The thought of getting your first pet snake is exciting. However, it can be hard to decide between corn snakes and ball pythons. For novice reptile keepers, they are both good starter snakes.
Corn snakes and ball pythons are good snakes for beginners. They’re non-venomous, easy to care for, and tolerate handling well. Corn snakes grow longer, but ball pythons are heavier. Corn snakes can live up to 20 years, and ball pythons up to 30 years.
As a new snake owner, a corn snake or ball python would each be an ideal choice. However, they are very different snakes. We will look at the pros and cons of corn snakes and ball pythons based on each criterion. We’ll explore their similarities and differences so you can make the right choice.
Corn Snakes As Pets
Corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) belong to a genus of rat snakes in the Colubridae family.
Colubrids are the most common family of snakes, containing about two-thirds of all the world’s serpents. They are non-venomous, and catch their prey via constriction. Harmless to humans, corn snakes are comfortable around us and rarely bite.
If you live in North America, you may have come across a corn snake – or one of their cousins, such as the black rat snake or the grey rat snake – out in the wild. The woodlands, farmlands, and fields of the southeast United States are where corn snakes call home.
They are endemic to the U.S. – meaning they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Captive corn snakes, however, can be found in the homes of reptile hobbyists all over the planet. They make excellent pet snakes for many reasons:
- They tolerate handling well, and are comfortable around humans.
- They are very easy to care for, requiring relatively low humidity and temperature levels.
- Corn snakes are quite inexpensive to buy, and live for many years.
- They stay relatively small, rarely reaching 6 feet long.
- Corn snakes have many color variations or “morphs.”
What Do Corn Snakes Look Like?
Corn snakes are a slim-bodied snake. Even at their longest – 6 feet – they remain lightweight and easy to handle. Their heads are quite narrow, and they are smooth-scaled.
The natural color of a corn snake is orange. They have darker reddish-orange patches or “saddles” down the length of their body, and orange eyes. A corn snake’s belly has the most beautiful black and white checkerboard markings.
Breeders of corn snakes have also created hundreds of different morphs. Some of the most popular morphs include albino, blood red, caramel, snow and axanthic (black and white).
We’ve put together a complete care guide for corn snakes for you to read.
Ball Pythons As Pets
Ball pythons (Python regius) are another excellent beginner snake. They belong to the family Pythonidae, a group of heavy-bodied but nonvenomous snakes native to Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Like corn snakes, ball pythons constrict their prey, and are harmless to humans. They stay quite short in length, though the females grow larger than the males.
Ball pythons are one snake that you probably won’t come across in the wild. They are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal in the west to Uganda in the east. But most pet ball pythons will never have been to Africa – they are bred in captivity all over the world, including the United States.
In the wild, ball pythons live in savannahs and grasslands. They can climb trees, although they spend most of their time on the ground. They love hot temperatures and quite a bit of humidity.
Ball pythons make great pet snakes for many reasons:
- They are one of the most docile snakes, moving very slowly even when handled.
- Though they require higher temperature and humidity levels, it’s easy to achieve this with a moderately inexpensive setup.
- Ball pythons rarely exceed 3.5 – 4.5 feet in length. Males are the shortest.
- They are one of the cheapest snakes to care for.
- They come in an incredible range of color and pattern morphs.
What Do Ball Pythons Look Like?
Ball pythons look simply regal, as evidenced by their nickname “royal pythons.” They are dark brown with golden-tan markings along their backs. Their eyes are so dark that they look almost black. Their heads are small compared to their thick, muscular bodies.
It’s widely agreed that ball pythons are one of the “cutest” snakes. They have wide cheeks, big eyes, and a soft, rounded snout. They tend to curl up in an adorable ball when startled.
Ball pythons also have a row of pits along their lips, which look like small indentations. According to Nature, these pits contain infrared receptors, allowing them to “see” the body heat of their prey. This is a trait shared by most pythons and “pit vipers” such as copperhead snakes.
There are thousands of ball python morphs on the market. Some of the most popular include banana, butter, albino, ghost, and spider. There are even piebald ball pythons, with large patches of unpigmented white scales amongst their markings.
Here’s our guide to caring for ball pythons as pets.
Corn Snake and Ball Python Differences
Now that you’re familiar with corn snakes and ball pythons, let’s compare and contrast them. They are quite different species, and while they do have their similarities, there are also many differences.
We’ll go over all of the main aspects of owning a snake, and see how corn snakes and ball pythons measure up.
Handling and Temperament
One of the best parts about owning a snake is having the opportunity to handle them.
No snake truly enjoys being handled, as they are asocial animals. Handling is mainly for our enjoyment as reptile keepers. However, ball pythons and corn snakes both tolerate being handled very well.
Most specimens that have been bred in captivity are used to human contact, and are quite confident around people. Ball pythons have the edge here, though, as they are more docile than corn snakes.
Ball pythons tend to sit in your hands, without moving around too much. Corn snakes can move quite fast if they choose to. That being said, corn snakes are much lighter in weight than ball pythons.
Their temperament is about even, though. Neither snake will act defensively or bite unless they are provoked or stressed.
Of course, you can’t own a snake without facing the inevitability of being bitten once in a while. Even the most placid snakes will occasionally bite their owners – either because they have mistaken you for food, or a threat.
Both ball pythons and corn snakes are non-venomous. They have small teeth that won’t do much damage. At the most, you’ll end up with a few small puncture wounds that might bleed. Being bitten by a corn snake or ball python is no more dangerous than being bitten by a cat.
Neither snake grows large enough to constrict a human, so you don’t have to worry about being attacked. You should be aware, however, that all snakes carry salmonella bacteria on their skin. It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching a snake.
Size is where corn snakes and ball pythons differ quite drastically.
Ball pythons stay quite short throughout their entire lives. The males typically reach 3 – 3.5 feet in length, and the females are larger at 4 – 4.5 feet. However, because they are heavy-bodied snakes, they can become quite thick and hefty. They can weigh up to 5lbs at their largest.
Corn snakes, on the other hand, can grow much longer. Both males and females can reach up to 6 feet in length, if they are healthy and well cared for. Though that length might sound a little intimidating, corn snakes are light-bodied snakes. Even the longest corn snake will not weigh more than about 2lbs.
If you’d prefer a smaller snake to start with, a male ball python is probably your best option.
Both corn snakes and ball pythons are primarily rodent eaters.
In the wild, ball pythons would snack on mice and rat species native to Africa, such as the African soft-furred rat. Corn snakes tend to feast on common mice and rats, as well as some reptiles and amphibians.
Captive snake owners should always feed their pets frozen-thawed rodents. For corn snakes, the food of choice is mice. Ball pythons tend to do better on rats, as they are larger and better suit a ball python’s body size. Each type of snake should be fed roughly once every two weeks as adults.
Feeder rats are more expensive than mice. Not only this, but ball pythons can be very fussy eaters. It can often be difficult to get them to eat frozen-thawed food. Corn snakes are easier to feed.
There are three main costs associated with keeping snakes:
- The price of the snake itself
- The cost for the snake’s vivarium and setup, including heating and hides
- The ongoing “running cost” of a snake. This includes the regular purchase of food and substrate (bedding), and the cost to heat and light the vivarium.
No matter whether you choose a ball python or a corn snake, a “normal” snake will be significantly cheaper than a color morph. You can purchase a normal corn snake or ball python for $20 to $50.
A morph will set you back a lot more. Corn snake morphs can cost over $1,000, whereas the rarer ball pythons can reach over $15,000.
Regarding size, you should make sure the vivarium is at least as long as your snake. This means that corn snakes may need to be upgraded to larger enclosures than ball pythons in the future, because they grow larger.
You’ll also have to buy two snake hides, water bowl, and a heated pad.
For corn snakes, the best heat source is a lamp or overhead ceramic heat emitter. This is because wild corn snakes like to bask in the sun. Ball pythons do best with belly heat from a heat mat. Each heat source is about the same price, but heat lamps tend to cost a bit more to run. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll need a thermostat to control it, and a hygrometer to monitor humidity.
As ball python food (rats) is more expensive than corn snake food (mice), this more or less evens the playing field.
Ease of Care
So, how easy is it to look after a corn snake or ball python?
No matter which snake you choose, you’re going to need to care for them regularly. This will require:
- Cleaning and refilling their water bowl daily
- Spot cleaning the vivarium daily, removing feces and urates (solid urine)
- Thoroughly cleaning the vivarium and replacing substrate at least every two weeks
- Maintaining the correct temperature and humidity level in the vivarium
- Taking them to the veterinarian if you have any concerns about their health
They are about equal in this regard. The only real difference is that ball pythons require a higher temperature and humidity in their vivarium than corn snakes.
For ball pythons, the vivarium’s humidity level should be 60%. This should be achievable by keeping a large water dish in the vivarium, and misting the air should the humidity fall too low. The temperature should range from 78 degrees Fahrenheit at the cool end to 96 at the warm end.
For corn snakes, aim for a humidity level between 40-50%. This is around the same humidity as the average American home, so it’s easily attainable. The warm end of the vivarium should reach 85 degrees, and the cool end should be around 70.
Though both snakes require similar levels of care, it’s somewhat easier to maintain a corn snake’s environment than a ball python’s. Both snakes will need extra humidity when they shed.
Like all animals, they can both get sick occasionally. Health problems in snakes often arise from improper husbandry, but not always.
Common health problems in ball pythons and corn snakes include:
- Respiratory infection. This is usually triggered by incorrect temperatures and humidity levels.
- Parasites, including ticks and snake mites.
- This usually occurs when the snake is handled too soon after eating, or their meal was too large to digest.
- Mouth rot (infectious stomatitis). This is often triggered when snakes are immunocompromised, due to inadequate care.
- Stuck shed (dysecdysis). This occurs when humidity levels are too low for snakes to be able to shed their skin properly.
- Scale rot. This is an infection usually affecting the belly scales, caused by conditions being too moist.
- Burns. These are caused by heat lamps or heat mats malfunctioning, or is set to too high a temperature.
Ball pythons are particularly at risk of problems arising from low humidity, such as a stuck shed. However, corn snakes are more susceptible to problems such as scale rot, which can occur from excessive humidity.
No matter whether you have a corn snake or a ball python, they’ll both be equally at risk of developing health problems if you don’t look after them properly.
You should only ever consider breeding your ball python or corn snake once you have a lot of experience with reptiles. It’s not something to be undertaken unless you know what you’re doing.
Breeding snakes involve more than putting two snakes in a box and hoping for the best. You must:
- Correctly sex your snakes, using cloacal probing. This must be carried out by a professional, such as a reptile veterinarian.
- Put your snakes through a “cool season” by dropping the vivarium’s temperature for up to three months. This mimics the winter, as snakes are usually more receptive to mating in the spring.
- Introduce the male to the female, and supervise them closely until they “lock” (mate). This is necessary in case they don’t get on – it is not unheard of for one snake to eat another.
- Provide extra food for the female while she is gravid (pregnant).
- Set up a nesting container with high humidity ready for egg-laying. This may occur between 1 and 2 months after mating.
- When eggs are laid, carefully remove them from the female and incubate them in a box filled with sphagnum moss, vermiculite or perlite. This is where things can go wrong. Incorrect temperatures or humidity levels, or even placing the eggs the wrong way up, might result in the eggs failing to hatch.
- Care for the babies once they hatch. This will involve preparing separate homes for each baby, feeding and caring for them as you would an adult.
Ball pythons lay between 6 and 10 eggs on average. The maximum clutch size is 16. Corn snakes, on the other hand, lay around 15 to 20 eggs at a time. They have been known to lay 30 or more.
No matter which snake you breed, be sure you have enough resources to care for all the babies.
As you may or may not know, snakes live for a very long time. This is especially true in captive conditions, where their environments are strictly controlled.
As pets, snakes are not exposed to parasites or predators. They’re well-fed so they can’t starve, and we rush them to a vet if they hurt themselves. This all adds up to a very long lifespan.
In the wild, a corn snake’s life expectancy is around 6 to 8 years. However, pet corn snakes frequently reach the age of 15 to 20.
Ball pythons live even longer. Wild specimens may live around 10 years. However, the lifespan of pet ball pythons usually ranges from 20-30 years. According to the Chicago Herpetological Society, the oldest ball python lived to be 48 years old!
No matter which snake you’re considering, it’s important to consider the future. You must be prepared to care for it every day for its entire life, no matter what may happen in your own life during that time.
Corn Snake vs. Ball Python for Beginners
You should now have a good idea of whether owning a snake is right for you, and if so, which snake sounds best.
To recap, here are the advantages and disadvantages of each pet snake.
- Corn snakes require less humidity than ball pythons, making their vivarium environment slightly easier to maintain.
- Ball pythons live longer than corn snakes, as long as they’re well cared for.
- Corn snakes eat primarily mice, whereas ball pythons do best on rats. Rats are more expensive, though ball pythons tend not to eat as often as corn snakes.
- Both snakes are quite cheap to purchase in their “natural” color. If you want exciting and rare morphs, ball pythons tend to be more expensive than corn snakes.
- Corn snakes grow longer than ball pythons, though ball pythons are thicker and heavier than corn snakes.
- Ball pythons and corn snakes both have good temperaments. However, ball pythons are more docile and slow-moving than corn snakes. They are generally considered the friendliest snake to own.
Whether to get a corn snake or ball python pet is for you alone to decide. It all depends on your requirements. If you’re looking for the best starter snake for kids, a male ball python may be a good idea. They don’t reach great lengths and are slow-moving. If you’d prefer to begin with a lower maintenance snake, corn snakes are slightly easier to care for and cheaper to feed.