Ball Python vs King Snakes vs Rat Snake vs Milk Snake

Snakes are fascinating creatures who have long captured our imaginations. The reptiles feature in poetry and Biblical mythology, mysterious and gracefully slithering their way through the world. With this kind of lineage, it’s no surprise animal lovers enjoy keeping the serpents as pets.

Ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes differ in appearance, diet, mating, and habitats. King snakes have spoon-shaped heads, while Milk snakes have tapered heads and stripes. Ball pythons have circular patterns, but rat snakes have keeled scales and reach up to 9 feet (2.7 m). 

This article will discuss the similarities and differences between ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes. We’ll examine the details of diet, habitats, and appearance so you can identify one easily.

Key Differences Between Ball Pythons, Rat Snakes, King Snakes, and Milk Snakes

Ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes make good pets. These snakes are non-venomous and docile but have some key differences. 

SnakeBall PythonRat SnakeKing SnakeMilk Snake
GenusP. RegiusPantherophisLampropeltisKingsnakes
Average Size6 feet (1.8 m) maximum6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 m) 2-6 feet (0.6-1.8 m)2-6 feet  (0.6-1.8 m)
Habitatsgrasslands, shrublands, and open forestsforests, grasslands, rocky areas, and deserts, often show up in barns and abandoned buildingstropical forests, shrubland, and deserts; prefer to take cover and hide beneath rocks and logsArid and rocky desert areas
Dietsmall mammals and birdsmice and baby rats, chipmunks, voles, frogs, lizards, and birdsfrogs, small turtles, lizards, rodents, birds, bird eggs, turtle eggs, other snakesSmall mammals, reptile eggs, amphibians, lizards, birds, and other snakes
DefenseCurls into a ball to avoid dangerImitates the more dangerous rattlesnake, releases a pungent odorFierce hiss, emits a noxious odor, plays dead, hits and bites enemiesImitate deadlier snakes 
ThreatsPoachers and habitat lossraccoons, hawks, bobcatsHabitat lossSkunks, dogs, raccoons, cats, hawks, and owls
Lifespan15-30 years12-25 years15-20 years20-30 years
Reproduction3-11 large eggs annually2 clutches of 12-20 eggs annually3-24 eggs annually2-17 eggs annually
Breeding Seasonmid-September through mid-NovemberMay to late JuneMarch to AugustMarch to May
Coloringbrowns, blacks, yellows, and whitesBlack, white, light yellowbrown, black, red, green, yellow, whitelight to dark red, black and white, yellow
Cage Temperature (Day time)80-85°F (26.7-29.4°C)85-90°F (29.4-32.3°C)70-85°F (21.1-29.4°C)80-85°F (26.7-29.4°C)
Cage Temperature (Night time) 75-80°F(23.9-26.7°C)80°F (26.7°C)70-85°F (21.1-29.4°C)80°F (26.7°C)


Ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes are all slim, moderately lengthed snakes. However, each has unique coloration and markings. 

Ball Python

Bally pythons have smaller heads. The snakes have off-white or light gray stomachs covered with gray speckles

The reptiles’ patterns feature 15 to 25 large light brown circles bordered by lighter brown or isgold. Thus non-venomous snake comes in various colors, including brown, black, yellow, and white.

Rat Snake

Rat snakes have narrower bodies than ball pythons. Their heads are wedge-shaped, containing dull teeth instead of fangs. Rat snakes have round pupils. Rat snakes are not glossy. They have weakly-keeled ridged scales

The reptiles come in dull colors including

  • Black
  • Gray
  • Yellow
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Black-and-white
  • Orange

King Snake

King snakes are thicker than rat snakes, with spoon-shaped heads and round pupils.

The shiny reptiles have glossy scales in bright colors and vibrant patterns.

King snakes come in the following colors

  • Black 
  • Yellow
  • Brown
  • White

The reptiles feature banded patterns and speckling.

Milk Snake

Milk snakes are lightweight and slim. The reptiles have shiny, smooth scales and narrow, tapered heads.

The snakes feature stripes and blotches. They come in the following colors

  • Light brown
  • Dark brown
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • White

Average Size

Ball pythons, king snakes, rat snakes, and milk snakes cover a wide range of sizes. Each serpent has several subspecies, creating a larger length and weight distribution. 

Ball Pythons

The ball python is the smallest African python. The serpents grow to a maximum length of 72 inches (1.83 m)

The females are larger than the males; males measure between 2.5 and 3.5 feet (0.76 and 0.91 m) and weigh around three pounds(1.36 kg). Female ball pythons reach between four and five feet (1.22-1.5 m) and tip the scales at five pounds (2.27 kg).

Rat Snakes

Because rat snakes come in many varieties, they come in many sizes. The serpents average four to six feet (1.22-1.8 m); however, the largest snakes can reach ten feet (3.05 m). Rat snakes are slender creatures and generally weigh in at around 2.5 pounds (1.13 kg).

King Snake

King snakes range from two to six feet (0.61-1.8 m) in size. Females of the species are larger, measuring between 4 and 4.5 feet (1.2-1.4 m) in length. Mature males reach between 3 and 3.5 feet (0.91-1.07 m). The average king snake weighs 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg)

Milk Snake

Milk snakes are relatively small. These serpents grow between 2 and 6 feet (0.61-1.8 m) and usually weigh about 3 pounds (1.4 kg). The size of milk snakes varies depending on their habitats, as these snakes tend to grow larger in South America than they do in the United States. 


In the wild, ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes make their homes in locations with plenty of protection and access to food. Let’s look at the areas each reptile is indigenous to and the natural conditions they use as shelter.

Ball Python

Ball pythons are native to West and Central Africa

  • Senegal
  • Mali
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Guinea
  • Sierra Leone
  • Liberia
  • Ivory Coast
  • Ghana
  • Benin
  • Nigeria
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • Sudan
  • Uganda

The reptiles avoid excessively arid locations. They generally prefer open forests, grasslands, and scrublands.

Ball pythons mostly stick to the ground; however, the serpents are skilled climbers and can live in trees. 

Rat Snakes

Rat snakes come in many varieties spread across the south-eastern, central, and western United States, Mexico, and Central America.

The reptiles are comfortable living near humans. 

  • Forests
  • Grasslands
  • Rocky areas
  • Deserts

The serpents often show up in barns and abandoned buildings.

King Snake

King snakes cover a wide swath of North America. The reptiles are spread throughout the U.S. and Mexico, with the largest concentration in California.

King snakes are highly adaptable and live in a wide range of habitats. 

  • Tropical forests
  • Shrubland
  • Deserts

King snakes prefer to take cover and hide beneath rocks and logs.

Milk Snakes

Milk snakes are spread from Canada to South America. These reptiles flourish in a wide range of living conditions. 

  • Barns
  • Boards
  • Rocky slopes
  • Forest floors
  • Prairies
  • Grasslands

The creatures prefer darker areas, generally near forests. However, some species live in open prairies or forests. 


Ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes subsist off a diet of smaller creatures or whatever they can wrap their bodies around. 

Ball Python

Ball pythons are capable hunters who rely on constriction to defeat their prey. The snakes use scent and sight to locate their dinner, relying on their heat-sensitive jaw pits to sense their dinner’s location by temperature.

Bally pythons build their diet of small mammals and birds. Males mostly eat birds, and females prefer mammals, including

  • Gambian pouched rats
  • Black rats
  • Rufous-nosed rats
  • Shaggy rats
  • Striped grass mice

Rat Snakes

Rat snakes are active hunters and constrictors. The reptiles often lie in wait and strike their unsuspecting prey.Rat snakes are also skilled tree climbers. Ultimately, the serpents eat anything they can fit in their mouths, including

  • Mice and baby rats
  • Chipmunks
  • Voles
  • Frogs
  • Lizards
  • Birds

The snakes squeeze the life out of their prey and then swallow them whole.

King Snake

Like ball pythons and rat snakes, king snakes constrict their prey to death. The snakes’ jaw opens wide, allowing them to swallow their dinner whole.

A king snake’s diet includes

  • Frogs
  • Small turtles
  • Lizards
  • Rodents
  • Birds
  • Bird eggs
  • Turtle eggs
  • Other snakes

King snakes can metabolize other snakes’ venom so that they can eat other snakes easily. The reptiles use smell for hunting. These snakes have a powerful squeeze that allows them to kill and eat snakes 20 percent larger than them.

Milk Snakes

Milk snakes rely on constriction to kill their prey. However, the reptiles don’t use ambush methods. Milk snakes are active hunters who dissolve their food via potent stomach acids.

The snakes eat

  • Lizards
  • Rodents
  • Birds
  • Eggs


All four snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. However, each lays a different amount annually, with a different mating season.

Ball Python

Ball python females reach sexual maturity between 20 and 36 months and at 800 to 1200 grams. Males achieve sexual maturity between 11 and 18 months and at 600 grams.

Once mature, the females lay clutches of 3 to 11 large, leathery eggs that require 55-60 days to hatch. 

Ball pythons’ mating season runs between September and November.

Rat Snake

The rat snake breeding season lasts from May to late June.

Female rat snakes can lay up to two clutches of eggs annually. Males attract females via pheromones. Males battle for female affection, and the eventual clutches contain 12-20 eggs

Rat snakes reach sexual maturity between seven and nine years of age.

King Snakes

King snake mating season is between March and August. Females can lay more than one clutch annually. Males bite the back of the females’ necks during mating.  

King snakes lay 3-24 eggs per clutch, primarily in rotting logs and under debris. Eggs laid in the summer hatch between August and September.

The reptiles reach sexual maturity between three and four years of age.

Milk Snakes

Milk snakes breed in June. The reptiles mate where they intend to hibernate. Females lay clutches of 2-17 eggs in rotten logs or wet piles of fallen leaves. Eggs require 28 to 39 days to hatch. Females can lay a new clutch of eggs soon after their first hatches. 

Final Thoughts

Ball pythons, rat snakes, king snakes, and milk snakes are similar reptiles with key differentiating features. While all four species make excellent pets, their sizes, lifespans, preferred habitats, and mating practices vary.

The snakes each have unique appearances. This article provides the information you need to familiarize yourself with four of nature’s friendliest snakes. 

Recent Posts