As a snake lover, you have multiple options at your disposal when it comes to choosing the right snake. Today, we will only discuss 2 species, though, the ball python and the corn snake. What are the defining differences and similarities between them, and which is the best pick for you?
The answer depends pretty much on your preferences, as you will see soon enough. So, let’s get into it.
What is a Ball Python?
Ball pythons rank as the smallest species of African pythons, capable of growing up to 6 feet, both in the wild and captivity. They are generally docile and have adapted to a captive lifestyle fairly easy.
The typical ball python is light brown with a yellow belly and covered with dark-brown patches and spots. The snake has powerful jaws, a wide mouth, and a thick and muscular body. The body composition is fitting for a powerful constrictor like the ball python.
The snake’s name comes from its behavior. Ball pythons constrict their bodies in a ball shape whenever they feel stressed or rattled. This body positioning, with the head aiming at the threat, allows the snake to use its body as a spring, jumping forward with its mouth open. The python uses the same body movement when pouncing on its prey.
What is a Corn Snake?
Corn snakes are also highly popular in the snake trade for their colorful presence and docile behavior. They can grow up to 4 feet, although some specimens can reach 6 feet in some cases. Their name comes from their predilection towards hunting rodents that populate cornfields and corn granaries.
The snake is slimmer than the python, with a smaller head and slightly bigger eyes. The snake has a similar color pattern to the ball python, except it’s orange and red instead of light brown and dark brown. Unlike the ball python, corn snakes showcase a variety of colors and patterns due to them being subjected to selective breeding over the years.
These snakes rank as escape artists due to their curiosity and intelligence. They’re always on the lookout for escaping routes to help them leave their enclosure. They can even push the tank lid with their snouts to go on an adventure around your home.
The corn snake is mostly docile and easy to handle. When threatened, it will shake its tail, similar to rattlesnakes.
Comparison: Ball Python vs Corn Snake
In the following chapter, we will compare the 2 species on a number of metrics to highlight the core differences and similarities.
Size and Growth
The ball python can grow up to 6-7 feet in the wild and in captivity in ideal conditions. The corn snake remains smaller, typically around 4 feet. Some specimens can reach 6 feet, but that’s rather rare.
Both species can reach their maximum size in approximately 2-3 years, although this varies from one specimen to another. The snake’s diet and genetic makeup dramatically influence its growth rate and maximum size.
Here, we have several indicators to consider:
- Enclosure size – Both adult snakes demand at least 40 gallons of space. But you can house your juvenile specimens in smaller habitats during their first few years of life. Most snake keepers house their ball pythons and corn snakes in 10-20-gallon enclosures and upgrade the vivarium as the snake grows in size. The enclosure shouldn’t be taller than 18 inches, although you can go higher, depending on the layout and your snake’s behavior.
- Temperature gradient – Snakes are reptiles, so they’re cold-blooded animals; they cannot self-regulate their internal temperature. Because of this, they rely on their environment to help them in this sense. Their enclosure should showcase a steady temperature gradient throughout the reptile’s habitat. The basking area should display the highest temperatures, around 90-95 F, while the colder regions should remain around 72-75 F. The snakes will move between the different regions, depending on their needs and preferences.
- Humidity – Reptiles require specific humidity levels in their enclosure. The same goes for ball pythons and corn snakes. Pythons demand environmental humidity between 50 and 60%, while corn snakes are more comfortable between 40 and 50%. Proper humidity is necessary to keep the snake well hydrated, aid in digestion, and help with the shedding process. If humidity isn’t right, the snake will become stressed and experience health issues like respiratory or skin infections.
- Lighting – Both species do just fine with room lighting, especially if you use heating pads in their enclosure. A stable day/night cycle is necessary, with around 11-13 hours of light per day, depending on the season.
- Substrate – Choosing the substrate is relatively easy, so long as it retains moisture to improve environmental humidity, is affordable, and is easy to clean. Many reptile owners use paper towels, which work just fine if you ignore the looks. I prefer more natural-looking options like cypress mulch, orchid bark, or aspen shavings. The same substrate choices apply to both species.
- Overall setup – Both the ball python and the corn snake have similar environmental requirements in terms of overall setup. The reptiles should have a climbing area, preferably consisting of forked branches and several hiding spots around their closed ecosystem. These are ambush predators, so they don’t like to dwell in the open for too long. Add some massive bark pieces and containers that the snakes can use for hiding, and place at least one hiding element in both the cold and the hot area of the tank; the snake will alternate between them. Also, provide the snakes with some open areas for a more natural look. If necessary, consider a thicker substrate, especially for corn snakes. They are known to burrow into their substrate at times, especially when they need to cool off.
The 2 species have similar requirements in terms of overall setup and environmental parameters, so you can go with either one.
Ball pythons and corn snakes are very docile and easy-going, although they’re not quite fond of handling. They are generally laid back but can become more irritable when stressed, molting, or simply when handled for too long. You should avoid touching or petting your snake right after it ate, during shedding, or when sick.
Both species are generally more irritable in these instances. Also, refrain from touching the snakes if they exhibit defensive behavior. The ball python will curl in its natural ball shape, while the corn snake will shake its tail and fixate you with its eyes.
Both snakes are easy on the hand, so long as you handle them with care. They will generally relax on your hand because it’s warm and cozy, but you should place them back into their habitat if they look like they want to leave.
Both species can bite for one reason or another, although that doesn’t happen very often. These snakes are generally peaceful and laid back, but you can’t count on that too much. After all, these are feral animals that you cannot domesticate in the same manner you would a dog.
Fortunately, the snakes are not venomous, and their bite isn’t particularly painful. Ball pythons don’t have fangs, but they have sharp teeth pointing at the interior of the mouth. These teeth keep the prey from escaping and can inflict mild skin wounds upon contact. There may be some mild bleeding at the bite site, but nothing more.
Even so, you should disinfect the area and see a professional. The bite can infect due to the bacteria-filled saliva, causing medical complications along the way.
The same applies to the corn snake. As a side note, ball pythons tend to constrict around their prey upon biting it, during which they will inflict several bite wounds. So, you should always treat your snake with respect and give it the space it needs.
Corn snakes are able to live up to 20 years, while ball pythons can reach 30 years in captivity. Such long lifespans explain the snakes’ popularity in the reptile pet trade.
Both species rank as beginner-friendly. They don’t need any special living conditions and care as they are reasonably hardy and adaptable. The situation is even easier if you previously had other reptile pets, so you’re fairly accustomed to their general requirements.
The most obvious health problem for both species comes in the form of bacterial infection, especially around the mouth. This causes mouth rot which can progress to attack the bone tissue, leading to teeth loss and inability to eat.
Skin infections can also occur due to injuries and unsanitary environments. Respiratory infections are also common when humidity and temperature are too low. Overall, though, these species are hardy and resilient, so you shouldn’t have any problems over the years.
Even so, always contact your vet in case of any health issues. The professional will diagnose the problems properly and recommend adequate treatment to prevent the issues from aggravating. Until then, prevention is your best tool. Keep the snakes’ habitat clean and adjust environmental parameters to meet the reptiles’ needs.
The price of a ball python can vary between $50 and $5,000, depending on the snake’s morph, age, size, and genetic makeup. The morphs will influence the cost the most. For instance, you can get the standard ball python for prices between $30 and $50. Albino morphs can reach $400, and the blue-eyed leucistic morph can go as high as $800.
Corn snakes follow the same pricing pattern. The standard morph only reaches $30-$50, while other, rarer morphs get considerably pricier. The scaleless snow hypo morph can easily reach $800, and other morph variations are even steeper than that.
Always make sure that your snake is healthy and in good shape upon purchase, even if that translates to a higher price.
Also, note that the snake’s true cost goes beyond the price of acquisition. You should also account for the reptile’s enclosure and long-term care over the years. Only get a snake pet if you know you can afford the long-term care cost.
Ball pythons and corn snakes eat pretty much the same things since they are both carnivorous. Corn snakes prefer rodents, so I recommend pre-killed and pre-frozen prey for ease of consumption. Corn snakes aren’t too pretentious about their meals, and it makes no difference whether the food is dead or alive. That’s because they primarily use their smell when tracking prey rather than eyesight.
A juvenile corn snake requires two meals per week, while adults will do just fine with one meal every week or two. The prey shouldn’t be larger than the snake’s head for ease of consumption.
Ball pythons show similar feeding preferences, both in terms of food items and feeding frequency. Keep in mind that male ball pythons refrain from eating for several months during the breeding season, which is normal behavior. The same happens during shedding, which doesn’t last nearly as long.
Ball Python or Corn Snake – Which is Better for You?
You know the pros of each species, which include ease of care, ease of feeding, docile behavior, long lifespans, etc. But I think that the best way to decide between the 2 is by assessing their minuses. So, let’s look into these:
Ball Python Cons
- Can lose appetite fast if stressed or in cold temperatures
- They are prone to internal parasites, so annual check-ups are necessary
- Some specimens can be shier than others, causing them to spend more time in hiding
- Difficult to handle immediately after eating or while still digesting the food
- As nocturnal animals, ball pythons aren’t particularly active during the day
Corn Snake Cons
- Predisposed to respiratory infections and other diseases
- Can carry Salmonella
- They demand high humidity, requiring you to monitor their environmental conditions constantly
In essence, if you want a longer-living reptile pet, I recommend ball pythons since these snakes can reach 30 and even 40 years in captivity. Some snake keepers have reported their ball pythons reaching more than half a decade in age.
If you want a more vividly colored snake that’s also easier to pet and handle, the corn snake is for you. Otherwise, both snakes are equally demanding regarding environmental conditions, diet, and overall care.
Snakes are exotic and beloved pets, and the ball python and corn snake are two of the most valued species today. You can’t go wrong with either one.