Corn Snake or Ball Python: What’s the Best Pet Snake?

Corn snakes and ball pythons are two of the most popular pet snakes. They’re both great pets, but they have a lot in common with each other. This can make it difficult to decide on which one is best for you. In this article we’ll try and help you make that decision. 

Over the years I’ve kept numerous specimens of both species, so in this article I want to provide a personal insight into my own experiences. Hopefully by the end you’ll have a better understanding of corn snakes versus ball pythons…

Appearance

Corn snakes and ball pythons are both well established in the reptile hobby. They’re captive bred regularly and as a result of selective breeding they can be found in a huge range of different colors and patterns. These color variations are typically referred to as “morphs”. 

There is an almost limitless range of morphs available, though I would argue that ball pythons are more commonly bred these days, making many morphs easy to source. 

I don’t think one can really say that corn snakes or ball pythons are “better” in this regard, but it might be worth looking at all the different morphs of both species to see if anything particularly stands out to you. Be aware, however, that you may have to temper your enthusiasm, as some of the rarer morphs can be very expensive indeed. 

Adult Size

Corn snakes and ball pythons are both capable of growing to a similar adult length. This is typically somewhere in the 4-5’ margin, with females often being slightly larger than the males. While this may sound like a big snake, in reality these are quite modest dimensions, making both species easy to accommodate at home. 

The key difference is that ball pythons are considerably more “thickset” and “chunky” in appearance. Personally I find this quite appealing, particularly when compared to the thinner and more slight appearance of a corn snake. In short, I feel that ball pythons look a little more impressive. 

All the same, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so you may disagree with me on the appeal of a chunky snake. 

Temperament & Attitude

Ball pythons tend to be very relaxed and chilled out in my experience. Even snakes that haven’t been handled in months will typically sit calmly and passively in their cage as you change their water or spot clean the vivarium. I have only ever had one specimen try to strike at me, and that was when I was trying to feed it, making it largely my own fault for not paying enough attention. 

Corn snakes, while far from aggressive, tend to be just a little more highly strung in my experience. They’re a little more likely to slink off to safety when you open their cage. I have also come across a few specimens in the past that could be described as somewhat defensive, that would regularly try to strike when I carried out tank maintenance. That said, these specimens have been few and far between, so I don’t think it should be a “deal breaker”.

Overall I would say that both species tend to have a decent temperament, though in my experience ball pythons tend to be a little more relaxed.

Handling 

One of the reasons why corn snakes and ball pythons have become so popular is that they can both be safely and easily handled. Bites are very rare, and neither snake is particularly fast-moving. 

Ball pythons are almost like a pet rock. Once you get them out of their cage they will often just sit almost motionless in your hands, meaning that they’re easy for anyone to handle. Even if they do start moving it tends to be a slow, steady, deliberate plod. A ball python can be a good option for less experienced keepers and/or supervised children for this reason. 

Corn snakes, on the whole, tend to be a little more active. They can require a little more effort to handle safely, as they’re more regularly on the move. This is hardly an issue for most people, and for some keepers might actually make holding a corn snake more satisfying than the more “passive” experience of handling a ball python. 

In general, while both snakes are perfectly handable, I feel that ball pythons are the easier species to hold all things being considered.

Feeding

Ball pythons and corn snakes are both carnivorous; this means you’ll need to feed them some kind of animal prey. Typically this means rodents of varying sizes; tiny “pinkies” (newborn mice) for hatchling corn snakes, up to quite sizable rats for larger ball pythons. 

While the food items don’t really differ much between corn snakes and ball pythons, one key difference is their feeding response. While all snakes will go off their food for a few weeks before they shed their skin, ball pythons have been known to stop eating for much longer periods of time. 

Some ball pythons may go off their food for months on end, particularly over the winter months. So long as your snake appears healthy and isn’t losing significant weight then this shouldn’t be a cause for concern. 

All the same, some first-time ball python owners find this a nerve-wracking experience the first time it happens, resulting in numerous forum visits and social media posts. In almost all cases your python will begin eating again in the future as though nothing had ever happened.

In contrast, corn snakes rarely fast for any period of time. 

While fasting is relatively normal in ball pythons, corn snakes probably win out here as they avoid the potential anguish that a period of fasting can cause to the owner. 

Entertainment Value

Let’s be honest; snakes typically aren’t the most exciting of pets to sit and watch. They tend to spend much of their time hiding away from view, and even when they are on display they often sit motionless for hours at a time. All the same, it’s a topic worthy of consideration if you want to sit and enjoy your pet exploring their cage. 

Here I have found that corn snakes tend to be the more enjoyable of the two to watch. They’re more likely to be active during the daylight hours, and tend to be more active, exploring their cage in depth.

While ball pythons will come out to explore to a degree, they’re nocturnal which means this will normally only happen after darkness falls. What’s more they seem to be less inquisitive and will spend the majority of their time hidden away from view.

Overall if you want a snake that you can watch then the corn snake is probably the better option in my opinion. That said, neither of these are really the best pet snake to watch. If you really want to be able to sit on your sofa and see a snake going about their daily routine then there are much better options available than either of these species – most notably garter snakes – which are active during the day. 

Difficulty of Care

Ball pythons and corn snakes are both reasonably undemanding in terms of their care. You’ll need a suitably-sized vivarium, some substrate, a water bowl and hide, and a warm basking spot for your pet. While their care can differ in subtle ways – such as the way in which some people provide a higher humidity for ball pythons – neither is really any more difficult to keep fit and healthy. 

That said, we need to ensure that we’re comparing captive-bred specimens here. In the past, wild caught specimens were sometimes available to hobbyists, and these could be far more challenging to look after. They would sometimes come in with parasites, they would be unused to human contact, and could show signs of aggression. I would strongly suggest you avoid any wild caught specimen of either species and always go for captive bred stock. 

In terms of their care requirements I therefore consider this to be a dead-heat, with both species tying neck-and-neck for pole position.

Price and Availability

Ball pythons and corn snakes are both bred by hobbyists in huge numbers each year. The laws of supply and demand mean that prices have come down quite a bit over the last few decades. Wild-type morphs of both species can be easily found and cheaply purchased. Rarer morphs can understandably be far more expensive, with some “designer” ball pythons costing thousands of dollars.

Assuming you don’t want the very latest color morph then prices and availability tend to be comparable, though you’ll probably come across a far wider range of ball python color morphs than you will of corn snakes. 

Either way, most decent reptile stores will have at least a few specimens of each for you to choose between. A reptile expo will have many times that, and can be a fantastic way to encounter a huge number of specimens bred by experienced keepers.

Lifespan

The lifespan of a corn snake or ball python can of course be affected by a huge range of different factors, and even specimens from the same clutch may achieve different lifespans. That said, we do have some “ballpark” figures for how long both species should live.

On average a corn snake will live for around 15 years, though some specimens may reach 20 years or more.

A ball python can live considerably longer, reaching an age of 25-30 years. Again, some specimens have been known to live even longer, with some examples reaching 40 years of age. 

There are two important takeaways here. Firstly, either species of snake should be considered a long-term commitment. Don’t consider bringing one home as a pet unless you’re confident that you’ll be happy caring for your snake for many decades to come. 

The second conclusion is that ball pythons tend to live a lot longer than corn snakes. Perhaps for this reason the corn snake actually has the upper hand, as it means less commitment overall. 

Conclusion: Should You Choose a Corn Snake or a Ball Python?

Let’s get one thing straight before we conclude this guide: both corn snakes and ball pythons can make fantastic pet snakes. Neither of them is necessarily “better” than the other, and your final decision will really come down to your personal circumstances.

That said, let’s try to bring together all the points made so far, into one conclusive checklist.

A ball python may be the best snake for you if…

  • You prefer the chunky appearance and the wider range of color morphs
  • You want a docile snake that can be easily handled
  • You’re not too worried about an “active” snake that you can watch in their cage

A corn snake may be the best snake for you if…

  • You prefer the slim and more athletic look
  • You want a snake that can be a little more active when in their cage or being handled
  • You’d rather avoid the stress of a snake that may refuse food for long periods of time
  • You want a shorter level of commitment thanks to the lower lifespan

If you’ve got any questions or experiences about this topic then please feel free to use the comments section below so we can all learn from you. 

Richard Adams

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