I have never known much about any snake, let alone ball pythons, but I do know that a common characteristic of snakes is that they hiss, or rattle, or do just about anything to get a predator to back off. I wanted to know if ball pythons did the same so I did some research, and here’s what I found.
Can ball pythons hiss? Ball pythons can hiss. Every snake is capable of hissing, but not all do it frequently. Ball pythons hiss by gathering up a large amount of air and then expelling it with force.
It may be strange, and even scary, for a new ball python owner to hear the snake hiss. But there are a lot of explanations as to why and how they do.
How Ball Pythons Hiss
How snakes hiss is an interesting use of their throat and lungs. At the beginning of the snake’s throat is something called the glottis. The glottis is a part of the larynx that contains vocal chords. Vocal chords have a little space in-between them, and when the air is passed through them, the chords wiggle, producing sound.
The faster the vocal chords vibrate, the higher the sound that escapes. This is the case for almost every animal in existence. In humans, we have the ability to manipulate the sounds that come from our glottises using our lips and tongue. Snakes also have that ability. Down the body, past the thyroid and heart, are its lungs.
So when the snake feels threatened, it will gather up as much air as it possibly can in its lungs, then force them through the glottis and the vocal chords at a very fast rate, making the vocal chords vibrate as quickly as possible.
The snake then maneuvers that sound with its tongue, stemming the flow of the air and sound. The stemming of that sound creates the characteristic hiss with which we are all so familiar.
Why do Ball Pythons Hiss?
Some snakes are well prepared to defend themselves when it comes to predators. They carry venom, crush things to death, and have other various fantastic abilities. But with the smaller snakes or the snakes who find themselves vulnerable in the tough world they live in, all they can do is make an intimidating sound and hope the predator is frightened away.
Another reason why ball pythons hiss is to communicate when their territory is being occupied. As an example, say you have a favorite table to sit at during lunch. You sit there as often as you can because you like the chair or the view from the window, or it’s quiet. Whatever the reason, it’s your favorite spot.
Then one day, you walk to your favorite spot to see a coworker already sitting there, happily munching on their lunch. This makes you upset because you sit there every day and therefore deserve the rights to that spot.
Snakes do the same thing. Whether it be a hunting ground, a den, a basking spot, or a prime corner in the cage, they are territorial animals and will indicate encroachment with a mighty hiss.
Depending on the situation, the snake may be hissing because it is uncomfortable. It is normal if the snake hisses when it is still getting used to its surroundings. It’s startling to be taken from a familiar place and plopped in a new and unfamiliar one.
The snake may also be hissing because something hurts. If you suspect this may be the case, contact your veterinarian right away.
Hissing is not a social thing for snakes. They are not social animals, and will only gather together in large groups for hibernating or mating purposes. If two snakes are hissing at each other, they are most likely in a fight over territory or intimidation.
If this is happening in the wild, do not disturb them. If you have two captive ball pythons that are fighting, however, it may be a good idea to put them in separate tanks.
The Ball Python’s Behavior
Ball pythons, found mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, are a nonvenomous constrictor. This means that they squeeze their prey to death before eating it. The ball python is a comparatively smaller python than most of its species. It is also usually very docile, and easy to handle.
Ball pythons get their names from another defense technique that is very unique to them. When the snake is threatened, it will coil itself into a tight ball, and put its head and neck safely in the middle. In this state, they can literally be rolled like a ball. We have an article on our website all about ball python’s temperament, where we talk about how to choose the right ball python and how they are around children. Find the article here.
Ball Python as a Pet
The ball python is extremely popular on the pet market because it is very docile. They are one of the most-bred snakes in the world. They have large clutch sizes, ranging anywhere from one to 11 eggs. Breeders are also constantly creating new designs. Over 5,300 morphs exist, but some common ones are Spider, Pastel, Albino, Mojave, and Lesser.
Pet ball pythons can sell for anything ranging from $15-$5000. The price of the snake depends on the color and the genes used in its breeding. If you’re looking to buy a pet ball python, be sure to buy and maintain the correct habitat and diet.
Make sure to clean their tank often, disinfecting the walls, floor, and furnishings, adding a new substrate, and being sure that your snake always has fresh clean water.
While the ball python is extremely docile and likes to be handled, you must be very careful not to over-handle them. This will cause them to be stressed and stop eating. If you just bought your python a new home, give them some time before handling them so they can get used to their surroundings. Do not touch their heads. They hate that. If you are interested in caring for a ball python, here you can find an article we wrote all about how to care for a ball python. We include everything a beginner needs to know to be a successful snake owner.
What do I feed my pet ball python? A good diet for a ball python contains frozen and thawed mice and rats. If you would rather feed your pet a live rodent, do so very carefully, and do not leave the room. Live mice or rats can injure snake, sometimes seriously or fatally. If you are feeding them frozen rodents, make sure they are thawed to above room temperature. Do not microwave them.
What if my ball python is not eating? If your snake isn’t eating, there may be a couple of different reasons why. The first is that it may be stressed. A snake that is still getting used to its home might not want to eat right at first. To remedy this, try putting the snake in a different cage to feed it. This will help the snake focus on the food, and on eating. The second might be depending on whether your snake is wild-caught or bred in captivity. Wild-caught pythons are notorious for having small appetites. Another reason your snake may not be eating is that it may be sick. If you notice that your snake is lethargic, shedding often, vomiting, or having trouble breathing, contact your veterinarian right away. However, keep in mind that if a snake goes a week or two without eating, that is normal.
Is the ball python a good pet for beginning snake owners? The ball python is an excellent snake for beginners. Caring for a ball python is not as demanding as other snake breeds and most keepers will have little trouble providing a proper captive environment. Captive-bred hatchlings (we always recommend captive-bred pet snakes over wild-caught) are easy to handle and grow into interesting pets.