The corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus), or red rat snake, is a North American species of rat snake that subdues its small prey by constriction. The name "corn snake" is a holdover from the days when southern farmers stored harvested ears of corn in a wood frame or log building called a crib. Rats and mice came to the corn crib to feed on the corn, and corn snakes came to feed on the rodents. The Oxford English Dictionary cites this usage as far back as 1675.
Corn snakes are found throughout the southeastern and central United States. Their docile nature, reluctance to bite, moderate adult size 3.9–6.0 feet (1.2–1.8 m), attractive pattern, and comparatively simple care make them popular pet snakes. In the wild, they usually live around 6–8 years, but in captivity can live to be up to 23 years old.
Wild corn snakes prefer habitats such as overgrown fields, forest openings, trees, palmetto flatwoods and abandoned or seldom-used buildings and farms, from sea level to as high as 6,000 feet. Typically, these snakes remain on the ground until the age of 4 months old but can ascend trees, cliffs and other elevated surfaces. They can be found in the southeastern United States ranging from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and as far west as Texas.
In colder regions, snakes hibernate during winter in a process known as brumation. However, in the more temperate climate along the coast they shelter in rock crevices and logs during cold weather and come out on warm days to soak up the heat of the sun. During cold weather, snakes are less active and therefore hunt less.
Corn snakes are carnivorous animals and while in the wild will eat every few days. While most corn snakes will seek and consume small rodents, such as the White-footed Mouse, they may also be found eating reptiles or amphibians, or climbing trees in order to find unguarded bird eggs
After many generations of selective breeding, captive corn snakes are found in a wide variety of different colors and patterns. These result from recombining the dominant and recessive genes that code for proteins involved in chromatophore development, maintenance, or function. New variations, or morphs, become available every year as breeders gain a better understanding of the genetics involved. Hybrids between corn snakes and any other snake within Pantherophis, Lampropeltis, or Pituophis so far have been proven to be completely fertile.