What’s the Difference Between a Python and a Boa?

Whether you know it or not, pythons and boas have differences. It’s easy to tell what pythons and boas have in common but how about differences? Curious as I am, I did some research and here’s what I found.

Is there a difference between a python and a boa? Pythons and boas have several differences, ranging from geographical origins to unique body structure adaptations. A huge difference between the two species is that while pythons tend to lay eggs as a means of reproduction, boas usually go through a live birth process.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to distinguishing between these fascinating species. Let us take a moment to briefly look at some of the unique characteristics of these two serpents.

Geographical Differences of Pythons and Boas

Boas and pythons are considered the kings of the snake world. Both have an incredibly developed muscular body capable of taking down even the largest of mammals. Their intimidating size may even cause an elephant to think twice before going toe to toe (or maybe toe to belly? Who knows?) with one of these fearsome creatures.

Almost exclusively the dominant predators in their respective habitats, both the boa and the python are intimidating. But where does one kingdom end and where does the other begin?

First, let’s begin with the python. They come from regions in Africa and Asia. The python is not found naturally in North or South America, therefore it is considered an old world snake. It’s habitat, commonly pictured as a thick steamy jungle, is actually more diverse than at first imagined.

Granted, many pythons do call the warm rainforests of Asia home, they can also be found in grasslands, savannas, swamps, rocky outcrops, deserts, and shrublands. Whatever terrain this snake chooses, it usually takes residence in the branches of a tree or an abandoned animal burrow.

Next, we will take a look at Boa. Boas are found in the Americas and are called “New World” snakes.

Boas constrictors, like their python cousins, are often portrayed as the brutes of the Amazon, killing indiscriminately and spending their day in the lofty trees.

Boas on average are smaller than pythons. Normally ranging anywhere from six to twelve feet. Pythons, on the other hand, have a number of “giant” species, several of which can grow easily over twenty feet long

While it is true that a large number of boas call the Amazon their home, some boas, like the rainbow boa, live in open woodlands. Others still live in dry, desert shrublands. Boas tend to take residence in hollowed trees or rock crevices in the ground.

Differences in Body Structure

If you are like most people, you may look at both pythons and boas and only see two terrifyingly large monster snakes.

Rather than pause and examine the structural differences of these two slithering goliaths, you take one look and say, “Aah! Giant snakes!”  Here are some structural differences between these two awesome snakes.

Let’s get started again with pythons. Pythons tend to be slower than boa constrictors. Average rectilinear pythons only move at a pace of about 1 mile an hour. Lucky for you if you are trying to outrun one of these bad boys.

They propel themselves forward by stiffening their ribs and lifting their soft belly (or ventral) scales. This motion can grip any surface beneath them, allowing them to climb up even the trunk of a tree.

Pythons also have extra bones in their mouth that their cousins, the boas, do not. This small upper jaw bone, called the premaxilla, carries teeth. While pythons are not venomous, getting bit by any giant snake isn’t fun, so watch out. Pythons are rarely aggressive; they only attack if they feel threatened.

They will usually try to hide but may assume the classic snake “striking pose” if provoked. So don’t feel too worried around these guys. 

Now, let’s talk a little about the boa. The boa moves in a similar way to their python cousins allowing them to climb trees or other difficult terrain.

Unlike the python, the boa lacks a premaxilla upper jaw bone, and so it has less teeth. The boa also has a less developed sense of smell.

The python has heat-sensing pits along the tip of its tongue that giving it the power to detect small temperature differences in the air. This gives it the power to attack its preferred meal, warm-blooded mammals. The fact that the boa lacks this feature makes it slightly less scary, but only slightly.

Boas on average are smaller than pythons. Normally ranging anywhere from six to twelve feet. Pythons, on the other hand, have a number of “giant” species, several of which can grow easily over twenty feet long. Yikes.

Reproductive Differences

Another big difference between these two snakes is how they reproduce. Snake babies are both cute and scary, and the babies of these two behemoths are no different. Let’s take a moment to examine some of the differences.

Pythons are an egg-laying species. A female python can lay as many as a hundred eggs at a time. Oh boy! That is a lot of eggs. Python mothers commonly coil around their eggs protecting them until they are ready to hatch.

If the eggs get too cold, remarkably some species of python will “shiver” to heat up their eggs in a process known as thermogenesis. The constant motion uses friction to keep the eggs at a warm temperature. As you can imagine this takes a ton of energy and the mother may need as much as three years to regain the weight lost heating her eggs. But then again, how many mothers do you know who actually lose weight during a pregnancy?

Boas are somewhat unique in the snake world when it comes to reproduction.

Unlike a lot of reptiles, the boa usually gives live birth, meaning it doesn’t lay eggs. During development, young boa constrictors grow inside the mother’s body in a thin membrane yolk sac. The mother needs to keep her body at a fairly safe temperature to ensure that the babies are safe.

When the boa constrictors are born, they are still surrounded by the thin clear membrane described earlier that they must push through. Once they have broken through, a young boa will immediately begin the search for food.

Is an Anaconda a Python or a Boa or Something Else?

An anaconda is actually a species of boa, and one of the better-known species here in the new world.

Known for its gargantuan size (the anaconda is the only “giant” species of boa in the world. It can easily reach sizes of 20 feet or longer.) the anaconda has been popularized as the terror of the jungle. Anacondas are an ambush species of snake and are not terribly fond of hunting humans. Their reputation is largely unearned and only due to their terrible size. Not very fast, their camouflaged skin makes these snakes difficult to spoke even with their giant size.

Anacondas live naturally in South America in the Amazon rainforest, but they have been exported to all parts of the world. They have even been known to show up in the swamps of Florida even if they don’t naturally live there.

Which Makes for a Better Pet?

The huge debate surrounding boas and pythons as pets is largely due to personal preference. Both are constrictor species and common pet species both only reach about six feet. I personally like boa constrictors because they have fewer teeth. I feel like boas may be a bit friendlier too.

I had a buddy growing up that owned a ball python that would do nothing, but hide in his cage. Any attempt made at picking up that snake led him to flee into his hiding box the rest of the day, or worse, a nasty bite on the hand. But that almost all comes down to personal experience.

Both species come in fantastic and vibrant colors. So choose whichever strikes your fancy more!

Related Questions

Do Boas and Pythons get along? These snakes seem to get along well enough when they are put in enclosures together, as long as the enclosure is big enough. Unlike many different species of snakes, they do not usually try to eat one another when in the same space. 

Is a Boa a Python? These are two different species, even though they are similar. They are found on two different sides of the world and have different genetics from one another.

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