Ball pythons in nature, especially female ball pythons in nature, are mostly ground-dwelling creatures.
They aren’t known as great climbers.
Pet ball pythons that spend their lives in enclosures, however, love to climb on fake trees and ledges if they are given the opportunity.
Captive ball pythons can and will climb on anything if they are given an enriching environment.
Why Do Ball Pythons Like to Climb in Cages But Not in Nature?
There is a very good reason that ball pythons usually don’t do a lot of climbing in their natural habitat in the grasslands of Central and Western Africa.
There’s not a lot for them to climb on.
The natural range of ball pythons is dry grassland with lots of termite mounds and not very many trees.
These snakes hunt through dry grasses at night to search for prey and retreat inside termite mounds for shelter during the day.
A ball python changes its burrow every time it eats and defecated.
It constantly searches for a new home where it has a minimal scent that would alert the rodents on which it feeds to the fact it is there.
Although the vegetation in the ball python’s habitat is dry, the air is humid, especially inside a termite mound.
The ball python needs more or less constant humidity to keep its skin from drying out, becoming brittle, and cracking.
Cracked skin is hard to shed.
In the wild, climbing up a tree exposes a ball python to birds of prey, parasites, hot sun, and drying out.
Living in an enclosure as a pet snake, however, a python isn’t at risk of any of those problems.
In its own, safe enclosure, a pet ball python can climb onto a limb or a ledge for fun.
Male Ball Pythons Are More Likely to Climb Than Female Ball Pythons
During and just after the rainy season every year, male ball pythons often take to the trees.
Native grasses flourish during the rainy season.
They bloom and make seeds, which provide a feast for migrating birds.
At night, birds roost in trees, and male ball pythons stalk and capture them for food.
A tree-climbing python may not spend every night in the trees during and just after the late rainy season, but it only eats about once every 10 days.
The male python spends the rest of its time in its own burrow in a termite mound.
But male pythons take advantage of bird migrations by climbing trees.
Why don’t Female Ball Pythons Climb Trees?
Females can climb trees, too, but late spring is their mating season.
After a female has mated, it needs to feed as much as it can (which may be once a week) to provide nourishment for the clutch of eggs growing inside it.
Later, a female full of the eggs it is about to lay cannot climb trees easily.
Once the eggs are laid, it instinctively stays close enough to them to frighten away the mice, rats, and other snakes that would eat them.
It’s natural for female snakes to spend more of their lives at ground level than males, at least in the wild. But female snakes in captivity enjoy climbing, too.
Ball pythons are ambush predators.
They can use a limb or a ledge as a place to bask in the sun while they are waiting for their next meal to come along.
Or they may simply crawl up on a limb or a ledge to warm up during the day in cooler weather.
The important thing to understand about ball pythons is that they occasionally enjoy climbing, in nature or in their cages.
The Right Kind of Enclosure for Your Ball Python
Not everyone who keeps ball pythons, and not every expert on ball pythons, is convinced that they are natural climbers.
Differences of opinion about climbing make a difference in the kind of enclosure recommended for ball pythons kept as pets.
Many pet experts offer the opinion that the best enclosures for ball pythons are flat.
They need to be long enough for the ball python to stretch out, but they don’t need to be tall enough for the snake to climb.
One of the problems with this kind of enclosure is the risk of the snake raising its head into a heat lamp.
Still, other snake keepers believe that a ball python is perfectly happy curled up in a round plastic tub.
Before the 2000s, many ball python breeders kept their hatchlings in stacks of Tupperware with breathing holes cut into the lids.
This approach to taking care of these amazing animals is based on the belief that the only thing a ball python lives for is to eat a mouse every couple of weeks, and maybe to mate with another snake thrown in with it.
Then there is a kinder, more natural, more interesting approach to keeping ball pythons as pets.
Most modern fanciers of ball pythons keep them in terrariums. The ball python is given some kind of substrate to burrow in.
It has a warm area in its enclosure for basking and digesting its meals and a cool area for resting.
It has hiding places, silk plants, fake driftwood (that doesn’t splinter), and maybe a ledge to explore.
All of these additions to a ball python’s enclosure make watching it much more interesting.
Bioactive Enclosures for Ball Pythons
Ball pythons and other snakes must be kept in enclosures.
It simply is not fair to the snake or the humans who keep it to trust it to roam free.
However, ball pythons can be kept with other living things in bioactive enclosures.
These terrariums or vivariums feature ash shavings and dried grasses as the substrate lining the bottom of the enclosure.
They may use real plants instead of fake ones, a real hollow log instead of a plastic snake hide, a well-aged piece of splinter-free driftwood, and a careful selection of isopods and springtail bugs to control mites.
In these environments, ball pythons like to get out and explore at night.
Of course, the owner must turn off overhead lights and use an infrared heat source to give the snake a virtual experience of nighttime.
But giving a ball python a bioactive environment encourages it to bask on its limb or its ledge during the day. It may practice its hunting behaviors at night.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ball Pythons and Climbing
Q. Does my ball python need a place to climb?
A. Ball pythons don’t have a biological need for climbing. They can live for 15 to 25 years in clear plastic tubs.
But owners get a lot more enjoyment by watching their ball pythons climb in enclosures furnished as much like nature as possible.
You will get more pleasure from a snake you can watch basking during the day and explore at night.
Q. If ball pythons live inside termite mounds, doesn’t that mean they are not natural climbers?
A. One of the most prominent features of termite mounds is their height.
Termites build their mounds to stay above the water level in occasionally rainy season floods.
Ball pythons climb to higher levels inside the termite mound to avoid drowning, too.
The interior of a termite mound is not flat. There are ledges and tunnels and places to explore.
If ball pythons preferred to avoid climbing, they would not burrow inside termite mounds.
Q. What can I put in my ball python’s enclosure for it to climb on?
A. Ball pythons can climb on limbs, branches, hammocks, cork logs, bowls, and PVC pipes.
You can improvise a “jungle gym” that will enrich the life of your ball python or any other snake.
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