Why is my Ball Python striking at me? Ball Pythons are generally calm, so if your pet is striking at you, it’s important to figure out why. Let’s take a look…
One reason that Ball Pythons are so popular is their docile nature. They are generally deemed to be a safe, laid-back reptile. That said, there are very specific situations where they may strike at you. The main reason is of course hunger, but fear, stress or illness could be at fault.
What does it mean when your Ball Python strikes at you?
Obviously, if your snake strikes at you at feeding time, this is pretty normal, it’s just hungry and getting over-excited. It’s also fairly normal for some snakes to strike when they’re getting ready to shed. This is because they feel vulnerable at that time.
What we’re discussing today is what it means if your Ball Python strikes at you outside of feeding or shedding time.
First and foremost, most snakes are not quite capable of the range of emotions that mammals are. In fact, other reptiles such as turtles, and even other squamates such as lizards tend to be smarter than snakes.
This is mainly because snakes have a less varied diet and no limbs. They simply don’t need the same brain power. Nonetheless, there are exceptions. King Cobras and Indigo snakes are undeniably smart, possibly because they have large home ranges, and this requires a little more memory.
A Ball Python won’t strike out of malice
So where do Ball Pythons lie on the intellectual spectrum? Well, I’ve been keeping them a long time and if I’m honest, they aren’t particularly intelligent. Don’t get me wrong, they do have feelings and deserve just as much care as more intelligent pets. They have preferences when it comes to food and will feel extreme anxiety if they don’t have somewhere safe to hide.
What Ball Pythons aren’t smart enough to decide is whether they like someone or not. Malice, jealousy, regret, bigotry, and hatred simply aren’t in their repertoire. They won’t look at you and say, “I don’t like the look of this person, I think I’ll bite them!”
The point I’m trying to make is: If your Ball Python is striking at you, and it’s not feeding time or during a shed, it means something is wrong. It isn’t because it dislikes you for no reason.
Keep reading and we’ll take a look at what it could be.
Why is my Ball Python getting aggressive?
If you read my article on Ball Python bites, you’ll know that it is very rare for this species to bite out of aggression. They are incredibly safe pets that tolerate handling well. In fact, I’ve let kids handle my oldest Ball Python, Bobby. He’s got a clean record when it comes to behaviour – 12 years without so much as a hiss at the time of writing!
Bobby’s temperament isn’t exceptional for this species, either. So, if you have a previously calm Ball Python that is getting aggressive, it may be for very specific reasons.
One of the most common reasons for a Ball Python getting aggressive is stress. This can be caused by several factors. Unfortunately, husbandry is usually at fault.
Incorrect temperature can cause stress in two different ways. Cool temperatures can stress a Ball Python by making it feel incapable of functioning at a high enough level to defend itself. Warm temperatures, on the other hand can cause restlessness. This restlessness will prevent sleep and eventually cause irritability. This is not unlike some of us humans.
Lack of a hiding place will also cause restlessness and irritability. Though it’s rare, some Ball Pythons will become aggressive if they have no hiding place, or if their hiding place is too small. It’s important to remember that they are positively thigmotactic. This means that they gain reassurance from being crammed into small spaces and feeling the walls.
Large enclosures can also generate stress. This generally causes poor feeding response but can also cause restlessness and eventually irritability. Something that always concerns me is when someone says: I moved my Ball Python into a big vivarium, and he loves it. He hasn’t stopped exploring for days!
To my ears, this simply sounds like the description of an incredibly stressed out and restless Ball Python – not a happy one! It’s anxious to find a more secure location but can’t, so it constantly cruises the enclosure.
In fact, I’ve had a couple of people buy babies from me, completely ignore my advice on putting them in small enclosures to start with, then put them into a 4ft vivarium. Later on, they’ve contacted me and asked why their baby has stopped eating and started getting irritable.
It’s easy to avoid this: use baby enclosures for baby snakes, and adult enclosures for adult snakes!
Finally, genetics can occasionally cause some Ball Pythons to be more irritable than others. Personally, I’ve found Acid Ball Pythons and Puzzle Ball Pythons to be feistier than the rest. Notwithstanding, they just tend to hiss more. Even these morphs are still unlikely to actually bite.
Interestingly, I’ve also found Spider Ball Pythons to very aggressive feeders. Some of them even spring out of their tubs to grab the food. I guess this is one thing that is good about the Spider morph, despite all the bad press it gets.
How do I know if my snake is about to strike?
Ball Pythons and almost all other snakes have a very specific S shaped body posture when getting ready to strike. The reason for this is that they are like a rope – they need enough length available to be able to reach their target.
When a snake is about to strike, it bunches its neck and anterior third into an S and looks like it’s winding up like a spring. At the same time, the snake will often raise the same portion of its body off of the ground. This helps it avoid obstacles and fly straight at you!
What do I do if my Ball Python strikes at me?
You don’t need to do anything the instant your Ball Python strikes at you. Safely close the enclosure and leave it in peace for a while. Once it has retreated into its hiding place, it will be safe to open it again.
What you need to do over the following days or weeks is figure out why the snake struck at you. This means you must review the situation at that time first. Was there food in the room that it could smell? Or was it due to be fed soon?
If a feeding response doesn’t explain it, move on to husbandry. Double check temperatures and humidity and try giving your Ball Python a heavier or more snug fitting hiding place.
Finally, give the snake a health check. Pick it up, with gloves on if you’re nervous, and look it over. Do its eyes, vent and scales look clear and healthy? Is its mouth closing properly, and does its breathing sound normal? If the answer is no to any of these questions you need to contact a local breeder or reptile vet and book an appointment, dependant on their advice.
Why is my new snake striking at me?
First of all, a new snake striking is no where near as worrying as a previously calm snake striking. There are so many factors that can cause a new pet to experience stress; being transported, put in a new enclosure, and exposed to different humans to name a few.
If a new snake strikes at you in the first week or so don’t worry too much. Just try to give it space and time to acclimate. If your snake is still striking at you after several weeks, it is at this point that you need to review its husbandry and look for possible causes of stress.
How do I know if my Ball Python is angry?
Ball Pythons don’t get angry at people. Like I mention, they aren’t hateful, or mean, or anything like that. When they strike at us – as rare as it is – it’s because they are stressed, afraid, or hungry. In this case, they almost always hiss first.
That’s not to say they don’t get angry, though. In fact, they can get furiously angry with each other, and this is generally down to breeding competition or harassment.
So, what does an angry Ball Python look like? Well, I have never seen an angry Ball Python strike at another. They have a specific way of fighting and intimidating each other. Generally, this only happens between males, but females will occasionally do it when rejecting a male too.
If you accidentally introduce a male to another male’s enclosure, they will react by raising their head and anterior third of their body up above the other snake. Not in an S, like when they want to strike, more like a loop.
At the same time, they will start to hiss and use their body to shove each other, sometimes hard enough to shake the whole enclosure.
Prince, my largest breeding male, gets particularly angry during breeding season. He never gets near other males but just the smell of them in the room sets him off. So far, I’ve seen him try to fight his hiding cave several times, just like he would another snake. I guess it’s natural…
How do you calm an angry snake?
Some snakes are too big, and too dangerous to deal with safely when they’re angry. It might dent your pride a tad, but if a large constrictor is being aggressive, you just need to leave it alone until it calms down.
One important aspect to remember is that many snakes get a little sleepy during the day, which can make them easier to deal with. The Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus), for example, is notoriously dopey during daylight, but becomes fast and nippy at night.
When it comes to pet snakes, the best way to calm them varies quite a bit. Ball Pythons and some other small species are easily flipped from fight to flight with what I call the linen trick. All you do is lower a pillowcase or shirt onto their head from above, making sure the item of clothing is long enough for your hand to be out of striking range.
Because they are head shy, something being put on a Ball Python’s head almost instantly sends them into retreat. It’s simple, but very effective.
In the video below you can see a variation of this trick:
How do you make a snake friendly?
When it comes to pet Ball Pythons, Boa Constrictors, Milk Snakes, Bull Snakes and almost every other popular snake there is one simple method for making them friendly: Repeated, gentle handling.
There’s so much – how shall I say it – “make believe” information out there on snake handling that it can get confusing! People talk about training them with various methods, refusing to let them go back in their enclosure if they’re “bad” etcetera. It really is a load of nonsense!
Attempting to punish or train an animal that can’t understand the concept is just a form of cruelty, albeit unintentional.
The only way a snake will become friendly, is if over time it learns that you are not a threat. The best way to achieve this is to simply get it out once a week and handle it gently for 5 minutes. Let it run through you fingers and explore for a while without making any sudden movements. If it strikes, or gets agitated, put it back and try again in a few days. It really is that simple!
Also on this topic:
- Ball Python body language
- How to handle Ball Pythons (for their safety, and yours!)
- Are female or male Ball Pythons more aggressive?
- Do Ball Pythons like to be held?
- Do Ball Pythons Bite?
- Is a Ball Python a good pet?
For more on Ball Python temperament in general:
Back to the Ball Python disposition page