With their iridescent scales and striking markings, ball pythons and Mexican kingsnakes are two of the most well-known snake species from the Americas. But beyond celebrity status, which of these two species makes a better pet?
Both snakes share similarities in diet and behavior; they are carnivorous and relatively placid and docile. In contrast, the broader and shorter ball python shows speckles of light brown blotches and similar shade borders. In contrast, the slender Mexican kingsnake is iridescently black and smooth.
Discover the critical differences between a Ball Python and a Mexican Kingsnake, their personalities, and more by reading on.
Key Differences Between a Ball Python and Mexican Kingsnake
Sometimes a table makes all the difference between comparing information and not:
|Region and Habitat
|West and Central Africa: open forests, grasslands, shrublands
|North America: deserts, mountains, plains
|Black, white, dark brown, yellow
|Jet black, dark brown
|Male: 2- 3 feet (0.61-0.91 m)
Female: 3- 5 feet (0.91-1.52 m)
|Male: 3- 5 feet (0.91-1.52 m)
Female 3- 6 feet (0.91-1.83 m)
Can become aggressive when disturbed—but typically shy
Sometimes nervous but become docile when domesticated
|Basking spot: 88 to 92°F (31- 33°C)
Cool spot: 76 and 80°F (24-26°C)
|Basking spot: 86-89°F (30-32°C)
Cool spot: 71-77°F (22-25°C)
Let’s take a look at what makes both of these species unique:
Geographic Range Differences
Ball pythons hail from the tropical regions of Central and West Africa, specifically Guyana, Brazil, and Sudan, where they live in the rainforests and African savannahs.
Adaptable to grasslands, flat and rocky deserts, and lush wetlands, you will find the Mexican kingsnakes in the southern regions of Mexico and nearby areas of North America.
Both species are also popular among snake keepers in the United States and Canada.
Size and Lifespan Differences
The mature female ball python grows 1.5x faster than the adult male and measures much larger.
- The average adult female is 3 to 5 feet (0.91-1.52 m) long.
- The average adult male is 2 to 3 feet (0.61-0.91 m) long.
As snake sizes go, they are one of the smallest of the python family, but a 5-foot (1.52-m) ball python is considered pretty big by this breed’s standards.
Fully matured kingsnakes are slightly longer and more slender than ball pythons. And unlike the ball python, their size is relatively the same between the mature male and females.
- The average adult female is 3- 5 feet (0.91-1.52 m), although there have been some rare instances of them growing as long as 6 feet (1.83 m).
- The average adult male measures 3- 5 feet (0.91-1.52 m) feet long.
Check out the different sizes of the ball python in this YouTube video:
Differences in Appearance Between Pythons and Kingsnakes
A ball python has a flat triangular head more diminutive than the rest of its body and a broad snout. They have pit organs between their mouths and nostrils. These pits look like tiny holes and act as heat receptors while hunting.
They are usually dark brown or black, with slender bodies and eyes in the same pattern as their scales. Their undersides are light gray or white with spots.
Mexican kingsnakes have a round head with a neck that is usually wider than the body, which helps them to crush their prey.
Their color can range from dark brown to jet, sometimes iridescent black, with patternless bodies for both males and females.
Housing and Temperature Requirements
Here are the proper enclosures for ball pythons and Mexican kingsnakes, respectively:
- Adult ball pythons can be kept in a 30 to 40-gallon (113.56-151.42 l) enclosure or larger if they are longer than 3 feet (0.91 m). They are nocturnal, which means they are active during the night.
- Adult Mexican kingsnake can be kept in a 20 to 30-gallon (75.71-113.56 l) enclosure or larger if they are longer than 4 feet (1.22 m). They are diurnal, which means they are active during the day.
The ball python and Mexican kingsnake are ectothermic, meaning external heat sources regulate their body temperatures.
- When it comes to temperature, ball pythons are the “warmer” species, so they require a temperature range of between 88- 92°F (31- 33°C).
- Mexican kingsnakes prefer cooler temperatures, between 86- 89°F (30- 32°C).
Ball pythons need 50 to 60 percent humidity for shredding, and Mexican kingsnakes need 40 to 60 percent.
Ball Python vs. Mexican Kingsnake: Lifespan and Maturity
Both species live long enough to fit into a “long-term” pet category.
- Ball pythons have a longer lifespan than Mexican kingsnakes, with many living 30-40 years in captivity and around 10 years in the wild.
- On the other hand, Mexican kingsnakes will live to 20 in captivity and live longer in the wild for approximately 15 years.
- Female ball pythons reach reproductive maturity between 2 and 3 years of age.
- Males reach reproductive maturity between 1 and 2 years of age.
The male and female Mexican kingsnake reach maturity at around 3 to 4 years.
If you’re interested in breeding either snake, keep in mind that the breeding schedule for both species is different; September to November for ball pythons and March to August for Mexican kingsnakes.
Ball Python vs. Mexican Kingsnake: Diet
Ball pythons and Mexican kingsnakes are carnivorous, feeding on mice and rats. A typical feeding size for snakes is between 1 and 1.25 times their midsection size. So the Mexican kingsnake feasts on smaller rodents.
As ambush predators, ball pythons do not hunt for their prey; they use their pits to sense the heat in their surroundings. Because Mexican kingsnakes are active predators, they cannot cohabitate with other reptiles, even those of their species.
Ball Python vs. Mexican Kingsnake: Behavior
While you can tame all snakes to some degree, ball pythons and Mexican kingsnakes are considered more docile species and relatively easy to maintain. Both species enjoy being handled by their keepers and will likely tolerate you holding them regularly.
Ball pythons are shy snakes that like to hide and rest during the day while awake at night. They curl up into a ball when scared or stressed, earning the name ball python.
Mexican kingsnakes are active snakes that like to explore their surroundings, moving around during the day.
Ball Python vs. Mexican Kingsnake: As Pets
Ball pythons are relatively easy to care for, and their calm, docile nature makes them a great snake for novice reptile owners. Mexican kingsnakes are an excellent species for intermediate and advanced reptile owners, as they are among the more robust snake species.
Ball pythons are generally calm, easygoing snakes, but you should still be careful handling them.
Mexican kingsnakes are also generally calm snakes, but they, too, can be aggressive. Kingsnakes are known for their defensive bites, so it’s best to handle them carefully at the beginning. Or at least until they get used to their habitat—usually 1 to 2 weeks.
See a ball python in action in this 5-minute YouTube video:
These are two of the most commonly kept snakes in captivity, so it’s important to know what makes each species unique. Although both species are relatively large, ball pythons are more laid back and smaller when fully grown, making them a good starter snake for beginner reptile owners.
Mexican kingsnakes are the more robust species, so they are a good choice for intermediate and advanced reptile owners.