Do Ball Pythons like to be held?

Do Ball Pythons like to be held? Well, some do, some don’t, and some really don’t care. To understand which group your pet belongs to, let’s look at some of their most common personality types.

How do we know if Ball Pythons enjoy handling?

Some Ball Pythons do like to be held, but others either don’t or simply aren’t interested. Unfortunately, this really isn’t a yes or no question! I’ve lived with Ball Pythons for over 20 years, and in my experience whether they enjoy being held depends on their personality type.

These personality types can change over time, but often seem to be set in place once a Ball Python reaches maturity. If you can identify which type your pet fits most closely, you can determine whether they are likely to enjoy being out of their enclosures.

So far, I’ve identified 6 broad personality types in my long-term captives. Let’s take a look…

The 6 Ball Python Personality types

1. The Laid-back Ball Python

Big Butter digesting a meal

As you can see, Big Butter here has no interest in coming out to explore, her only interest is food!

This is one of the most common personality types in Ball Pythons. Laid-back adults will just sit there when you get them out. They are excessively relaxed, unaggressive, and seem to have not a care in the world.

Unlike shy or nervous animals, they make no attempt to hide or even explore. You could call their general apathy laziness, but it’s this calm disposition that has made the species such a popular pet – so let’s not knock it!

While it is true that laid-back Ball Pythons may not show visible signs of stress from handling, it’s safe to say they do not genuinely enjoy it. If they did, they would be exhibiting the behaviours of the watcher or explorer types that we’ll cover in a moment.

2. The Watcher

Bobby the Ball Python surveying the living room

What is Bobby looking at? Who knows…

Another common personality type, the watcher is just as laid back as the previous one but seems to genuinely enjoy surveying the area when out of its tub. Bobby, the animal in the photo, is an incredibly gentle, docile snake who will spend up to half an hour surveying the living room.

His favourite place to do this is usually on my lap, in front of the TV. It could be that he does so to survey for other males, or simply out of curiosity. Whatever the case may be, he has the natural urge to do this, and it seems to be important to him.

For this reason, I would say that he does indeed enjoy being held, and that the scoping fulfils some kind of need for him.

These days, Bobby has become incredibly lazy, and refuses to climb or do any exercise on his own, despite only being 12 years old. The arrangement we’ve come to is that I let him do his surveillance of the living room for a while, then get him to crawl around and do a little gentle exercise. In this way, he keeps the flab at bay without getting wound up.  

3. The incredibly shy Ball Python

Shy Bongo Pastel Ball Python

This is as much interaction as you’ll get from Mr Bongo, he simply doesn’t like being held.

Now let’s talk about a different character all together: the incredibly shy Ball Python. This is not a particularly common type of Ball Python disposition, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s rare.

When we have a very shy Ball Python, what we are in fact dealing with is a neophobic animal, meaning one that is fearful of the unknown (neo = new; phobic = afraid of). This is a character trait that helps wild animals avoid predation by making them hide and retreat more often.

In such a variable, oftentimes prey species as the Ball Python, its no surprise that highly neophobic individuals crop up on occasion.

Classic symptoms of a very shy animal are balling up when handled or constantly trying to wriggle free and hide when out of the enclosure.

I tried for over a year to tame Mr Bongo, shown above, with gentle handling and it didn’t work. These days I only handle him for a health check or cleaning. At this point it’s safe to say that his personality is unlikely to change. Fortunately, he is fairly active at night and seems to be keeping himself fit and healthy.

Overall, I would say that very shy Ball Pythons definitely do not enjoy being handled or being outside of their tub. It is very possible that being out is a stressful and unpleasant experience for them. This doesn’t mean that they are unhappy in their enclosure, it just means that we have to respect their character and leave them in peace most of the time.

4. The anti-social Ball Python

Prince the male Ball Python

This photo is the closest I ever get to seeing Prince sit still.

The anti-social Ball Python is another one that does not enjoy being handled. This personality type is not particularly common but is much more likely to occur in males.

Prince, in the photo above, is one of my favourite pets – but he just doesn’t like me. In fact, he doesn’t really like anyone other than female Ball Pythons. During breeding season, Prince regularly flips his hide over and attempts to fight or destroy everything in his tub.

During this period, he also moves suddenly or tries to shove my hands away when I go to pick him up. He’d never bite me, but he’s making it clear that he’s the top male Ball Python (in his head at least) and everyone else better watch out.

While this is anti-social in a human context, it really doesn’t bother me. To Prince, the most important thing is breeding – it’s all he cares about. This means at any given time he’s ready to combat other males.

Outside of breeding season, Prince does calm down, but still doesn’t take to handling, and will also fast for long periods. Therefore, I would consider him an anti-social Ball Python.

5. The Explorer

Do Ball Pythons like to be held?

Spirit here has one the best personalities of any snake I’ve encountered.

A polar opposite of number 3 on this list, the explorer Ball Python is highly neophylic (neo = new; phylic = likes). It enjoys watching, smelling or climbing everything it can. While this character trait is endearing in pets, it can also serve a purpose in the wild.

Neophylic animals tend to find more food, mates and new territory. The only downside being that they are less shy and expose themselves to a higher risk of predation. Fortunately, Spirit is at no risk of predation in my house!

All in all, I would say the explorer Ball Python is the ultimate pet Ball Python personality type. Spirit likes to hang around my neck and watch me clean out tubs, climb the chairs and furniture, and makes no attempt to escape or hide when out and about.

Would such a neophylic snake survive in the wild? Not a chance, but as a pet she is perfect. This is how domestication works after all: we favour friendly pets and breed them to pass on their characters. Its no coincidence that Spirit will be the cornerstone to some of my future breeding projects.

6. The aggressive Ball Python

Finally, the rarest of them all! Aggressive Ball Pythons are extremely uncommon with animals that are over a month in age. In fact, if you handle hatchlings in their first few weeks, any aggression is temporary and dissipates quickly.

Personally, I have no aggressive adult Ball Pythons, and never have had. They are such a gentle species that I would categorize an aggressive adult Ball Python as extremely rare.

If you find yourself with an aggressive animal over 1 year in age, I advise you to consult fellow keepers on what could be driving the aggression. Forums such as the one on ball-pythons.net are a good place to start. It’s also worth taking a look at my Do Ball Pythons Bite? post for tips on safe handling.

If it is eating, the aggression may simply be how the animal is, but if it is fasting then it would be best to also consult a specialist reptile vet for a full health check. Aggression can occasionally stem from an illness or injury.  

Ball Python personality summary

Personality typePrevalenceDo they like being held?
Laid-backVery commonThey don’t care
WatcherCommonYes
Incredibly shyUncommonNo
Anti-socialUncommonNo
ExplorerCommonYes
AggressiveRareNo

Make a judgement on whether your pet enjoys interaction

The truth is not all Ball Pythons enjoy handling. For some, being held can even be a stressful experience.

If you have an adult Ball Python, I suggest you try to determine which personality type it fits most closely to and use this to determine whether it does indeed enjoy being out of its enclosure.

If you have a young Ball Python that is shy or aggressive, you can still change this. Regular, gentle handling and a lot of patience will tame most of these snakes. Just remember that too much handling is stressful for any animal. Always limit it to once or twice a week.

If your Ball Python is reaching maturity and is still very shy, it may simply be its personality. At this point you will have to accept it as it is. With pet reptiles, friendliness isn’t guaranteed, and the most important thing is for them to be happy and healthy.

If they also have a great character, like most Ball Pythons do, then this is an added bonus.

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