When you become the owner of a ball python, you often have many questions about how to bond with your snake. Do ball pythons even like to be held? Is petting them an enjoyable experience? Or would they rather we just leave them alone?
Because of their nature, ball pythons do not like to be held. Some owners will swear their snake enjoys it, but in all actuality, ball pythons simply tolerate being held and petted.
There are things you can do to make your ball python better tolerate being handled. Making sure that all interactions your ball python has with people are positive will help them learn to be more comfortable with human contact.
Read on to learn about ball python behavior, tips on properly handling them, and when it’s best not to.
Do Ball Pythons Like to be Held?
Ball Python Temperament
The ball python is a naturally shy, docile creature. Their timidness is reflected in the name, ball python, which references the tight ball they wind into when they feel threatened.
In the wild, they fear humans. Like most wild animals, wild ball pythons do not like to be touched.
They do possess a natural curiosity for the world around them. But when in contact with humans, most wild ball pythons would want to escape any interaction, preferring to hide.
Effects of Captivity
Captivity changes some of the ball pythons’ natural behavior. While remaining shy and timid, early exposure to humans reduces the fear they have for us.
They become accustomed to being handled and begin to trust our presence. This, combined with their naturally docile nature, makes them great snakes for beginners.
Ball pythons are easier to handle than some other breeds of a snake because, among other factors, they are more likely to tolerate being held.
Especially if they are socialized from a young age. The earlier they are handled, the less fear they hold for humans.
But ball pythons don’t actually enjoy being held. They are solitary animals, meaning they don’t seek out the company of other living beings.
There are aspects of being handles that can be appealing to them, such as your body heat and the opportunity to explore their surroundings.
These can make the experience easier to tolerate. And if they have built a deep level of trust with you, they won’t find the situation as distressing or uncomfortable.
But as with all animals, each one is an individual. Some ball pythons may never be fully comfortable enough to tolerate being held.
If they are not amicable to being handled, there is nothing wrong with you or your ball python (so long as they have a clean bill of health). You can still enjoy the company of your snake from a distance they are comfortable with.
Do They Like to be Pet?
Like Vs. Tolerate
Petting is another experience that, as pet owners, we have a natural instinct to want to do. But for ball pythons, it is a completely unnatural phenomenon.
They can feel the sensation of being petted but, unlike some animals, do not receive any comfort or pleasure from the contact.
Petting them inside their enclosure may be an even more uncomfortable experience since you often hover above them in a position that seems more predatory.
But gentle petting may be tolerated if they are enjoying some time out of their enclosure.
So long as your snake is not showing signs of distress, petting should not cause any harm as long as it’s done correctly.
The Proper Way to Pet a Ball Python
If you pet your ball python, you can take steps to make it as comfortable as possible for them.
Petting with the scales is important, going from head to tail. Going against the scales can cause discomfort to your snake.
Also, take care not to cover the head with your hand. This may trigger the “fight or flight” reflex as it would when a predator goes overhead.
Keep your touches light and gentle. Too strong of a touch or grip can feel threatening.
And if your ball pythons show any signs of stress from the petting, stop. Don’t force your attention on them; it can be detrimental to your bond.
How to Help Your Ball Python Adjust to Your Touch?
When you first begin handling your ball python, keep the interactions short.
It is not over the top to get them used to your scent and presence by simply letting your hand rest in their enclosure without touching them.
Doing this a few times before moving to touch them will help them understand your presence is nothing negative.
Once they tolerate your gentle touch, move to hold them for short amounts of time, increasing with each interaction.
Rushing the steps can cause them stress. This slow process will help you earn their trust and make them more comfortable with being held for longer periods of time.
Be Gentle, But Confident
Use gentle touches when handling your ball python. This will help them to feel safer in your hands.
Soft, slow movements are less threatening and will help them learn to trust being in your presence. But it’s also important to be sure and confident when you hold them.
Ball pythons can sense if you are tense, which may signal to them that something is wrong. When you are relaxed, it will help them relax.
Listen to the Body Language
Listening to your ball python’s body language is essential in building a secure bond. This is the only way they have to communicate how they are feeling to you.
Don’t push your ball python too far out of its comfort zone. Keeping the interactions positive will build better trust between you. If they start to become stressed while you are holding them, return them to the enclosure.
Going at the snake’s pace will make the process easier. Causing them great distress can set you back steps as they lose some trust in you.
When Not to Handle Your Ball Python?
It is crucial not to handle your ball python immediately after feeding them.
They digest the food in the first few days following a meal. Handling them during this time period can be pretty stressful for them and may cause them to regurgitate.
This can actually lead to health problems and complications. Wait a couple of days after feeding to hold your ball python.
Shedding or About to Shed
Another very stressful period for your ball python is when they are about to shed.
The piece of skin over its eyes, called the eye cap, becomes cloudy as they prepare to slough it off. This seriously impacts its vision and leaves them feeling vulnerable.
In the wild, this is a very dangerous time for them. Even in captivity, the inability to see its surroundings clearly puts them on high alert.
The most docile of ball pythons may still lash out during this time. Wait until they have shed to hold them again.
If your ball python shows any signs of distress, it is not a good time to try to hold them. These signs can include:
- Tense body language
- Head pulled back to strike
- Trying to flee your presence
Trying to handle them during this time will only cause even more stress. It may lead to either you or them being injured. And long-term stress is detrimental to your ball python’s health.
It is best to wait, leaving them alone to give them time to relax and calm their senses back down. Removing the stressor is the best option if the cause of stress is something in its environment.
If they begin to display signs of stress as you are holding them, return them to the enclosure.
If you absolutely must handle them during this time, aids like a snake stick or a pillowcase can help keep you both safe.
Encouraging them into the pillowcase allows them to remain portable while providing them a place to hide.
Ball pythons don’t like being held and petted. But most of them will tolerate it.
By paying close attention to your ball pythons’ body language when holding them, you can make sure the experience is positive and earn their trust.
Taking that time to go at your ball pythons’ pace will assure them they can be relaxed and comfortable in your presence, even when held.
Make sure you don’t handle them after they have eaten, are about to shed, or any other time they are in distress. That can lead to loss of trust and possible health problems for your ball python.
And even though your ball python is only tolerating being held, it doesn’t make your bond any less special.