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Bullsnakes vs Kingsnakes (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

Bull snakes and King snakes come from two different species. While they have some similarities, they are very also different.

However, due to their lack of venom, both snakes have become favorites among snake lovers.

bullsnake vs kingsnake

The bull snake is one of North America’s and the United States’ largest and longest snakes, reaching lengths of up to 8 feet. They are often yellow, with brown, white, black, or reddish blotching.

On the other hand, King snakes species can be found from southeastern Canada to southern Ecuador. The size and coloring of some species vary considerably. For example, Scarlet Kingsnakes are usually 1 to 2 feet long, although the common King snakes can reach a length of 1.8 feet.

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.

Bull Snake Overview

The bull snake (Pituophis catenifer) is a colossal colubrid snake that is non-venomous and kills by constriction. It is classified as a gopher snake subspecies (Pituophis catenifer).

A bull snake can grow to reach a length of between 4 to 6 feet long. However, specimens taller than 9 feet have been found. Bull snakes are mostly found in central and northern Mexico and Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the desert parts of British Columbia in southern Canada.

Their usual weight is 1 to 1.5 kg, but larger species can weigh up to 3.5 to 4.5 kg. Bull snakes are usually found in fields, bushlands, and grassland with sandy soils. They are frequently seen entering or exiting burrows dug by the native pocket gopher.

Despite their intimidating appearance, they are non-venomous and will not attack unless provoked sufficiently.

King Snake Overview

Kingsnakes are part of the Lampropeltis genus, which also includes milk snakes and four other species. Kingsnakes belong to the Colubridae family and the Colubrinae subfamily.

Kingsnakes are medium- size to large size and narrow in appearance. Some with a length of up to 208.2 cm, including the tail, have been found. Weight can range from 275 g for small ones to 2,268 g for bigger samples.

Fun Fact: They are known as king snakes because they devour other snakes, including venomous ones.

Kingsnakes kill their prey by constriction and have an opportunistic diet, eating other snakes, even deadly snakes. Kingsnakes live in almost similar settings as bullsnakes.

They prefer to live in forests, grasslands, suburbs, and rocky places in fields and deserts. They’re also easy to spot hidden beneath artificial structures, garbage, and under leaves. Though they are known to bite, a king snake’s bite is also not poisonous to humans.

Comparison between Bull Snake and King Snake

1. Behavioral Characteristics of Bullsnake

When threatened, bull snakes usually produce a loud hissing sound and vibrate its tail. Most people confuse it with a rattlesnake due to its defensive strategy, and it usually bites. However, its first line of defense is to flee.

A Bull snake female lays eggs and deposits them in burrows they excavate or those deserted by other mammals. It takes ten weeks for the eggs to hatch, after which the juvenile snakes have to fend for themselves.

After hatching, baby bull snake lives for up to two years to become sexually mature. In the wild, a bull snake can live for almost twelve years, and in captivity, it can live for more than twenty-five years.

While Bull snakes primarily kill their prey by constricting them, they pack a very painful bite, and they can also be very aggressive. Therefore, you should always be careful when handling them. Nonetheless, most of them are friendly, but they are not suitable for inexperienced snake handles

Kingsnakes are not as aggressive as bull snakes.  If they perceive a threat, they can strike, but this is unlikely. In general, once domesticated, king snakes are very docile.  When king snakes are threatened, they produce a foul smell and shake their tails. They mimic a rattlesnake but through Batesian mimicry (mimicry in which an edible animal is protected by its resemblance to one avoided by predators.

These snakes reach sexual maturity between the ages of 2-4 years. According to the San Diego Zoo, they can live up to 20 to 30 years in captivity though their lifespan in the wild is not well known. Kingsnakes are egg-laying, and their young ones become independent the moment they hatch.

2. Size Differences

Bullsnakes usually range between 4 to 6 feet long. However, specimens taller than 9 feet have been found. Their usual weight is 1000 to 1500 g, but larger species can weigh up to 3500 g to 4500 g.

Kingsnakes, on the other hand, are significantly shorter. Most of them range between 3 to 5 feet. Their weight can vary depending on the species.  The small ones, for example, the speckled king snake, can weigh as little as 275 g, whereas bigger ones can weigh up to 2,268 g. They are known as king snakes because they devour other snakes, including poisonous ones.

3. Diet

Bull snakes are stranglers that primarily eat gophers, mice, voles, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, among other small mammals. However, they also tend to feast on frogs, ground-nesting birds, and bird eggs. On the other hand, small bull snakes feed on Insects, tiny lizards, and baby mice.

The diet of Kingsnakes is almost similar to that of bull snakes. They mostly feed on mice, birds, and rats. However, Kingsnakes are known to hunt and feed on other snakes, including venomous ones, including cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. They are constrictors, and they swallow their prey whole.

Kingsnakes are proactive hunters rather than ambush hunters, and they use scents to track down their prey.

Fun Fact: Kingsnakes are immune to most snake venoms and are superior constrictors that enable them to overpower snakes bigger than them, e.g., the rat snake.

4. Petting and Temperament

Both of these snakes can be kept as pets. However, there are certain behavioral and temperamental issues that you need to consider before opting for either.

For starters, bull snakes can be quite aggressive. However, those that are captive-bred are pretty simple to maintain. Once they’ve become accustomed to being petted, they make excellent pets.

Additionally, they are non-venomous and rarely attack humans. However, it is important to note that they are more aggressive when they are young. Adult bull snakes rarely bite. This is because, over time, they are usually completely tractable with gentle and frequent handling.

Also, bull snakes are beneficial as they will eliminate as many pests and rodents around your home. 

Unlike bull snakes, king snakes are less aggressive. They are also easy to pet and seem to love being outside of their enclosures, and aren’t afraid of being petted. However, you should handle young king snakes carefully for short periods since they are restless and quickly disturbed.

The best approach to handle them is with a hand-over-hand movement away from their face. Hold snakes only after they’ve fed for a few days to allow them to digest properly and while they’re shedding.

Overall, king snakes make the best pets because:

  • They are more colorful and come in a wide range of colors and beautiful patterns compared to bull snakes.
  • They are also easy to maintain and are an excellent choice for both experienced and amateur snake handlers.
  • Kingsnakes are always ready to accept instructions (submissive).
  • They are also fairly curious, which makes them adapt to most home settings.

5. Venom

Despite their intimidating appearance, both of these snakes are non-venomous and will not attack unless provoked sufficiently. If either snake bites you, clean the area with soap and clean water and visit your doctor as soon as possible. Bacteria that penetrate the wound can cause the area to become infected. Some of the snake’s teeth may also fall off in the incision, necessitating their removal.

6. Cage Climate

The cage climate for a bull snake should be 70 to 75 ° F at night and 80 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day. The temperature of the basking place is set at the mid-60s at night and the low 80s at daytime.

Kingsnakes need a temperature of 80-85°F, which can be quickly achieved using under-tank heaters, heat tape, and heat cable on the cage’s exterior rather than the interior. The temperature can dip as low as 75°F at night, and humidity should be moderate (35-60%) during shedding, with the upper end being used.

7. Color and Appearance

A bull snake has split dark identifying marks on the back and a large yellow or brown color. The body of a bull snake is narrow and resembles a whip and has a narrow, rounded head. The mottled pattern is less noticeable near the head, but it gets more prominent near the tail, which has black or reddish-brown stripes.

The shape of his tail is a common physical feature to easily recognize a bull snake because the end of its tail comes to a point. When they feel threatened, they tend to hiss, vibrate their tails, and flatten their heads.

The ordinary king snake has various patterns, including black or dark brown striping, rings, crossbars, spots, yellow or white lines, bands, and crossbars. The red, black, and yellow rings on the other six king snake species are tri-colored. The dorsal scales of kingsnakes are smooth and lustrous.

The appearance of these snakes is also dependent on their species. For instance, the typical Eastern king snake has a black body with tiny yellow to light bands running down the length of its body in a chainlike pattern.

Banding is the most common and easy to identify characteristic in king snakes. They usually are darker-colored, brown with cream-colored tape, or blacks with white tape. They are light-colored.

More Snake Comparisons:

Conclusion

Both the bull snake and king snake are non-venomous constrictors and will rarely attack or bite unless they feel severely threatened.  However, some bull snakes are known to be aggressive, but they can make good pets when they are accustomed to being handled.

Bull snakes are, nonetheless, not recommendable for beginners to keep as pets. On the other hand, king snakes are usually laid-back snakes that seem to love being outside of their enclosures and aren’t afraid of being petted.

Lastly, these two snakes come from two completely different species, and therefore it is quite easy to differentiate them based on their appearance.