It can be tricky determining if your pet ball python is happy. Snakes, and reptiles in general, aren’t known for being the affectionate or expressive types. Reptilian brains are far less developed than mammals which leaves them with a limited capacity for emotion. The emotions they do have are related to their survival instincts rather than joy. This can leave beginner snake owners scratching their heads trying to decipher their snake’s state of well-being. Fortunately, ball pythons have a few tells that they’re happy and healthy in your care.
First, we’re going to hit you with the upfront truth: ball pythons don’t have as obvious signs of being happy as a traditional pet. Dogs wag their tail, cats purr, birds sing. But snakes? Even the friendliest of species don’t make it easy to tell how they are feeling.
The good news however, is that your ball python is a simple creature. Rather than feeling happy or sad, it’s more of a matter of feeling “safe” or ”unsafe”, ”stressed” or “relaxed”. Here are a few key indicators that your pet snake isn’t stressed out and is content in their enclosure.
Does your ball python seem lazy and only mildly interested in its surroundings? That’s actually a great sign. A happy ball python is one that acts as if it hasn’t a care in the world. They might patrol their enclosure, but without any urgency or rush. It’s perfectly normal for your ball python to pace around and explore, but if it seems like it’s in a hurry, it could be a sign that they’re actively trying to escape their surroundings.
This also applies to any other actions your ball python usually partakes in. They may occasionally press their noses to the glass walls or test the confines of the roof of their enclosure, however, if they do so continuously, it’s a red flag that something has stressed them out.
When your ball python is feeling content and secure, it will only flick its tongue every now and again. Snakes use their tongues as their sense of smell, and do this to get a sense of their surroundings. Naturally, an unconcerned snake won’t need to do this motion as frequently as a worried, insecure-feeling one. In a happy ball python, this motion will be calm and matched by equally relaxed body movement. Conversely, if it doesn’t flick its tongue at all, it can also be a sign of stress.
Ball pythons are a reptile-lover’s favorite, one of the reasons being that they’re one of the friendliest species of snakes. Ball pythons have a wonderful temperament and a great affinity towards being handled. However, that’s not to say that all ball pythons are always okay with being held all the time. If your ball python hides when you approach or immediately tries to escape your grasp, something is clearly wrong.
The good news is that you may not necessarily be the source of stress. A squirmy or antisocial ball python doesn’t mean they don’t like you. This behavior is a common occurrence when they are feeling stressed which could be a newly sanitized enclosure or the presence of a new accessory.
If your ball python allows you to pick them up, they should be calm in your grasp and have a gentle grip on you for support. Being snakes that rely on constriction to subdue their prey, ball pythons naturally tend to squeeze the hands, wrists, arms, or wherever it is that they’re perched. However, they should only be applying enough pressure to keep themselves stable. If they are squeezing you with a lot of pressure, it’s likely best to hold off handling for the time being.
As humans, our breathing speeds up after exertion or if our stress response is active. The same goes for ball pythons. If your ball python seems to be breathing heavily for an extended period of time, it could signal that their fight-or-flight response has been triggered and that they are stressed out. In the case that your ball pythons does engage in some physical activity that might result in heavy breathing, their breathing rate should quickly return to normal in a matter of minutes.
When your ball python feels secure in their environment, their behavior should be relaxed and calm. The best way to ensure that your ball python will be a well-adjusted pet is to buy them captive-bred from a reputable retailer. You can find ball pythons for sale at online reptile stores, along with a variety of beautiful ball python morphs.