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Ball python owners understand their snake’s behaviors after caring for them for long enough.
Ball python behaviors and mannerisms are good to understand so that you know what’s normal and what’s not normal, especially when it comes to eating.
Recognizing unusual behavior lets you understand if your ball python has any health or hunting problems that could lead to something serious like injury or death.
Typical ball python feeding behaviors are easy to recognize with time and experience, but it’s never too early to learn them.
Here, we will list the behaviors that are the normal while they’re hunting, eating, and even after they finish their meal.
How do ball pythons behave with food?
Ball pythons react a certain way presented with food. Their behavior right before striking is equally as important as when they are eating.
You’ll see an immediate change in behavior when a ball python is presented with food. They’ll start flicking their tongue and move in a calculated way.
As soon as you put food in front of them, ball pythons become curious. He or she is trying to determine if it’s time to hunt, explore, or defend.
Once you open their enclosure your ball python is aware of your presence just from vibrations. It may take a moment for them to notice you if they are sleeping, but eventually, they’ll know you are entering their space and they’ll start showing curious behaviors.
Normal Hunting Behavior for Ball Pythons
Ball pythons will start hunting when you offer food or if they sense prey nearby.
While hunting they track heat and movement using their heat pits and vision.
Ball pythons move their heads with sharp movements as they do this. It’s their way of tracking prey, getting ready to strike.
Their necks will be in an “S” shape like the photo below which is their ideal position to strike.
If they get tapped or touched on the nose by their food they will usually retreat and start hunting again or they will give up and not show any more interest in food.
When they’re ready to strike their prey, they strike near the head or neck of their prey. Their strike only lasts a milliseconds; if you blink, you’ll miss it.
In that split second, their jaw locks around its prey and their head rotates over it pulling it in to constrict.
My ball python won’t strike its food
At times, ball pythons will show interest in food, but won’t strike at it. Ball pythons do this when they’re not hungry, they can’t tell if it’s food, or if they don’t feel safe enough to eat.
As we mentioned before, ball pythons show interest in food by flicking their tongue rapidly. They’ll usually do this while tracking their food with their neck in an “S” shape ready to strike.
After a short while, they should strike, but they won’t every time.
When a ball python shows interest in hunting but doesn’t strike it means they aren’t ready for a meal and you should try again later.
Tips on getting a better feeding response
- Warm up frozen/thawed food enough to mimic live prey. Soak it in warm water for a few more seconds, then try again.
- Don’t move your ball python from its enclosure to feed
- Try adding a hide in the enclosure, the extra security might help your ball python be more comfortable.
- Try a smaller size prey.
- Feed a mouse instead of a rat.
It’s normal for ball pythons to go on food strikes for weeks and sometimes months at a time, so it’s somewhat typical for them to pass on a meal if you’re offering food weekly.
Ball pythons can survive several months without eating. As long as your ball python isn’t losing a significant amount of weight your ball python is fine.
Consult your local vet if their weight decreases immensely especially in a short amount of time.
Ball python just stares at its food
Another normal ball python behavior, when presenting food to them, is them just staring at it.
Yup. Just staring.
One of the more obvious reasons is that they might be asleep. If they haven’t moved to an alert position, wait for them to do so after waking them up and present their food.
A ball python that’s awake and alert and still staring at their food, means that they are hunting. The long stare might be hesitation, especially if they are just starting to hunt.
They may need more time to gain interest in their food.
Another reason they stare at food without flicking their tongue is that they aren’t interested in the food.
Just staring at food is abnormal. What is normal is a ball python staring at their food flicking their tongue knowing the food is there.
Staring is very normal as long as they are flicking their tongue, alert, and aware that the food is there.
Ball python strikes food but doesn’t grab it
Another behavior worth mentioning is when a ball python strikes at its prey, but doesn’t grab on and constrict it.
I’ve only seen baby ball pythons react this way when they are not used to a routine, but ball pythons at any age will show this behavior.
A ball python that strikes at its food, but doesn’t grab it is striking defensively instead of hunting.
It’s usually because they think that the food is a predator and not prey. It happens often when a rodent is too large for them or when they feel insecure.
If your ball python strikes defensively, it’s best to wait until they are relaxed to try feeding them again.
Sometimes a quick scent of their food will snap them out of their defensive mode into hunting mode. If they keep striking without constricting, they’re not interested in the food. Wait at least 24 hours before trying again.
Ball python quickly backs away from food
Ball pythons frequently back away when anything touches their nose and face.
They back away quickly when they’re startled or if they need to reset their position to start hunting.
Either way, this is typical behavior you will see from a ball python especially if they’re in the middle of hunting.
Ball pythons can’t see very well. Instead, they use something called a Jacobson’s organ that helps them process chemicals from the air that they gather from their tongue.
So when something comes close to their face they can’t “see” it but they’ll definitely feel it once it touches them. This is what causes the sudden backward movement.
Backing away from the food is normal, and once they back away and start fleeing is when you know they’re not interested in food.
Usually, your ball python will go right back to searching for the food after being frightened back which is the normal response you want. Eventually, if they’re interested, they’ll realize it’s food and strike like normal.
Normal Ball Python Eating Behavior
After a ball python strikes the’ll grab on to their prey immediately. Their strikes aren’t always accurate though, they’ll sometimes miss their target.
When a ball python is hunting and they miss their target, they’ll project themselves further than their target and have to slowly back up to reset. Their jaws may even appear misaligned when they close their mouth again.
If they strike and hit their target, but they didn’t grab on to their prey, then they aren’t hunting, they’re actually defending themselves. This strike will be more accurate, but they will quickly snap back into a hunting “S” shape.
They’ll strike at the food thinking their food is a threat and immediately let go hoping the threat will go away.
When this happens it’s best to leave them alone for 10 minutes or so to cool down and try offering the food again later.
Immediately after your ball python strikes it will constrict its food even if the food is pre-killed or frozen/thawed.
Your ball python will constrict its food as long as it thinks it needs to, usually anywhere from 1-5 minutes. Eventually, they’ll loosen their grip, let it go, and start eating.
Your ball python should have itself wrapped around its prey 1 or 2 times before it lets go.
Your ball python will eventually let go of its food and start smelling around to find a part to start eating, usually the prey’s nose area.
The normal ball python searching behavior for their prey’s nose is the snake closely flicking its tongue around it.
It will take a minute or two for your snake to find this starting point so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while, or if they smell the nose and pass it to go back to it again.
Eventually, they’ll find it and start to consume it.
Once your ball python finds the starting point of its meal it will open its mouth wide over that area(usually the head).
As you may know, a ball python has to unhinge its jaw to eat its meal. It won’t look like a snapping or a jerking motion, but they will swiftly open their mouth wide enough for their meal to fit.
It’s amazing that snakes have found a way to eat their prey whole without any hands or limbs and it’s incredible to watch.
They use their teeth to wiggle their food into its mouth. The technique looks like they are “walking” their teeth over their prey.
You should see their neck wiggle slowly to get their food down.
Heads up, food down
While a ball python is eating it’ll sometimes lift its head so that gravity helps them swallow. I’ve mostly seen this with baby ball pythons, but adults will do this as well.
Your ball python will wiggle its neck which helps them get its food down to its stomach. Sometimes that’s not enough and they’ll put their nose in the air, lift their necks, and shimmy that food down.
Ball Python Behaviors After EatingNormal Ball Python Behavior After Eating
After eating, your ball python is exhausted. After all, it takes a couple of minutes for them to eat from start to finish.
Soon after their food is all the way down, they will start searching for a warm place to rest. The warmth helps your ball python digest its food since they depend on external sources to regulate its body temperatures.
It’s normal for your ball python to stay in its hide for long periods of time after its meal. It takes 4-5 days for their food to completely digest and then they’re ready for their next meal.
If your ball python continuously moves around after finishing their meal, it’s likely they are having trouble finding an area comfortable for them to rest and start digesting their food. They could be looking for more food once they finish, but this doesn’t mean you should offer them another meal.
Ball pythons are opportunistic eaters so when they have the chance and they feel safe and comfortable to do so, they will take a meal even if they’ve just had one.
A healthy ball python will slither, roam and occasionally flick its tongue. Their eating process is unique since they have no limbs to help them, so knowing their typical behaviors can tell you a lot about your ball python.
Your ball python should show the behaviors mentioned in this article immediately before, during, and after eating. Eventually, it will become a routine.
Getting used to your ball python’s normal behaviors and routines helps you determine if something isn’t right or their health is compromised.
Ball pythons don’t have a way of communicating with us, so watching their behavior is the only way we can tell if something is wrong with them.
After you have your ball python for a while you’ll understand their individual personality and routine so it’ll be easier for you to know if something is wrong and hopefully this post will help you.