First-time owners of ball pythons are often surprised to learn that their new pet snakes are nocturnal.
Ball pythons like to hide during the day, and only become active at night.
There are many things you can do to keep your ball python healthy and happy so you can enjoy your snake more.
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about why ball pythons prefer to be active between sundown and sunrise, and how to create the best possible living conditions for your snake.
Why Ball Pythons are Creatures of the Night
In nature, ball pythons are ambush predators. They don’t hunt down the animals they eat.
Ball pythons prefer to lie in wait.
They wait for unwary animals to stumble within striking distance, or they feed on small animals left alone while their parents are out foraging for food.
Catching prey animals this way does not require good vision—and ball pythons do not have good vision. This style of hunting also benefits from the darkness as a way of ensuring that the ball python’s prey can’t see the snake coming.
Even though your ball python will never have to hunt for food, this snake’s natural day and night rhythm affect how they interact with the humans that take care of them.
When to Handle Your Ball Python
The fact that your ball python is nocturnal does not mean that it needs a “Do Not Disturb” sign during the day.
Just the opposite is true when it comes to handling and playing with your ball python. You will have a better experience touching and holding your ball python during the day than at night.
That is because your ball python is less active during the day. It is less likely to have a startle response to being held. It is less likely to strike at you if you approach it slowly, and from the side, not from above.
In nature, predators that eat ball pythons usually approach them quickly and from above.
When to Feed Your Ball Python
The best time to feed your ball python, on the other hand, is at night, in the dark. Your ball python naturally feeds at night.
It helps to turn off all the lights except those you need to make sure your snake is staying in its cage.
Many ball pythons are happier when they are fed their prey from a small paper sack. The sack concentrates any odors of the prey, so your snake recognizes it as food.
The sack also blocks out light, so your snake can use its natural senses to locate its food, instead of trying to see you dangling the food in front of it.
Another advantage of feeding your ball python its meals from a paper sack at night is a lower risk of getting your fingers bitten.
Let your snake strike at the contents of the bag, so it won’t mistake your fingers for food.
Feeding from a paper bag at night is particularly helpful if the food for your snake hasn’t warmed up to room temperature. Snakes sense heat.
If your fingers are warmer than their intended meal, it may mistake them for its food.
Ball Pythons Don’t Have Great Vision (By Human Standards)
It is always a good idea to have the lights on when you are interacting with your ball python, no matter what the time of day or night.
You need good lighting to enjoy your morph’s beautiful colors. You also need to be able to see where your ball python is going should it try to get away from you.
Your ball python, on the other hand, doesn’t really need to have the lights on. Ball pythons are very nearsighted. They can only see objects that are a few feet in front of them.
Ball pythons can probably detect the colors red and blue. But in a ball python’s world, these colors would just be warnings that the ball python is looking at a predator.
Instead of vision like humans have, ball pythons have an infrared vision.
Infrared light is the light that is emitted by hot objects. The mammals and birds on which ball pythons feed generate heat.
The ball python can detect their heat signatures with its pit organ, between its eyes.
Scientists publishing in the journal Nature say that this organ is sensitive to the infrared signature given off by an object at a temperature of about 82° F (28° C).
That’s about the same as the heat given off by a mouse that can be detected at 3 feet (a meter) away,
This organ doesn’t create a “picture” of infrared light the same way the eyes might. Instead, it gives the snake the exact location of the heat source so it will know where and when to strike.
There is a lot of confusion on the Internet about whether ball pythons can also see ultraviolet light, the dominant light in sunlight.
The first rays of sunlight before the sun comes up and the last rays of light after the sun goes down are ultraviolet light.
Ball pythons are not just nocturnal. They are also crepuscular, meaning they hunt at sunrise and sundown.
At these times, ball pythons use ultraviolet light to find their prey, through their eyes, not their pit organ. But ball pythons do not “need” ultraviolet light to get around,
The Right Lighting for Your Ball Python
If the question is whether ball pythons need any kind of special lighting, the answer is unequivocal “no.”
Your pet ball python will be just fine in a plastic container.
You probably want to keep your ball python in a terrarium with glass walls so you can watch it and enjoy its beautiful colors.
But a ball python gets around primarily by its sense of smell and does not need any special lighting.
Heat lamps can be confusing for your ball python. They have an infrared signature. If it gets within striking distance, your ball python might strike at the hot lamp and injure itself.
Your ball python is better off with a heat source under its enclosure than a heat source over its head.
If you use a heat lamp on a clamp over your snake’s cage, make sure it cannot reach up to the lamp and burn itself.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Nocturnal Habits of Ball Pythons
Q. Is it OK to keep my ball python in my living room (where the lights are on at night?
A. Ball pythons do best on a 12-hour day and 12-hour night schedule, similar to the tropics where they originated.
One way to do this is to keep room lights near their enclosure low at night, and have their cage light on a timer.
If you are trying to breed ball pythons, you may need to give them about an hour more darkness every 24 hours until the eggs are laid.
Q. What kind of light bulb is best for lighting my ball python’s cage?
A. Buy a fluorescent bulb that produces a balanced spectrum of light in the range visible to humans. Ir does not need to produce UV-B light.
This way, you will enjoy all the colors in your snake, and your snake will have all the light it needs.
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