Well, that statement is stretching the truth a bit but we are diligently working on a device that will allow ball python keepers to speak with their ball pythons, sort of how like a language translator works. You didn’t believe that statement either, eh? Oh well, guess I can’t pull the wool over your eyes with those mistruths but the honest truth of the matter is that ball pythons can actually speak, you just have to know how to “listen” to them speak.
We know that ball pythons can’t speak literally and they don’t have ears or vocal chords by which to hear or speak so what do I mean by, “ball pythons can actually speak?” Ball pythons can communicate with us using their body language and behavior. An astute ball python keeper will learn to read these body language cues over time. Lets discuss some body language expressed by ball pythons and try to understand what these expressions mean.
Ball pythons are docile by nature but some will hiss at their keeper or at a prey item. Hissing usually means, “I don’t want to be bothered, leave me alone.” Hatchling ball pythons that hiss will oftentimes curl up into a ball and continue hissing louder as you approach or disturb it. Some will hiss and form the classic ‘S’ position with their neck and may strike if their warning is ignored. You can break the cycle of hissing from ball python hatchlings by disregarding or ignoring the hissing and pick them up. If they hiss and you leave them alone, they’ll learn that all they need to do is hiss and you won’t bother them. Some will on rare occasions strike at you but this striking behavior usually stops over time.
It’s very rare for adult captive born ball pythons to hiss at you but they sometimes do this as well. Adult female ball pythons that have been bred will sometimes hiss because their follicles are growing and they’re becoming moody and agitated. They will oftentimes strike at you as well so keep this in mind if you’ve been breeding your adult female and she starts hissing at you for no apparent reason. Females that have just laid a clutch of eggs will most certainly hiss and strike at you. She’s telling you to stay away from her and the eggs, hence defending or guarding them.
Another body language gesture is soaking. It’s so basic and natural that most keepers pay no attention to them soaking and think it’s nothing more than it simply taking a bath or relaxing. Ball pythons usually soak for a few reasons and can speak to you if you listen to them and read their gestures.
Ball pythons will soak themselves in their water bowl for a number of reasons. One reason is that they know they will be entering their shed cycle pretty soon so they begin soaking their bodies to make it more wet and lubricated for the pending shed cycle. You may notice them soaking for a few days and just can’t figure out why they’re spending all their time soaking in their water bowl. Suddenly you notice that they’re starting to become dull or gray looking as they cloud up upon entering their shed cycle, several days later.
When you see a ball python soaking, you can’t assume that it’s soaking just because it knows it will be shedding in the coming days. They will also spend time in their water bowls soaking if there’s a mite problem on the snake. Soaking is its way of trying to drown the mites on it because mites cannot breathe under water. Take a look at the face area of your ball python and look for the presence of mites. You will usually find them around the eye sockets, the heat vent or under the chin. Since ball pythons usually keep their head above water while they’re soaking, the head is the safest spot on the snake for mites to congregate in an effort not to drown.
Ball pythons may also soak because it’s just too hot in the cage. Check the temperature of the cage to make sure the hot spot isn’t too hot. If it is, turn it down a bit and make sure it’s in an acceptable range (about 90F). You’ll also notice adult female ball pythons that have been bred either soaking or wrapped around their water dish. The theory is that they’re trying to bring down their body temperature for the follicular maturation process. This is still a theory and we’ve even seen males exhibit the same “wrapping around their water dish” behavior.
Take notice of your ball python when you approach its tank or cage. They will oftentimes peek out at you or extend their heads somewhat to get a better visual. This behavior can mean that the ball python is hungry (believe it or not). Our ball pythons let us know when they want to feed by exhibiting this type of behavior. When either I or one of our staff members approach a cage, we look for this type of body language gesture. It’s very apparent if we bring a bucket full of rats or mice in the room or have just fed the animal. Some ball pythons will eat more than one food item and this simple gesture of them peeking from their hide is a pretty good indicator that they’re still hungry so we’ll offer them another meal. Once they’ve had their fair share, they will stop peeking and completely ignore us while they digest their meal (or meals).
I know this might sound hard to believe but ball pythons can move at rapid speeds! You more than likely will never see a ball python move at top speeds because it’s quite content in its tank or by you handling it. If your ball python tries to bolt away when you’re holding it or it’s moving its body extremely fast in an attempt to escape, it’s more than likely very afraid of the situation and trying its best to remove itself from the situation. This type of behavior is most prevalent with younger ball pythons that haven’t been properly acclimated. You need to allow your new ball python some time to acclimate to its new environment by leaving it alone for a week or more “hands off” time so it can settle in.
This really isn’t body language but you can still read this as a body language expression. If your ball python regurgitates, this is usually a sign that something might be wrong with it, the cage conditions may not be optimal or the prey item was just a bit too large for your ball python. First check to make sure the cage or tank conditions are optimal. If they are, you may want to consider taking your ball python to the vet for a fecal exam and overall checkup to make sure there are no underlying problems with the animal, especially if the prey item was not too large for the ball python.
Regurgitation can be mistaken for a prey item that is just too large for the ball python to swallow. Although they detach their jaws and consume prey that is larger than their head, some prey are just too big for a ball python to swallow. You can easily tell if the discarded prey item was regurgitated or if it was a bit too large by examining the prey item. If the head of the prey item is wet and the rest of the body is dry, it was more than likely too large for your ball python. Simply offer it a smaller meal when you feed it next time. If the entire body is wet, your ball python more than likely regurgitated the meal. Do not offer it another meal for at least fourteen (14) days because it has lost vital stomach acids used to digest the meal.
Ball Python Forum
I’ve simply scratched the surface about some of the body language gestures a ball python keeper should be aware of when observing his or her ball python. This topic can easily span an entire chapter of a book so I’ve merely touched on a few important body language gestures to look out for. Please start a discussion thread in our ball python forum if you’d like to talk more about this topic in greater detail. Thank you.
When I read posts throughout the Internet, I tend to think that reptile and herp vets are evil people that turn into horrible monsters when the moon is full. I might actually believe this nonsense if it weren’t for the fact that I have wonderful relationships with many vets myself so I know they aren’t evil at all. Reading posts on forums (including ours), one might get the impression that reptile and herp vets are evil monsters because most people seem to try to avoid them like the plague!
Vets have pursued many years of higher education in order to understand and treat an assortment of animals, including reptiles and herps. Just because your ball python or reptile is unable to bark or meow doesn’t mean you should not take it to the vet if you feel something is wrong with it. Forums (like our forum) are a great resource for information but it’s by no means a way to avoid taking your ball python or reptile to the vet if it needs attention.
The sad reality is that if you can’t afford a visit to the vet in the event that your animal sincerely needs the attention, you may have to ask yourself, “Should I really keep an animal or reptile as a pet, especially since it relies on me exclusively if it ever needs the assistance of a vet?”
You can now locate local Reptile & Herp Vets through our website. They’re there for your pet and are not evil people so seek their assistance if the situation warrants it.
The use of live rodents to be fed to reptiles and amphibians (herps) is strongly discouraged for various reasons, especially the danger they can cause to the herps themselves. Frozen foods are more beneficial and healthier for your pet and converting them to accept frozen foods after eating only live may not be as hard as you'd think.
Breaking the Myth
Many pet stores, reptile experts, and help books often state that feeding live prey is the best choice of food. This is simply not true. Frozen/thawed foods are just as good as, if not better than, live foods. Do not buy into the argument of "My pet needs live prey, because in its natural environment it must hunt, stalk, and attack its prey for food. No one kills their prey for them in the wild." or "I'd like to give my pet a chance to hunt and kill because it naturally likes the 'thrill of the kill.'" The fact is that animals in captivity act much differently than animals in the wild. Reptiles in captivity do not spend their days searching for food or hiding from predators; instead they are housed in a safe and comfy enclosure with all their habitat needs met for them.
Safety for Your Pet
Feeding frozen/thawed foods are safer for your reptile. An animal that is not hungry will most likely not eat; it will ignore the prey animal. The prey animal on the other hand, left alone in a tank with a predator may not be so relaxed. Rodents may become aggressive and attack and injure the disinterested reptile. Even when your pet is hungry and trying to catch the prey, the prey may use its teeth and claws to defend itself, resulting in injury to your pet. Serious bites and scratches could lead to blindness, gashes, and even death for your reptile. You are responsible for the health and well being of your animals in captivity. That means keeping them properly housed, heated, humidified, fed and keeping them safe from avoidable harm.
Benefits of Frozen/Thawed Foods
There are many benefits to feeding frozen food to your reptiles.
- Increasing number of pet stores are selling frozen foods for reptiles.
- It takes much less room to store frozen foods than it does to house, feed, and care for live foods before they are fed.
- Live foods may have internal or external parasites; the freezing process removes most parasites that may be harmful to your reptile.
- Frozen/thawed food prices are also lower than that of purchasing live rodents.
- All frozen foods are humanely euthanized according to a set of government-dictated guidelines.
Types of Frozen Foods
- Pinkies - most commonly used, are young mice that are almost hairless and smallest in size. (30-45 min thaw time in cold water)
- Fuzzies - second smallest, are juvenile mice with some fur. (60-75 minute thaw time in cold water)
- Small Rats - larger than a fuzzy, but without the fur of adult rats. (75-90 minute thaw time in cold water)
- Adult mice and rats - used in feeding larger reptiles (2+ hours thaw time in cold water)
How to Thaw Frozen Food
Never feed your pet food that is still frozen! You do need to thaw it thoroughly and warm it slightly (above room temperature) before feeding. Warming up the food will enhance the smell and is more attractive to your reptile. Using the microwave to defrost is discouraged since it can leave cold spots in the middle. Follow these steps to defrost:
- Remove the number of food items from the bag.
- Put the food in a container filled with cold tap water.
- Leave the food items in the water for the suggested thaw time for the type/size of food.
- Run warm water until the entire container is filled with warm water. Let stand 10 - 15 minutes.
- Just prior to removal and feeding, run almost hot water into the container to warm the food to above room temperature.
- Remove from the container and shake off excess water.
- You can also leave the frozen food in the refrigerator to slowly thaw. If time is an issue, pinkies are usually small enough that they can defrost by running them under warm tap water for a few minutes.
Converting to Frozen/Thawed Feeding
If not immediately, most herps will take frozen/thawed foods eventually. If your pet is stubborn, converting to frozen/thawed feeding may take a little bit of time and patience. However, many herps easily convert from live to eating frozen/thawed foods. Here are some techniques.
- Try different size/color foods.
- Make sure food is warm (soak in warm water prior to feeding).
- Use long tongs (never use your fingers!) to dangle the food in front of your reptile.
- Let your reptile get inside a hide box, then using tongs, wiggle the warm food in the entrance.
- Try different movements: up and down, side to side, at different speeds with your tongs.
- Using tongs, drag the food across the substrates, giving it little hops.
- Feed a small live food and follow it immediately with a frozen/thawed item.
If your pet is still stubborn about accepting frozen/thawed foods, have patience and try leaving the food in the feeding habitat for longer periods of time. You may even try leaving the food in the feeding habitat overnight to encourage your reptile to explore the food and eventually accept it.
Look for positive reactions (head turning, tongue flicks, stalking behavior) while you are feeding your reptile. If the reptile appears stressed, stop and try again later. Remember, it is important to know that it will not hurt your reptile to miss a meal every once in a while. So don't give in too easily and return to feeding live.
The US Fish & Wildlife has made a motion to ban the importation, ownership and transporting of Pythons and Boa Constrictors in the United States. We need every person who cares about reptiles to write and share your thoughts as to why the ban should not be allowed!
You can read the proposal in its entirety here Injurious Wildlife Species; Review of Information Concerning Constrictor Snakes from Python, Boa, and Eunectes genera and write a comment on their website explaining why you feel the ban should not be allowed on harmless Pythons and Boas. I've provided my comments below but please do not use my comment as a template for your own, present your comments in your own words.
Remember, they try to start banning Pythons & Boas first and then it moves to another species and then another species and before you know it, we're only allowed to keep stuffed animals or photos of animals and that's it. Stand up to the goverment and exercise your right to keep harmless Pythons and Boas as pets!
Thank you for standing up and speaking for the animals that cannot speak for themselves.
PLEASE POST THIS INFORMATION ON EVERY REPTILE FORUM YOU PARTICIPATE IN, YOUR BLOG, REPTILE NEWSGROUPS, REPTILE CHATROOMS, TELL YOUR FRIENDS, YOUTUBE ABOUT IT, ETC.
To whom this may concern,
My name is Ronald Crawford, a professional breeder of ball pythons (Python regius) and owner of RCReptiles.com. I thank you for taking time from your busy day to read my comment. I'm writing you today concerning Docket ID FWS-R9-FHC-2008-0015 to voice my comments and concerns about the possibility of potentially demonizing the entire constrictor family of serpents based solely on a few species within the constrictor family such as the Burmese Python. I am only familiar with ball pythons so I can only speak to the defense of this particular species. I’m hopeful that other herpetologists well versed with other species within the constrictor family will deliver compelling arguments as to why they should be excluded from your list of harmful constrictors as well.
Ball pythons are docile snakes by nature and pose absolutely no harm or threat to humans, children, babies or household pets such as cats and dogs. They are non-venomous and grow to a maximum length of only 3-4 feet and are in fact one of the most popular pet snakes because of these and other attributes. They are incapable of killing and consuming an adult human, child, baby or household pet and there are no records or reports of a ball python causing death to any of the aforementioned nor will their ever be.
The ball python trade in America contributes strongly to the US (and global) economy by providing revenue to companies including airline and shipping for transportation, advertisers (both online and offline), US Fish & Wildlife for import/export inspections and permits, tax revenue for our government, etc. et al. Ball pythons are also used by many educators to provide an up-close and personal “one-on-one” experience with young impressionable children at schools about reptiles and animals in general. Many children, who are indeed the future of our planet, are not familiar and educated about animals and pets other than cats and dogs. This experience helps to educate and give them a broader appreciation for reptiles, animals, the environment and the importance of conservation in addition to the diverse flora and fauna populations found on our planet.
I’ve merely scratched the surface on the importance of not allowing the ball python and other non-threatening snakes in the constrictor family to be included in the list of harmful constrictors because I know your time is limited and I could go on writing for days about ball pythons. I thank you again for reviewing my comments and hope that what I’ve presented has provided some additional insight and understanding as to why ball pythons should not be included in the list of harmful constrictors.
Quarantine is a word and practice that is seldom implemented by many ball python and reptile keepers alike. It’s also an ignored practice that has unfortunately cost the lives of many ball pythons due to a disease or parasite infestation brought in by a new ball python that was not quarantined properly.
Ball pythons from the RCReptiles.com facility are captive born and bred and are 100% disease and problem free, which is one of the reasons why we have so many customers that are completely satisfied with the quality of our ball pythons and our customer service alike. Unfortunately, many ball pythons and snakes in general that come from pet stores (in addition to unscrupulous breeders’) harbor dangerous and deadly diseases that can infect and ultimately kill your existing collection of established ball pythons.
Zoos are all too familiar with the importance of quarantining new animals because they don’t know if the animal is healthy or not. Well known Zoos trade, buy and sell animals’ amongst each other and despite the fact that they may all be well known institutions, they still adhere to strict quarantine procedures. You too should incorporate a quarantine process when you bring new ball pythons (or snakes in general) into your home.
My New Snake Looks Fine Though
It doesn’t matter if you acquired an animal from a pet store, from your friend that no longer wants her ball python or even from RCReptiles.com for that matter, you still need to place it into quarantine. Despite the fact that our ball pythons are 100% healthy, parasites-free, virus-free, disease-free, etc., you still need to put them into quarantine. You may be thinking, “Why do I need to quarantine them if I purchase them from you?” The answer is very simple. Most people look at quarantine from the “outside in” opposed to the “inside out”!
What this means is that you could have mites or ticks on your existing ball python and have yet to realize this. You could have visited a pet store, handled one of their ball pythons and brought the deadly IBD (inclusion body disease) virus back with you on your hands or mites could have crawled from the snake onto your clothing. The disease or mites could have been transmitted to your ball python when you picked it up without thoroughly washing your hands prior to handling or if mites fell off your clothing and into your ball pythons’ tank when you opened it. Now you have a serious problem with your existing ball python that you knew nothing of so you think your ball python is 100% healthy when in fact it’s not, its been COMPROMISED!
Lets say you receive your new ball python from RCReptiles.com and you don’t place it into quarantine but put it in the tank right next to your existing ball python, or the same tank for that matter (a big NO, NO!). Your new healthy ball python from RCReptiles.com is now susceptible to catching the deadly IBD virus or having mites attack it from the other tank by crawling from the infested tank to the new tank!
The same holds true if you have a happy and healthy ball python in your collection and acquire a new ball python from a pet store or from your friend that decided she doesn’t have the time for her ball python. That new ball python can bring disease or parasites into your collection if you don’t quarantine it!
How to Quarantine Properly
When you receive a new ball python from any place other than RCReptiles.com, you need to take the snake to the vet ASAP and have them check it out. They will perform a fecal exam, health check, and etc. to make sure the new ball python is okay. Ask your vet to check it for mites and ticks as well. Despite a clean bill of health from the vet, you still need to implement a strict quarantine process when you get home.
The new snake should be housed a minimum of one room away from your existing collection of ball pythons or ball python, the further away from your established collection the better. You should use white paper towels as the substrate instead of mulch (aspen, cypress, repti-bark, etc.) as this will help you tell if there are mites on the animal. Products such as provent-a-mite, black flag, no-pest strips, etc. are effective for treating a mite infestation. You can search the Internet for vendors that sell these products in addition to the “articles and reports” section of our website for further information.
Wash your hands thoroughly and if possible, change your clothing after handling the new ball python before you handle your established ball pythons from your collection. Never offer a rodent to an animal in your established collection if you offered the same rodent to the ball python in quarantine. For example, you offer a rodent to the ball python in quarantine and it does not feed. Do not take that same rodent and offer it to one of the ball pythons in your established collection if it was placed in the same cage or near an animal in quarantine.
How Long to Quarantine?
You should keep animals in quarantine for a minimum of three months. You can then move the animals from quarantine into the room where you keep your other ball pythons if you choose to.
Repeat this procedure for new ball pythons and snakes in general that are introduced into your collection. A happy ball python is a healthy ball python so implement a quarantine process to make sure your ball python remains happy and healthy. Feel free to visit our ball python forum to discuss this topic in greater detail.