I get asked about nippy ball pythons regularly. Usually these are babies.
Ball pythons often get nippy at this very young stage. They have recently learned to eat, and
eating makes them feel good. They also see movement, and don’t know any better.
There are only two reasons a ball python might be nippy. They are hungry, or they want to be left alone.
With this in mind, you need to modify your own behavior. There two things you can do, the first is easy, the second takes more time and learning behaviors of ball pythons.
(actions and reactions)
1) Feed him often, and feed him well. If he has a full tummy, he is less likely to be nippy. A ball python may fast sometimes, but an adult ball, doesn’t stay fed on a mouse every 3-4 weeks. I offer my females a small to medium rat approximately weekly. Males usually semi-weekly, because they don’t need the additional weight for breeding. Never let them associate your hands with food. Your hands already have a similar heat signature, AND THEY MOVE. Ball pythons “see” heat. Their heat pits are wired directly into the optical nerves. Picture an infrared camera. Kids, when they see a snake, will often stick a finger out and try to touch it in the face… Hmmm.. Think about that for a moment… Not a good idea.
Almost always, if an adult ball python bites, they are hungry.
2) Even more important, is to handle him. (not right after eating, please) He really DOES NOT like you, and wants to be left alone. Mostly because he is afraid. If he nips at you, and you put him away, you are just reinforcing him to nip again next time he wants put down. Only put him down after he has been behaving well. …and ALWAYS end on a good note.
Your snake needs to learn you are not planning to hurt them. I will often carry a hatchling around with me in my shirt pocket for a couple hours at a time.
They will then hear your voice, feel your heartbeat, get used to your smell, and just get used to your presence. They can stay hidden until they want to peek out. Your pocket will normally be warm, but not was warm as their home. Don’t keep them out too long.
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Watch for that strike position. If you touch a ball python on the top of the head, they will immediately pull their head away, and hide it. (The only real exceptions, are the few that are so accustomed to being handled, they are no longer head shy) This takes them out of the strike position. Sure you want the friendly, but if you can’t have friendly right away, hiding is better than aggressive. At least if they are balled up, you can hold them.
One tip if you are afraid to pick him/her up, is use a paper towel to cover their head. A small washcloth works well too, and is even thicker. Feel free to even scoop them up using the paper towel.
At all stages of the game, the hand you pick them up with, should always approach from behind the head, not from in front of their face. Holding you hand down low, and in front can be done if your ball python is extremely tame, but if your snake is that tame, you don’t need to read any of this.
If you are working with him a lot, and he stops feeding, you may need to back off. He may be TOO nervous from handling. Short doses. Don’t overwhelm him/her.
I would like to hear feedback of other successes and difficulties people have found.
Please comment, and share.