Myths about Ball Pythons



This post will discuss common myths associated with ball python keeping in the hobby and what the truth behind those myths actually is. This is intended as an educational platform to supplement our other articles.

“You need to move the snake to feed it or it will become cage aggressive.”

This is based on an outdated belief that moving the snake would allow it to not associate the cage opening with feeding. It has since been proven that moving the snake to feed it actually can cause feeding problems (you are taking the ambush out of your ambush predator) and can actually lead to more bites, since it introduces the snake to the idea that food can come when the snake is outside of the enclosure.

If you want to avoid your snake going into feeding response whenever you open the enclosure, you can simply mix your routine up. If you are regularly cleaning and going about your business in the enclosure, the snake will not be conditioned to expect food every time it opens. For particularly food driven animals, all you need to do is get a hook to get them out of food response most of the time (or just use a paper towel roll or something – a light tap to the neck or head will take most ball pythons out of feeding response).

“It’s fine to house multiple ball pythons together.”

No, it SERIOUSLY isn’t. In the wild, ball pythons are solitary animals and are not found together unless they are breeding. Housing them together causes them undue stress since it is not something they would encounter in the wild; excessive stress directly connects to illness (this is for every species, for the record, not just ball pythons). Additionally, they will compete for the best spot in the enclosure, and in more severe cases, they may fight. There are cases of males locking with one another as a dominance display; there are cases of females killing males by constricting them when left together too long. Lastly, cohabitation forces you to move to feed or they will compete for the food as well.

Some people bring up cannibalism as a risk, but truthfully, ball pythons don’t cannibalize that often – so this is mostly a nonissue.

Reference on the effects of stress on immune system response (studies done on humans, but it applies to all animals):

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24798553

“Tanks are for fish, not reptiles.”

Tubs are for sweaters or shoes, what’s your point? That being said: tanks are usually a poor choice for most reptiles. The screen lid allows moisture to escape, so you have to cover it in order to trap in the moisture – which then reduces ventilation – and glass does not insulate very well. For ball pythons in particular, there is also a lot of dead “up” space, since they’re not truly semi-arboreal animals. With a lot of modification, tanks can be used, but if you are picking your first enclosure, you should always consider either a rack or a PVC cage – both are vastly superior options.

Stand-alone tubs are not recommended unless you are housing the snake in a room that stays 75 degrees minimum year-round. This is because raising the ambient temperature of a stand-alone tub is significantly harder than combating the low humidity you will run into with a tank.

“High humidity causes respiratory infection.”

Not exactly. High humidity usually results in scale rot. High humidity with poor ventilation can result in respiratory infections – which is somewhat risky in tanks due to the fact that you have to close off the screen in order to maintain the moisture you need. Respiratory infection is far more frequently caused by chronic low temperatures (and frequently spread by humans through handling one sick snake and then another right after without sanitizing between).

“Misting causes RIs!”

No. It really doesn’t. Misting creates an artificial spike in humidity that will immediately dissipate after the sides of the enclosure dry off. The main risks associated with misting are scale rot and the fact that it’s not actually solving the problem of low humidity – snakes (and all animals) need a constant level of humidity, the moisture in the air actually directly relating to organ function, which misting does not in any way correct or improve.

A short explanation of the effects of low humidity on the human body (which applies to other animals as well): http://www.sensorpush.com/articles/the-effects-of-low-humidity-on-your-health-and-comfort

“Misting can help improve a bad shed.”

Technically this can be true… but as stated above: misting is a band-aid, not an actual fix. Misting at the right point in a shed cycle can reduce your chances of stuck shed, but the truth is, if your humidity is correct, you’re never going to need to do that. Additionally, the likelihood of you catching the right point in the shed cycle as a new keeper is pretty low. Lastly, and most importantly, misting at the wrong point in a shed cycle can actually make the shed worse, not better (just like soaking can). Misting is not advised here for these reasons.

“If your snake has stuck shed, just soak it.”

Soaking your snake doesn’t really solve stuck shed. Throwing your snake in water just creates a wet snake. What you need is to crank the humidity up. The best way to do this is the humidity box, detailed in our shedding file. When people suggest “soaking” they do not mean throwing your snake in a bathtub or a sink and letting it swim around, either: they usually mean a small amount of water in an enclosed tub, which prevents moisture from escaping and works the same way.

We recommend the humidity box versus soaking because there’s less degree for error on the temperature of the water, and it’s generally more effective as it doesn’t force you (the keeper) to help remove the shed in any way.

“It’s normal for them to go off feed in the winter.”

Not exactly. Ball pythons do not experience a winter where they are from; they are from an equatorial region that keeps roughly the same temperatures year-round, so they do not brumate. The most likely reasons for people experiencing poor feeding in the winter are:

  1. Temperatures and/or humidity have dropped because of the climate changing (double check these).
  2. Breeding-size males in large enclosures feel the barometer drop and start searching for females.
  3. Overfeeding.

All of these are things that can be combated with troubleshooting and a little patience.

“Ball pythons are picky eaters.”

This one is a sticky situation as it depends on your definition of ‘picky.’ Many ball pythons straight up refuse to eat frozen/thawed, and many also prefer mice over rats. A lot of people determine this as “picky.” However, if you feed what the snake will eat, and it will eat those things every time you offer, is it really picky?

Most ball pythons eat well if your enclosure is set up right as well. Nailing down your enclosure will remove 2/3s of the “picky” problems you will run into.

“They need belly heat.”

Ball pythons live in termite mounds in the wild, which are insulated and have generally the same temperature in the air as on the ground. They do not bask in the sun for “warmth” and so they do not need belly heat. What they need is heat that is regulated and allows them to reach a core temperature of 85 degrees. You can accomplish this several different ways and no one is more superior than the other.

“They must have a gradient to thermoregulate.”

As with belly heat: not necessarily. They need to be able to achieve a core body temperature of 85 degrees. They can do this using pure ambient with no gradient, but in cooler rooms, gradients do sometimes work better. What you use is dependent on your preference and specific set up, and no one style of heating is better than others.

“Rats are better feeders than mice.”

There is actually an entire article on feeders, which details this more, but suffice to say: not necessarily. Mice actually have much higher calcium when dealing with mice the same size as rats, until you reach jumbo mice/weaned rats, when rats pull ahead. Rats are simply more convenient for adult snakes for many people.

“FT is safer than live for feeders.”

There are risks associated with both; bacterial growth from improperly put down feeders or feeders that have been allowed to thaw and refreeze multiple times is just as dangerous as a live feeder biting your snake. Buy from a responsible feeder breeder to avoid risks. This is detailed more in the feeder file as well. Here’s a link to the feeder article: https://nwreptiles.com/feeders-for-your-ball-pythons

“Ball pythons hatch ready to eat rat pups.”

This is probably one of the craziest misconceptions. Ball pythons hatch out between 50 and 90 grams on average, with most hovering 65-75 range. Using 75 as an average, a 25g rat pup is almost 19% of its body weight. Yes, pythons can eat big meals, but fresh out of the egg, a baby ball python has never digested anything except its yolk: what in the world makes anyone think it’s a good idea to offer such a large meal to them?

Additionally, most baby ball pythons are not stimulated into feeding responses from the slow movement of a rat fuzzy or pup. The reason we recommend hoppers is twofold: size and movement. Mouse hoppers are usually closer to 10% of the hatchling’s weight, and are also much more inclined to move around a lot to stimulate feeding responses. Stop telling people they hatch able to eat rat pups; it just isn’t true most of the time.

“I got a bag of substrate and it had mites!”

This is extremely unlikely. Snake mites require a host, and most substrates are completely sealed in bags (aspen, cypress, reptichip, etc). If you are seeing mites on the substrate, there’s a chance it is wood mites. It is dramatically more likely that you got mites from a snake that is infected, though – such as handling one at a reptile store or show. They do hitchhike. Don’t buy open bags of substrate from places that house reptiles and you can circumvent this issue completely.

“I move to feed because I don’t want my snake to become impacted.”

With proper heat and hydration, this is a nonissue. Impaction is caused by dehydration and low temperatures in reptiles. Yes, this includes lizards. This applies to all reptiles.

“They grow to their environment!”

This isn’t true of most fish and it certainly isn’t true of any reptile. If it was, every snake would be 30 feet long in the wild.

“You should give your snakes baths regularly.”

Soaking is completely unnecessary in a proper setup. The only times that a ball python should be soaked are in the instance that it’s medically necessary (extreme dehydration and overheating, or mite treatment), or in the rare chance that the snake has managed to cake feces all over their faces and body and a simple wipe down won’t do the job (this is rare – try wiping the snake off with a wet rag first). Bathing provides no benefit; ball pythons aren’t aquatic, and they don’t enjoy swimming at all. If they want to soak, they will do so in their own water dish.

“Don’t put your snake out in the yard, it could get mites!”

While putting your snake in the yard is a poor idea, it is not because of mites – as mites are not endemic to most regions. The reason you shouldn’t do it is best summed up in this post, written by Steven Tillis –

“Reptile pathogens are often poorly studied and poorly understood. However, more and more we are understanding that pathogens can often cause little to no illness in the species or population they were evolved in but can wreak havoc when they jump ship into another species or an unexposed population. Pathogens can go for years or decades undiscovered until they cause problems, creating a situation where we don’t know what we don’t know until it causes enough problems to be investigated.

A great example of this is the ever growing documented Nidovirus species in a wide variety of both wild and captive snakes and reptiles. A wide variety of python, boa, colubrid, lizard and turtle species are found as having their own novel Nidovirus which can sometimes cause massive problems and sometimes seem to cause no apparent illness at all. Some snakes can live with Nidovirus for years with no symptoms, only to be exposed to another collection and wipe it out.

There is no reason to think this phenomenon would be limited to just captive populations. As such, taking snakes outside for photos in the grass or on logs may represent a massive risk to native snakes and reptiles in the form of diseases we may not even know about yet. Almost everyone who has pet snakes does so because they like snakes and would never knowingly put wild populations at risk. As such, I implore people to use artificial sets and artificially placed and later sanitized logs when taking outdoor photos and not to use the natural environment itself for the sake of the native snakes. We would much rather discover new reptile diseases in contained captive populations then discover them from massive wild snake die-offs.

There is also precedent for this. Burmese pythons in south Florida have introduced a Pentastome species that has far expanded the pythons’ south Florida range by making the jump to native species. While not causing problems in the pythons, this parasite has killed massive numbers of pygmy rattlesnakes far to the north of where any python can live. Truth be told, we have no idea what might be the next Pentastome, chytrid fungus, or snake fungal disease until it’s too late. But we can do our part to reduce that risk by getting familiar with bio-security and doing our part to mitigate risk.”

Myths about Ball Pythons was last modified: August 17th, 2020 by Tom
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