Ball pythons (Python Regius) are renowned for being calm and friendly snakes. But that doesn’t mean they never bite. In some cases, ball pythons can be very aggressive. As a beginner, you may not know how to take an aggressive ball python, but it can be done.
Start by learning proper ball python handling techniques. Identify what makes them aggressive, e.g., a health issue or handling them at the wrong time. Fix the issue before preparing your room for handling, by tidying, removing pets, children, and unfamiliar people. Use a snake hook to overcome cage aggression and get them used to your smell.
Snakes can be easy to understand. If there’s an issue that’s causing them to be aggressive, it can be rectified through improved handling, tank modifications, removing pets/people, or better health. We’ll be looking at all of the factors that make your nippy ball python nippy and irritable.
Why Is My Ball Python Aggressive?
- Juvenile. Juvenile snakes are defensive. They have to be to survive in the wild.
- Pain. Pain from a health condition will cause them to lash out.
- Handling before feeding. During this time, the snake is expecting food. They may think you’re preparing to feed them, so they will get ready to strike. These are feed-response bites.
- Handling after feeding. After feeding the snake needs to rest. Handling may cause a ball python to regurgitate. They may try and defend themselves.
- Improper handling techniques. Holding the snake too tightly or moving them too quickly will cause your ball python stress.
- Cage aggression. This is where the snake becomes defensive of their space. They feel threatened whenever you approach them in their cage.
- They were raised to fear people. If your snake is a rescue, their original owner may have been cruel and mistreated them.
- Their cage isn’t right. If their cage is too big, the snake will feel vulnerable. When it’s time for you to handle them, they’ll frighten easily.
Taming a royal python depends on correctly diagnosing what makes them angry and aggressive. Whether that’s their past interactions with people, or a health condition, figure it out.
How to Tame an Aggressive Ball Python
Taming an aggressive ball python is easy. But it doesn’t involve frightening them. Instead, you have to rely on correct handling techniques and non-threatening behavior to get the snake to trust you.
There are tried and tested guidelines for handling a ball python, and getting them to know you. Below are the best of them.
1) Learn Ball Python Handling Techniques and Use Handling Tools
The leading cause of aggression is snakes is that the snake doesn’t like how you handle them. There could be many areas where you’re going wrong, including:
- Handling for too long
- Squeezing too tightly
- Moving the snake around too fast
- Moving too suddenly
- Not supporting the snake correctly with your hands
According to an article in AVS, reptiles are considered some of the most inhumanely treated pets, purely because of ignorance as to their needs. This applies both to their enclosure, and to handling.
Incorrect handling will stress your snake and make it nippy. You should also look to buy tools that will help you handle your snake. There are many that might help:
- Snake handling hooks. Hooks like this hook from ZooMed on Amazon allows you to move and carry snakes without touching them.
- Snake tongs. These are similar to hooks, but offer you more control through gentle grabbers. This one by Fnova has good reviews on Amazon.
- Snake restraint equipment. If you need to take the snake out of their enclosure, but they’re still aggressive, you can do so with a clear plastic tube.
- Snake bag. You can achieve the same end with a snake bag as with a plastic tube.
Once you’re prepared, both mentally and physically, you can start trying to socialize your ball python. To be clear, you’re not in any danger; but this equipment will help.
2) Improve and Enrich Their Enclosure
If the issue is related to health or cage aggression, it can be remedied by enriching the snake’s enclosure. Enriching the enclosure means putting more things in there. These things either provide cover, or something for the snake to do.
Hides and foliage (fake or real) are good examples. Both provide the snake with a place to hide, or to regulate their temperature.
When you improve their enclosure, and maintain it correctly, the snake will likely be less aggressive.
3) Prepare Your Room for Snake Handling
Your room has to be set up right, or your ball python will get defensive. If there’s anything that could be perceived as a threat, you have to remove it.
Ideally, when you handle your snake, it should only be you in the room. Your snake will be defensive if it has to keep an eye on you and another person, or several other people. That’s especially the case if the other people don’t have experience with snakes.
Check there’s nothing that will make sudden movements that the snake will perceive, such as:
- Things on TV that you’re watching
- Other pets in the room (which should be removed anyway)
- Children and kids’ toys
Things that make noises aren’t as bad, because snakes don’t have a developed sense of hearing. It’s the movement that they don’t like.
You also have to clear away anything they could hide under. When you get your snake out of their enclosure, they may still be defensive.
If they are, they may try and hide somewhere inconvenient, like under your bed. Check that’s not possible before trying to handle them.
4) What Makes a Ball Python Aggressive?
Identifying the underlying issue is critical, but not always possible. You can’t get a hold of them to check them for health problems because if you did, they’d bite. But the bite itself can tell you a lot.
There are different ways for a snake to bite. Some bites are defensive, some are aggressive. Learn to tell the difference, and you will understand your snake much better.
- Aggressive bite. The snake will bite and hold on. This is what the snake does when they feed. They then wrap their body around their prey/your hand to constrict it. If the snake holds on when it bites, and tries to squeeze your hand, it thinks you’re food.
- Defensive bite. The snake may not use their fangs. Instead, they bump into you with their nose. The idea is to give you a shock to make you back off. For threats in the wild, this often works.
When biting defensively, the snake may use their fangs. They will bite down, but immediately release. This is what they do if they know bumping you with their nose won’t work. Bites like these hurt and bleed about as much as a paper cut.
5) Don’t Reach into Their Cage
Snake hooks aren’t only a tool for experts, or only a tool for novices. Any responsible snake owner should have one. They’re especially useful for handling aggressive snakes.
Cage aggression makes snakes defensive. It occurs because the snake is in a small, enclosed space, with a large creature coming towards them. Even if they know you, they will interpret your actions as threatening.
It is a major problem as it sets the tone for the rest of the time you’re handling them. When you reach in with your hands, the snake feels threatened. They may try and bite, and will react badly to your sudden movements.
But they won’t feel threatened by the hook. You can slip it underneath them from afar and lift them out. Taking them from their cage this way keeps them calm. This will allow them to understand that you aren’t a threat.
6) Don’t Handle Them Directly
Once out of their cage, handling should be easier. The snake won’t be as defensive as it sees it’s in an open space. It may be possible to handle them safely already.
But they may still not be entirely comfortable. This would suggest that the issue goes beyond cage aggression.
If so, don’t worry. Don’t handle them directly. Sit with them and spend time near them. Any time they try to head somewhere they shouldn’t, bring them back with the snake hook.
Over time they will come to understand that you aren’t a threat. They will eventually let you handle them if you continue doing this.
7) Get Your Snake Used to Your Smell
Snakes rely on their sense of smell. As they’re close to the ground, they find it difficult to hunt using their sight. Their sense of hearing isn’t well developed either. So, snakes determine whether you’re a friend or not using smell.
When you first handle a snake, you may notice them trying to sniff you. They do so by flicking their tongue at you. Their tongue catches molecules from their air to help them smell.
Let them do this for as long as they show an interest in doing it. When they’re done sniffing, don’t immediately pick them up. Teach them that when they smell your smell, you won’t immediately annoy or move them. Sit with them a while until they seem more used to you.
8) Put the Snake Back Using the Hook
It’s likely that your snake still isn’t entirely comfortable with you. Don’t aggravate the situation by putting them back in their enclosure with your hands. If you do, they could feel threatened by your hands.
Instead, use the snake hook to lift them and put them back in. Like taking them out safely, putting them back in carefully with the hook prevents defensiveness.
9) Repeat the Process Frequently
The more frequently you repeat this process, the better the outcome will be. The snake will increasingly get used to you, and over time will allow you to handle them freely. All you need is a little patience.
If the snake keeps trying to bite you, then there’s something still wrong. Consult with a breeder or a vet for advice tailored to your situation.
What Is the Ball Python Striking Position?
You can only tell that you’ve tamed a snake from looking at their behavior. Snakes have patterns of behavior. When you learn these, it’s like unlocking secrets. You can tell when the snake is calm, and when the snake wants to strike.
When a snake feels threatened, it will enter the striking position. This achieves two things. It tells the threat that the snake is ready to strike, so they better back off. It also gets the snake ready to strike quickly and accurately.
This striking position is instantly recognizable. Their body will be coiled up. Their neck will be raised slightly from the ground, and curved into an S-shape. If they want to strike, they will straighten their neck and move towards you quickly.
If you do notice your ball python getting into the striking position, you have to react accordingly. Don’t make any sudden movements, either towards or away from the snake. Stay still and move away slowly instead.
Moving quickly will encourage it to bite. If you do jerk your hand away when bitten, you will cause worse damage to your skin. You may also break your snake’s teeth, which will take time to grow back. Here are some interesting facts about a snake’s teeth.
How to Recognize Calm Ball Python Body Language
You should also learn what a calm ball python looks like. One of the critical signs that your python is happy is that they’re curious. This indicates that they’re at ease with their environment, and don’t feel threatened.
How does a ball python show that it’s calm? By flicking its tongue as it moves around. This indicates that it’s sniffing. When it’s sniffing, it’s exploring, and gauging whether there are any threats around. If it doesn’t get defensive, then this shows it doesn’t perceive any threats.
How Long Does It Take to Tame a Ball Python?
Ball pythons are not naturally aggressive. That’s part of the reason why they became such popular beginner snakes. Even novice snake owners will find them easy to care for and handle.
It’s likely that by following the steps above and identifying what’s making them aggressive, you will ‘cure’ them quickly. For example, if the issue is their enclosure, providing extra cover could solve the problem overnight.
But when a snake is aggressive, it may take time to get them out of their bad habits. The length of time depends on why they’re aggressive.
- If the snake is aggressive because of a health condition, cure the health condition, and their aggressiveness will fade straight away.
- If the snake is a rescue, they may never be fully trusting of people.
- If the snake is an aggressive baby ball python, sometimes only growing up will fix the problem. Ball pythons reach maturity between two and three years of age.
As such, there’s no single answer to the question. Don’t start trying to help your snake only to give up halfway through, because you expected them to get better overnight.
Can I Handle My Ball Python Every Day?
Snakes aren’t like regular pets. They’re reptiles, and reptiles are not social like mammals. When you handle them, they don’t bond with you, and they don’t enjoy spending time with you. The best they will do is tolerate you.
That’s why you shouldn’t handle your pet ball python every day. Doing so causes them stress.
Instead, you should handle them twice a week at most. This is the level at which most snakes are comfortable. Any more and they will tell you to stop in the only way they know how, i.e., by becoming aggressive.
That’s not to say that there are no ball pythons that can be handled more often. Perhaps as your snake grows older and has lived with you for many years, you can. But as a novice owner, twice a week should be the limit.
Whatever the case, you’ll be able to handle them more frequently when they aren’t so aggressive.