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Kingsnakes Vs Ball Pythons (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

Kingsnakes and ball pythons are nonvenomous, powerful constrictors that are both very popular pet snakes.

The most noticeable distinction between the two in a side-by-side comparison is their overall pattern:

  • Kingsnake: The back of a kingsnake is overlain with either stripes, speckles, spots, or patches that connect on the sides, which may be yellow, white, red, orange, or tan.
  • Ball Python: A ball python’s dorsal has 15 to 25 large round light brown or golden blotches defined by narrow, lighter brown, or golden borders. The underside of a ball python is off-white or light grey and is featured with some grey spots.

King Snake vs Ball Python

eatureKingsnakeBall Python
1. FamilyColubridaePythonidae
2. GenusLampropeltisP. regius
3. Length2 – 6 feet4 – 5 feet
4. RangeNorth AmericaWest and Central Africa
5. Hunting BehaviorActive Hunters. Constrictors.Ambush Predators. Constrictors.
6. VenomNoNo
7. Breeding SeasonMarch to AugustSeptember to November
8. Lays EggsYesYes
9. ColorsVaries – Browns, Blacks, Reds, Greens, Yellows, Whites. Varies – Browns, Blacks, Yellows, Whites.
10. Cage Night-Time Temp 10-15°F 75-80°F
11. Cage Day-Time Temp70-85°F 80-85°F

Kingsnake Overview

A kingsnake has the most powerful squeeze globally; thus, it can kill and consume snakes up to 20% bigger than its size, including other constrictors. Venomous snakes like rattlesnakes and cottonmouths are no exception, as a kingsnake is immune to pit viper venom. 

They also prey on frogs, tiny turtles, lizards, rodents, birds, bird eggs, and turtle eggs. They actively hunt using smell. Once it catches its prey, it grasps it with its teeth and starts squeezing it.

Kingsnakes typically range between 2 and 6 feet long. They are endemic throughout the United States. Kingsnakes are primarily terrestrial, but some species are semi-arboreal; hence are adaptable to deserts, grasslands, wetlands, valleys, and estuaries.

Their smooth scales span from gleaming black to dark brown and have longitudinal stripes running from their heads to their tails across their backs with either stripes, speckles, spots, or patches connecting on the sides. These patterns’ color ranges from yellow, white, red, orange, and tan.

Despite being flighty, kingsnakes make excellent pets and are very popular in the United States. This is because when domesticated, they become docile. Moreover, they can quickly adapt to life in captivity because they have a vast geographic range and live in various habitats and conditions.

Fun Fact: Kingsnake can exude a foul odor, produce angry hissing sounds, and shake their tails amidst dry leaves mimicking a rattlesnake to deter an intruder.

Some subspecies like the scarlet Kingsnake mimic the look of a venomous coral snake as natural protection. Despite their similar color, the two have differing patterns. Coral snakes have red and yellow bands adjacent to each other, but scarlet kingsnakes have red and black bands next to each other.

Ball Python Overview

A ball python, often known as the royal python, is one of the tiniest of all pythons, reaching just 4 or 5 feet in length. They are powerful constrictors only found in Western and Central Africa, inhabiting grasslands of the savanna desert, open woodlands, forest margins, and other open places with some cover.

Fun Fact: Ball pythons are known for their “balling” defense technique, thus their name. When they are anxious or disturbed, they roll up into a ball with their head in the center.

Although these snakes are gentle, they can be aggressive if disturbed; they might strike and bite continuously, leaving many superficial lacerations.

The nose of a ball python is boxy, and the head is flat with a thin neck. They have triangular heads attributed to the presence of a series of pits on either side of their mouth. The skull is black, while the face has bright stripes and a black mask over the eyes.

The markings on adult ball pythons range from medium to dark chocolate brown. The underside of a ball python is off-white or light grey and is featured with some grey spots.

Ball pythons are gentle and easy-to-handle snakes, which make excellent pets. They are popular pets in Europe and North America due to their size, demeanor, and low cost. They also have a pleasant disposition, a long lifetime, and a wide range of looks and colors. Lastly, adult ball pythons like wrapping themselves around human arm or waist but maybe quickly unwrapped if necessary.

Fun Fact: Approximately 30,000 to 50,000 ball pythons are shipped to the United States each year, most of which are hatchlings from wild pythons.

Comparison Between Kingsnakes and Ball Pythons

1. Size Differences

Fully grown king snakes are slightly longer than Ball Pythons. However, ball pythons are enormous. Ball pythons are termed heavy-bodied, and their heads are bigger than their thin necks.

Depending on the species, Kingsnakes’ mature length is 6 feet while Ball Pythons generally grow to be 4 to 5 feet long as adults, although some wild ball pythons of 6 feet long have been found.

2. Identifying Features

Kingsnakes have more rounded heads than other snakes because they lack pits. They also have a small, thin line between their eyes and a black spot on top of their heads shaped like an arrowhead. Kingsnakes generally have rounder pupils than ball pythons.

A ball python has a boxy snout and a flat triangular head with a thin neck. They also possess a series of pits on each side of the mouth and below the nostrils. The pits detect heat signals given off by their prey which they follow when hunting. The head is black, with light stripes on the face and a black mask over the eyes. The eyes have the same-colored patterns as their bodies, with tiny yellow stripes or lines running through them to their noses.

3. Color Variations

Generally, the skins of most kingsnake species exhibit dazzling patterns with strong contrasting colors.

The patterns on kingsnakes include bands and speckles. Depending on the species, their scales are gleaming black or dark brown with white or yellowish chain-like stripes, traces of white or yellow patches, yellow or white speckles, white bands, or longitudinal stripes running from their heads to their tails across their backs and connecting on the sides.

Adult ball pythons have medium to dark chocolate brown patterns, while youngsters have yellow or chocolate brown markings.

Fifteen to twenty-five large, pale, spherical spots run along either side of the neck and body of the ball python. The blotches are separated by black interspaces, which link to the darker dorsal region. Large brown dots are highlighted in white and black on the body of a ball python. Young ball pythons have yellow and green dots that are highlighted in white and black.

4. Geographic Range

Ball pythons are terrestrial and arboreal (living in trees) snakes that live slightly north of the equator in West and Central Africa’s grasslands of the savanna desert, open woodlands, forest margins, and other open places with some cover. They also prefer to be near open water because it allows them to cool off in hot weather.

On the other hand, kingsnakes are among America’s most prevalent snakes. However, they are mostly found throughout North America and inhabit rock outcrops, meadows, brushy slopes, river valleys, woods, fields, pine forests, and suburbs.

5. Lifespan and Maturity

Ball pythons have a slightly longer life expectancy than kingsnakes. In captivity, kingsnakes can live up to 20 to 30 years; however, their lifespan in the wild rarely exceeds 15 years.

In the wild, ball pythons live for ten years, but they can live for up to 50 years in captivity, although the typical lifespan is around 30 years.

Sexual maturity is influenced by the size, weight, age, and sex of a species. Male ball pythons can generate viable sperm as early as six months of age. However, they typically attain sexual maturity around 1 to 2 years, while females reach sexual maturity between 2 to 3 years. On the other hand, kingsnakes attain sexual maturity In 3 to 4 years.

Fun Fact: Because reproduction is metabolically costly and demanding for both men and females, both snakes’ general health and condition play an essential role when deciding to breed.

6. Diet

There isn’t much difference between a Ball Python and the Kingsnake when it comes to nutritional requirements. Both species are carnivorous and consume various foods.

Frogs, tiny turtles, lizards, rodents, birds, bird eggs, and turtle eggs are common prey to wild kingsnakes. Kingsnakes are also known to consume other snakes. They are naturally immune to pit viper poison. Hence, they can consume dangerous snakes such as cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. Nonvenomous snakes like rat snakes and garter snakes are also a favorite treat for them.

Wild ball pythons only eat birds and mammals. Smaller ball pythons feed nearly entirely on birds, while those larger prey mainly on mammals. They hunt rodents such as rats, gerbils, gerboas, and birds.

Fun fact: Male ball pythons prefer to eat birds as they are arboreal, while females prefer to eat mammals since they are more terrestrial.

Captive kingsnakes and ball pythons mostly eat tiny mice or rats, whereas young captive ball pythons are usually fed with pinkies and fuzzies.

Related: What do Ball Pythons Eat?

7. Feeding Habits

Even though both snakes are constrictors, ball pythons are ambush predators that wait for prey to come to them. On the other hand, kingsnakes are active predators that aggressively seek out their prey by detecting their scents.

Once kingsnakes have located their prey, they usually grasp it with their lips and start squeezing it. Depending on the number of their meals, kingsnakes may only eat a few times per month.

After a prey gets to a ball python’s hideout, a ball python retracts its head and neck then strikes it quickly. It may devour its victim alive or paralyze it by constriction after a quick attack. Ball pythons only eat once in a while.

Note: A captive adult ball python should be fed every 7-10 days, while younger ones every 5 -7 days. The prey should not be broader than the thickest girth of a Ball Python’s body.

8. Reproduction

Both species have an oviparous reproductive system but have different mating seasons as they are distributed in different environments.

Kingsnakes in warmer climates mate in early spring, whereas those in colder regions wait until late spring or summer to mate. The mating season typically lasts from March to August.

Male kingsnakes release chemical pheromones to attract females. After mating, female kingsnakes deposit eggs in debris and rotting logs. It lays clutches of 3 to 24 eggs. Mothers then abandon their eggs, which hatch on their own two to three months later. Hatchlings may be up to a foot long and are independent from the minute they enter the world.

Contrary, ball pythons breed during the rainy season, which falls between mid-September to mid-November. Eggs are deposited after a gestation period of around 40 to 50 days, from mid-February to the start of April (the second half of the rainy season). Then eggs hatch from mid-April until mid-June.

They produce eggs with a leathery shell. The females only breed once every two or three years, and they lay between four and fifteen eggs in her clutch. The color of females carrying eggs darkens. The female wraps herself over her eggs once they’ve deposited them to protect and keep them warm until they hatch.

Fun Fact: A female ball python will remain with her eggs during the incubation period and will not eat until they hatch.

The hatchlings are instantly self-sufficient right away, although they stay close by for months.

9. Behavior

Most kingsnakes are nocturnal. However, in locations like Southern California, where the climate is more temperate, they are diurnal. The southeast, at least in the winter, has a favorable environment for kingsnakes. Eastern kingsnakes in Georgia are more likely to be seen during the day. They are particularly active in the mornings during the hot summer months.

When kingsnakes are threatened, they exude a foul odor and shake their tails. It does this to mimic the rattlesnake via Batesian mimicry. They are also known to bite humans; however, their bite is not dangerous.

Ball pythons spend most of their time in burrows on or beneath the earth. They are most active in the morning and evening. They can be found in savanna grasslands or open woods that have been cleared for cultivation. These snakes are also known to bite humans; however, they don’t usually attack humans.

Related: Can Pythons Swim?

10. Cage Environment

Ball Pythons come from a more tropical habitat than King Snakes. Because they originate from slightly different environments, a Kingsnake’s cage will require a little less heat and humidity. In contrast, a ball Python’s surrounding needs to be a little warmer since they come from a more tropical environment.

A thermal gradient of 84-88 degrees F on the warm end and 70-75 degrees F on the cold end is ideal for kingsnakes, while ideal temperatures for a ball python range from 75-80oF on the cold end and 80-85°F on the warm side.

Pro Tip: A basking area should also be provided on the warm side of the cage by providing heat of about 88-92°F.

Both snakes require sufficient humidity during shedding; therefore, the cage should be misted for a few days until the snake sheds, or a layer of damp moss should be placed to one of the hides and keep it moist at all times to boost the humidity.

Often, ball pythons require a secure environment in captivity, such as an aquarium with a lid to prevent them from escaping.

A cage at least 36 inches long, such as a 30-gallon aquarium, is required for an adult ball python, whereas most adult kingsnakes may be kept in a 20-gallon or 30-gallon breeder tank.

The goal is to build a large enough cage to create a temperature gradient. It’s also critical to provide snakes with hiding places so that they feel safe. At the very least, there should be two hiding spots—one on the heated side and another on the cold side.

11. Friendliness

Both snakes are among the most famous snake pets in America, but Ball Pythons are friendlier.

Ball Pythons are considered beginner-friendly because of their docile nature and ease of handling. At the same time, king snakes are easier to care for as they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and humidity.

However, kingsnakes are much more difficult to handle owing to their flighty nature. Though once domesticated, they become docile. As a result, they are quite popular pets.

More Snake Comparisons:

Conclusion

Kingsnakes and ball pythons are two completely different snakes. They come from different species and also originate in totally diverse regions. Kingsnakes are native to the USA; however, ball pythons are primarily found in North Africa and were only introduced in the USA by snake breeders and traders.

Although both snakes are excellent and popular pets in America, it comes down to whether one is a better fit for you and your lifestyle. Therefore, their significant differences help pet owners make an informed selection regarding these two incredible snakes.

Ball Pythons are considered beginner-friendly because of their docility and ease of handling. At the same time, kingsnakes are easier to care for because they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and humidity. However, they are much more challenging to handle due to their flighty nature, though they are pretty docile when domesticated.

Ball Python Image by beachbumxotics from Pixabay
Kingsnake Image by sipa from Pixabay

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