While there are many different snakes that you can keep as a pet, one of the most popular options is the ball python. Of course, one of the most common questions relates to their temperament – specifically how friendly they are.
There’s good news – ball pythons haven’t just become popular pets because they look fantastic and grow to a manageable size. They also have the personality to match.
Ball pythons are generally some of the calmest and most docile snakes in the hobby.
While every snake is an individual, most specimens calm down nicely and can be held without risk even by beginners.
They will either sit motionless in your hands or will gently explore their surroundings.
This is in contrast to some other pet snakes that may struggle hard, trying to escape, releasing unpleasant smells or attempting to bite.
Of course, there are two important caveats here.
Firstly, you’ll need to get your ball python used to being around people. This can require a little patience if your snake is fearful.
Fortunately many breeders handle their snakes from a young age, so there’s a good chance that you can buy a ball python that is already used to people.
Secondly, of course, these are wild animals. So, while ball pythons have a great temperament there is always a chance they may try to bite. In almost every circumstance, however, there is a good reason for this.
In this article we’ll look at how to choose a docile ball python, how to go about taming a ball python that isn’t used to people, and some situations in which even a tame ball python may try to bite.
Choosing a Docile Ball Python
If you’re concerned about your ball python’s temperament then it’s a good idea to start with a specimen that is used to human contact. This means not just buying a snake online and having it couriered to your door, but actually getting “hands-on” before making a purchase.
Many reptile stores stock ball pythons and they can be a great place to find your first pet.
Be sure to take your time in the store, asking plenty of questions.
Also, ask to get the specimen out that you’re considering. Watch how the snake responds to having their cage opened and being lifted out.
Ideally there’ll be no signs of aggression at all. Only once you’ve held it confidently should you consider making a purchase.
The downside to buying your ball python from a pet store, no matter how friendly it may be, is that the prices can be quite high. Additionally, while there are some great reptile stores out there, there are also those that lack knowledge and may give you inaccurate advice.
Expos & Shows
There are a number of reptile shows each year. There are quite a few in the US, though the UK where I am is quite limited.
All the same, they can be a great way to see lots of different ball pythons at the same time.
This not only allows you to compare their appearance and price, but also gives you the opportunity to handle a range of specimens.
Prices tend to be lower than in pet stores, and the stall holders will normally be experts.
In fairness, most of the stall holders at reptile shows are breeders. But if you’re not located anywhere near to a reptile expo, or you’re impatient to get your first python, then you may want to consider looking for breeder that is local to you.
In an ideal world you’ll want to visit their home, once again only choosing your ball python once you’ve established how friendly they are (the snake that is, not the breeder!).
How to Tame a Ball Python
Let’s consider the opposite scenario.
Instead of starting out with a friendly ball python, you’ve instead somehow found yourself the owner of a defensive specimen that doesn’t seem to accept being held.
What should you do?
Here are some tips I’ve used myself in these situations…
Some ball pythons have a very strong feeding response.
Every time their cage is opened they assume they’re getting fed.
Ball pythons don’t have great eyesight, so these animals may lunge at anything you put in their cage, assuming they can eat it.
You don’t want that to be your hand.
If you ball python appears aggressive or tries to bite you then start off with a good feed. Let them fill their belly, then give them a day or two to digest the meal before you progress any further.
I’ve only been bitten a few times by ball pythons (after over a decade of keeping them).
While a ball python bite won’t kill you, it’s not a nice experience.
If your snake seems aggressive then I believe that covering up makes sense – at least initially.
I suggest long sleeves.
Also consider wearing gloves for the first few weeks.
Thick gardening gloves can offer some decent protection.
Once you’re all ready, it’s time to open the cage.
Many keepers of more aggressive snake species like to “announce” their arrival to prevent their snake thinking they’re food. This is typically done by gently stroking the snake with a long object – a snake hook or suchlike.
The key here is to watch for the response. Does your ball python lash out and try to bite it? If not, it should be time to move onto the next step.
Oddly, snakes can behave very differently inside their cage versus outside. Some snakes can be quite nasty while in their vivarium, yet as soon as you take them out they’re absolutely fine.
Removing your ball python from their cage is therefore a useful step. You may choose to do this manually (i.e. with your hands) or you may want to use a snake hook to gently remove them.
Take It Slow
Now your snake is out of the cage, it’s time for the actual handling.
Take things nice and slow.
Talk quietly or not at all.
The last thing you want to do is to scare your snake with sudden movements or noises.
Let them realize that there really isn’t anything to fear.
Over time, they’ll learn.
Keep It Short
Don’t go overboard, no matter how much fun you’re having. Aim to end on a high note.
Start with just a minute or two of handling.
Over time, slowly build up to longer and longer periods.
Lastly, stick with it. You can’t tame an anxious or aggressive snake in a single handling session. It may take weeks or even months to finally break through that wall. So stick with it. And trust me – it’ll all be worth it in the end.
Why Do Ball Pythons Bite?
I have already said that ball pythons have docile temperaments. However, there may come a time when your ball python does strike out and bite you.
If you have a snake which is usually docile and it suddenly bites you, there is usually a good reason for it. Here are some of the most common things to consider:
Biting can occur at feeding time. Even if your snake has eaten, it still has a strong feeding instinct right after the meal. If it sees your hand it might think that it’s another meal coming in and go for it.
It’s also not a good idea to handle your snake after you’ve been preparing meat products for yourself or have been handling other pets such as guinea pigs or hamsters. Your snake has a strong sense of smell and might think your hand is the next meal.
Preparing to Shed
In my experience, even some of my more docile ball pythons can get a bit grumpy when they’re coming up the shed their skin.
While a ball python that is just a few days ago from a moult will turn a milky color, making the slough obvious, personalities can change before there are any visual signs.
If a previously docile pet snake suddenly starts hissing or trying to nip at you then you may just need to be patient. It’s likely that within a week or two they’ll slough and then be right back to their old self.
This is why touching your ball python before getting your hands into the cage can be beneficial. It allows you to “sense” whether there is an issue and back off when necessary.
Fear / Improper Handling
Ball pythons may try to bite if they feel threatened. For example I had one strike (but not make contact) when I stood infront trying to take a photo. I obviously invaded his personal space and he took exception to it.
Keeping everything calm and controlled during handling is the right solution. Only allow children to handle your snake if they are quiet – a child screaming or getting over-excited could scare your snake and encourage a defensive bite.
Generally speaking ball pythons don’t like their heads being touched, so only stroke them further down their body.
This may all sound as if your ball python can bite at any time, but this isn’t the case at all. You just need to learn what your snake likes and doesn’t like and then you will have a friendly and docile pet.
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