Lynnea Stadelmann used to be a dog person, breeding and showing Pekingese for more than 30 years. “But I started getting more and more involved in dog world politics, and that can get pretty intense,” Lynnea says during a visit to her home just a few minutes from downtown Landrum. Soon, she started to downsize her kennel to just a few dogs; and then she fell in love. With a snake.
Or, to be more precise, with three corn snakes. A family friend introduced her to them back in 2006. “I thought they were beautiful, and I was hooked,” Lynnea says, standing in one of two basement rooms that house her 200 corn snakes, ranging from newborns just a couple months old to mature adults, all neatly shelved in roomy plastic boxes. Seven years after her first introduction to corn snakes, Lynnea is a registered breeder with the American Corn Snake Registry and sells her snakes to fellow enthusiasts all over the country.
Corn snakes, sometimes also referred to as rat snakes, are one of the most popular non-mammals kept as pets. They’re native to the Southeast, where it’s thought their name was bestowed by farmers who were happy to find the snakes among their corncribs feeding on destructive rodents. (Lynnea’s theory about the name is that the coloring and markings reminded observers of multi-colored Indian corn.) Corn snakes in the wild have relatively short life spans, between six and eight years, but in captivity, they can live more than 20 years.
Lynnea raises a colorful spectrum of non-venomous corns, prized as much for their rainbow of shadings and markings as for their generally docile nature. “They’re not aggressive snakes at all,” Lynnea says, “and the only time I’ve been bitten is when they go for the frozen and thawed mice I feed them and they miss the target. It’s not like they’re attacking me.” Corns are easy keepers, Lynnea says. You only have to feed them once a week, and the same with cage-clearning. They’re of a manageable size, too, rarely growing to more than five or six feet, and have an endearingly curious nature — or as endearing as a snake can get for some of us — as they poke their heads into the air and size a visitor up. “You don’t have to play with them, either,” Lynnea says, perhaps remembering her dog years. “They’re like, ‘I’m just fine, thank you very much’.”
Corn snakes come in a startling array of color variations, or morphs, reflected in their nomenclature — Pied-Sided Blood, Candycane, Fluorescent Orange, among a long list. One of the most popular morphs, the Okeetee, named for the South Carolina hunt club where it was first seen in the wild, is a deep orange-red along its back, with black borders. Breeders produce compound morphs, too, with unusual colors and markings from a delicate, light lavender opal to a butter hue with a two-tone yellow body mixed with small white markings. There are even scale-less corn snakes with a thin skin that’s soft and supple to the touch. Lynnea has in her collection a scale-less Texas rat snake that she hopes to interbreed to produce her own scale-less specimens.
Beside the commercial aspects of her Corn Moon Cornsnakes business, Lynnea is on a mission to help people be more comfortable with snakes, which often inspire fear. She takes them to schools and nature centers, and encourages people to interact with the reptiles. “I sold one corn snake to a young boy a few years ago, even though his mother said she was a little afraid of it,” Lynnea recalls. “But pretty soon she told me she’d fallen in love with it. And I have a good friend who was afraid of snakes, but now she helps me clean their containers.”
In her educational visits, Lynnea points out that corn snakes are good to have around farms and horse barns because of their efficient rodent-hunting skills. “And no snake, no matter how big it is or what people see in horror movies, can eat a human being,” Lynnea says, “or at least an adult human. Your shoulders are too big for the way their jaws work, for one thing.” Lynnea offered this comforting observation while standing next to the five-foot-tall cage that houses her two pet rat snakes, which are Vietnamese Blue Beauties, their nearly eight-foot-long coiled bodies adorned with dusky blue scales and black markings.
Lynnea’s snakes all have given names, neatly marked on their boxes. There’s Rudi, whom Lynnea imported from Germany, and Zelda, and Luna, and one called Thing 4, all alert and probing with flicking tongues, quizzical eyes and flamboyant bodies — red, yellow, beige, blue or orange. “I think they’re just beautiful,” Lynnea says. “They’re like living art.”
To learn more about Lynnea’s corn snakes, visit www.snakesphere.com.