It’s perfectly normal to ask yourself: Can Ball Pythons live together? Unfortunately, it’s not healthy or practical. Keep reading to find out why…
Housing Ball Pythons together
Ball Pythons cannot be housed together due to their breeding strategy and an array of health and hygiene concerns. This species is shy, commonly neophobic (afraid of the unknown) and sometimes competitive. These factors mean that another, unwanted Ball Python in the enclosure can cause a huge amount of stress.
In nature, the Ball Python is a solitary snake that usually only frequents other members of its species for breeding. To us humans, who are a social species, this can seem quite odd. Nonetheless, once you look at the Ball Python breeding strategy, and all the things they compete for, it starts to make a lot of sense.
Many species of vertebrate have a specific breeding strategy that they use for mating or copulating and stick to most of the time. The strategy used by Ball Pythons is promiscuity, also known as polygynandry. In this breeding strategy, males mate with multiple females (polygyny) and females mate with multiple males (polyandry).
Ball Pythons are competitive
Bobby might be nice when a human handles him, but he deosn’t tolerate other Ball Pythons well.
While it sounds kind of like no strategy whatsoever, polygynandry is in fact a phenomenally successful way of breeding a healthy, competitive population. Males compete and fight for females, sometimes driving each other away with intense, moody wrestling matches. On their part, females evict males they don’t like, or even ones they tired of, making sure they get a wide choice of possible fathers for their clutch.
Even after copulating, the competition continues. Hobbyist breeders often notice clutches that are sired by two males, rather than just one. This is because females choose which sperm to use through something known as cryptic female choice (it’s a whole other subject – I’ll do a post on it at some point!). In these “dual-sire” clutches it isn’t always a 50/50 split, however.
This leads most people to agree that there is competition between the individual sperm to fertilize the eggs once released. It may also mean that female cryptic choice is able to select sperm that is more genetically compatible. For males it means that even if they mate with a female, they have no guarantee of siring a clutch. They need to find as many females as possible to raise their chances!
Ball Python stress response
What does all this competition mean for captive Ball Pythons? Well, it means that there is only one thing this gentle, laid-back snake really hates: another Ball Python on its turf!
In a captive situation, one Ball Python may eventually realise that it can’t evict another one that has (misguidedly) been housed with it. Lacking the aggression needed to kill it, it will simply try to ignore it, get away from it, or shove it around.
Over time this would settle down, but the stress from being housed together would not disappear. In Ball Pythons, stress can take more than one form.
When under intense stress Ball Pythons become extremely restless, and seem to be constantly exploring, even during the day. This often occurs when placed in a new enclosure and can last a few days to a couple of weeks.
Low-level stress is much harder to spot, however, and generally results in the animal stopping feeding. In my experience, this is what eventually happens when two Ball Pythons are housed together. If they don’t fight right from the get-go, it instead causes long-term, low-level stress and one or both to go off food.
Before you ask, yes – I have tried keeping Ball Pythons together. I was a beginner once too and did a lot of things wrong when learning to keep reptiles!
Bongo here is incredibly shy, and would undoubtedly suffer from severe stress if forced to live with another python.
Is it safe to keep two Ball Pythons together?
In all honesty, it isn’t safe to keep two Ball Pythons together. I know what you’re thinking: They’re harmless, fat little snakes, surely it can’t be dangerous to keep them together?
Well, it depends on what you call dangerous. Are they likely to eat each other or battle to the death? Probably not. I know every other care sheet mentions the risk of cannibalism, but it is extremely rare for this species.
All things considered, stress and anorexia are the main dangers likely to occur. And though Ball Pythons can go an exceptionally long time without eating, let’s not forget that stress also lowers immune response in reptiles, and can lead to heightened susceptibility to infections.
Here we get to another point: the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses is much harder when animals are housed together. Whilst a respiratory infection or skin rot is easy to spot (check out this section of my Care Sheet), other illnesses and especially parasites are much harder.
In these cases, you need a stool sample. But who’s stool is whose? Are both animals infected? Or just one? As you can guess, it all gets a little complicated. The result is going to be you taking two animals to a vet for diagnosis or treatment rather than one. That modest amount of money you saved by housing them together will disappear faster than you can say “lesson learned”!
You can see in this photo that Prince has turned his head towards Bobby. A few seconds later, he gave him a shove and I had to separate them.
Can two female Ball Pythons live together?
I like female Ball Pythons. They’re chilled out, peaceful creatures that often tend to be more relaxed than the males. Surely, they could live together, right? Well unfortunately no – two female Ball Pythons cannot live together.
They do act very peaceful, it’s true. And they don’t fight like the males do. But they compete – albeit subtly. Compared to males, the females get the tough part when it comes to breeding. They need to gain enough weight to provision a clutch of eggs, then find a nice, humid place to lay them which is neither too hot nor too cold. This is all they care about!
What happens when you put two females in the same tank can be unremarkable at first. You may not see any real stress response, or even a drop in feeding response for the first few months. One day, however, you’ll notice that one female is always in one hiding place, and the other is always in another.
This won’t be true preference though; it will simply be that the heaviest or most forceful female will always be getting the spot it wants. Female two, on the other hand, will not have the same choice of hiding place or warm spot it would if female one wasn’t there!
The result is – once again – chronic stress and a long-term impact on health. Poor feeding response will eventually ensue. Excessive fat burn and weight loss can also occur when a Ball Python is unable to thermoregulate successfully by picking its favourite hiding spot. If you want to breed Ball Pythons, skinny females are something you really want to avoid.
All females care about is making these little baby Ball Pythons!
Can a male and female Ball Python live together?
Whilst this scenario may work out in the short term, a male and female Ball Python cannot live together forever.
Obviously, if you house a male and female Ball Python together, you probably will get eggs at some point. As a hobbyist breeder myself, I can tell you that hatching eggs is incredibly exciting. Notwithstanding, snakes don’t always sell fast. No matter how hard you try, you could end up caring for the babies for many months. It’s always worth considering this scenario…
If you do decide to breed your Ball Pythons, I still don’t think trying to house males and females together is worth it. The cons just outweigh the pros.
One of the main issues is that male and females don’t always synchronize their breeding too well. Your female may stop locking (copulating) with a male many months before she lays eggs. During this time, the male may still be “all go” and harass her relentlessly.
Unsurprisingly, the last thing a female wants when going through the stress of egg development is harassment from a male. She may just lose her temper and try to evict him with violent shoving. If you’ve seen this happen, you’ll know that the male can take a real beating. Again, the result will probably be a male that sulks and goes off food for an extended period.
Only put males and females together for copulation
Personally, I introduce one male at a time to a female’s tub for a period of three days. If a lock happens during this time, I remove him as soon as it’s over. This is as much time as they ever spend together.
Out of the great many breeders I have known, this is the method that the majority use. Some of these people aren’t just hobbyists like me either – they do it for a living. After years of dealing with hundreds of animals, they know how to keep their snakes happy and healthy. If they say keeping them together for breeding doesn’t work well – you can bet they’re probably right.
These guys might make a nice photo, but they just don’t make good housemates.
With such a peaceful species, it’s not surprising that people are tempted to try to keep them together. Unfortunately, in most captive situations it just doesn’t work out.
Ball Pythons are generally easy to keep, but stress is their weakness. When two of these snakes are kept together, it crosses a red line for them, and stress or even conflict will be on the cards.
If it doesn’t happen straight away, it will be several months down the line. Either way the result is the same: increased stress, lower resistance to infections, and increased likelihood of anorexia.
When you consider these factors, and the obvious hygiene and disease control issues, housing two of these snakes together is simply not worth the small amount you may save on enclosures.
And although it’s hard for us to understand, Ball Pythons don’t get lonely – they actually find each other quite annoying.
One thing I would say, however, is that animals that do thrive in colonies can be a lot of fun! And if you like the idea of keeping several snakes together in a big display enclosure, there are options. One example would be the Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus), who seems to be perfectly happy in small groups.