigger, you might be breeding your own!

I hope you manage to bring her round – good luck with your snakes.

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