Differences Between Male and Female Ball Pythons

Snake owners will almost always want to know if their snake is male or female especially if they want to breed them. It’s hard to tell a ball python’s gender just by looking at them since both male and female ball pythons’ sex organs are inside their body.

A couple of ways to determine whether a ball python is male or female is through popping their hemipenes or probing. 

Before we go into how to check a ball python’s gender let’s look at some of the physical differences between both male and female ball pythons. 

Physical differences between males and females

A huge physical difference between a male and female ball python is their size as adults. 

Ball python females will grow as much as 1 foot larger than their male counterparts.

Even though female ball pythons generally grow larger than male ball pythons, it’s not a solid identifier for a ball python’s sex. 

Ball pythons have some physical differences between males and females. These differences are called sexual dimorphisms. 

The physical differences are nearly impossible to identify in young ball pythons but are more obvious in adult ball pythons. 

Males Have Longer Spurs

Snakes have spurs on either side of their vent on the underside of their tail. These spurs are believed to be remnants of legs that snakes once had before evolution made them legless. 

Although both male and female ball pythons have spurs there is a theory that a male ball python’s spurs are larger than a female’s spurs.

The idea stems from the fact that male ball pythons use their spurs in courtship to stimulate the female moving them in a way that stimulates the female. 

A recent study proved that there is a significant difference in the spur length of male and female boas. The male boa spurs are at least 2 times longer than female spurs. 

This study measured the spur length of 32 boas and the results proved this sexual dimorphism.  

In their results, the male spurs were an average of 2.6 mm long and the female average spur length was 1.5mm. 

Scientists believe that this dimorphism is shared between boas and ball pythons as well as other snake species that have these spurs. 

Measuring your ball python’s spurs still isn’t a sure way to know if your snake is male or female though, but you can at least get an idea of what it could be. 

These measurements are also dependent on the snake’s age. Juvenile snakes have relatively the same spur size no matter what sex so spur size can only help distinguish males and females in an adult snake, including ball pythons. 

Females ball pythons are larger

Another sexual dimorphism ball pythons have is their size. Females tend to grow bigger than males even if given the same meals and the same environment. 

The difference in size is difficult to see while ball pythons are young, but they have significantly different growth rates. Even if fed the same amount of food and given the same temperatures and humidity they will still grow at different rates. 

Male ball pythons will stop growing around 4 feet whereas a female ball python will grow to about 5 feet. Both sexes will reach their full size around 4 years old. 

A ball python’s sex is still hard to determine based on their size alone because, just like us, they come in all sizes no matter if they’re male or female. 

Male ball pythons can grow to the size of a large female(2000 grams) and female ball pythons can stop growing at a small size(1700 grams). 

Even though the size is not the best indicator to know if a ball python is male or female, there are other ways we can check. 

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Males have hemipenes

There is a physical difference between male and female ball pythons that lies just below their vents. 

Male ball pythons have a sex organ called hemipenes. Hemipenes are a pair of copulatory organs that come out of the ball python’s cloaca during copulation. 

These hemipenes are a squamate attribute exclusive to males. They become exposed during copulation and are the equivalent of a single penis other animals have such as turtles and crocodiles. 

The hemipenes are located just below the snake’s vent on either side of the snake’s center contracted by muscles keeping them inside. 

If a ball python has hemipenes it can be manually exposed to determine if it is a male or female. A male’s hemipenes will pop out if done correctly and a female won’t have any come out. 

How to tell if a ball python is male or female? 

Both of these methods should only be done by professionals. I do not recommend doing this without experience or supervision by a professional. 

Probing

Probing is the act of gently putting a probe, a slender metal rod, into a ball python’s vent to see how far the rod goes. The idea of probing is the probe will go deeper into a male than a female ball python. 

This method of figuring out if a ball python is male or female can be dangerous and should only be done by profession because you risk tearing something internal that could lead to bigger issues. 

The probes used for snakes have a round tip to help prevent puncturing your ball python while trying to find their gender.  

You can find these online in kits with different probe sizes. 

Even though probing is another technique to find out if your ball python is male or female, it still isn’t failproof. 

Probing has proven to show mixed results with the probe going deep into a female ball python even though it should be shallow. 

There have even been instances where the probe will go deep on one side and shallow on the other side of the same ball python, so the method isn’t that reliable. 

There is another way to figure out if a ball python is male or female is by checking for hemipenes which is called popping.

Popping hemipenes

Popping a ball python’s hemipenes out is a common way to check if your ball python is male or female because it doesn’t require any tools and it gives a visual answer to the question. 

To pop a ball pythons hemipenes you need to grip the ball python at the tail behind the vent. Holding the ball python with its vent facing upwards you will need to push its tail in an upwards motion towards the head. 

If the ball python is a male, the hemipenes will pop out. If the ball python is a female there will be no hemipenes that pop out. 

This technique still requires caution so you don’t hurt the ball python, but it is the most reliable, accurate, and least invasive way to determine a ball python’s gender. 

Popping a ball python to determine if it’s male or female is easiest to do on a juvenile snake. 

The older the ball python is, the harder it is to get the hemipenes to pop since their muscles that contract the hemipenes strengthen as they grow. 

Another worry with popping hemipenes is getting sprayed by your ball python. Ball pythons have a defense mechanism called musking. 

Musking is when a ball python lets out a very bad-smelling liquid from its cloaca which is used to deter predators. The problem is that ball pythons are more likely to musk when their tails are being touched especially when you try to pop them.

Even though popping has its downsides, it’s the most reliable way to tell if your ball python is a male or female, especially if you don’t have expertise or tools. 

Temperament and behavior

Ball pythons are friendly snakes and rarely bite. Their defensive behavior is usually balling up to protect their head and soft spots.

Their behaviors are similar with little to no differences between males and females. 

Males will fight with other males if there is a female to fight over, but other than that the male and female ball python behave the same. 

Lifespan

Ball pythons live 20-30 years in captivity with no significant difference between males and females. In the wild, they live an average of 10 years because of their encounters with predators. 

Ball python food strikes

One worry you may have if deciding between getting a male or a female ball python is their feeding behaviors. 

Ball pythons are known to go on food strikes skipping meals for four weeks(sometimes more). These food strikes are seemingly random and differ from snake to snake. 

Both female and male ball pythons tend to stop eating around breeding season. Females will stop eating to conserve energy while forming their eggs. 

A male ball python will stop eating around breeding season because he is focused on one thing…Breeding. 

Is your ball pythons behavior normal? Click here for what you should see during a feeding

Conclusion

Male and female ball pythons have little to no difference when it comes to appearance, temperament, and feeding behaviors. 

One indicator of a female ball python is its size. Female ball pythons will grow larger than their male counterparts by an average of 1 foot. 

A ball pythons size isn’t the best indicator of whether a ball python is male or female since males will occasionally grow as large as a female ball python. 

Instead, have a professional pop or probe your ball python to determine if its male or female. There are no significant differences between male and female ball pythons when it comes to behavior and feeding. The only difference between them is their size. 

In order to find out their sex it’s best to go to a professional to do it for you. The experience a professional has will prevent any issues and it will give you the most accurate result. 

Resources

Brandley, M. C., Huelsenbeck, J. P., & Wiens, J. J. (2008). Rates and patterns in the evolution of snake‐like body form in squamate reptiles: evidence for repeated re‐evolution of lost digits and long‐term persistence of intermediate body forms. Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution, 62(8), 2042-2064. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00430.x 

Bergman, J. (2019). Snake ‘Vestigial Legs’ Debunked. Creation-Evolution Headlines, September, 1.

Hoefer, S., Robinson, N. J., & Pinou, T. (2021). Size matters: Sexual dimorphism in the pelvic spurs of the Bahamian Boa (Chilabothrus strigilatus strigilatus). Herpetology Notes, 14, 201-203. https://bioone.org/journals/journal-of-herpetology/volume-39/issue-2/111-02N/Sex-Differences-in-Body-Size-and-Ectoparasite-Load-in-the/10.1670/111-02N.short?tab=ArticleLink

Leal, F., & Cohn, M. J. (2015). Development of hemipenes in the ball python snake Python regius. Sexual Development, 9(1), 6-20.

http://www.evodevo.net/uploads/1/8/1/3/18132731/leal_python.pdf