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Ball Python Vs. Boa (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

The Ball Python and Boa both make amazing and beautiful pets. Although ball pythons and boas may look similar, they are very different in terms of reproduction, the number of skull bones, teeth, size, geographical habitats, and anatomy (See table below).

But, there are also some similarities between the two. Both are powerful ambush predators but are non-venomous and can get along very well with their handlers.

Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmedConsult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.

Boa vs Ball Python

FeatureBoaBall Python
1. GenusBoaPython
2. Size7 – 12 Feet4 – 5 feet
3. ColorsVaries. Commonly brown, gray, and cream.Varies. Generally brown, black, yellow, white.
4. RangeCentral and South AmericaWest and Central Africa
5. Hunting BehaviorAmbush PredatorsAmbush Predators
6. VenomNoNo
7. Breeding SeasonApril to AugustSeptember to November
8. Lays EggsYesYes
9. Pet BehaviorUsually docileUsually docile
10. Daytime Cage Temperature82-86°F80-85°
11. Nighttime Cage Temperature80°F75-80°

Ball Python Overview

Ball pythons are characterized by deep, brown, and attractive gold markings on their skin. Additionally, ball pythons contain different colors of red, black, white, grey, or silver with different patterns and can be stripped horizontally or vertically and spotted among various other patterns.

They have heat-sensing pits along their lips. The heat-sensing pits allow the snakes to detect small temperature differences and track down prey with ease. They are nocturnal and highly active during wet seasons.

Ball pythons are naturally found in western to central Africa, north of the equator and prefer to live near water bodies.

These snakes are not very aggressive when faced with danger; they mainly prefer to escape.  Lastly, they are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Ball python eggs incubate for 54 to 60 days. They mate from mid-September until mid-November.

Related: Can Pythons Swim?

Boa Snake Overview

Boas are characterized by shades of brown and vary from grey to tan. Additionally, they have reddish or brown markings on their skin. The markings on the boas usually become bigger as they move towards the tail, and the tail could be totally red. It is for this reason that boas are sometimes referred to as red tail boas

There are more than 40 species of boa snakes, and they reside in Central and South America. Their natural habitats include tropical rainforest, woodlands, and scrub forests. However, some species prefer to live in deserts, savannah land, and rocky mountains.

Boas are ovoviviparous, meaning they incubate the eggs inside their bodies and give birth to live hatchlings. They have a gestation period of five to eight months, depending on temperature. They give birth to between 10 and 64 hatchlings per female, but they have an average of 25 hatchlings

Comparison between Ball Python and Boa

1. Wild Habitats

Ball pythons are mainly found in western to central Africa, north of the equator. They mainly prefer to reside in grasslands and open forests or areas with some cover.

They commonly live near a water source to cool themselves during hot weather. Considering that Africa is mainly hot, ball python spends most of the time in burrows. They are nocturnal and are highly active during wet seasons.

Boa snakes are found in Central and South America.

They prefer to reside in habitats that range from tropical rain forests to woodland and scrub forests. However, some species of the Boas, such as the Sand Boas, prefer to stay in desert and savannah land, while Rosy boas are found in dry and rocky environments.

Both pet python and boas can be farm-bred, captive-born, or wild-caught imports. This is because both snakes are docile and non-venomous.

However, none of these snake species is native to North America and reptile collectors and traders introduced them to the region.

Fun Fact: The most popular pet boa species are the boa constrictor and rosy boa. Among the python species, the most popular species is the ball python.

2. Appearance 

It is easy to confuse a ball python and a boa because their colors can be very similar.

Ball pythons are characterized by deep, brown, and attractive gold markings on their skin. Additionally, ball pythons contain different colors of red, black, white, grey, or silver with different patterns and can be stripped horizontally or vertically and spotted among various other patterns.

Boas are characterized by shades of brown and vary from grey to tan. Additionally, they have reddish or brown markings on their skin. The markings on the boas usually become bigger as they move towards the tail, and the tail could be totally red. It is for this reason that boas are sometimes referred to as red tail boas.  

3. Anatomy 

In terms of anatomy, the ball pythons and boas mainly differ on skull bones and teeth. A Boa’s head differs from that of the ball python as it has fewer bones.

Additionally, boas have fewer teeth compare to ball pythons. In particular, the ball python has a pair of upper jaw bones referred to as premaxilla. The premaxilla also contains teeth.

The boas and ball python have similar anatomy in terms of the vestigial limbs and lungs. Both species have two lungs which are not common in most snake species.

Furthermore, they both have small vestigial limbs that were a characteristic feature of their ancestors. The small vestigial limbs (cloacal spurs) are seen near their tail. The vestigial limbs in both boas and ball pythons are well developed in males and are very small or absent in females.

Ball pythons have heat-sensing pits along their lips. The heat-sensing pits allow the snakes to detect slight temperature differences. This capability is a plus for the ball python as it will enable them to hunt down warm-blooded animals, including small mammals and birds.

The boas do not have heat-sensing pits. Nonetheless, they have excellent vision and use their tongue to gather information.

Another similarity is that they both shed their scaled skin in one piece. They both do not have movable eyelids, and instead, they have a clear scale that protects their eyes.

4. Reproduction 

When it comes to reproduction, boas and ball pythons are entirely different.

In general, there are two types of reproduction methods in snake species. Certain species of snakes lay eggs and are incubated by the mother until they hatch; others are left to hatch on their own without any motherly attention. In contrast, some are incubated inside the mother’s body, and the mother gives birth after the expiry of the incubation period.

Fun Fact: Snake species that lay eggs are called oviparous, while those that give birth to live hatchlings are ovoviviparous.

Ball pythons are oviparous. They incubate their eggs for 54 to 60 days. As the end of the incubation period approaches, the shells start to soften. Infant ball pythons usually have an egg tooth at the tip of their snouts, which they use to pierce through the eggshell.

If a breeder wants to incubate a ball python’s eggs, the most appropriate incubator temperature should be between 88 and 90 degrees. However, it should be turned on at least two weeks before egg deposition to attain the desired incubation temperature.

On the other hand, boas are ovoviviparous. Thus they incubate the eggs inside their bodies and give birth to live hatchlings. The boas have a gestation period of five to eight months, depending on temperature. In a single delivery, female boas give birth to litters of between 10 to 64 hatchlings, but they have an average of 25 hatchlings.

5. Mating Season and Behaviors

Boas mate during the dry season, which is from April up to September, while ball python breeding season is from mid-September until mid-November.

However, boas do not mate every successive year and only prefer to mate when they are in top physical condition.

Female boas and ball pythons only allow male counterparts to approach and touch them with their spurs when they feel ready to mate. As for ball python, if a female declines a male, it means that they should spend more time in cooler temperatures for the larger follicles to develop.

Boas and ball python mate through the insertion of the male’s hemipenes into the female cloaca, through a process, called locking. Locking can last for four hours to two days, and during this period they should be no sudden noise or movement.

After successful mating, ball python usually undergoes a pre-lay shed midway ovulation. This shows that the python has three to four weeks before it can lay eggs. It lays a clutch of between 1 and 11 eggs.

Female ball pythons reach reproductive maturity from 27 to 31 months, while males attain reproductive maturity between 16 and 18 months. Female boas reach reproductive maturity around 2 or 3 years, while male boas reach reproductive maturity at 18 months.

6. Behavioral Characteristics 

Some of the common characteristics of the two snakes include:

  • Boas and ball pythons are typically solitary unless it is mating seasons.  
  • They are both nocturnal, but they can be active during the day when temperatures are cooler.
  • Boa snakes usually live on dry land and trees, but they are excellent swimmers. Ball pythons prefer to reside on dry land, but they can also climb trees. However, they are not good swimmers.
  • When threatened, the two types of snakes prefer to escape rather than attacking. However, boas are more aggressive than ball python. As a defensive measure, boas can confront to the extent of biting, but pythons are afraid of confrontation.
  • Both snakes are non-venomous.
  • Boas are very curious and active compared to ball pythons. When handled, they move around a lot, not to escape, but out of curiosity. By contrast, ball pythons are placid and usually coil around the owner’s legs or hand to keep warm.

7.      Hunting and Diet

Boas are ambush predators that hide and wait for their prey to pass by. They have jaws lined with small and hooked teeth that they use to grab and hold prey. After catching their prey, they coil their body around the victim until it suffocates.

Read More: What do Boa Constrictors Eat?

Similar to boa, ball pythons ambush their prey. They use their heat sensor pits to locate prey. They are highly adaptive and can hunt even in the darkest of nights. After catching their prey, they usually swallow it alive or immobilize them by constriction.

Boa eats anything they catch, including monkeys, rodents, birds, and wild pigs, because of their jaw’s stretching capabilities. However, their main diets are the rodents. Ball pythons primarily feed on jerboas, rats, and gerbils.

Both boas and ball pythons are infrequent eaters as they can widely regulate gastrointestinal functions.

8. Size and Lifespan

In general, boas are smaller than pythons. However, the ball python is not among the largest python species. Therefore, under the right conditions, a Boa can be longer than a ball python.

The boa’s size ranges between 4 feet to 12 feet, depending on species and gender. Ball pythons under captivity range between 5 and 6 feet, but wild ball pythons can extend to more than 6 feet. Males are shorter than females for both the ball python and boa.

The boa and ball pythons have a similar lifespan of more than 20 years. However, under captivity, both snakes can live for up to 30 years. While in the wild, they have an average life span of about 10 years.

9. Husbandry

Under captivity, the following husbandry measures should be observed.

Both snakes require water to cool themselves. Thus, they should be provided with a water bowl big enough for the snake to fit in. For the ball python, it should be provided with a humidity box or a place to hide that is filled halfway with damp sphagnum moss. The container should be placed so that it is half on the heat and half off the heat.

Boa and ball pythons can grow up to a size greater than 4 feet. As a guide for how large the cage should be, usually follow the rule of: width plus length of the cage should be longer than the snake’s full length.

10.  Restraints

While both of these snakes can make excellent pets, it is still important to handle them with care. Ensure you get proper training. In training, you may be taught skills such as:

  • When handling either the boa or ball python, ensuring that hands are thoroughly clean and do not smell like snake food, such as rodents or rabbits.
  • Ensuring that the head, neck, and body are supported so that its weight is not borne by its single occipital condyle and the cervical spine.
  • Never drape a constrictor snake such as the boa or ball python around the neck.

11.  Which makes the Best Pet?

They both make excellent pets. However, they have individual characteristics that distinguish them. As for me, if you want a snake that is easy to manage and are highly unlikely to bite, then I would go for the ball python.

However, if you are looking for a curious and active pet snake and constantly fighting for control, then you can go for the boa.

Overall, both snakes are excellent pets; it all depends on an individual preference. Make sure you’re trained on how to handle snakes, have the right equipment, and consult your local pet store for advice and support.

More Snake Comparisons:

Conclusion

Casual observers usually mistake boas and ball pythons as they are similar types of snakes. However, they have distinct differences in terms of reproduction, size, and anatomy. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the similarities and differences between the two snakes before deciding which to keep as a pet.

Also, it is essential to remember that some of these snake species are becoming invasive and threaten the natural ecology of some regions such as Florida. Therefore, ensure you breed them responsibly and do not release them in the wild as this will surge their population and threaten the existence of native species.

We hope that this article has provided insightful information on the two snakes to facilitate an informed decision.

Boa Constrictor Photo by David Clode on Unsplash