Python regius is the scientific name for Royal or Ball Pythons. The term “Ball Python” was derived from the fact that they will oftentimes fashion their bodies into a “ball” shape when threatened. The main predator of the ball python in Africa is the “Black Cobra”. Black Cobras are unable to swallow extremely large prey items so ball pythons have evolved to adapt into a “ball” formation in an effort to prevent from being swallowed by black cobras. I’ve provided this bit of brief background to explain why they form into the shape of a ball when they feel threatened.
Ball pythons are docile snakes that usually do not strike at their keepers when they feel threatened but there are some that do and they are the exception, not the rule. As many of you have learned in school, there is a “fight/flight” response mechanism inherit in animals. Most ball pythons take the “flight” response by either crawling away very fast (and they can move very fast!) or contouring their body into a ball shape. Others take the “fight” response and strike at the threat. I’m going to discuss the “fight” response or “striking” in this blog and ways to have them stop this undesired behavior.
I’ve noticed that hatchlings are more prone to strike or fashion themselves into a ball than their adult counterparts. I’ve also noticed that the hatchlings that do strike when they’re young tend to outgrow this un-welcomed behavior over time once they feel safe, secure and confident that you don’t plan to eat or harm them whenever you approach their tank. We have no adult ball pythons that attempt to strike at us but I have noticed adult “wild caught” (harvested directly from the bush of Africa) ball pythons strike out of defense when confronted by humans. Captive born and bred adult ball pythons usually do not show signs of striking at their keepers as adults, especially those accustomed to being handled. A ball python can also strike at you if it’s hungry and smells a rodent on you or your hand so change your clothing or wash your hands if you’ve been handling any rodents before you attempt to handle your ball python.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the term, “The bark is worse than the bite” when speaking about certain dogs. The same applies to being tagged or bitten by a hatchling ball python. Ball pythons will usually just “tag and release” opposed to biting and holding on. I’ve only been tagged a total of three times to date so I know first hand how it feels and what can be expected. It feels like nothing more than a light pinprick and produces minutely small droplets of blood. Simply washing the area and applying Neosporin, peroxide, etc. to the area is all that’s needed. They’re non-venomous snakes so there’s nothing to worry about if you’re ever tagged.
One way to help calm your ball python down is to give it time to properly acclimate to its new environment, assuming you received it pretty recently. Placing the cage in a low-traffic area or covering a portion of the tank visible to a high-traffic area will help your ball python settle in. Make sure the cage conditions are optimal as well (temperatures, humidity, hide-box, etc).
There are a few techniques for dealing with ball python hatchlings that strike at you. One technique is to place a garment that you’ve worn inside the tank with your ball python. The theory behind this technique is that your scent is on the worm garment so it will become aware of your scent and will not be frightened when you attempt to handle it. Another technique that I advise if your ball python strikes at you is to handle it for 15-minutes each and every day. You may feel a bit safer wearing a glove on your hand in the event that it attempts to bite your hand. Keep it away from your face and hold it daily for 15-minutes. Do not put it down or back in its cage if it strikes at you or hisses. You want to condition or “teach” your pet ball python that it will not get its way by striking at you. It will learn over time that striking is ineffective so it will ultimately stop this undesired behavior.
Ball pythons make exceptionally wonderful pets and they are not “mean” snakes, even if it appears that way if they should ever strike or hiss at you. Simply take a look in the mirror at yourself and then look at the little ball python hatchling. Now compare the size difference between you and your ball python hatchling and then try to mentally swap places with your ball python and you’ll get a better idea of why it might be afraid of you and strike at you “out of fear”. Make deliberate movements and show confidence when handling your ball python and it will learn over time that you’re a friend and not a predator that’s out to harm or eat it.
They can live for a very long time so rest assured that this striking behavior will go away over time and that you’ll have a long and happy relationship with your loving pet ball python.
Is it because of the time of year? Because thats what ive heard from alot of people.
The first couple weeks he was ok, only trying to strike at me once or twice. But in the last ten days he will not let my hand in his habitat at all. He strikes at everything. I had to use a hook to take him out a few days ago and he struck repeatedly at his heat lamp. If I try to hold him he squirms like crazy trying to get around to bite me. His temperature kept at around 80, and I'm doing what I can to keep humidity up but it generally rests around 40%. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!
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