Ball pythons are fascinating pets; not only are they exceptionally shy, but they are also small and relatively docile. Ball pythons are one of the ideal pet snakes for beginners. However, snakes don’t respond to their owners as dogs and cats do, and every owner should strive to be familiar with important pet body language that helps in bonding and providing better care.
Understanding your ball python’s body language is at the heart of excellent husbandry. Like all other snake species, ball python gives distinctive signs about their moods and emotions. These signs tell you when your pet is content, happy, uncomfortable, or ill. For example, when you notice your ball python coil up into a ball, the pet is frightened.
Let us look at other critical body languages that help you interact better with your pet.
Wild vs. domestic ball pythons
All snake species have natural instincts. As a pet snake owner, you need to ensure your ball python is appropriately provided with habitat and food that mimics actual natural situations. However, there are differences in how wild and captive ball pythons live and behave. For example, a wild ball python may recognize and approach their prey and predator differently, as would a captive one.
The following behavioral parameters may differentiate the wild and domestic ball pythons:
Wild ball pythons are opportunistic and aggressive hunters. In their natural habitats, they feed on rodents, lizards, and small birds. They use their strong teeth to capture their prey and kill it by constriction. Constriction typically suffocates the prey by squeezing their ribs so that they can’t breathe. The squeezing or constriction overwhelms the prey’s circulatory system and cuts the brain’s blood supply to cause death. Once they are sure the prey is dead, the python opens their jaw and swallow their prey whole, head first. Afterward, they look for a warm place free of predators to hide and rest as they wait for the digestion process to kick in.
You will rarely see that level of hunting skill and aggression in domestic ball pythons. Those that fed on a regular schedule may come to anticipate feeding time, and when it is hungry, he may display certain familiar behaviors. Your pet snake’s activity level may increase, and you will notice it moving around the cage looking for the food.
Most snakes in the wild come with body colors that help them adapt well to their habitat. Body-color is crucial when hunting for prey and when hiding from predators. Depending on their habitats, it might be a challenge to come across diverse colors and patterns in wild ball pythons. However, ball pythons taken from breeders come with different colors and patterns due to selective breeding.
Color also comes in to play when feeding your pet snake. Wild ball pythons are notorious for refusing domestic rodents. Ball pythons in the wild usually eat rodents like mice, rats, and rabbits that are brown. However, the rodents you buy from your pet supply are typically white. If your ball python was taken from the wild and into captivity, it might initially reject white prey as it seems unnatural.
According to Animal Diversity, wild ball pythons use smell, body heat, and movement to seek out prey when hunting. If you are feeding your domestic pet on live prey, it will exhibit the same behavior. However, if you provide it on frozen prey, the pet will rely more on the feeding routine than on its natural hunting instincts. In case you have a problem getting your ball python to eat its food, you can warm the rodent to room temperature. You can also use long forceps to shake the prey to simulate movement.
- Feeding time
Wild ball pythons typically hunt at night. During this time, their ideal prey is also active, and hunting becomes effortless. However, the captive snake may acclimate to as specific feeding routine as determined by the owner. If you have a picky ball python, you can shift the feeding time night hours. You can also cover the enclosures with a thick blanket to simulate darkness.
In the wild, a ball python will not hunt for several days before shedding. This is because shedding results in poor vision that can make the snake a sitting target for aggressive predators. Snakes not only shed the skin covering its body but also the skin that covers their eyes. A few days before shedding, their eyes turn milky or a blue hue, and their vision becomes poor. Domesticated snakes also display the same instinctive behavior before it sheds, and it is advisable to limit feeding. You should also avoid feeding the pet on live prey that could scratch or fight your ball python during this period when its vision is poor.
How to tell when a ball python is hungry
Your ball python will use body language to tell you when it is hungry. A hungry ball python will display the following signs:
- Cruising around its tank, flicking its tongue repeatedly
- Move from its hiding place when he senses your presence
- An increased level of activity at night
- Staring at you while flicking its tongue
When you notice these signs, feed your ball python depending on its age and size. Small or young pythons should be fed on large crickets. You can also feed them appropriately sized pinkies and fuzzies. Adult ball pythons should be fed adult mice and rats. Typically, a ball python will consume prey that is as wide as its widest part. However, feeding your pet a prey that is too large may result in regurgitation. An adult pet snake over one-year-old should be fed every 10 to 14 days while the younger ones should be fed every 5 to 6 days.
How to tell when your ball python is stressed
Stress is a common problem for ball pythons and is detrimental to their health. It is essential to recognize the signs so that you take appropriate actions early enough. If your pet snake is stressed, their body language will be different from the norm. You may notice a lack of appetite and change in demeanor characterized by aggressiveness or hissing.
Other signs of stress to watch out include:
- Lack of appetite/ refusing to feed and sudden shift in behavior that is not associated with shedding
- The pet snake may rub its nose against objects.
- If the pet snake is making attempts to escape
- Over alertness
- Immobility that includes lack of eye contact with the owner
- Clutching behaviors that include abnormal tight coiling or grasping around things
- Hiding of the head
- Stutter or hesitant mobility
- Increase in aggressiveness and hissing
- The snake may also strike at you or any pet close to it.
How to de-stress a ball python
You can de-stress the pet by doing the following actions:
- Checking to make sure the enclosure set up is right.
- Closely monitoring the humidity and temperature levels in the cage and making sure they are at optimal range. The right cage humidity should be between 50 to 60 percent. Temperatures should be 80 degrees.
- Providing enough hiding areas. You can provide some plants in the cage to give the ball python some sense of security.
- To prevent stress associated with shedding, you can provide cage accessories like clean driftwood or rocks to help your ball python rub off its old skin easily. You should also provide a bowl of water for the snake to bathe in.
- Suppose your ball python is aggressive; try to limit handling as much as possible. Ball pythons are solitary creatures that prefer to be left alone.
- If you suspect an underlying health issue to be the cause of stress, it is essential to contact your pet’s vet as soon as possible.
Stress triggers in ball pythons
Handling an issue that is causing your pet anxiety without knowing where it stems from can cause more anxiety. The following are some common root causes of stress in ball pythons:
- A new enclosure or tank that is too large with no hides.
- Stress can occur when you transfer a ball python into a new enclosure. The snake views this as a huge change in its lifestyle and may take time to acclimatize itself to the new environment.
- Ball pythons can also get stressed if you handle them too frequently or don’t handle them properly.
- Introducing another pet snake into its cage can also trigger stress. Ball pythons, just like any other snake, are not social creatures and prefer to live a solitary life even in the wild.
- If your ball python is feeling ill, it may become stressed. When the pet is battling with an illness, you will notice general unhappiness and stress attitude.
- Another common cause of stress is shedding. Shedding is a painful and uncomfortable process for the snakes.
The stress factor in ball pythons should not be taken lightly. Some of the severe side effects of stress can lead to death. A stressed ball python often refuses to eat to trigger detrimental effects. Stress also compromises your pet’s immune system and leads to hordes of health problems. Practicing good husbandry and understanding your snake’s body language will help you prevent and reduce your pet’s stress.
How to tell when your ball python is sick
When taking care of your pet snake, it is crucial to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of illnesses. It is also essential to be very observant when you are interacting with your pet because most signs and symptoms of illnesses are not apparent well into the disease’s course.
You can use the following signs and symptoms to determine whether your ball python is healthy or not:
A healthy ball python will typically lie in a flat coil. If you notice any posture abnormalities like the pet stretching out for long periods or holding its head in an elevated position, it may be ill. Strange postures are indicative of respiratory infections or neurological diseases.
Healthy ball pythons rarely soak. If you notice your pet snake spending lots of hours in its water r dish, it may be mite-infested. The snake may also be feeling too hot due to an underlying illness. If your ball python is unusually spending too much time hiding in the water dish, investigate the cause.
- Breathing difficulties
Exposure to pathogens often causes respiratory illness in ball pythons. If the python has a respiratory problem, you will notice wheezing or labored breathing. You may also see mucus that bubble on the nose. If the signs are detected early, treating is as easy using a combination of heat and humidity changes in the enclosure. The problem can also be treated using the right antibiotics. However, if the condition is not treated early, it may lead to death.
- Skin problems
Signs of skin problems in snakes include large red marks, blisters, wounds, or unusual sheds. Bites from parasites and bacterial infection often cause skin issues in pet snakes. Skin problems caused by bacteria are very infectious and should be treated immediately. A vet who specializes in snakes should also evaluate rodent bites and other wounds.
Ball pythons, especially those kept in poor conditions, may also develop sepsis. The condition is characterized by blisters that have clear fluid. Sepsis is a lethal problem and requires immediate vet attention.
- Digestive issues
A healthy ball python will defecate a few days after feeding. The ideal stool is dark brown, firm, and with rodent hairs. The python may also pass small yellow or white rocks. Typically, the rocks are uric pellets that the snake passes as a form of urination. However, if you notice runny, bloody, or off-color stool, it may signal your pet is ill. Besides, delayed defecation that takes up to 10 days after feeding is indicative of digestive malfunctions.
- Refusal to eat
When a pet snake refuses to eat, it may be due to several reasons, including stress, shed cycle, or breeding behaviors. Lack of appetite can also indicate an underlying health condition. If the ball python suddenly refuses food, and you cannot explain the behavior, a trip to the vet may be necessary.
- Lumps under the skin
Lumps under the skin of your ball python may be due to several health problems. You will not diagnose these problems without the help of a qualified snake vet. Unless the pet ate recently, lumps could be due to broken bones, parasites, tumors, or abscesses. It is essential to seek a vet’s services when you notice any lumps on your pet’s body.
- Unusual activity patterns
It is usual for a healthy ball python to spend much of their days hiding. If you are a beginner, you should not worry if your pet spends countless hours curled up in the hide box. However, a sudden rise in the activity level should raise concern. Unless the python is hungry, it will rarely move inside its enclosure.
Responding to your ball pythons body language
Ball python’s body language helps you understand the pet’s needs and requirements. There are essential behaviors that enhance better handling, care, and safe interactions.
Snake is standing up/ coiling into an S shape
When a ball python is facing imminent danger, its first instinct is to flee. But if it cannot run, it will stand up or form an S shape. Typically this is a striking position. If you notice the snake standing up, it is telling you to leave it alone. If you continue handling, get ready to be bitten. It is best to leave the pet alone at this point and ensure the temperature and humidity in their enclosures are at optimal levels.
Hissing is a sign that the ball python is threatened in some way. The python is hissing to make itself seem very intimidating to the predators. If the snake hisses at you, it means it is not happy and wants you to leave it alone. You should, therefore, move away from the pet. It is common for all snake species, even docile species, like ball pythons, to hiss when they are fearful or stressed.
Ball pythons use their tongues to smell. When the snake is taking in its surroundings, it will use slow and controlled flicks. Short and rapid tongue flicks indicate the snake is excited, and its attention is focused on stimuli like the smell of food. During handling, quick tongue flicks may be a sign your snake is about to bite, especially if you carry scents of food on your fingers. Be watchful of such rapid flicks to avoid an accidental bite.
Wiggling of head
When a ball python has smelled something new or interesting, it may start wiggling its head. You may notice this behavior during feeding, and it should not worry you much. However, if the snake is continually wiggling its head, it may be a sign the pet is suffering from extreme levels of stress or a neurological condition.
Changing eye color
If you notice the ball python’s eyes turning opaque, it is a sign the pet is getting ready to shed. The eyes may also turn white, light blue, or any other pale color. During this time, the pet is very uncomfortable, and thus, handling should be avoided or limited.
Far from what most people believe, snakes don’t yawn due to sleepiness. Rather, the pet snake is opening its mouth wide enough to gather as many air particles as possible to smell. If you notice yawning behavior in your pet snake, there is no reason to be alarmed.
FAQs about Ball python’s body language
1). Why is my ball python staring at me?
Though a ball python may not have excellent eyesight, they do stare. Nothing to worry; the snake is only taking in it’s surrounding. It is also be trying to determine whether you are life-threatening or not. This behavior can also indicate the snake is hungry.
2). How can I tell if my ball python likes me?
Like other pet snakes, a ball python may only like or recognize you because you provide them food and shelter. The snake may not show affection the way a dog or a cat would. If the snake is comfortable with you during handling, it will show trust in your grip by wrapping itself around your hands or fingers.
3). My ball python is striking at nothing. What could be the problem?
If you notice your snake striking at nothing, there is a reason to be concerned. This is unusual behavior caused by several issues such as hunger, stress, fear, or illness. The pet may also display this behavior when it sees its reflection or movement on the glass.
4). Why does my ball python rub his face on me
The ball python may rub his head on you when trying to feel more secure, especially during movement.
Heights can disorient your pet snake, and they will rub their head on you to make sure they are holding on you firmly as they ride along.
5). Do ball pythons like being held?
Ball pythons typically tolerate handling well. However, excessive handling is not recommended. The snakes should be held at least once a week, but no more than four times per week. It would also help if you did not handle your ball python more than once per day. Regular handling helps your pet snake stay docile and friendly. Handling also enables them to be accustomed to you so that they don’t associate people with feeding time.
As pet lovers and owners, we all want our pets to lead healthy and happy lives. Pet snake owners must remember that snakes do not display a range of emotions like other pets do. Hence, it is crucial to know the signs to look for to enlighten you on your pet’s level of content, comfort, and health. While your ball python may not form an attachment to you like a pet dog or cat, curling up on you for heat is a sign that your snake is comfortable and relaxed around you. Understanding your ball python’s behavior will ensure your wiggly buddy enjoys a healthy and peaceful existence.