The ball python is an extremely common pet snake to have, but if you’re looking into getting a pet snake you want to know if it’s poisonous or not. I was interested, so I researched ball pythons, and this is what I found.
Are ball pythons poisonous? Ball pythons are neither poisonous nor venomous. All pythons are constrictors by nature and they kill by squeezing their prey until it dies. They strike quickly and then immobilize the prey but not by using venom.
Most of the time, ball pythons, specifically, are not harmful to humans. They don’t usually get big enough to even be a threat. Generally, their meals are small rodents.
How Ball Pythons Kill
Ball pythons are constrictors just like all other members of the python family.
The python family of snakes has different sizes. There are around twenty-six diverse species. Ball pythons are on the smaller end of the python family coming in at anywhere from 3 to 5 feet as adults. All pythons are neither poisonous nor venomous.
Snakes are truly incredible animals. They don’t have many advantages from an evolutionary standpoint but they seem to do well for themselves. They do not have talons, arms, good eyesight, ears, legs, etc. They lack so much in the way of evolution but yet they survive somehow. Scientists are baffled by this.
With boas and pythons, it is easy for them to pull a quick maneuver to stop prey in its tracks. They use a technique of striking quickly then grabbing the prey with its teeth.
Pythons have 4 rows of teeth that curve backward on top and rows on the bottom. The direction of the teeth
After that, they wrap their coil around the victim and squeeze. Snakes can sense vibration and breathing motions in the prey so when the prey exhales, they squeeze even more to make sure the prey doesn’t get any more air.
It’s like squeezing in stages. Everytime that the prey has to exhale, the snake will tighten a little more. A little bit every time before it feels the heartbeat of the creature has stopped.
Some scientists did a study by sticking different measuring devices into an
When all of the information came on the screen, they noticed that the blood pressure of the rat dropped in half in 6 seconds. The rat would have become unconscious quickly from lack of blood to the brain. The rat’s heart rate also dropped quickly in half.
The heart can only supply blood into areas with lower pressure because the heart in it’s most basic form is a pump. Somehow the snake was able to increase the pressure in other areas of the body so that the blood from the heart could not make it to anywhere else.
The conclusion was that the rat did not die from suffocation. That is interesting because for years that’s what everybody thought was happening.
Other things happened that they noticed. If it interests you to read more, here is a link to the study of what these scientists did.
They Do Not Attack Unless Hungry
Ball pythons and other constricting snakes will never, except for very rare cases, strangle anything unless it’s hungry. It doesn’t want to waste precious energy. A constrictor snake will generally either bite or get out of the area before trying to strangle non-food creatures.
Ball pythons are docile snakes. They generally are friendly when handled by humans. Just be smart and do not scare them. It is good practice to allow your snake to wrap itself around your arm or waist if you are okay with that. They should be easy to unwrap. It’s not going to be as playful as a dog though.
Snakes will take whatever advantages they can. If they are hungry enough, they will eat whatever, even if it kills them because it’s too big or has horns.
Fortunately, snakes don’t have to eat very often. Generally, 6 months but some claim 2 years. Regardless, they are very adept at waiting. I think this is why they have survived how they have. They keep a low profile and eat when it’s time to eat.
Fun fact: Pythons and many other species of snakes seem to have remnants of the ability to use venom. They all probably have a single common ancestor.
One of the things that allows snakes to not eat much is that they shrink their gut down to almost nothingness. They stop using so much energy in the gut to save on energy. It takes energy to create enzymes and such and then to have to dispose of them. Shrinking works to cut down on the cost of energy.
Because of this though, they have to work hard to get the gut to grow back to the right size when they have a large meal. I guess the energy saved by waiting so many months might just outweigh the energy spent when growing the gut back to its right size.
According to abc.com, snakes have to increase their energy use by about 45 times the regular amount in the days preceding a new meal. That doesn’t sound that crazy until you make the comparison that an Olympic sprinter puts out 20 times the normal amount of energy and that’s for 10 seconds.
When was the last time you went running and you pushed as hard as you could for 10 seconds? Yeah, it probably sucked but you weren’t anywhere near the snake. Its output is 45 times the normal amount and that is for 3 days. That would be exhausting.
Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about your ball python constricting you because it’s not nearly big enough. Other kinds of pythons like the African rock python, Burmese python, or the reticulated python can and have been documented on killing humans. Mostly children.
Can Pythons Kill Humans?
Just because a snake is not venomous, does not mean that they are harmless. Pythons can be deadly. Most ball pythons are too small to harm most people.
The most dangerous pythons in the world are:
- African rock pythons
- Amethystine pythons
- Burmese pythons
- Indian pythons
- Reticulated pythons
The reticulated python is the most dangerous almost just because of its sheer size. It can grow to nearly 30 feet in length. These are powerful constrictors similar to the anacondas. These are the kinds of snakes you don’t want. Ball pythons are just fine.
Some of the smaller ones that are around 3 to 5 feet that you may want to consider are:
- Ball pythons
- Blood pythons
- Children’s pythons
Blood pythons aren’t a beginner’s snake though. You might think that the children’s python is named that because it is for children, but actually, it is named after John George Children, an English zoologist.
I read this article before writing this blog about two young Canadian boys who were strangled to death by an African rock python after it escaped from its cage. It happened in New Brunswick, Canada.
The boys were staying the night with their friend who’s dad was the owner of the pet shop directly beneath them. For some reason, the snake was kept upstairs in the house! I mean it was in a custom built container but still, that is just not a smart idea.
Apparently, the enclosure reached the ceiling but the snake still found a vent to crawl through and it fell into the boys’ room, where it was found later.
It wasn’t until the morning when the store owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, found the terrible sight of the boys strangled in the night. He found the snake and pinned it down immediately and put it back in the cage.
This African rock python was more than 10 feet long and weighed about 100 pounds. The boy stood no chance, unfortunately. This fairly rare incident was truly horrific.
Another story is of a little girl in Florida who was strangled by a Burmese python.
This girl was 2 years old. This is yet another story of someone owning a giant python as a pet and it killing someone. These instances are rare but I would have thought that was not a smart move to have a big snake with a child in the house.
This Burmese python about 8 and a half feet long. The mother of the child was mortified at the incident and her boyfriend who was living with her at the time could have possibly faced charges. I don’t know if that ever happened.
The snake was found by the boyfriend strangling the little girl and he tried stabbing the snake to get it off but she was already dead. He eventually got it off and called the police.
Basically, the rule of thumb is that you should invest in large snakes. a couple of feet is good but once they start to be bigger than you, you should not keep them around.
Other Potential Snake Based Safety Issues
Besides being too big, constricting, or biting, there are other possible things that are important to know for safety in owning a ball python or any other snake.
Snakes can give you salmonella or other dangerous bacteria. If you aren’t cleaning your cage and properly disinfecting it, you could cold get an infection. Clean and handle your snake well and the chances of infection or bacteria go way down.
Wash your hands before and after you handle your snake. Keep everything in the cages clean. That means water bowls, furnishings, your snakes favorite hiding sport. Everything.
This one is probably obvious but don’t have your snake around food, food storage or anywhere that your prepare food, like the kitchen. Just use your common sense with your snake and everything should be fine.
The main 2 bacteria that you can get are salmonella and botulism. Other ones include liver disease, muscle, and nervous system disease, and bowel infection. Honestly, these other names were too long for me to care about.
We have all heard of salmonella. These are frequently found on reptiles. Salmonella will cause diarrhea, headaches, fever and stomach cramps. Sometimes in rare
Salmonella is no fun but you will generally be okay. Botulism, on the other hand, is very serious and it could kill you. Botulism is a toxin released by a bacteria called, “Clostridium”, that paralyzes you and leads to death.
Animals that live close to the ground can give it to you. It affects human babies more than adults. Adults have better protection from it. Just don’t have reptiles as pets for children under the age of 5 and if you visit a friend’s house with young children, wash your hands again.
Caring for Your Ball Python
Like any pet, you should respect it. Gain its trust. It is not that difficult. At first, it might be afraid of you and it might bite you, but it will overcome that in a short amount of time.
Have a set place for your snake to be and do not allow it outside of that area. Do not allow it in the kitchen. Do not let it near your food. All of these things will make it less likely to give you bacteria that you don’t want.
Also, keep your snake’s enclosure clean. Take out the feces and waste. Take out dead animals that it did not eat fully or at all. Do not leave it a mess. Clean the tank every couple of weeks. Maybe even have a separate container for the snake while you clean the main one.
Take out the moisture that doesn’t need to be there. The snake could get infected as well if you don’t clean it. You could also get sick from that. Just keep the area clean.
Give your snake some difference in temperature. Allow a basking spot but also shade. It will decide what works best for it temperature wise.
Keep your snake safe and take care of its needs and you should not have very many problem. We recently wrote an entire guide all about how to care for your pet ball python, and everything that a beginner should know. Find the article here.
Can a ball python hurt you? A pet ball python will not be able to kill you. It can leave you with a nasty bite that you should have checked out. Ball pythons are pretty docile creatures. They curl out and hide when they feel threatened. At first, your ball python might be scared of you and it might bite out of fear, but once it gets used to you, then it won’t be a problem.
Do pythons attack humans? Pythons, in general, don’t attack humans. If the stars align, then maybe but generally, they won’t. Once in a while, you’ll get some hungry snake that just happens to be around humans and it spells an untimely demise. Humans are not normally prey to snakes.
Can a python eat a human? Only the largest constrictors which are pythons and anacondas have that ability. Whether they do or not is another thing. There have been a few documented stories of humans being killed and/or swallowed. There have been other stories as well without proof. The largest snakes are the green anaconda, reticulated python, and the Burmese python.