Watching a snake go about its daily activities is fascinating. Unlike mammals, the biology of a reptile is completely different from that of a human. This leaves us wondering how well ball pythons can see. There is a lot to learn about the eyesight and visual capabilities of a royal python.
Ball pythons (Python Regius) have small eyes and a limited range of vision. As they are often found underground in the wild, they have poor vision. They are shortsighted and see in 2D black-and-white, not color. However, like many predators, any rapid movement will attract this snake’s attention.
This lack of long-distance vision doesn’t mean that a ball python is defenseless. This reptile has additional glands on the side of their head that create an infrared visual. Snakes also use their tongues to ‘smell,’ checking for dangers and presences around them by licking the air. In doing so, they sense changes in ambient temperature to their left or right.
How Do Ball Pythons See?
When you observe a snake, it soon becomes clear that they do not see in the same way as mammals.
- A ball python’s eyes are located on the side of their head, so they cannot look straight ahead.
- Its eyes are small and beady, meaning that they will not allow much light inside.
- A ball python’s eyes are round, which denotes a non-venomous breed of snake. Venomous breeds of snake tend to have oblong, cat-like eyes. The coral snake, a round-eyed venomous reptile native to the USA, is the one exception to this rule.
As ball pythons love to burrow and live underground, they have even more limited vision than other snakes. To this end, a ball python relying solely on their eyes would struggle to survive in the wild. As the journal Nature explains, these snakes have a secondary method of taking in their surroundings.
A ball python will have many pit organs on the side of their head. These glands pick up heat signals of warm-blooded mammals, birds or rodents up to a meter away.
The result is infrared radar sense that a ball python uses to hunt their prey. This makes up for a ball python’s limited vision and ensures they are efficient hunters.
Just as the eyes of mammal reflect light, these glands rely on body heat for data.
Do Snakes Have Heat Vision?
As we have established, a snake will not ‘see’ heat through their eyes. Instead, they create a form of radar sense that helps them take in their surroundings.
This ability is believed to be hugely accurate, being able to detect the minutest change in atmosphere. In addition to this infrared, however, ball pythons detect heat using their tongues.
If you have ever wondered why a snake has a forked tongue, it’s for this reason. When a python rears up and licks the air, they are checking for heat signals.
This is essentially a snake’s sense of smell at play. When a snake licks the air, they are checking for signals to the left and right. When their tongue returns to their mouth, it delivers the sensation to the vomeronasal organ, aka Jacobson’s organ.
This is located just behind a snakes nose, and it sends a message to the brain that there is food or a threat to the left or right.
A ball python will use their tongue in unison with their infrared radar vision to ‘see’ their surroundings. This ensures that their traditionally poor eyesight does not endanger a snake’s life.
Can Ball Pythons See in the Dark?
By nature, snakes see better in the dark than humans. A paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution suggests that the make-up of a reptile eye differs from humans. Snakes, it seems, have more cones and rods that specialize in night vision.
As a nocturnal animal, a ball python’s night vision is even better than some other snakes. Also, a ball python is colorblind. This means that darkness has a largely indifferent impact on their ability to see. At all times, it will hunt use their heat-sensing glands to hunt.
Will My Ball Python Recognize Me By Sight?
In theory, yes they will. Your ball python will be able to recognize your shape over time. It is more likely they will recognize you in other ways, though. This could be your scent, heat signature, or even the vibrations caused by your voice.
When you’re looking to get your ball python used to you, you should approach the snake the same as you would a small animal. Allow your python to learn your scent and temperature, and slowly build their trust. Eventually, if they are so inclined, your snake will allow you to handle them.
Also remember that a ball python is very shortsighted, even using their infrared heat detection. You will have to be within a meter of their terrarium before they realize you are there.
Don’t sneak up on your snake. They will be easily frightened, and you can cause them stress by handling them unexpectedly. Ball Python’s are especially keen on hiding and remaining camouflaged. Don’t give them another reason to avoid any interaction.
What Colors Do Ball Pythons See?
They do not differentiate colors in any way. Red, green, purple, and blue all look mostly the same to them. At best, a snake will be able to tell the difference between light and dark shade.
This may be hard to believe when you try to feed for your snake. Some owners find that they will not eat a brown mouse. When a white mouse equivalent is placed in the snake’s terrarium, however, the python will happily eat.
This is because different colors of the same animal have varying scents and heat signatures. These differences are so minute that we cannot detect them, but a snake certainly can. Your ball python will quickly develop their favorites, and eat accordingly.
I’m Worried That My Ball Python is Going Blind
If your ball python is acting strangely, it may be worth getting them looked over a vet. Before making an appointment, check that your snake is not behaving this way for another reason.
- They are bumping into logs and cabins in their terrarium at night. This could because your python cannot see. Alternatively, they may just be entertaining themselves and getting their ‘furniture’ how they like it. Occasionally mix up the layout of your ball python’s terrarium to keep them interested.
- They are not eating their food. Is your ball python not eating because they cannot see their prey? This may be failing sight, or it could be that the food is too cold. Remember, snakes hunt by body heat. A frozen mouse may not appear on their radar.
- They keep rearing up to strike at me. It’s possible that your ball python cannot see you, and they are reacting through fear. However, they may also be stressed by noise, an uncomfortable ambient temperature in their terrarium, or they dislike being handled. Remember, every snake has its own personality. Some will not enjoy being picked up, while others will relish it.
You shouldn’t disregard all signs of your ball python losing their sight. Disorientation and loss of appetite are among the symptoms of Inclusion Body Disease, as PetMD explains.
This condition can turn fatal in a python quickly. If you are confident that no environmental factors are impacting your snake’s eyesight, see a vet.
What Lighting is Best for a Ball Python’s Terrarium?
Knowing what we do about their vision, it’s crucial to get the right lighting in their habitat.
They are at their happiest when relying on the ambient light of a room. They do not need additional lamps or a UVB bulb. In fact, excessive light could cause your snake to become stressed.
You will also need to ensure that your ball python has differentiation in their light schedule. As these reptiles are nocturnal, having lights on all day and night will leave them disorientated.
Of course, it’s also vital that you offer the correct temperature to your ball python using lights and lamps. Unlike other snakes, they do not need a heat lamp to bask under.
Instead, they prefer heat that originates beneath their belly. Pick up a belly lamp that offers a basking heat of 90O, and an ambient temperature somewhere around 80O.
It’s important that you understand how your bull python sees the world. Gaining an insight into this will help you keep your pet snake happy and content in their habitat. Just be sure to adjust your behavior accordingly to maintain a good relationship.