There are three overarching reasons for a ball python biting or attempting to bite a human: temperament, stress, and mistaking a hand for food.
Although overall, ball pythons are extremely docile creatures that are rarely ever aggressive, there are a few here and there that have particularly bad temperaments. Just like every once in a while you’ll come across a person with an extremely sour attitude, every once in a while you may come across a ball python with a terribly vicious personality. This is why I suggest handling a few different ball pythons before you choose which one to take home. That being said, if it’s your ball python that’s doing the biting, and he or she has never been the vicious type before, it’s safe to say you can rule this cause out.
The second reason a ball python may bite is because they’re feeling stressed and are trying to defend themselves, their eggs, or their food. Ball pythons are often feel both uncomfortable and uneasy when they’re in the process of getting ready to shed, so if you can tell that your ball python is gearing up for a shed, this may be why he or she is being more defensive than usual. If you pick them up the wrong way or try to hold them in a manner they dislike, they may also try to strike at you. Some ball pythons, for example, don’t like being touched on the top of the head or on the neck, and trying this repeatedly when they are obviously recoiling from your touch may get you bitten.
Ball pythons can also become easily stressed when the temperature or the humidity in their enclosure is not where it should be. In other circumstances, if the ball python was recently frightened, by say a shake or a thud, he or she may have been put on edge, causing him or her to strike at you when you try getting near. Female ball pythons will obviously be extremely aggressive when they’ve just laid eggs, as, like with most mothers, they’re hardwired to protect their young from any potential danger. Finally, a ball python will almost always try to defend its food from competition, so sticking your hand into a cage when your ball python is getting ready to feed is not a good idea.
The third reason ball pythons may bite is because they have mistaken a hand for food. If you have recently cooked with with meat, chicken stock, chicken broth, or anything else of that nature, you may still smell like the meat that you handled. If a ball python smells the food on your skin, they are very likely to mistaken your hand or arm for food, causing them to strike at you. Yet a ball python will release your hand as soon as he or she realizes that your hand is not food as it had suspected. If you’ve recently handled a pet hamster, mouse, guinea pig, or other rodent, you will also smell like food to a ball python, meaning the snake will almost certainly strike at you if you put your hand in his or her enclosure without washing the smell off first. Finally, if you’ve recently actually handled the snake’s food, and try putting your hands into the ball python’s enclosure, even if it’s just to drop in the meal, the snake may try to bite your hand. This is why it’s a good idea to use tongs to put the ball python’s food into the enclosure. If you’re sure that you washed your hands really well and that you don’t smell like any type of snake food, the ball python has likely bit in defence due to stress.
Under very rare circumstances, ball pythons may truly believe a part of your hand is food, and therefore may refuse to release their grasp on your hand. This more likely happens if they are young, inexperienced, and happen to be quite hungry. Under these circumstances, the ball python will typically bite a finger, hold it firm, then constrict on the finger. The bite of a ball python should really not hurt very much, although it can of course cause bleeding if it pierces through the skin. If you’re having difficulty getting a ball python off your hand or finger because it won’t let go, you can place the snake into some cold water, and it will almost immediately release itself. If the ball python loses a tooth when biting, don’t worry, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Ball pythons lose teeth quite frequently, and they do grow back with time.
It’s important to try to identify the cause for why a snake may have bitten, especially when such behaviour happens repeatedly. In order to avoid being bitten in the future, be sure to adjust your behaviour the next time you try to handle the ball python.
Eleen Eads says
Hello, I enjoyed reading your article. I am researching on ball pythons in hope that I will eventually be able to own one. I hope you and Havana are well.
P.s. there is a typo in your article. I believe you mean to say “and he or she has never been the vicious ( not viscous) type before, its safe to say you can rule this cause out” unless, of course, you are talking about a very thick, syrupy python. 😛
Elise Xavier says
Haha! No syrupy pythons here! Thanks for pointing out the typo!
And good on you for doing your research before getting a new pet!
I can add one other circumstance under which a normally docile ball python might become aggressive. I’ve had Monty over 20 years so imagine my surprise when she became aggressive recently. The reason was that I had always kept her cage very clean but when I had knee replacement surgery I wasn’t able to keep up with her cage and it had become littered with feces and spilled water from her dish had left a corner of her cage damp. Week after week she became more active than usual and I thought she was hungry. She has always been a good eater but even after eating she continued to be restless and she became aggressive towards me! She no longer curled up in her log but was constantly moving around the tank inspecting the top. I was finally able to clean her tank this morning. I wore gloves to move her, as she tried to strike at me. I dropped a small hand towel on her head, which caused her to ball, so I could move her to rest at the bottom of a tall empty garbage can while I cleaned her tank. I washed down all sides of her tank, her log, water dish and replaced the flooring. I cautiously placed her back in her tank and she is now curled up in her log quite content. I suspect she will no longer be aggressive.
My hades spends a lot of time with me, we even nap together. I cooked my boyfriend breakfast before work and me and hades got into bed. He was due for a feeding and ge was snifging around in thw air as i was falling asleep. I woke up with the toe next to my big toe, index toe, in his mouth. IT HURT! My toe must have twitched, etc and hades mistook it for food. When i sat up he pushed his teeth in further, which told me he wasnt letting go. Luckily, i had a glass of water and when i wet his face he removed his teeth. Needless to say, he got dinner and a snack that day…i dont want a hungry snake on my hands…er, feet (wink)!
Can you feed your snake when you have them in your hand?
Elise Xavier says
It’s really not a good idea to do that. Not for you or the snake.