Natural Cornsnake Variations:
Cornsnakes, in one form or another, are found throughout our southern coastal states and central plains states, as well as extending south of our borders into Mexico. With such a wide range, it stands to reason that there would be great variation in appearance. This has led to the description of several subspecies, some no longer recognized 'officially'. Additionally, several areas regularly produce cornsnakes distinct enough in appearance to have earned recognition. These are typically referred to as 'phases'. All of these variants and subspecies will impart their own unique attributes when crossed to the multitudinous genetic mutations discussed later in this section. Some of these crosses have become so distinct they have in turn been given their own 'nick-names'!
Cornsnake (Pantherophis [Elaphe] guttata guttata)
This, the nominate subspecies, is so variable in coloration that a typical description for it is probably useless. Included are at least one previously accepted subspecies as well as several established phases. Typically some form of reddish orange with black-edged red blotches. May be obscured with black pigment, especially in older animals.
Cornsnake 'Okeetee Phase' (Pantherophis [Elaphe] guttata guttata)
This is probably the best known color phase of the cornsnake. Popularized in early literature by Karl Kauffeld. Originally hailing from the 'Okeetee' region of South Carolina, they are generally very cleanly patterned with large red blotches on a solid orange background. The black edging is very strong and clear. The belly is boldly checkered with white and black. Now often applied indiscriminately to any cornsnake having this type of look, regardless of origin. Two breeders in particular have developed lines of Okeetee corns that have achieved recognition among enthusiasts. Kathy Love's Okeetees are known for clean pure colors with sharply defined saddle borders and lack of white. Lee Abbott's Okeetees are known for intense coloration and startlingly heavy black borders.
Cornsnake 'Miami Phase' (Pantherophis [Elaphe] guttata guttata)
This color phase is typically grayish overall, with distinct orange to red-orange blotches. Typically, the blotches are smaller in size than those of other cornsnakes. This form was once common around Miami, Florida; hence the name. Frequently, animals from this region produce larger clutches and smaller babies than cornsnakes from other regions. They can be difficult to get started feeding as well ,although these traits are being bred out of them by experienced herpetoculturists.
Mexican Cornsnake (Pantherophis [Elaphe] guttata meahllmorum)
Part of Dr. Hobart Smiths' recent work on the E. g. emoryi complex revealed a hidden surprise. Specimens of E. g. emoryi found in extreme west Texas and southern Texas, as well as adjacent Mexico, were found to be separable form E. g. emoryi consistently enough that they were described as a new subspecies. These animals have fewer dorsal blotches than other forms, and hatchlings are patterned unusually as well. They are of a distinct greenish appearance, with silvery heads. As they grow they fade into the more normal brownish adults.
Keys Cornsnake or Rosy Ratsnake (Pantherophis [Elaphe] guttata guttata var. 'rosacea')
Found in extreme southern Florida on several of the keys islands, this race is most similar in appearance to hypomelanistic cornsnakes. Greatly reduced black pigmentation and disrupted belly pattern combine to create an overall paler appearance. Some will have an overall silvery appearance, while others are more orange. Formerly assigned its own subspecies name, now synonymized with the nominate race.
Kisatchie or Slowinski's Cornsnake (Pantherophis [Elaphe] slowinskii)
Another distinguishable color phase, hailing from a region of eastern Louisiana. This is the area where E. g. guttata overlaps the range of E. g. emoryi, and was thought to be an intergrade between the two forms. However, many keepers of these animals insisted for years that this was not the case. Admittedly, they do look rather distinctive. Recent DNA analysis has revealed their true origins! These unusual snakes have been described as a full species - the first discovered in the United States in decades! Keepers are already hard at work adding the distinctive flavoring of these animals to various color mutations in an effort to produce the latest and greatest.
Emorys' Ratsnake (Pantherophis [Elaphe] emoryi)
This is the 'cornsnake' of the central plains. Generally brown blotches edged in black on a grayish to tan ground color. There is no distinct red coloration on these animals to speak of. Formerly considered a sub-specie of the Cornsnake, it has recently been elevated to species status. This species produces larger hatchlings, but fewer of them per clutch than other races. Frequently bred into different color mutations to remove red coloration, they are now also available as genetically pure amelanistic albinos. Another genetically pure mutation, named 'chocolate Emory's Ratsnake', may in fact be the first known case of melanism in the cornsnake complex.
Colorado Mountain Cornsnake (Pantherophis [Elaphe] emoryi var. 'intermontana')
Originally given its own subspecific epithet, this race was recently synonymized with E. g. emoryi. While it is immediately distinct in appearance to even the untrained eye, there is apparently not enough definable distinction to warrant scientific recognition. As this work was recently performed by Dr. Hobart Smith, one of the greatest herpetologists ever (and a really nice man), it will certainly stand. However, since this race is isolated physically from other races, it stands to reason that it is in fact evolving its own unique appearance. Given another few thousand years, it will in all likelihood qualify as a distinct subspecies. After all, these technical distinctions are based on human criteria - the snakes could care less.