Ball pythons, also known as royal pythons, are one of the most common pet snakes.
Ball pythons are not venomous, and they are not dangerous.
Once in a while, however, your ball python may bite you. if you do not handle it correctly.
Are Ball Pythons Dangerous?
Ball pythons don’t have venom. They kill their prey by constriction. Their bites won’t poison anyone.
Ball pythons are constrictors, but they are not very large constrictors. The average ball python weighs about five pounds (or around two kilos).
Theoretically, a ball python could kill someone if it wrapped itself around the neck, but in the real world, this doesn’t happen. (There have been horrific incidents with much larger snakes, however.)
One of the attractions of owning ball pythons is that they are easy to handle. Almost any pet owner can overpower them, if necessary.
They do not fight back. Their preferred defense mechanism is to roll themselves into a tight ball, with their head inside the ball.
In this state, they become so passive that they can even be rolled across the floor. (If your ball python rolls into a ball, treat it gently. It is not a toy.)
Ball pythons do have teeth. They use their teeth for holding their pretty while they are constricting it.
Their teeth number about 150, each tooth a curved, sharp hook about 4/10 of an inch (a centimeter) long.
Getting bitten by these teeth can hurt a little, but they are not likely to do any more damage than picking up a fish hook by its sharp end.
What You Need to Know About Ball Python Bites
Ball python bites are really rare.
If you handle your ball python a thousand times, you may get bitten once or twice, or maybe not at all.
If your ball python bites you, chances are it will be such a minor event that you will gloss it over and continue enjoying your snake.
But it still helps to know what could happen:
- Your ball python is most likely to bite you if you place it on the floor and you stand over it, like some kind of giant predator. Sometimes a ball python will start breathing hard if it is placed in this position. It does not know you by sight, and cannot see from the floor all the way to your face. Wearing red or blue clothes makes this reaction worse.
- Your ball python will probably give you multiple opportunities to avoid being bitten. It will stick out its tongue at you. It will rear its head back as if it were going to strike, but then leave you alone. Your ball python may strike at you but not bite.
- If you keep upsetting your ball python, it may finally bite you. You will probably only feel one or two tiny teeth. They may not penetrate your skin, but if they do, the tooth will leave a spot no larger than a pinprick. You may not feel the bite at all, unless your snake hits the middle of a fingertip.
- The main effect of getting bitten by a ball python is startling you. It is natural to feel anxious and excited when you are bitten by a snake, even a relatively harmless snake like a ball python.
- There is nothing in biting you for your snake, they just want you to leave them alone.
Defensive Bites Versus Feeding Bites
When your ball python just wants to defend its territory, getting you to leave it alone, its bite will be as painless as possible.
It will not try to hold on to you. It will not use all of its teeth, just one to five. It will not try to wrap around you.
Feeding bites by Ball Pythons are different.
When a ball python smells a rodent or other food it eats on a regular basis, its brain goes into feeding mode.
If you have rodent odor on your hands, or there is rodent odor in the air because you have been feeding other snakes, your ball python will be ready to feed.
Your ball python’s brain will be looking for food. Its pit organ will be activated to try to detect a temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) within 3 feet (a meter) of its mouth.
Your snake will be looking for a heat signature, and for motion.
If you take a mouse-sized movement with your hand, and your hand smells like a mouse, your ball python may conclude that your fingers are dinner.
Your ball python instinctively holds on to anything that smells like food and has a heat signature like food. That is the reason feeding bites are much more serious than defensive bites.
Your ball python may wrap around your hand and try to swallow it. You will have to pull it off you, probably breaking some of its teeth in the process.
Feeding bites cause considerably more injury to you and your snake than defensive bites.
How to Avoid Feeding Bites by Ball Pythons
The way to avoid feeding bites is to separate yourself from the feeding process.
Put on heavy gloves before putting a rodent into your ball python’s enclosure. Or use a separate holding cage for feeding your ball python.
Get your snake in the habit of eating its meals in another enclosure, so it knows that is where it feeds. This way, it is less likely to bite you at feeding time.
Or feed your ball python in its enclosure, dangling the rodent in front of your snake with metal tongs.
Another way to avoid bites is to make sure you separate snakes at feeding time. Some ball pythons don’t have very good aim when they are feeding.
They may bite their owners, or other snakes, or even their own tails.
The genes for poor aim are linked to some of the more striking color combinations in ball python morphs.
Be sure to ask about feeding when you buy an expensive, exotic, rare color combination in a ball python.
What to Do If You Have an Aggressive Ball Python
Ball pythons don’t like being held or played with, but most of them are docile and won’t bite.
Occasionally, you can get a ball python with a bad personality. It may hiss at you, bite at you, nip at you.
Your snake can’t really hurt you, but you can become scared of your snake. This takes all the fun out of owning a ball python.
Here is the most important thing to remember when you are scared of your ball python:
When you are scared of your ball python, your ball python is scared of you.
You can reduce both your snake’s anxiety and your own with this simple technique.
Find a dark pillowcase made of a soft material. Place the pillowcase on the floor. Hold your hand over your ball python so it curls up, maybe into a ball.
Then place your ball python in the pillowcase and tie the pillowcase so it cannot get out.
Now it’s time to watch a little TV.
Place the pillowcase with your snake inside on your lap. Then watch your program. Gently pet your snake inside its pillowcase while you are watching your show.
Your snake may be hissing the whole time it is in your lap. This is OK.
Repeat this desensitization technique several times, and both your snake and you should be much less anxious about physical contact.
Are Ball Pythons Dangerous Around Pets?
Adult dogs and cats pose a greater danger to ball pythons than ball pythons pose to them.
A ball python could eat the youngest puppies and kittens, but this will never happen if you just keep your pets separated.
What Makes a Snake Dangerous?
There are several things to think about when assessing the danger posed by a snake.
One consideration is whether the snake is venomous. Some relatively small snakes use tiny amounts of venom to stun their prey, so it won’t escape.
Other, larger snakes produce larger amounts of venom that not only paralyze their prey but also begin the process of digestion.
Some snakes produce enough venom to kill an adult human very quickly. Some smaller snakes produce just enough venom to cause mild skin irritation.
Constrictor snakes kill their prey by squeezing hard on their hearts, inducing cardiac arrest. They then have time to unhinge their jaws so they can swallow their meal whole.
Larger constrictor snakes, generally longer than 12 feet and weighing about as much as a small adult person, can exert enough pressure to kill an adult human being.
Some smaller constrictor snakes are capable of killing a child or a pet, with whom they should never be left alone or unsupervised.
Aggression is another thing to think about. Some snakes naturally fight when they feel threatened.
They may bite and attempt to wrap around another animal or a person they are afraid of.
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