“So are ball pythons semi-arboreal?” and More [Lights, Movement, Climbing] by Jacqueline Vreeken

Let’s talk scientific studies! Many new keepers (and veterans) are unaware of the factual evidence available in the world of Ball Pythons. These studies below help us to understand wild behavior which, in turn, makes us better keepers of this regal species.

Ever hear someone claim Ball Pythons are arboreal? What about folks who argue that it’s normal for Ball Pythons to go off feed in the winter? Who says lights shouldn’t be used? Why is a ‘hiding Ball a happy Ball’? Read below! Included are links to the complete studies. I quote sections and give my interpretation/summary of what it all means. If you have any additional studies you’ve found, please share!


Luca Luiselli & Francesco Maria Angelici (1998) Sexual size dimorphism and natural history traits are correlated with intersexual dietary divergence in royal pythons (python regius) from the rain forests of southeastern Nigeria, Italian Journal of Zoology, 65:2, 183-185, DOI:
10.1080/11250009809386744 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/11250009809386744

What it actually says:

“Males preyed more frequently upon birds (70.2% of the total number of prey items) whereas females preyed more frequently upon mammals (66.7% of the total number of prey items). There was an apparent ontogenetic change in the diet of both sexes: specimens shorter than 70 cm total length preyed almost exclusively upon small sized birds (nestlings and immature), whereas the longer specimens (>100 cm total length) preyed almost entirely upon small mammals).”

What this means:

Hatchlings, juveniles and smaller bodied male Ball Pythons often prey upon small nestlings (immature birds that haven’t yet left the nest). A Ball Python is not hanging out in the upper boughs of a tree, waiting to catch a bird as it flies by. A lightweight snake wanders into low-lying branches to partake of the easy, flightless prey sitting in a nest, waiting for them.

What it actually says:

“Although in both sexes the diet consisted exclusively of mammals and birds… the intriguing difference between sexes consisted in the prevalence of birds versus mammals in the smaller sex (male) and in that of mammals versus birds in the larger one (female). We suggest that these differences in dietary composition depend on a major arboreality of males in comparison with females. Factors in favor of this hypothesis are: (i) males were found climbing on trees more frequently than females (14 specimens versus 2 specimens); and (ii) the presence in the males’ diet of a higher number of arboreal prey, including birds, squirrels, and Galagoides demidoff. In this context, it is however worth noting that arboreality and bird-eating are not always correlated events in snakes (Shine, 1983; Luiselli & Rugiero, 1993; Angelici & Luiselli, 1998)… Thus, it is likely that opportunism represents an intrinsic trait of the predatory behaviour of these snakes.”

What this means:

The smaller-bodied, lighter males wander outside their burrows more than females and often see easy prey opportunities in the form of birds and squirrels. We know that males have to explore in order to locate females for breeding. By this fact alone, they will more frequently encounter arboreal prey. Having a lighter body also enables them to climb into low-lying branches more easily than a hefty female. Mature specimens of three feet in length or more – regardless of gender – prey almost exclusively on mammals.

What this means for us as keepers:

If a juvenile Ball Python is wandering their enclosure during night time hours, it is not necessarily a sign of insecurity/bad husbandry/etc. as it appears they are more inclined to wandering versus a fully grown adult specimen. See the next study in regards to wandering during the day.

  • Does a Ball Python need climbing branches? No. In captivity, we bring the food to them. They don’t need to wander up high to try to find food. Most commonly, the heat source provided in captivity is either on the ground or overhead. Climbing branches either take them too far away or bring them dangerously close to the heat source being used.
  • Are Ball Pythons arboreal or semi-arboreal? No. This study even specifies that, “Arboreality and bird-eating are not always correlated events in snakes,” especially when you take into account these Ball Pythons were found to be eating nestlings and immature birds.
  • Do they need a varied diet? No. They are not seeking out arboreal prey in order to give themselves a balanced diet. They are simply opportunistic animals.


Why do males and females of Python regius differ in ectoparasite load?
Luca Luiselli https://www.researchgate.net/…/Why-do-males-and-females-of-…

What it actually says:

“Intersexual differences may depend on increased male movements in the mating season relative to females… males and females are found within the same type of burrows… they (i) were also very abundant both in plantations and farmlands, as well is suburbs (especially in grassy areas where they are easily found inside burrows)… In addition, in both study regions they are nocturnal, and during daytime can be easily found inside their burrows.”
“Although rodents were the main prey type for both sexes, the males differed from the females because they fed significantly more often on arboreal prey (birds), whereas the female diet was based nearly exclusively on terrestrial rodents. The authors hypothesized that these differences were attributable to a higher use of the arboreal niche by males, as also suggested by some incidental observations of males climbed on low tree branches. In addition… the frequency of observation of climbed specimens was significantly higher in males than in females, although both sexes usually perched at low heights from the soil… both sexes were ground-dwelling in the great majority of fixes… most snakes (over 90% of the ‘climbing fixes’ in both sexes) climbed during the nocturnal hours, while they were motionless inside burrows during daylight time.”

What this means:

Ball pythons – of both sexes – are ground-dwelling. Males move more during mating season and are more likely to be found outside of their burrows than females. The lighter-weight males are sometimes found in low tree branches. However, both sexes dwell motionless inside burrows all day long and are only found outside their burrows at night.

What this means for us as keepers:

Despite the fact that males are more likely to roam in search of a mate, both males and females are nocturnal and stay within their burrows during the day.

  • Is something wrong because my Ball Python is exploring their cage all day long? Quite simply, yes – you need to check your husbandry. They don’t restlessly explore during daytime hours unless they are seeking heat or security. They are nocturnal creatures. When you hear, “A hiding Ball Python is a happy Ball Python,” it is essentially correct. If your Ball Python is exploring some during the night, that is acceptable as these studies have shown that juveniles and males are not unlikely to wander outside of their burrows after sunset.


The effects of UV light on calcium metabolism in ball pythons (Python regius). Hedley J, Eatwell K. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24068697

The study’s conclusion:

“No association was demonstrated between exposure to UV-b radiation and plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 and ionized calcium concentrations.” In other words, UV-b exposure did not increase vitamin D3 or calcium levels.

What this means to us as keepers:

Ball Pythons do not benefit from UV lighting. The main reason reptile keepers tend to utilize UV-b lighting is to increase D3 and calcium. However, it does not benefit the nocturnal Ball Python. They are extremely efficient and designed to thrive in the dark.

  • Will it harm them? No. They live on planet earth just fine.
  • Should they be exposed to lights 24/7? No. Their natural environment is not exposed to the sun 24/7, so quit using lights on them in captivity. And yes, that includes blacklights, red lights… any lights. Use a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) if you’re utilizing an overhead heat source.


Luca Luiselli & Francesco Maria Angelici (1998) Sexual size dimorphism and natural history traits are correlated with intersexual dietary divergence in royal pythons (python regius) from the rainforests of southeastern Nigeria, Italian Journal of Zoology, 65:2, 183-185, DOI:
10.1080/11250009809386744 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/11250009809386744

What it actually says:

“The climate is typical for a tropical sub-Saharan country, with well-marked dry and wet seasons and with relatively little monthly fluctuation in maximum and minimum temperatures (White, 1983)… Mean monthly maximum temperatures range between 27° and 34° C, while minima vary between 22° and 24° C. This region is one of the wettest in the world, with an average yearly rainfall of 3146 mm (data from the Department of Geography, University of Calabar).”

What this means for us as keepers:

There is relatively little temperature fluctuation in their native habitat. They do not experience extreme winter. The coldest their “winter” gets is an average minimum of 73° F (23° C). Typically, they are experiencing temperatures between 80° – 93° F (27° – 34° C) year-round.

  • Do they need to brumate? No. They do not experience temperature extremes within their native habitat, therefore, we do not need to mimic a brumation period. Simply maintain the same temperature range year-round.
  • They should not go off-feed because “it’s winter” as they do not have a true winter. There is a hot season and a slightly cooler season. If your husbandry is correct and there are no underlying health concerns (i.e. parasites), a Ball Python should not be going off-feed “because it’s winter”.


Variation of Rainfall and Humidity in Nigeria
(clicking this link initiates a download of the PDF) www.iiste.org/Jour…/index.php/…/article/download/10586/10950

What the graphs show:

You’ll notice that each graph shows a relative humidity that remains fairly constant throughout the year. The range is 40-70% relative humidity depending on the specific area that you are observing. There is very little variation in those blue humidity lines throughout the year, even as rainfall spikes and plummets.

What this means for us as keepers:

It is vital to maintain stable humidity levels throughout the year, without spiking (i.e. misting constantly or using humid hides during shed). Our recommendation of constant, steady 55-65% humidity throughout the entire enclosure is ideal. 70% is not “too high” as several native regions easily maintain 70% humidity year-round. However, it is important to note that condensation and humidity are not the same thing (just look at the referenced graphs to make note of that difference). Humidity levels around 70% are perfectly safe for a captive Ball Python if there is no condensation and there is adequate air circulation (note that circulation and ventilation are two different things).

“So are ball pythons semi-arboreal?” and More [Lights, Movement, Climbing] by Jacqueline Vreeken was last modified: August 14th, 2020 by Tom
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