Do Ball Pythons Sleep?

One thing in common between all animals in the world is that they all need sleep or rest. A ball python’s daily routine consists of drinking water, finding warmth, and lots of rest.

You might be wondering how do ball pythons sleep? Do they even close their eyes? Is it considered sleep if they have no eyelids?  

This article will explain all about ball pythons “sleeping” and other important information about a ball pythons eyes and vision. 

Do Ball Pythons Sleep?

There aren’t enough studies to show that ball pythons actually sleep. Scientists believe that reptiles and amphibians go into a state that’s similar to sleep, showing periods of little to no movement, but it’s not actually considered sleep. 

There are 4 behaviors that need to be checked off in order for an animal to be considered asleep. 

  1. Spontaneous immobility in a stereotypical sleep position. The “sleep” position can be stereotypical or specified per species. 
  2.  Stays immobile for a period of time.
  3. A high response rate to wake-up stimulation.
  4. Fast behavior of “waking up” after being simulated.

The sleeping state of humans, other mammals, and birds are relatively similar in the four behaviors listed above. They even have similarities in what is now considered rapid eye movement(REM) sleep.1

Another state of immobility we see in animals is that isn’t considered sleep is hibernation. Hibernation has the same behaviors as sleep except hibernation includes lowered body temperature and decreased metabolism.

Not every animal will check off all four requirements for sleep, but all animals will either sleep or go into a sleep-like state. 

Ball pythons are the type of animal that will go into a sleep-like state, but not necessarily sleep. 

Here are some normal ball python feeding behaviors

How do ball pythons sleep?

Ball pythons don’t go into REM3 like we do, however, they do go into a sleep-like state being spontaneously immobile for a period of time.

Scientists have experimented on the sleep of only .24% of reptiles with squamates(snakes, lizards, and worm-lizards) only being a small chunk of that percentage. 

All data of snake sleeping observations have been done on an African rock python. So, we have to base our knowledge off of that study which is closely related to a ball python, but not the exact same species.

After having ball pythons for over 7 years I can say that the ball python’s sleep-like state is very similar to sleeping in most animals. 

In this sleep-like state ball pythons will be in a hide curled up into a ball much like their defensive position except not protecting their head and a bit more relaxed. 

Ball pythons don’t have eyelids so it may be hard to tell when they are in this sleep-like state. Since they don’t have eyelids they “sleep” with their eyes open. 

You can tell if a ball python is in a sleep-like state when it isn’t moving(not even a flick of the tongue).

sleeping ball python
Hypo GHI Ball Python sleeping

When do ball pythons sleep?

Ball pythons go into their sleep-like resting period multiple times a day for hours at a time. 

In captivity, their daily schedule consists of roaming around, occasionally drinking water, and “sleeping.”

A ball python will come out of sleep for 1 of 3 reasons: to regulate body temperature, to eat, or to drink water.  

I keep over 50 ball pythons and have seen them sleep sporadically throughout the day with their longest period of sleep after eating. 

In the wild, ball pythons will sleep 22+ hours a day depending on how large their last meal was and it’s no different when they’re in captivity. 

Where do ball pythons sleep? 

Ball pythons will always sleep under a hide when it’s available whether they are in an enclosure or out in the wild.

They also sleep in burrows. Even though they don’t make them, they’ll inhabit burrows other animals make. They have even been found in tree hollows even though they are terrestrial creatures.

In captivity, it’s important to give your ball python at least one hide, but the more hides the better for them so they can regulate their temperature comfortably.  

If a ball python doesn’t have a hide to sleep in they will find a warm corner to get comfortable in and settle there. 

Do ball pythons have eyelids?

blue eyed lucy eye close up

Ball pythons do not have eyelids so they can’t blink or close their eyes. Instead their eyes are protected with a layer of skin.

This is one reason it’s hard to tell when a ball python is “asleep,” their eyes are always open.

Can ball pythons see in the dark?

Ball pythons, in a sense, can see in the dark. Ball pythons use a complex system of infrared thermoreceptors and retinal photoreceptors to create signals to the brain. 

It’s unknown which sense dominates the other, but there have been studies that show that blind snakes with thermoreceptors(heat pits) can accurately target prey. 

The fact that ball pythons can accurately sense prey in the dark with their heat pit thermosensors means they have some form of night vision. 

Learn more about ball python heat sensors here.

Do ball pythons have good eyesight?

We don’t yet have the technology to figure out a ball python’s visual resolution or how clearly they can see. However, scientists have discovered that a ball python’s vision plays an important role when a ball python forages or ambushes. 

Under a microscope ball pythons have rods and cones, just as we do, that help them see lights and colors. A human eye has about 20 rods for every cone whereas a ball python has 50 rods for every cone.

A ball python’s retina is dominated with rods that are densely packed which is common in nocturnal species. The density of these rods help absorb more light especially in dim places. 

Ball pythons vision is mostly used to find moving objects, especially prey. 

Find out what snakes eat in the wild?

What color are ball pythons eyes? 

Banana triple het black eyes

Ball pythons’ eye colors depend on their morph. The most common ball python eye colors are black, red, blue, and green/yellow. 

A normal ball python’s eye color is mostly black because it absorbs so much light, but if you shine a bright light at a ball python’s eye you’ll see some color that coordinates with its pattern and eyestripe. 

No matter what your ball python’s eye color is, they will always have a vertical, dark pupil in the center. 

Do ball pythons’ eyes change colors?

Ball python’s eye colors don’t change but you may see them get foggy every once in a while. A ball python will get foggy eyes when they are going to shed. It goes away after a few days before they shed. 

After they shed their eyes should look nice and clear of any fog. 

When ball python sheds, their eye caps should shed with it. If it doesn’t it may still have its eye caps on and should be assisted to remove them. 

Learn more about snakes HERE. Do pet snakes smell bad?

Conclusion

Ball pythons don’t exactly sleep, but they do go into a sleep-like state for up to 23 hours a day. They go into a ball position and stay immobile for hours at a time. 

Since they don’t have eyelids you won’t know if a ball python is in their sleep-like state until you observe them for a while and see that they haven’t moved.

Ball pythons will always find cover to “sleep” which can be a hide or a burrow created by another animal. 

Although ball pythons hunt and forage at night, they can be seen awake during all times of the day. After all, they only stay awake for a couple of hours a day total. 

Ball python’s eyes play an important role in their hunting and foraging, especially when detecting movement. Have you looked at a ball python’s eyes lately? 

Resources

  1. Libourel, P. A., & Herrel, A. (2016). Sleep in amphibians and reptiles: a review and a preliminary analysis of evolutionary patterns. Biological Reviews, 91(3), 833-866. http://anthonyherrel.fr/publications/Libourel%20&%20Herrel%202015%20Biol%20Rev.pdf
  2. Libourel, P. A., & Barrillot, B. (2020). Is there REM sleep in reptiles? A key question, but still unanswered. Current Opinion in Physiology, 15, 134-142. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468867320300018
  3. Sillman, A. J., Carver, J. K., & Loew, E. R. (1999). The photoreceptors and visual pigments in the retina of a boid snake, the ball python (Python regius). Journal of Experimental Biology, 202(14), 1931-1938. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.621.4126&rep=rep1&type=pdf