Finding Courage with Corny the Corn Snake

By Chloe Vessels

Volunteer with a corn snake
Ed Briand & Corny with an excited visitor at ColorFest

There is a special kind of magic that occurs when Bernheim guests are first introduced to Corny the corn snake. Eyes begin to glimmer with enchantment and delighted grins emerge on the wonder-filled faces of people of all ages.

Individuals who have always been petrified of herpetofauna1 often cease to be flooded with fright at the appearance of snakes. Realizations burst upon nervous children and adults as they inch closer to Corny: “Perhaps snakes are not as terrifying as I thought” and “this creature is a valuable aspect of our ecosystem. Why should I be repulsed and filled with an anxious hatred of these reptiles?”

As Bernheim’s resident Ambassador Animal, Corny creates unforgettable moments every time he is brought out to meet guests. Sometimes, these experiences can be life-changing, completely altering the mindset of those who subscribe to the notion that “snakes are bad.” The discovery that courage can entirely convert one’s convictions is something that I witness nearly every week as I work with Corny.

One of our incredible Volunteer Naturalists, Ed Briand, has observed this fascinating phenomenon incalculable times over the many years he has spent as Corny’s caretaker and handler. According to Ed, “Corny’s beautiful coloration and gentle demeanor have helped countless visitors of all ages to overcome their fear of snakes. Corny is very patient and will pose to have his picture taken, endearing him to [innumerable guests].”

Corny’s tender manner prompts people to take courageous steps. Throughout the two days of Bernheim’s 2023 ColorFest, Corny greeted nearly 500 individuals. Out of this number, approximately one-fourth were apprehensive and daunted by the prospect of getting so close to – and even touching – a live snake. Many people, in relieved and awed tones, disclosed to Ed and to myself that meeting Corny was nothing like what they had expected. Their terror was replaced with exhilaration and their courage had morphed into care for the species.

On Sunday of ColorFest, Corny draped himself across my shoulders, and at one point, he performed an impromptu trick for the folks gathered around us, weaving his way through my ponytail. My calm reaction and complete trust in the snake prompted even more visitors to approach, their courage evident as they reached out to stroke Corny’s soft scales.

A corn snake with kids
Corny & Chloe Vessels at ColorFest 2023, surrounded by children in awe of the snake.

Interacting with a kind, docile snake like Corny has made a genuine impact on thousands of folks per year. By being brave and conquering their fear of snakes, thanks to Corny, who knows how many reptilian lives are being saved?

If you are someone who is scared of snakes, please consider meeting Corny at one of our upcoming programs. I truly believe that you will be pleasantly surprised by your encounter. During events such as BloomFest and ECO Kids, Corny is often around the grounds, wrapped around Ed or myself. If smaller happenings are more your style, Stories with Corny is a charming way to have a Corny experience. We are always thrilled to share moments of courage with Bernheim’s visitors.

Confront your fear and transform it into fascination. Grasp your inner courage and take a wonderful chance!



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