A hatchling Banana Chocolate Mojave Ball Python

How do you tell if a Ball Python is male or female?

How do you tell if a Ball Python is male or female? Well, sexing this species can be difficult and takes practice. Let’s go through the more reliable methods and throw away a couple myths while we’re at it!

How do you tell if a Ball Python is male or female? Well, sexing this species can be difficult and takes practice. Let’s go through the more reliable methods and throw away a couple myths while we’re at it!

Determining a python’s gender isn’t easy. The male organs are stored inside the tail, and there really is no way of detecting them through observation alone. To sex your Ball Python correctly, you will need to pop or probe it. Keep reading to find out how to do it safely…

List of Ball Python sexing methods:

  1. Observing tail size
  2. Observing pelvic spur size
  3. Popping
  4. Probing
  5. Observing body size
A very light Albino clown Ball Python
A healthy male Albino Clown Ball Python

Female Ball Python tail vs male

One of the most persistent myths about sexing Ball Pythons was that you could tell their sex by looking at their tails. The belief was that males had longer, broader tails than females. While this may be true for some colubrid species, like Corn Snakes, it really doesn’t apply to Ball Pythons.

Ball Pythons of both sexes have similar sized tails, that are proportionate to their body size. Some males do have larger tails, but others have smaller, skinnier tails. All-in-all, you are almost certain to get their gender wrong if you do it by just looking at the tail!

The reason that many male colubrid species have longer, broader tails is because their sex organs, the hemipenes, are stored in the tail. Female snakes do not have hemipenes, they are a male intromittent organ.

These can be found inside a pouch at the base of tail and are kept inside to prevent injury. Having them inside also stops them getting in the way if a snake is burrowing, constricting, or climbing.

Likewise, Ball Pythons also have two hemipenes which are stored inside pouches on either side of the tail. Unlike most colubrids, however, Ball Pythons are chunky, heavy-bodied snakes. The tails of both sexes are broad and more than large enough to conceal the presence or absence of hemipenes.

Ball python is male or female
The dark Ball Python in this photo is a male, and the other female. Even without seeing the cloacas, you can see that the female has a larger, thicker tail

Male vs female Ball Python spurs

The next big myth regarding Ball Python gender is to do with their pelvic spurs. These are the spiky little hook-shaped processes that you can see at the base of their tails. Inside the body, these spurs are attached to a small vestigial ilium (pelvic girdle) bone that is left over from the time when snakes had legs.

Years ago, a few people claimed that male Ball Pythons always have bigger spurs because they use them for mating. Low and behold, like many other annoyingly incorrect myths, this stuck like glue. For some reason in this hobby, it only takes a couple of people to say something with an authoritative tone and it sticks!

In truth, males do use their spurs for mating. They actually tickle the female with them, though this is very hard to observe. I have to say this is quite a mild form of flirtation when you compare it to some lizards which bite females on the neck, to the point of scarring them.

Unfortunately, though males do indeed make use of their spurs, they aren’t generally larger than those of females. Males and females have cloacal spurs of similar size, though they are highly variable. This is not an accurate way to sex a Ball Python!

Ball python gender
This female has one large pelvic spur. She also has a broad, fat tail
Sexing ball pythons
As you can see, this male’s pelvic spurs are smaller than the female’s. He’s also doing a good job of hiding one

Ball Python spurs sticking out

One thing you may notice with your snakes’ spurs is that they sometimes stick out at odd angles. Occasionally, they even fall off. This won’t harm your snake, as the spurs are in fact made of keratin. They won’t suffer any pain from one falling off or find it harder to mate. They may, however, find it annoying that they can’t use it anymore.

In my opinion, the best way to prevent spurs falling off is by maintaining a good humidity level. This will ensure that your snake sheds easily and makes a broken spur less likely. For more info on this, check out my Ball Python humidity and shedding article.

How to pop a Ball Python

The first thing to know about popping Ball Pythons is that it is way easier to pop juveniles than adults. I never pop adults, purely because I don’t trust it as a reliable method for them. Adults have highly muscular tails and occasionally are able to prevent their hemipenes from being everted.

The result is that you can falsely identify a male as a female. This actually happens on a fairly regular basis. Ask any long-term breeder if they’ve been sold an animal as a female, when it was in fact a male, and they will probably answer yes! For any animal over 6 months of age, I just probe it instead.

Now for baby Ball Pythons, popping is pretty easy. For these guys, I think popping is the better method. It is highly accurate because they are less muscular and popping can be done with little effort or stress to them.

To pop a juvenile Ball Python, you must think of their tail as a tube of toothpaste. The hemipenes are the toothpaste in this case, and to get it out, you need to squeeze it up from the end of the tube. This can be done by holding the body just before the tail, placing your thumb behind the vent (cloaca) and rolling your thumb up the tail.

Take a look at the video below for some extra help:

Does popping a snake hurt it?

If done correctly, popping a snake does not hurt it. If done incorrectly, popping a snake definitely will hurt it. When popping, you should not be applying much force. If you find yourself applying force, you are at risking of hurting and injuring the snake. Ask a breeder for a demonstration instead!

Probing Ball Pythons

In direct contrast to popping, probing is a method that works best for adult snakes. They have larger tails and are less delicate. Nonetheless, this method has a higher degree of accuracy than popping overall.

Probing uses special tools, found in a probing kit, to measure the length of two pouches found inside the tail of Ball Pythons. In males, these pouches are longer because they house the hemipenes.

To probe a snake you insert a correctly sized probe into the vent, just slightly off-centre and in the direction of the end of the tail. The probe, which should be coated in a water-based lubricant, will slide into the pouch until it stops.

When the probe stops, you put your finger on it to mark how far it went, then slowly withdraw. Keeping your finger on the probe, you can then place it next to the vent and measure how many subcaudal scales’ length it was inserted.

In male Ball Pythons, a probe will generally insert to a depth of 7 to 9 subcaudals. In females, the probe stops at 3 to 5 subcaudals.

Does probing a snake hurt them?

As with popping, you should not be applying pressure! In fact, you should apply very little pressure at all with probing. When the probe comes to a gentle stop – that’s it – don’t try to push it further! Please be aware that probing is dangerous if done incorrectly and could even harm your snake’s chances of reproducing in the future.

If you are uncomfortable probing a snake yourself, I recommend taking it to breeder or exotics veterinarian.

Difference between male and female Ball Pythons
A typical snake probing kit

Hygiene when probing

Because of the invasive nature of probing, there is a possibility of transmitting diseases if proper hygiene isn’t observed. Every time a probe is used it should then be disinfected. There are many veterinary disinfectants available for this, but make sure the probes are also thoroughly rinsed after using these.

Alternatively, you can submerge probes in boiling water for a few minutes to sterilise them. This is the method that I use, and feel is safest. Obviously make sure they have cooled down before using them again!

Male vs female Ball Python size

Female Ball Pythons are generally larger than males. In fact, if you have a five foot long (1.5m), 4000gram Ball Python it is probably female. Like their tails, though, their body size varies enormously and sometimes independently of sex.

In fact, one of my males is over four foot (1.2m) long and pretty chunky to boot. At a glance, you would expect him to be a female. I also have a fully grown female that is a full foot shorter than him. If I really relied on their size to sex the two, I would have gotten one heck of a surprise when I put them together to breed!

Again, compared to probing or popping, size is not a reliable way of sexing these snakes.

Table: Ball python sexing methods comparison

Sexing methodProsCons
  Observing tail sizeSafeInaccurate
    Observing pelvic spur sizeSafeInaccurate
Popping AcurateHarder on adults
ProbingExtremely accurateHarder on juveniles
Observing body sizeSafeMostly inaccurate

So… How do you tell if a Ball Python is male or female?

The only reliable methods for sexing Ball Pythons are popping and probing. While each of these methods has its drawbacks, mastering both can help you reliably sex your snakes. In my opinion, it is always best to try to learn both. Body size, tail width/length and spur size should be ignored as they are inaccurate.

If you are not confident with popping or probing, seek the help of a local reptile breeder or exotics veterinarian. Most of us are always willing to help and will help guide you through the process safely. 

Are female or male Ball Pythons more aggressive?

Do female Ball Pythons lay eggs without a male?

Baby Ball Pythons and sexing

Sexing Snakes – Reptiles Magazine

Vestigial Organs | AMNH

Vestigial pelvic girdle ( ilium ) and hind limb ( femur ) skeletal…

2 thoughts on “<center>How do you tell if a Ball Python is male or female?”

  1. Laura Anderson-Knuutti

    I have two ball pythons which i rescued from people. I would like to know the gender of each, but after reading your article, have decided that it is not that important if I can’t tell without “probing” them. One snake is 4’9″ & I have been under the belief it is female, bit now not sure. Anyways, if the size is inaccurate to tell, I guess I may never know. Thank you for the informative article none the less!

    1. Hi Laura, thanks for commenting! Honestly, without experience it will be hard to determine their sex with 100% certainty. If you have any local Ball Python breeders though, you could always contact them for help. Many of them are more than happy to do so.
      Thanks again for reading, Will

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