If you’re a new ball python owner, or even if you’ve had your snake for awhile, you might be curious as to why it sometimes curls up into a ball. Snakes have many interesting behaviors and habits, and as a snake owner, it’s important to learn more about why they act the way they do!
So why is my ball python balled up? This behavior is the source of your snake’s name, and it’s a completely normal habit that indicates stress or fear. Balling up is a way for your ball python to protect itself.
Read on for more details on why your ball python curls into a ball, as well as plenty of suggestions on how to help your snake destress!
A Form of Protection
Ball pythons are named for their protective mechanism of “balling,” or coiling into a ball when they feel threatened or afraid. By doing this, the snake is able to protect its head from danger. Curling into this balled-up position makes ball pythons feel more safe and secure.
If you notice your pet snake coiling into a ball, this is a sign that they don’t feel at ease in their environment, or that they see you as a potential threat or predator. A stressed-out snake isn’t a healthy snake, so you should definitely take action to help your ball python calm down if it’s constantly balling up!
How to Destress Your Ball Python
First, if your ball python has curled into a ball, don’t try to pick it up! This is your snake’s way to communicate that it does not want to be handled. Where other species of snakes might strike or bite to show that they want to be left alone, ball pythons are more docile and prefer to curl up and hide instead. That non-aggressive temperament is part of what makes ball pythons such a popular pet!
Creating a Stress-Free Environment for Your Ball Python
The first step towards a calm and happy snake is to ensure that its environment is properly suited to its needs. There are quite a few factors you’ll want to keep in mind when creating a safe and stress-free environment for your ball python.
Your ball python needs plenty of floor space! For a young snake, you’ll need an aquarium or cage of about 10 gallons. For a medium-sized ball python, 15 gallons will be enough. But a large snake will need an aquarium size of about 20 gallons. If your ball python doesn’t have enough space, it will feel uneasy in its home, which can lead to balling.
Don’t forget that your ball python is cold-blooded! This means that it needs to use its environment to regulate its body temperature. Generally, the temperature in its aquarium or cage should range from 82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to invest in a thermometer and regularly check to make sure the temperature of your snake’s environment stays within a safe range.
To maintain this temperature, you’ll want to place the heat source (a reptile lamp or under-tank heating pad) at one end of the cage. The heat source should be kept around 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
This way, your pet can move towards or away from the heat in order to maintain its temperature, and it will avoid any possible stress it could encounter from not being able to thermoregulate properly.
In order to stay healthy and shed correctly, your snake’s environment needs to remain at a good humidity level of about 60 to 75 percent. If the humidity is too high, it’s possible for your pet to get a respiratory infection or develop sores and blisters. On the other hand, if the humidity is too low, it may have shedding problems.
To maintain a good humidity level, you can spray the substrate with water a few times a week. Another option is to create a shed box. You’ll need a plastic container with a lid and a hole large enough for your pet to crawl into.
Use damp paper towels to fill it about one third of the way up. Finally, if your cage or aquarium has a screen lid, cover about three-fourths of it with plastic. This will keep the humidity in.
If you prefer to go the cheaper route, you can use paper towels or newspaper for your pet’s substrate. These are also easy to clean and switch out. If you prefer a nicer-looking substrate, you can try using aspen or cypress. Cypress is often recommended because it holds moisture well and doesn’t develop mold as easily.
Make sure to never use pine, cedar, small rocks, or sand for the substrate. In the case of pine and cedar, these materials can be dangerous for your pet. Small rocks and sand can be eaten and cause digestive tract issues.
As far as cleaning goes, it’s essential to clean at least on a weekly basis or every time your ball python defecates. An unclean environment can be another source of stress for your pet.
The essentials include two hides and a water dish, which should be heavy so that your ball python can’t tip it over. The hides need to have a single entrance, and they should be dark and big enough for your snake to fit its entire body in.
Place one hide on the warm basking side of the aquarium and the other on the cooler side, so your snake can seek cover regardless of its position in the cage. Hides give your ball python a sense of privacy and security; they’re a great place to escape to if your pet is feeling stressed out. You can also add some fake greenery or cover part of the top of the cage to make your snake feel safer.
Make It Escape-Proof
Snakes are natural escape artists! Because of this, it’s extremely important to take measures to keep your ball python from getting out–and just as importantly, to keep any other pets in the house from getting in!
Any perceived predators are sure to cause your snake stress, so preventing them from getting near your snake is a way to avoid any uneasy feelings.
Two simple steps to take are to lock the cage lid in place (don’t use weights to keep the lid closed) and cover any gaps. If you notice a hole or gap, even if it appears too small for your snake to slither out of or for another animal to reach their paw in, make sure to cover or fill it.
No Sudden Movements
Whenever you’re in the vicinity of your ball python’s cage, move slowly and carefully to show you’re not a threat. Quick movements can send your snake into a state of stress where they’ll have to quickly choose whether to strike or to hide. When picking up your snake, lift it slowly and gradually from its cage.
It’s a good idea to sit on the floor and let your ball python explore its new environment. Try to avoid having other pets or people in the room. You can also dim the lights; since ball pythons are nocturnal and rarely come out during the daytime, darker surroundings make them feel more comfortable.
Guide Your Snake; Don’t Restrain It
Remember that in nature, the only reason a ball python is restrained or grabbed is because it’s being attacked by a predator–so it’s a behavior you should definitely avoid!
When you handle your snake, make sure it feels fully supported. Don’t hold it by its head or tail, which can cause it to feel threatened and hiss or ball up. Think of it this way: Don’t hold on to your snake. Allow it to hold on to you! Make sure to keep your hands open and relaxed, and with time, this type of handling should begin to feel natural for both you and your pet.
Stick to Short Handling Sessions
If your ball python seems to be easily stressed, don’t force it to interact with you. Brief handling sessions are better. They allow your snake to slowly become more comfortable with you without making them feel threatened.
Don’t expect your snake’s personality to change overnight! If your ball python ever becomes aggressive during handling, return it to its cage immediately. Wait at least a few days before you try to handle it again.
Balling up is a common behavior for ball pythons who are feeling stressed or threatened. There are lots of ways to help reduce your pet’s stress, and the first place to start is with a suitable environment. Make sure to take size, temperature, humidity, substrate, and accessories all into consideration!
There are also a few things to keep in mind while handling your snake to keep it from becoming stressed and balling up. Don’t ever restrain your snake, always move slowly, and stick to brief handling sessions. By following these guidelines, your snake should be able to destress and live a calm and happy life!