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Bullsnakes vs. Fox Snakes (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

The bull snake and fox snake are of different species. Hence, the snakes are characterized by distinct features which differentiate them.

Fox snakes most closely resemble the rat snake. There are two species of fox snake: the Western fox snake and Eastern fox snake. 

On the other hand, the bull snake is a subspecies of the gopher snake and can commonly be found on the prairies and plains of North America.

bullsnake vs fox snake

However, the two types of snakes have some similarities. For instance, they have similar defensive mechanisms which involve producing a loud hissing sound, vibrating their tail, and biting.

Although both snakes can bite, they are not venomous, making them harmless to humans. Also, despite differing in size, they primarily prey on small mammals, birds, and eggs. 

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.

Fox Snake Overview

Fox snakes measure between 3-5 feet in length and are harmless to humans. Male fox snakes are larger than female fox snakes. The snake color ranges from straw yellow to dark brown, and highly dark brown or black blotches characterize the upper part of the skin. However, the blotches are ring-like on the tail. 

Additionally, the skin might have orange, yellow, or reddish pigments between the scales. The snake color is one of the most distinct features as different parts of the snake’s body have different color ranges. A dirty yellow color characterizes the lower part of the snake with black checkering. 

On the other hand, the snakes’ head is light brown with yellow or reddish highlights, and it is usually unmarked, but it has a small design at the top. However, young fox snakes are lighter than adults, and they are light brown and with lighter blotches characterized by a black outline.

Additionally, young fox snakes have their heads boldly marked with black lines. One of the defining features between young and old fox snakes is a diagonal line traveling from the eye to the angle of the jaw. Furthermore, it has a line at the top of its head that connects with the eye. 

Bull Snakes Overview 

A lot of people tend to mistake the Bull snake with the gopher snake. However, it is a subspecies of the gopher snake. Bull snakes are mainly found across North America. They are among the largest species in terms of length across North America, only falling behind the indigo snake and some rattlesnake species. 

Bull snakes are heavily-bodied constrictor snakes with a small head and an enlarged nose shield for digging. Additionally, they are non-venomous and hence not harmful to humans. The bull snake can reach 8 feet in length. 

Bull snakes have a brownish-yellow back that contains red blotches. Additionally, its tail has black bands. The underside of the bull snake is usually pale yellow.

Fun Fact: An interesting fact about the bull snake is that you can find albino and white snakes in this species.

Its entire body is covered with scales, including its eyes, which prevents the snake from blinking or closing its eyes. 

When bull snakes are threatened, they can be pretty intimidating and can even bite. However, bullsnakes are not venomous. Although they are great constrictors, they are not large enough to pose any danger to humans. 

They are highly adaptive to their surroundings so long as there is a source of food. In most cases, they infest our home as they search for their favorite prey, mice and rats.

Comparison Between Bullsnakes and Foxsnakes 

1. Habitat 

Fox snakes prefer to stay in moist habitats. Therefore, they can be commonly found in woodland, lowland meadows, prairies, and rocky outcroppings around rivers as they provide excellent source shelter, food, and overwintering sites. 

However, they are commonly found in rivers and stream valleys. It is important to note that Fox snakes quickly adapt to human habitation and habitat disturbances compared to other types of snakes. Therefore, they can be found in cities and highly developed suburbs.  

Some of the areas you might find fox snakes include Western Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Northern Illinois.

Unlike fox snakes that prefer moist habitats, bull snakes prefer arid regions, including coniferous forests, farmland, woodland, prairies, and grasslands. In addition, they can also be found in burrows underground. They usually prefer holes left by other burrowing animals, but at times they typically dig their burrow. 

They also prefer sandy soil because it is easy to burrow. Just like the fox snake, they are also excellent climbers. 

Bull snakes are native to western North America, from British Columbia, Canada, south to northern Mexico, and from California east to Indiana.

2. Behavioral Characteristic

During spring and fall, the fox snakes are highly active during the day. However, during hot seasons such as summer, the fox snakes are active during the night to protect themselves from the extreme heat. 

Fox snakes tend to avoid human interaction. Therefore, when faced with imminent danger, they usually flee. Additionally, when touched, they react by releasing a musky odor through their tail. The smell released is similar to that of the red fox.

However, although they are not harmful, they, on rare actions, strike back when cornered through a non-venomous bite, which can be pretty painful. 

Another defensive strategy that the fox snake use is producing a loud hiss, coiling, and vibrating its tail on the ground to create a sound similar to that of the rattlesnake. Unfortunately, due to these vibrations, many humans confuse it with the rattlesnake and kill it.

Fun Fact: Although they are terrestrial, fox snakes are excellent climbers and swimmers. 

On the other hand, Bull snakes are solitary and usually hunt alone. However, they have been seen to hibernate with other snakes. 

They are mainly active during the day, especially early morning and late afternoon. 

When faced with danger, they usually avoid confrontation and flee. However, when cornered, they behave similarly to fox snakes, where they typically flatten their bodies and produce a loud hissing sound. They also usually vibrate their tail on the ground to create a sound similar to that made by the rattlesnake- which, as mentioned above, can be a disadvantage, especially when they come in contact with humans.

Bull snakes are not venomous and hence not harmful to humans. However, they might bite when threatened, and the bite can be excruciating. 

3. Diet

The diet of both these snakes is almost similar. In addition, due to lack of venom, they kill their prey through constriction.

Nonetheless, the diet of fox snakes varies depending on the species. For instance, the eastern fox snakes’ diet mainly involves meadow voles, but they usually prey on other small mammals.

The western fox snakes have various prey, including small mammals such as chipmunks, small rabbits, rats, mice, and bird eggs. Both western and eastern young fox snakes usually eat frogs and insects.

On the other hand, bull snakes feed on a wide range of small mammals and birds. Rats and mice are the main prey that bull snakes feed on. However, they feed on other animals, including frogs, lizards, ground squirrels, moles, and rabbits. Additionally, they also feed on birds and eggs. 

4. Reproduction 

The mating season of fox snakes usually occurs during late spring extending to early summer. After which, they lay eggs mid-summer, and a single female lays an average clutch of up to 25 eggs.

They lay eggs on rotted woods or under logs. The eggs usually hatch in early fall and measure 1 foot in length, and they resemble adult snakes, although they have some distinguishing features. Under captivity, the fox snake can live for up to 17 years. 

On the other hand, Bull snakes usually mate in March and April after emerging from winter dormancy. The female then lays eggs in June and July. Females lay a clutch of between 5 and 19 leathery eggs and deposit them in burrows. 

After laying the eggs, the female abandons the nests. Incubation of bull snakes eggs is approximately 50 to 80 days. After hatching, the young snakes fend for themselves.

In the wild, a bull snake can live for almost 12 years, and in captivity, it can live for more than 25 years. Some bull snake predators include hawks, eagles, and other carnivorous mammals. 

5. Which Snake Makes The Best Pet

Both snakes make great pets. However, significant consideration should be put in place when deciding on which snake to pet. If you want a snake with an extended lifespan, then the bull snake is the best choice, with a life of up to 25 years in captivity. The fox snake has a shortened life span of 17 years in captivity.

Bull snakes are large and require a bigger shelter. The recommended enclosure to keep bull snakes is at least 8 ft. * 4 ft. Additionally, there should be appropriate soil for digging and enough hiding places. The habitat should be dry, but it should contain a container with clean water for the snake to maintain its temperature. 

Fox snakes are docile, making them the best pet for beginners compared to bull snakes. However, fox snakes are stinky, which should be considered when deciding whether to pet them. They are not as large as bull snakes. Thus 30 to 50-gallon tanks with a solid lid should be enough. However, the tank should be properly aerated. 

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Conclusion

Bull snakes and fox snakes share several behavioral traits but also have some differences. You must understand how to differentiate them, especially by the color of the skin and the shape of their head.

One distinct characteristic of fox snakes is that when threatened, they usually release a musky odor. Also, bull snakes are much larger than fox snakes. 

Regarding which type makes the best pet, it will mostly depend on your preferences and space availability. For example, fox snakes are docile but can be stink, whereas bull snake has rowdy temperament.