Why is my ball python aggressive?

Ball pythons are a favorite for pet snake enthusiasts due to their docile, calm, and shy nature. It is alarming for a pet snake owner to suddenly discover their pet is behaving aggressively. Snakes aren’t known for their affectionate nature, but with proper handling, most species such as the ball python are quite gentle.

Unfortunately, an agitated ball python that rapidly changes its behavior over a short time span is often labeled as aggressive. Some pet snake owners tend to misunderstand defensive behavioral displays as aggression. There are countless reasons why your ball python may be acting unusually.

Signs of aggression in Ball Pythons

An aggressive ball python can be distressing, especially for new pet owners. The initial step is to establish whether you are actually witnessing aggression. There is a distinction between an aggressive ball python and a defensive ball python.

Generally, ball pythons that feel threatened and defensive portray particular behavior. These behaviors include:

  • Bluff striking – This is when your ball python strikes with a closed mouth.
  • Hissing with either an open or a closed mouth.
  • Taking an S pose stance
  • Closely tracking movement
  • Rearing back of a snake’s head
  • Hiding for long periods
  • Tag striking – This is when your ball python bites and immediately release.

Aggressive Ball Python Vs. Defensive Ball Python

Aggressive ball pythons are generally confrontational and aren’t used to people handling or being around them. An aggressive ball python will bite and hold on. This is what snakes do when they feed. Your snake probably thinks you are food if it bites and wraps itself around your hand while squeezing.

Defensive Ball Pythons are calm and docile but will defend themselves when they feel threatened or cornered. They settle down after the perceived danger is eliminated. A defensive ball python will strike and bump into you with its nose or a closed mouth. The idea is to warn you and result in retreating.

It may also bite, but it will immediately release. This only happens when the warning bump doesn’t work.

Why is my Ball python so aggressive?

Now that you can clearly distinguish aggression and defense lets further discuss why your ball python is acting aggressive or defensively.


Shedding is a natural occurrence in all snakes. Younger ball pythons shed every few weeks while older ball pythons shed only a few times during the year.

As your ball python prepares to shed, they will naturally start to behave differently. Your snake will act aggressively if:

They feel uncomfortable. During the period leading up to shedding, pythons may feel uncomfortable. This discomfort may be seen in even the calmest ball python, causing them to be irritable and even lash out.

When their eyes turn cloudy to a bluish hue. In the days leading up to the shedding period, your ball python’s eyes will turn bluish. This color change is referred to as being in blue. Over this period, your ball python can’t see clearly, and this causes them to be more anxious; hence they act defensively.

Enclosure problems

Your ball python’s enclosure should be well set up and maintained to suit your snake’s needs. Some elements of your pet’s enclosure may affect their behavior, causing cage aggression. For example:

  • Humidity – Are the humidity levels in the enclosure optimal? Is your humidity box appropriately sized? Are you constantly monitoring the humidity levels in your snake’s enclosure?
  • The temperature gradient – The enclosure should have an adequate temperature gradient of between 88 and 96 F so that your pet snake can appropriately warm-up and cool down.
  • Climbable objects and hides – Your enclosure should have at least two hides so that your ball python can feel secure. Ball pythons are both terrestrial and semi-arboreal; therefore, they enjoy climbing on to branches and logs.
  • Enclosure location – The room you choose to put your ball python should be quiet and free of airborne pollutants.
  • Substrates – Do you have the right substrate for your snake? Does your substrate help retain moisture and humidity levels in the enclosure?
  • Water – Do you frequently change and replenish your ball python’s water dish? Are you using distilled water for your snake’s water dish?
  • Enclosure size – Is your enclosure the recommended size for your ball python? Can your snake comfortably move about without feeling overwhelmed?

Injury or illness

An injured ball python will portray defensive behavior. It would help if you kept an eye out for signs of illness such as:

  • Abnormal breathing like through the mouth or wet sounding breaths
  • Dramatic weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Discharge from the nose, eyes, and mouth
  • Damages, discolored or lose scales
  • Problems related to shedding such as stuck eye caps, shedding in sections, and the exposed skin looks irritated.
  • Burns, open wounds, or infections
  • Mobility issues

Territorial Issues

Cohabiting your pythons isn’t a great idea. Some season pet owners and the breeder can successfully get away with it, but it is not a great idea. Ball pythons thrive in solitary housing. Housing more than one python would cause stress leading to defensive tactics against each other. Your pets may end up fighting and injuring one another, causing injury and sometimes death.

It is also challenging to keep up with your python’s health when you have two snakes housed together. It is impossible to keep track of their regurgitations and poop. They may also easily get sick if they share a water bowl.

Response to feeding

Every snake owner appreciates a pet that is a good eater. Ball pythons can sometimes be eager for their meals that they seem aggressive to their owners. Your pet may display this kind of aggressive behavior by trying to bite anything it can associate with food entering the enclosure. You may be bitten.

If your snake doesn’t realize that you aren’t food, it may also coil around your hand in an attempt to kill the ‘prey’. This reaction isn’t considered aggression; you just have an over-eager feeder on your hands who has learned to associate the enclosure opening with feeding time.

Poor socialization of juveniles

Ball pythons that aren’t used to being captives will view humans as a threat unless they’re taught differently. The lack of handling in captive ball pythons results in the pets feeling unsafe and insecure when handled or approached.

Improper handling

Improper handling of a ball python involves holding your snake too tightly, moving around too quickly when holding them, or picking them up by the tail. This kind of handling may stress your snake, and they may lash out aggressively.

Fear of people

Your snake may act aggressively if they are a rescue, and their original owner had been mistreating it. They may have habitually gotten used to reacting aggressively to defend themselves.

Handling immediately after feeding

After feeding, your ball python needs to rest. Handling your pet snake may cause them to regurgitate, and they will try to defend themselves.

How do I tame an aggressive ball python?

Getting a snake to trust you is not a walk in the park. However, taming captive snakes is easier than taming wild snakes. Ball pythons are non-venomous snakes, without fangs and are not considered aggressive. Snake temperaments, however, vary, and proper care is the key to a great pet.

How long should it take to tame my ball python?

Statistics vary, and so do pet snake owners’ opinions. In truth, there is no definite timeline. Taming your ball python is possible, but it is going to take time. It takes patience and time. Remember, a snake isn’t like a dog; they learn in entirely different ways.

Here are useful tips that will guide you on how to tame an aggressive ball python.

Know your ball python.

Did you know that reptiles are among some of the most poorly treated pets due to a poor understanding of their needs? Before taking your ball python from the place of purchase or rescue, learn everything you can about them. Study up on its feeding habits, temperament, history, and other essential factors that may influence your pet’s behavior.

Appropriate habitat

One of the key factors in taming a ball python is its habitat. The enclosure should feature the following characteristics:

  • Enriched with foliage and hides. These provide a place for your snake to hide and help regulate its body temperature.
  • Regularly change your snake’s water and substrates to help avoid respiratory infections and scale rot. Ensure you are using a good substrate.
  • Ensure the humidity levels are optimal, and you are using an appropriately sized humidity box.
  • The temperature gradients should be adequate so that your snake can properly warm-up and cool down, limiting stress-causing temperatures.
  • Use an appropriately sized ensure for your snake. Juveniles should be housed in 20-gallon enclosures, hatchlings in a 10-gallon container, and adult ball pythons in a 30-40 –gallon enclosure.

The room in which you house your ball python should feel safe. Remove anything that your ball python may perceive as a threat so that they have no reason to react defensively.

When handling your snake, you should be alone in the room. Your ball python may get defensive if they have to keep an eye on you and another person.

Allow your snake to enjoy some alone time.

A common cause of ball python aggression is a change in the environment. If you have just brought your snake home and they are acting aggressively, leave them alone. This gives your ball python time to get acclimatized to the new environment. After a week or so, you may now start interacting and handling your pet snake.

Hygiene is of utmost importance.

Before approaching and handling your ball python, always wash your hands thoroughly. If your ball python solely associates the opening of their enclosure with feeding, they may strike at you mistaking you for their next meal.

You may also opt to feed your ball python in another enclosure like a large plastic box. This way, it lessens their association of your hand with their food and reduces the occasional biting. Ensure the clothes you wear when handling your snake don’t smell of prey or meat.

Handle your ball python correctly

Another main cause of aggression is your ball python doesn’t like how you are handling it. Here are things that you should avoid when handling your snake:

  • Holding on to your snake too tightly
  • Handling your ball python for long periods
  • Moving suddenly
  • Moving your ball python around too fast
  • Not properly supporting your snake with your hands

Incorrect handling will stress your ball python and make it nip at you. You can opt to use tools that aid in ball python handling such as:

  1. Snake handling hooks – Snake hooks allow you to move and carry your ball python around without touching them. An excellent snake hook is the DPP30″ heavy duty snake hook and the Zoo Med Deluxe Collapsible Snake hook.
  2. Snake tongs – Snake tongs are very similar to snake hooks but offer more control with gentle grabbers. Great snake tongs include Anrain 47″ Extra duty snake tongs and the Fnove 52″ professional standard snake tongsAllow your ball python to get used to your smell.

Ball pythons wholly rely on their sense of smell. Why is this? Their sense of hearing isn’t adequately developed, and when on the ground, it hard for them to hunt through sight. When you first handle your ball python, you will notice them trying to sniff you. They do this by flicking their tongue at you. Their tongues easily catch air molecules that enable them to pick up your scent.

Allow your python to do this along as they aren’t aggressive. When they finish smelling around, do not immediately pick them up. This teaches your snake not to associate your scent with being picked or moved.

Do not reach into the enclosure.

Cage aggression may make your ball python defensive. This happens when the snake is in a small enclosure, and a large creature is advancing. Even if it recognizes your scent, they may still feel threatened.

When you reach in, your ball python may feel threatened but will not feel this way when you use a hook. Snake hooks aren’t just tools for breeders and experts; every pet snake owner should have one. They’re especially useful when an aggressive snake. Gently slip it underneath the snake and lift it out when standing afar. This is bound to keep your ball python calm.

Do not directly handle the snake.

Once your snake is out of the enclosure, it will not be as defensive and aggressive due to the open space. However, it may not be completely comfortable, implying that the issue goes beyond cage aggression. If this happens, do not handle the snake directly. Allow your snake to hang around as you spend time together. When it tries to go somewhere you don’t want it to, use the hook to bring it back.

Your snake will gradually understand that you aren’t a threat.

Should I handle my ball python every day?

Reptiles aren’t social creatures. Handling your ball python every day doesn’t mean they bond or enjoy the time you spend together. It just means they learn to tolerate you.

This is why you shouldn’t handle your snake every day, as it may inflict stress on them. Instead, opt to handle your snake at least two times a week. This is the level of handling that ball pythons can withstand.

More handling may occur after your snake grows older and has lived with you longer.

How do I recognize calm ball python body language?

Now that you are actively taming your ball python, it is important to know when you have made milestones. It would help if you also learned when your python is calm.

A good sign that your snake is calm is when they are curious. Curiosity shows that your snake is comfortable around its environment and does not feel threatened. It will do this by flicking its tongue as it explores the place. This is an indication that they are sniffing around to gauge whether there are any threats around.

FAQs about aggressive ball pythons

Are female ball pythons more aggressive?

Female and male ball pythons are equally aggressive. The female ball python is only likely to display more aggression than the male ball python when protecting her eggs. Hence, it important to give your ball python some space when she is laying her eggs and waiting for them to hatch. Do not move and handle her during this period.

If you need something from the enclosure, use protective gloves to cover your hands.

Why is my ball python aggressive after eating?

It should be understood that you shouldn’t handle your ball python for three days after it feeds. Handling them during this period will cause your snake to regurgitate the meal. It also makes them very uncomfortable, and that why they act defensively.

It could also mean its time to bump up the food portion or increase the feeding frequency depending on their age and size.

The third possibility is that your ball python’s feeding frenzy takes longer to subside than most snakes. When a ball python is about to feed, certain hormones are released that cause excitement. Your snake probably really enjoys the kill and stays fired up after consuming it.

Why is my ball python aggressive after shedding?

Skin shedding is not a comfortable process for ball pythons. They tend to be more irritable due to pain and skin sensitivity. Over the shedding period, you should treat your python with sensitivity. You may notice your ball python is unlikely to move as they shed.

Avoid handling them and ensure they are as comfortable as possible. Give your snake time also to recuperate and keep it well fed during this period.

Why is my ball python suddenly aggressive?

A ball python suddenly acting aggressively is a great cause for concern. A sudden change in behavior can hint to:

  • Illness or injury – Illness and injury may inflict pain on your snake and cause them to act defensively out of the blue.
  • Hunger – At a certain level of maturity, your snake may feel like they are starving because they don’t have enough mass to reproduce offsprings. You should up the amount of food you are feeding your pet snake.
  • Stress – Your ball python could be getting stressed due to lack of optimal humidity, insufficient or very high-temperature levels, or you’re using substrates that irritate its skin.
  • Over handling – You are probably handling your ball python up to four times or more in a week.

Are baby ball pythons aggressive?

Baby ball pythons can be aggressive and are usually nippy. Typically, they are reluctant to bite, but you may encounter one that strikes every so often. This behavior, fortunately, reduces over time by handling them weekly. After some time and handling, they will figure out that you aren’t a threat. Remember, there is a fine line between proper handling and over handling. Over handling can stress your baby ball python.

Be careful when feeding them the first three to four times. After that, they get accustomed to the feeding routine and relax into it.

A change in your ball python’s behavior can be alarming. However, remember that snakes do behave aggressively without provocation. Ensure you are practicing good pet husbandry by ensuring they live in optimal conditions in an environment that is well enriched, and they are in peak health. Over time, your ball python will realize that you aren’t a threat.

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