Ball pythons are shy, and they spend most of their time hiding. They’re typically docile, but some specimens can be jumpy, especially during their early encounters with new owners. It’s important to understand a new ball python’s temperament and not handle it for the first couple of weeks and until it has started eating regularly.
Don’t be discouraged if your young ball python is defensive in the beginning. Just leave it alone for a while and focus on building trust. Snakes don’t require regular social interaction to boost their mental health. However, handling a ball python once or twice a week can be highly beneficial.
- 1 How to Handle a Ball Python
- 2 Ball Python Handling Frequency
- 3 What to Do When a Ball Python Shows Aggression
How to Handle a Ball Python
While most ball pythons have a calm temperament, some can be recalcitrant. New ball pythons, especially when they’re young, can be highly defensive, striking anything that comes near them. Others may shy away or curl up into a ball.
However, with some patience and gentleness, your ball python will start seeing you as a friend and become more open to regular handling.
To help speed things up, try following these guidelines:
1) Give it Time to Adjust
After bringing your ball python home, allow your snake to settle in and explore its new environment for a few days without any handling. Ball pythons are selective about their habitats in the wild and will spend most of their time hiding. Therefore, your pet should be able to hide when in captivity.
Make sure you include at least two hiding places for your snake. A ball python’s enclosure should have a basking region with a temperature of 88 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and an ambient region with a temperature of 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (never go below 75).
Snakes go through a lot of stress during their transport. Furthermore, your ball python will be dehydrated after its shipping process, so be sure to include some fresh drinking water as well.
It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous before handling your snake. It’s easy to get over it with repetition, and as you and your new pet get to know each other. If it’s a young snake, try offering is a rat pup, also called a crawler, with a pair of tongs. Avoid handling the snake for a couple of days after feeding to prevent regurgitation.
2) Wash Your Hands First
When you’re ready to handle your ball python for the first time, make sure you wash your hands, followed by a hand sanitizer. This will prevent your hand from smelling edible and will remove any potentially harmful viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
According to the journal, Nature, ball pythons use their sense of smell, as well as the ability to sense heat to find prey. If your warm hands smell like a prey animal, it can entice your snake, causing it to mistake your fingers for food.
3) Tap Your Snake
Once you’ve scented your hands with a hand sanitizer, use a paper towel or a snake hook to tap its head gently. This is an excellent way to train a snake to know the difference between handling time and feeding time. It’s safe to pick up a ball python when it flicks its tongue slowly and calmly.
4) Hold the Snake from its Mid-body
Pick your ball python up with both of your hands by the middle part of its body. Avoid picking up a snake by its tail as this can damage its spine. Always try to keep your hands away from your snake’s head. Ball pythons are very shy, so bringing your hand close to its head is only going to cause it to roll into a ball, or flinch its head back. A ball python may even take a defensive position, balling its body and burying its head in the center.
To avoid causing any stress, always focus your hands to the middle two-thirds of the snake’s body while carrying it, supporting it with both hands. Avoid letting the snake dangle while you hold it. Maintain a loose grip so that the snake has enough room to move freely.
5) Be Gentle
Any quick or sudden movements can scare your snake. Therefore, if you notice your ball python moving in a direction, you don’t want it to go towards, gently guide its head away using your free hand. If you do startle your snake, it may flinch, strike or try to escape. However, with regular visits, your ball python will know what to expect and tolerate handling better.
Ball pythons have powerful muscles that help them climb and wrap around objects for increased stability. Your ball python may wrap around your body or arms to prevent itself from falling. While this is entirely normal, it’s vital that you never let it coil around your head or neck.
Ball Python Handling Frequency
Snakes don’t need to interact with humans regularly for mental stimulation. Most owners like to handle their ball pythons at least once a day, but this can be too much. It’s better to keep handling regular but infrequent, limiting it to one to two times per week.
The reason captive snakes require some handling is that it keeps them tame. They’re easier to manage during feeding and cage cleaning if their docile nature is maintained. Always include a break between handlings to prevent excessive stress to your animal.
Don’t Handle During Shedding and Feeding
Never handle a snake when it’s entering its shed cycle and immediately after a meal.
It’s best to leave snakes alone during shedding because their eyes turn milky or blue, which limits their eyesight. The lack of vision can make a snake defensive or aggressive. It’s common for ball pythons to hide most of the time while they’re shedding. To avoid causing any stress to your snake, give it some time until it fully sheds before handling it.
Do not panic if your shedding ball python refuses to eat. Snakes can lower their metabolic rate by up to 70% according to a study published in the journal, Zoology, which allows them to avoid food for weeks, and even months. Make sure you provide a water dish large enough for it to soak during shedding. Keeping humidity levels within 50 to 60 percent can also help your ball python shed properly.
Handling a ball python immediately after a meal is not recommended either, as doing so can cause regurgitation and other digestive issues.
When Should I Hold a Ball Python After Feeding?
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, snakes ingest their prey in a single gulp and therefore, require much more time an effort to digest their meal.
Give your snake at least two days before handling it, or wait until any distention subsides. It takes around 48 hours for a ball python to initiate its digestive process, after which it becomes much safer to handle a snake.
What Are the Signs of Stress in Ball Pythons?
If a ball python curls up into a ball during handling, it means it’s either under stress or doesn’t want to be handled. It’s best to respect its wishes on such occasions and try again another day.
If you’re having trouble determining if your ball python is stressed, look out for the following signs:
- Balling up tightly while being handled and refusing to uncurl
- Striking when no food is present
- Refusal to eat (common in shedding snakes)
- Tries to escape while being handled
- Constantly moving within the enclosure
- Always trying to escape its enclosure
- Doesn’t flick its tongue during handling
Ball pythons get stressed for many reasons. If your ball python is new in your household, it may still be adjusting to its enclosure. Checking the temperature, light and humidity settings can also help. Ball pythons also show signs of stress when they enter their shed cycle. In general, it’s best to leave a stressed snake alone and only offer it food when it needs to be fed.
A happy ball python is one that hides frequently, but not all the time. As long as you’ve maintained the right temperature levels in its enclosure and it doesn’t refuse to it, chances are it’s adjusting well in its new environment.
What to Do When a Ball Python Shows Aggression
Ball pythons aren’t aggressive snakes. A snake hook can help you calm an unruly ball python and get it conditioned for further handling.
Ball pythons that show aggression often strike when their owners reach into their cages. One tactic is to retrieve a ball python from its enclosure while it is still under its hide. By doing this, you’re keeping its head covered while attempting to place your hands in the middle region of its body.
If you have children, always supervise them while handling a ball python, or any other snake. Never bring your face close to the snake’s head. You must also never let it wrap around your neck. If it does try to coil around your neck, place one hand between you and the snake’s body to prevent it from squeezing in too much.
What to Do When a Ball Python Bites
Expect to be bitten if your snake confuses you for food when you try to feed it directly with your hands or still have the scent of its prey lingering in your fingers.
If you do get bitten by your ball python, avoid yanking the snake off of you as this could damage its teeth or jaws, increasing its risk of contracting an infection.
Ball pythons have rear-facing teeth. So pull the snake towards you, instead of away from your body. If the ball python doesn’t let go, spray a little bit of cold water or rubbing alcohol on its face.
Ball python bites are harmless, so just treating the wound with some soap and warm water, followed by an antibiotic ointment should be enough to treat it.