Reading Ball Python Behavior

Understanding your ball python's behaviors will allow you to enjoy your pet more.
Understanding your ball python's behaviors will allow you to enjoy your pet more. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Ball pythons are small constrictors found in west and central Africa. Popular among python enthusiasts because of their calm temperament, ball pythons do not often bite their keepers. By understanding the basic behaviors exhibited by a ball python, you can better understand your pet and give it appropriate care.

Flicking Tongue and Exploring

This is one of the most desired behaviors for a ball python. This behavior can occur while the snake is crawling in his cage, but it's most often seen when the snake is held. Tongue flicking is how the snake learns about his environment, and curious snakes will flick their tongues as they explore.


Balling is one of the defensive behaviors that ball pythons exhibit. Rather than biting or striking, a ball python often roll into a ball with his head hidden within the coils. Most predators of snakes attack the snake's head or neck, but when a ball python is rolled up, his head can’t be found, so predators often lose interest in the meal.


Snakes hiss when they are frightened and trying to dissuade a predator. Proper hissing generally accompanies retracting the head into a strike position and slightly opening the mouth. Ball pythons don’t often hiss, but some nervous individuals may be prone to the behavior. Additionally, ball pythons may emit soft breathing sounds, which are different than true hisses and can signify irritation. It's important to distinguish hissing done by a stressed or frightened snake from the labored breathing found in a snake with a respiratory illness. If your snake has bubbles in his nose or fluid dripping from his mouth, see your veterinarian immediately.

Strike Position

A snake withdraws his head and neck, producing an S-shaped body posture, when preparing to strike something. A startled snake will do this as well. When a snake is in this position, care is warranted; if he's hungry or frightened, he may strike a hand placed in front of him.

Soaking in Water Bowl

Ball pythons soak in their water bowls when they're too hot, trying to hide, preparing to shed or suffering from mites. Though it's not always cause for concern, ball pythons should be inspected carefully if seen soaking in their water bowls. If no obvious cause for the behavior is apparent -- like the snake preparing to shed or the cage being too hot -- treat the animal as though he has mites until you are proven wrong.

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