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December 12, 2016

While the bearded dragons from last month’s issue remain at the top of reptile sales, this month’s featured reptile may give those storied lizards a run for their money. Corn snakes can provide your customers with the perfect first herp and become your store’s steady seller.

Corn snakes belong to the colubrid family, alongside rat snakes and king snakes, as the best-selling pet snakes nationwide and worldwide. Their relative ease of care, docility and varied colors and patterns make them a phenomenal choice for any would-be reptile owner, whether novice or veteran.

Kathy Love, owner of CornUtopia and author of both “The Corn Snake Manual” and “Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner’s Guide,” is a leading expert on corn snakes.

“I’ve been breeding them since the 80s, and I’m still not tired of it,” she said. “They’re just so variable. Most other king snakes, milk snakes, and even ball pythons have a great range of colors, but nowhere near the range of corn snakes.”

Corn snakes are often sold when they reach 8 to 12 inches in length, but can grow to approximately four or five feet long. In captivity, corn snakes live for nearly 20 years. However, corn snakes shouldn’t be kept in a single enclosure for any extended period of time; the stress of having a cage mate can cause health issues in your snakes or lead to them attacking one another. Be sure that each individual animal has its own clean, safe enclosure.

“Please, please, please, don’t keep babies in the same cage together!” Love noted. “It’s the responsibility of a good pet shop to set them up one to a cage, in the exact same manner that you’d like your customer to set them up. Treat them the way the customer should.”

According to Love, corn snake sales are often improved by careful consideration of displays. Fish tanks, she noted, are often decorated with products within the store itself. Reptile enclosures, however, are often left barren or with only token hides. She exhorted store owners to “decorate in such a way that your customer can see what’s possible. Show them what they can buy to keep their reptile happy.”

She recommended placing water dishes in a corner of a snake enclosure. Doing so makes the water easier for a young snake to find, particularly if substrate is mounded around the dish.

Of course, the biggest source of revenue for a pet retailer is not the sale of the reptile, but rather the subsidiary materials that accompany that pet. Corn snakes, like their fellow colubrids, subsist on fresh or frozen mice, a food source that local big box stores do not carry. Be sure to carry numerous sizes of mice suitable for all age ranges of corn snakes. Often separated into “pinkies,” “fuzzies” and “adult” mice, feeder mice should be well-stocked, easily accessible and labeled. Be sure to educate your staff on these sizes, so they can assist customers in choosing the correct mice for their reptile’s diet.

Love also stated that the number of morphs and colorations in corn snakes can make identification difficult, if a given snake’s genetics are in question. One of the most striking new morphs is that of the Palmetto corn snake. Originally bred by Don Soderbergh in the early 2000s, the Palmetto features a pale white body flecked with individual scales of brown and gold. A striking, visually appealing animal, the first Palmetto corn snakes sold for over $4,000. However, as this new morph becomes more available, the price will drop to a suitable price for a pet store.

“Palmettos will be the thing that people come in to see and say ‘Wow!’” said Love, adding that another attractive option for veteran snake owners is the tri-color hognose snake. While not directly related to corn snakes, they feature many of the same attractive features: ease of handling, a docile temperament, striking coloration and a small, stout body. Love noted that the tri-color hognose are “a bit slower, so they might be an even more novice-friendly option.”

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