Snake behavior is a complicated and often misunderstood topic. After all, humans have associated the reptile with “evil” and “malevolence” for years due to misplaced fear and a lack of understanding of their behaviors. So, as someone looking for a common type of snake – such as a ball python for sale – you may have some questions on what they’re really like.
You may even wonder if a reptile can emotionally bond with their caregivers. While that topic may be highly debated, it’s important that we get a better understanding of snakes by taking note of their natural behaviors and knowing what to do and what not to do.
How Snake’s Behave in the Wild
Snakes (especially the smaller ones) are typically mesopredators. This means that they are not at the top of the food chain, and prey on other animals as well as become preyed upon. Because of this, they are mostly cautious and don’t seek out conflict with other, larger creatures that could potentially eat them.
With the very rare exception of a few species of snake (such as garter snakes) that may exhibit some social behaviors, these are a solitary group of animals. When not actively hunting or exploring its surroundings, most snakes will prefer to take shelter in a tree or burrow. In general, we would advise housing snakes on their own.
How Snake’s Behave in Captivity
With any potential threat far away from them, most captive snakes remain rather docile when properly exposed to humans. They are not terribly active creatures (a ball python can sleep for around 20 hours a day), and your snake will likely enjoy gently basking under a heat lamp or hanging out on a branch in its enclosure.
While it may still be somewhat uncertain whether or not a snake can truly “bond” with their owners, it is very possible that they can distinguish between people. This is due to the fact that snakes have very complex sensory organs that allow them to taste and smell the air. Many snake keepers in fact report that snakes behave differently around certain people, and may hold preferences and dislikes.
Your snake may sometimes show that it recognizes you and is happy to be in your presence. This display can include staying close to the walls of its enclosure, or freely climbing up your arm when you present it. It will also choose to calmly rest on you, and may demonstrate that it prefers your company above other people.
Bonding With Your Snake
To ensure that the relationship between you and your snake remains positive, it’s important that you understand how to properly handle it and recognize certain body language cues.
Here are the basics on getting your snake accustomed to your presence and handling:
- Avoid petting your snake before picking it up.
- Approach it from the side, not above.
- Pick up your snake from around a third of the way down its body.
- Keep its body supported, and keep it close to your body.
It’s important to remember that your snake needs support and security when being handled. You can provide this by being confident and making sure that it feels safe.
To induce minimal stress to your snake, avoid handling it when you first obtain it. The first couple of weeks at a new place can be stressful, and it most likely won’t be feeling terribly social at that point. To ensure success the first time you handle it, wait a couple weeks and give it a good meal. After it has eaten, give it a couple of additional days to rest and digest.
Some additional occasions that you should obtain from handling your snake include:
- When it is sick.
- When its vision might be impaired.
- After you’ve handled its food.
- When it is shedding. It is an uncomfortable process and it causes mood changes.
Remember, the name of the game here is minimizing stress and ensuring that your interactions remain positive. With consistency, your snake is sure to be extremely tolerant of handling, and may even come to enjoy your company.
What to Watch out For
If your snake is exhibiting any of the following behaviors, it may be stressed or aggressive, and should not be handled at the moment:
- Rapid tongue flicking
- Tight or stiff body language. It may even constrict itself more than usual around your arm.
- Tail vibrations
- Heavy breathing
- “Playing dead”
- Striking at non-prey items and other erratic behavior.
- Rapidly losing weight and refusing to eat.
Every individual snake is different, and certain species may exhibit different “warning signs” than others. Even if you have experience raising one species of snake, another can be completely different. For example, the hognose snake in particular is famous for its exaggerated and dramatic “death display” that would make predators in the wild lose interest. Once you know your snake, you will be able to identify the signs in no time. We advise spending time observing your pet when you first bring it home, and even checking out forum posts from other reptile fanciers.
If your snake is exhibiting a rapid change in behavior, such as sudden aggression or fear for no discernible reason, we would recommend taking it to a trusted vet as soon as possible. There are a variety of physiological conditions that could cause your snake stress. When purchasing a snake such as a ball python for sale, it is important that you make sure you observe it for the first couple of weeks after you bring it home for any potential issues.
Final Thoughts on Whether or Not Snakes Bond With Their Owners
Ball pythons and other snakes for sale will, naturally, act differently than snakes in the wild. Of course, we would never recommend handling any wild animal that isn’t accustomed to human interaction. However, when cared for and handled properly throughout their lives, many snakes can become wonderful pets that – under certain metrics – do indeed enjoy the company of their caregivers. Regardless of the kind of snake you purchase in the end, it is important to respect their boundaries and listen to their body language at all times.