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.
I’ve lived with Ball Pythons for over 20 years, and in my experience whether they enjoy being held depends on their personality type. By the time they reach adulthood, you will be able to tell what kind of disposition your Ball Python has, and whether it enjoys being handled.
In this article, we’re going to cover how you can know if your snake likes being held, and what the main personality types are in Ball Pythons. Before that though, let’s quickly cover when you should not hold your pet.
When not to handle your Ball Python
Like most pythons, Ball Pythons are incredibly docile, and most will eventually become extremely tame. That said, there are times when handling them is not appropriate, and will in fact cause them a lot of stress. For that reason, I thought it best to go over these first. They include:
- When your snake is in shed
- When your snake is new
- After it’s eaten
- When your snake is ill
1. When your snake is in shed
When your Ball Python is getting ready to shed, the outer layer of its skin is separated from the lower later by an opaque liquid. This is a natural part of the process, but temporarily obscures its vision. During this time, the snake feels particularly vulnerable and handling should kept to a minimum to avoid stressing it.
2. When your snake is new
Nothing makes a prey species like the Ball Python more nervous than new surroundings. During the first week after bringing it home, your snake may be incredibly frightened. You’ll notice that it might not eat, and some won’t even come out of hiding. You should wait until it has settled in for at least seven days before handling.
3. After it’s eaten
This one often gets a little blown out of proportion. In fact, I’ve never had a Ball Python regurgitate from handling. That said, it has happened before to other keepers, so you should keep handling to a minimum for at least 24 hours after feeding. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
4. When your snake is ill
If your snake has any kind of illness or injury, you should completely stop all unecessary handling. It will need all of its energy to fight its sickness, and handling may hinder the process by causing additional stress.
How to know if your Ball Python enjoys handling?
Young Ball Pythons will quickly let you know if they don’t enjoy handling by striking at you – just like Corn Snakes and most other popular pet snakes. In general, though, this is temporary, and by no means a sign of their future personality type – it’s just a stage that some of them go through while getting used to a new home and new environment. The key to getting past it is regular handling so your new ball python has a just to see that interaction could be a safe or even positive part of its life.
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
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 this kind of snake 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
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 long periods of time surveying the living room. He really doesn’t mind physical contact and will put up with an average amount of human contact.
His favourite place to do this is usually on my lap, in front of the TV. It could be that this is an easy way for him to survey for other males, or that he simply does it 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 13 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
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, it’s no surprise that highly neophobic individuals crop up on occasion.
Classic symptoms of a very shy animal are curling into a tight ball when handled or constantly trying to wriggle free and hide when out of the enclosure.
I tried for over a year to tame the Bongo Pastel, shown above, with gentle handling and it didn’t work. These days I only handle her for a health check or cleaning. At this point it’s safe to say that her personality is unlikely to change – she will never enjoy any kind of social interaction with me. Fortunately, she is fairly active at night and seems to be keeping 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. If you do have to handle a very shy Ball Python like this for cleaning, then the best time in mid-morning when they are sleepy and less reactive.
4. The anti-social Ball Python
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 and water bowl 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. This is a ball python’s body language. 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. I’ve had him a long time, and I know he’s in good health. 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
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! It’s a safe space where she can explore, knock stuff off my desk and try to climb the furniture.
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. She is an incredibly beautiful snake that enjoys the occasional handling session. She also has a lot of enthusiasm for feeding time, which is always a good thing.
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 young snakes 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. These snakes are not aggressive, and it can be a sign of a variety of health problems, such as respiratory infection for example.
Forums such as the one on ball-pythons.net are a good place to start, and it’s always a good idea to get as many viewpoints as possible.
If it is eating, the aggression may simply be how the animal is. It’s rare, but I have seen it before. Conversely, if it is fasting then it would be best to also consult a specialist reptile vet for a full health check.
Ball Python personality summary
|Personality type||Prevalence||Do they like being held?|
|Laid-back||Very common||They don’t care|
How long can I hold my Ball Python?
This question comes up a lot, and obviously it’s hard to give an exact answer given that each snake is different. Overall, I find that most Ball Pythons get restless after around 10 minutes of handling. I always take this as a sign that they’ve had enough, and want to go home.
My advice is to hold your Ball Python for a maximum of 10 minutes, up to twice a week. So long as it isn’t getting restless, and the room is warm, this should be totally fine.
Find out if your pet enjoys being held
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. They’re great pets, but I’d be lying if I said they all enjoy handling. Each individual snake is different, and they are solitary creatures. Some are will be shy or aggressive at first, even with proper care.
Fortunately, if you have a young Ball Python that is shy or aggressive, you can still change this. As a general rule, 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 a pet reptile, 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.
Also on this topic:
- Ball Python body language
- How to handle Ball Pythons
- Are female or male Ball Pythons more aggressive?
- Why is my Ball Python striking at me?
- Do Ball Pythons Bite?
- Is a Ball Python a good pet?
For more on Ball Python temperament in general:
Back to the Ball Python temperament page