Do ball pythons like to cuddle?

Ball pythons are known to be one of the friendliest pet snake options out there (it’s one of the main reasons why this species is so popular). These snakes enjoy human contact and instantly wrap around any appendages they come across: hands, wrists, shoulders—you name it!  Once they’re on there, ball pythons may shift, slither, and wiggle their way over your entire body. This behavior has earned them their social reputation, but does this mean that, by extension, ball pythons like to cuddle?

Ball Python Temperament

Technically, ball pythons don’t cuddle (we’ll get into that later), but they have a wonderful temperament that gives them a proclivity towards interacting with their owners. Docile and non-aggressive, ball pythons are one of the few snake species that are tolerant of daily handling. Their easy going nature makes them less prone to being stressed out by human contact, and less likely to try to “run” away when they are in a person’s grasp. Put all of these qualities together and you’ve got a pet snake that will allow you to snuggle on them with seemingly no resistance or reluctance.

This behavior is one of the main reasons why ball pythons are so popular (the others include these snakes being very low-maintenance, easy to care for, and available in literally thousands of morph combinations). However, it has contributed to a misconception about these animals. Although these animals may tolerate us cuddling them, it does not necessarily mean that they enjoy it.

The Truth Behind Ball Pythons “Cuddling”

Cuddling, as we humans tend to think of it, isn’t just a physical act of holding something close, it also refers to the intention behind it. The literal definition of cuddling is “a way of showing love and affection”, and since snakes aren’t biologically capable of these emotions (at least, to the same degree that we do), it wouldn’t be accurate to say that ball pythons “cuddle” in the first place.

Part of the reason why this misconception is so prevalent is because of the ball python’s instinctive nature. As semi-arboreal snakes, they occasionally climb trees and other vertical surfaces. They use their strong abdominal muscles to grip the area around them, providing both leverage and stability. When being held by their owner, they instinctively do the same thing, wrapping themselves around limbs to keep themselves securely in place.

Understanding Ball Python Body Language

The tactile sensations we associate with affection aren’t the same for snakes. Where we might think of a tight squeeze from a ball python as their way of giving us a hug, the reality is that it is likely stressed out and should not be handled at the moment. Attempting to translate ball python body language through the scope of human feelings isn’t just a misstep, but can actively endanger the health and well-being of your pet snake.

Do Ball Pythons Feel Affection?

A hotly debated topic within the reptile community is whether snakes are capable of love or not. Some owners will swear that their pet snake does indeed love them, but according to science, that might be a bit of a stretch—here’s why.

Reptiles have smaller and less sophisticated brains than us mammals. We are capable of highly complex social structures and are innately social creatures. Reptiles, on the other hand, are solitary animals whose emotions are mostly limited to that of survival: warmth, food, shelter and mating. And because snakes and other reptiles are still undomesticated (animals that haven’t been selectively bred to live alongside humans), even the captive-bred ball pythons for sale at pet stores are still technically wild animals.

However, that’s not to say that your ball python can’t like you. They may not be able to feel as attached to their owner as a dog or cat might, but they very much alter their behavior depending on their relationship with the person they’re interacting with. A ball python that feels safe and secure with their owner will act much friendlier than with someone they’re unsure of. Establishing a base of trust can go a long way towards unlocking the more affectionate-like behavior a ball python is capable of.

Signs that your ball python likes you includes:

  • Unhurried movement in their enclosure (i.e. leisurely patrols of their surroundings)
  • Occasional tongue flicking
  • Not hiding or flinching when you approach
  • Relaxed when in your grasp during handling

A ball python is a fantastic pet snake option. Although they may not be able to return our feelings of affection, their temperament allows their human owners to love and play with them in a way that few other snake species would allow. You can find ball pythons for sale almost anywhere that snakes are sold.

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