What do I do if my ball python bites? This is a common question from new keepers and one that is easily overcome. Ball Pythons, renowned for their gentle nature, have secured the top spot as beloved pet snakes. These serene creatures seldom bite or strike, relying instead on their instinct to curl into a protective ball, a trait that has lent them their name. With years of captive breeding, their natural calmness has only deepened. If you're a newcomer to the world of Ball Pythons, know that issues are unlikely. Most are born confident and at ease. In the rare case of encountering defensive behavior, rest assured that this article is your compass to set things right. Over three decades of experience have taught me that every Ball Python can become tame with a bit of time and effort.
1. Your Ball Python is more afraid of you than you are of it. (I know, it’s hard to believe but it’s true.)
it is important to fist understand what is driving this behavior. Fear is at the root of any cranky ball python. It is not aggression. Simply shifting your mindset about what is driving the behavior can help alleviate your fear and help smooth the process of gaining your ball python’s trust in order to create a gentle and deliberate animal that will be a pleasant to handle.
2. Don’t Be Afraid. (Your fear is the problem)
I understand this can be easier said than done, but it is essential that you not be afraid while you are handling and working to earn your snake’s trust. While a baby ball python’s bite can be mildly painful it will not cause you any injury. Understandably though it can be unsettling to be bitten by any reptile and sometimes beginners can be very disheartened by a reptile bite. If your fear response cannot be completely alleviated then wearing some leather work gloves is usually enough to conquer your fear. This is very important because your fear is what is driving your ball python’s fear. Your ball python is not mean or aggressive. It's afraid because you are afraid. I know, "which came first the chicken or the egg"?
After many years of observation I have come to believe that a ball python has some sort of “sixth sense”. Wether they smell the fear or have another sense that allows them to see the fear lurking within you, ball pythons know when you are afraid. I have been working with reptiles so long that I have no remnant of fear when handling ball pythons. Consequently I rarely, if ever, see striking or biting in my ball pythons. But when I have a new employee or visiter who is afraid, I can often see the snakes begin to pace in the front of their enclosures ready to pounce on any would be attacker. This is interesting behavior and I have developed the hypothesis that this is an evolutionary adaptation that helped keep them safe from predators. When a predator in the wild is about to attack, kill and eat a baby ball python there is likely a slight fear response that precedes the confrontation. Fight or Flight, an attack is fight and it could be very advantageous to survival for a ball python to have advance notice of the impending doom. I believe that they have developed a sense that allows them to know the attack is coming before it even begins. So understand as far as your new baby ball python is concerned, you are about to eat them. This is the essence of the ball python’s reluctance to be your friend. Understanding this can help you overcome your fear. Your snake is not being aggressive, your snake is afraid so you have to lead by example.
3. Removing your snake from the enclosure for a handling session.
When removing your ball python from their enclosure it is very important to be deliberate in your approach. Just reach right in and pick the snake up before it even realizes what is happening. Many times the snake will be just waking up after it is already safely in your hands. Reaching toward the snake and retreating to make another approach will indicate a lack of confidence and encourage defensive behavior. Just quickly pick the snake up being careful to not be rough or jostle the snake.
After the snake is safely in your hands be careful to handle is a gentle way while supporting the entire body. Dangling by the tail or head should never be done and will terrify your snake.
4. How long should a handling session last?
If your ball python is tame then handling for hours is perfectly fine. I hear about people allowing their snake to sit in their lap while watching television or working at the computer and even allowing the snake to explore the desk or couch. If your ball python is still exhibiting fearful behavior then it is best to keep these sessions short, 15 minutes is ideal. Remember you are trying to earn trust. So it is important to always make sure these sessions end on a positive note.
5. Building Trust
Trust is accomplished over time. So be patient, but firm. If, for instance, you have handled your ball python for 15 minutes or so and everything has gone well, put your ball python back in the cage during this time of calm. Simply place the animal back in the enclosure, close the door and leave the room. Observing through the glass can cause the snake to start striking. If you place the snake back in the enclosure and it starts striking, then immediately pick the snake back up and start gently handling again. It is important to understand that if your ball python is still in a state of fear they would prefer you never pick them up. An important element of building trust is reenforcing behavior that you want and discouraging behavior that you do not want. Many people will say to themselves when a snake strikes “well, I guess he doesn’t want to be handled now so I will just leave him alone." This is exactly opposite of what you should do. Show the snake that biting or striking will just get them picked up again. Biting or striking should NEVER achieve the snake’s desired result of being left alone. Ending on a positive note and not allowing for bad behavior will help to quickly build trust between you and your pet ball python.
Taming a frightened ball python into a calm, gentle companion can be a rewarding process and help you build a bond with your snake that will be strong for years to come. The entire process should not take more than a week or two with daily interactions.