Can Ball Pythons Swim?

If you have seen a movie like Anaconda, you may wonder if your pet ball python can swim, too.

But then, you have never seen your own pet ball python act very enthusiastic about water except for an occasional soak in its water bowl.

The fact is, ball pythons can swim, but they aren’t very good at it. In their native habitat, west Africa, ball pythons are occasionally observed swimming in lakes and rivers.

Ball pythons that got out of their cages have been known to swim in swimming pools and hot tubs. But swimming is a survival instinct in ball pythons, and they only go into the water when they absolutely must.

In this article, we will consider just how ball pythons are at swimming.

We will consider whether they even like water, and whether they can drown. And we will consider whether it’s a good idea to give your ball python a bath or to place a soaking bowl in its enclosure.

Ball Pythons Are Not Good Swimmers

In its native habitat in west Africa, a female python will spend most of her time sharing space inside a termite mound.

The mound of tightly packed dirt stands as much as 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 meters) tall and 6 to 9 feet across.

The mound is high enough that she will not drown during seasonal flooding, and she can decide to lay her eggs inside the mound to keep them protected.

If a female does not live inside a termite mound, then it may build a nest of grass inside a rodent’s or rabbit’s burrow. Female ball pythons seek the security of packed, clay soil.

Male ball pythons may live in burrows, but they may also venture into trees. Unlike the females, which mainly feed on rodents, males may also catch small birds.

However, both male and female ball pythons prefer to burrow in the dirt during the day and come out at night to hunt on land.

Some ball pythons live close to rivers, streams, marshes, or ponds.

They may occasionally swim to escape a predator, or just to explore their hunting range. However, most ball pythons do not make a habit of swimming and don’t have strong instincts for swimming.

Ball Pythons Can Drown

Ball pythons breathe through the lungs, not through the gills. Unlike many other snakes, they have two lungs, not just one.

Scientists have found that ball pythons have 12 times more lung capacity than they need for day-to-day life.

Your ball python can stay underwater for four to as long as 20 minutes on a single breath. However, if it stays underwater too long they will drown.

Oddly, the larger the ball python, the lower its respiratory capacity.

Most of the time, ball pythons instinctively know when they need to surface to take a breath.

Ball pythons do not normally hunt for fish or other aquatic creatures.

Ball Pythons Like Water, Just Not Swimming

Even though ball pythons do not usually swim, they like water. They may spend hours in a soaking bowl getting ready to shed their skin.

Or they may take a long soak just to relax, or to cool off when their enclosure has overheated.

Your ball python may be eager to spend time in a soaking bowl when:

  • It is having difficulty shedding its skin. Soaking loosens the skin, although increasing the humidity in your ball python’s enclosure has the same effect. If your ball python has shed all of its skin except its eye caps, a long soak could help it see again.
  • It is too hot. Sometimes, such as when it is digesting a meal, a ball python needs to curl up in the warm end of its enclosure. If it is spending all of its time soaking, however, it may be too hot inside the cage. Check to make sure the air temperature inside your snake’s enclosure is between 75° and 82° F (24° and 28° C).
  • It is dehydrated. Dry air can cause your ball python to become dehydrated. Ball pythons need steady humidity of around 60 percent to feel comfortable. You should not guess the humidity in your ball python’s enclosure; you should use a measuring instrument called a hygrometer to make sure its humidity is neither too high nor too low.

When a python is licking itself, its skin is dehydrated and it needs higher humidity and a clean soaking bowl filled with water.

Ball pythons can survive for about 12 days without water. If you give them prey animals, with all their blood and fluids, they can last longer than that.

Your Ball Python May Enjoy a Bath

Many ball python owners give their snakes baths. Bathing your ball python loosens its skin, making shedding easier.

Chlorinated water will kill skin mites. And taking a swim in your pool with your ball python is an interesting if unconventional way to bind with your snake.

Bathing your ball python should never involve soap! Use only fresh, unchlorinated, or lightly chlorinated water for bathing snakes.

But Your Ball Python May Be Fussy About a Bathing Bowl

Your ball python’s first priority in its enclosure is having someplace to hide.

It will be happier with a moist, friable substrate like aspen bark, cypress mulch, coconut fiber, or sphagnum moss for burrowing in a hiding place.

Your ball python’s bathing bowl should leave plenty of room in the enclosure for one or two hides.

Ball pythons don’t distinguish between bowls to drink from, bowls to bathe in, and bowls to poop in.

Warm water may encourage defecation. Remove poop immediately, and change the water in your ball python’s bowl at least once a day.

Disinfect bowls with a mild solution of water and bleach that you rinse out before you return them to the cage for refilling.

Final Thoughts About Ball Pythons and Swimming

For many ball pythons, swimming is a survival instinct. Swimming may cause them extreme anxiety.

Never force a ball python to swim. Ball pythons don’t just drink water, but they are not natural swimmers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ball Pythons and Water

Q. Do ball pythons require any particular size of water bowl?

A. It is a good idea to make sure a hatchling’s water bowl is no more than 1 inch (25 mm) deep, to make sure that it does not have difficulty getting out.

An older ball python is fine with a water bowl of any size, as long as it does not crowd out its hiding places.

Q. My ball python is fully submerged in its water bowl, with its nostrils under the water. Do I need to be concerned?

A. No. As long as your ball python comes up for air in the next 20 minutes, it will be fine.

Some ball pythons fully submerge themselves as a way to deal with anxiety, soften skin for shedding, or soothe the itch caused by mites.

Q. Can ball pythons breathe underwater?

A. Ball pythons can hold their breath underwater for up to 20 minutes (if the water is cool enough, slowing down their metabolism). But they cannot breathe underwater.

Q. How often do ball pythons need to drink water?

A. An adult ball python will drink water about once a week, but hatchlings may need to drink water as often as every other day. All ball pythons respond well to having clean water available at all times.

Sometimes a ball python will go straight to its bowl and take a drink as soon as its owner puts it in its enclosure.

Q. How do ball pythons learn to swim?

A. When a ball python finds itself in water over its head, it wriggles back and forth to propel itself forward toward land.

This is a survival instinct even in baby pythons.

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