Ball Python Bites; Everything You Need to Know
Getting bit by a pet is no fun! It can lead to distrust, frustration and even some hurt feelings. ALL pets have the potential to bite and if it does happen it can be a real shock and pretty unsettling.
Ball pythons, known for being one of the most docile and personable snakes, have the potential to bite. However, this doesn’t need to damage your relationship with your snake, nor does it need to be something to fear.
Understanding your ball python, learning about its behavior and being able to read is body language can help prevent the vast majority of bites or potential bites.
You can reduce the risk of getting bit with proper information, care, and respect for your snake.
Table of Contents
Are Ball Pythons Aggressive Snakes?
Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes for beginners and even young children! They are well known for being docile and good-tempered and are generally very reluctant to bite.
Many people that witness a snake bite or imagine a snake striking are quick to say, “what an aggressive snake” or “…snakes are so mean…” It’s common for people to wrongly assume aggression rather than understand why snakes, and all animals, strike or bite.
Aggression implies a “desire” or “want” to bite or go on the offense. Ball pythons are NOT looking for a fight. (this is also true for the majority of animals across the globe)
Ball pythons don’t generally have ‘bad attitudes’ or are mean. But, put in the wrong situation or forced to make a life or death choice, a ball python may have to choose to defend itself by striking or biting.
…this isn’t aggression, it’s only defense; and it’s not even a ball python’s first line of defense!
A ball python’s preferred means of defense, as the name implies, is to curl up into a ball with its head protected by overlapping coils of its body. It would rather “ball up” than to bite or strike.
How Often Do Ball Pythons Bite?
Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes; one of the most popular pet reptiles!
…and for good reason. Ball pythons are recommended for beginner snake keepers and even for younger children that are looking for a pet reptile!
They tend to be very calm and docile and take well to handling, even from inexperienced keepers. Ball pythons tend to get this reputation because of the fact that they are so unlikely to bite!
If you do get bit by a ball python odds are it will be from a baby/juvenile snake!
Babies are quite vulnerable, they’re too small to really “ball up” and protect themselves, too slow to get away, and too small to ‘scare’ any would be predator .Really, the only thing they can do is bite.
Baby snakes are wary of everything. Everyone is a potential predator looking for a meal, no wonder they strike and bite. The good thing is that a bite from a baby ball python is literally no big deal.
There’s a good chance you wouldn’t even feel a bite from a baby ball python! Many times you’ll only realize that you’ve been bitten by the little pin pricks and small dots of blood on a finger or two.
After baby and juvenile snakes grow older and larger they start to mellow out and become more and more comfortable with their surroundings and with interaction with people.
Once a ball python realizes that we pose no threat they tend to stop “worrying” about their human caretakers.
Though the majority of bites happen while your ball python is young, older snakes can occasionally bite. But again, the vast majority of bites from adult ball pythons can be prevented or even eliminated altogether!
We’ll discuss some tips and things you can do to avoid a bite in a bit, for now let’s talk a little about a ball python bite, what it feels like, if it hurts, and just how serious (or not) it is.
Do Ball Pythons Have Teeth?
Absolutely! Ball python’s have thin, very sharp, needle-like teeth. And lots of them!
STOP! Before that makes you run in fear, it’s actually a ‘good thing’ that a ball python’s teeth are so sharp; a prick from a needle does far less damage (and hurts less) than would a big CHOMP from relatively dull teeth! (like that of a dog or cat)
Ball Python Teeth; Just How Many Do They Have?
An adult ball python can have well over 30 teeth! The exact number of teeth will depend on factors like age (younger snakes tend to have fewer teeth), size and whether or not teeth are missing or growing back in.
…yes, snakes lose their teeth and grow replacements!
As stated earlier, ball python teeth are very sharp and thin, they also grow curved towards the back of the snake’s mouth.
Ball pythons use these curved teeth to help latch on to prey items and they assist in ‘drawing the prey item in’ during swallowing.
Ball pythons do not have fangs like venomous snakes use to inject venom into their prey. Ball python teeth are only used for gripping.
Does A Ball Python Bite Hurt?
Ask a hundred people if getting their tattoo hurt and you’re likely to get a hundred different answers. It can be similar with snake bites. The issue is that different people have differing views on what’s painful and what isn’t.
However, the vast majority of snake keepers will tell you that a ball python bite doesn’t really hurt that much.
Remember how we said that “it’s a good thing” that ball python teeth are so sharp?
The fact that ball python teeth are very sharp actually makes the bite less painful; the teeth are so small and sharp that many people that get bit don’t even feel the actual bite!
Many times a ball python bite is only noticed after seeing a “scratch” mark or the tiny dots of blood caused by the small punctures.
Many snake keepers also keep or have kept cats and kittens at one time or another, and most would say that a scratch, even from a kitten, is far more painful than a ball python bite!
The most ‘alarming’ thing about a ball python bite for most people is the surprise of it happening. All snakes, ball pythons included, are very fast and they can strike within the blink of an eye!
So, the speed and sometimes surprise of the actual bite is much more startling than the pain or feeling of getting bit.
Ball Python Bite Pain On a Scale of Kitten to Tiger!
Again, most people say that a scratch from a small kitten ‘hurts more’ than a ball python bite! Your ball python is certainly no tiger!
How Bad Is a Ball Python Bite?
What kind of damage can a ball python do if it actually bites?
A ball python can’t do much damage if it bites, especially if you get bit on the hand, arm or leg. Of course getting bit in the face or an eye?? (this would be extremely rare) could cause more damage but something like that is an extreme example.
Honestly, the severity of a ball python bite is up to YOU and not the snake! The worst thing that you can do if a ball python bites you and holds on is to attempt to pull, pry or force the snake to let go!
Ball pythons will bite for two reasons, a defensive strike or a feeding response. A defensive strike will be a ‘quick hit and let go’ like a rubber band being snapped on your arm. A bite from a feeding response can be more of an ordeal.
A feeding response bite can result in your ball python ‘biting and holding on,’ perhaps it will even try to coil around your hand or arm. Feeding response bites are the ones that you need to be careful that you don’t try to forcefully remove your snake.
Remember those teeth that curve towards the back of a ball python’s mouth?
If a ball python bites and you pull on the snake or you try pulling your arm away you will only force the teeth deeper into your skin, create lacerations in your skin or end up ripping your ball python’s teeth out!
Compare this to a cat for instance; cat’s have claws that curve backwards and it’s much worse if they sink their claws in and ‘scrape’ them across your arm then it would be to have them just penetrate your skin without all of the pulling!
The same is true with a ball python, puncture wounds from a ball python bite are superficial but grabbing your snake and attempting to “pull it off of you” will surely cause more damage!
If we compare the severity of even the most painful and damaging ball python bite to say that of a small dog; the dog bite has a dramatically increased risk of causing injury! (and pain)
Pets such as mice and rats, birds like parrots and conures and even other reptiles like iguanas or monitors have bites that are potentially much more severe than any ball python.
Ball pythons are safe pets, they are docile pets, and they are pets that even in the unlikely event of getting bit will prove to be milder than most popular pets kept all around the world!
Why Did My Ball Python Bite Me?
There are a couple of common reasons or situations that result in the majority of ball python bites.
- Baby ball pythons being defensive
- A bite resulting from ignoring multiple warnings
- Getting bit while your ball python is in shed
- A feeding response bite, being mistaken for food
As we’ve learned baby ball pythons are constantly fighting to survive, they have many potential predators in the wild and will react defensively towards any perceived threat.
We also know that ball pythons would rather curl up and hide than strike at someone. Only after having repeated warnings ignored, which we’ll soon talk about, do they strike or bite out of a defensive, ‘last resort.’
Ball pythons, like all reptiles, must shed their skin as they grow and become larger.
During this shedding process, also known as ‘blue’, a ball python’s eyesight becomes cloudy and opaque because the top layer of skin covering its body is ‘releasing’ from the new layer underneath and is getting ready to be shed.
A ball python with impaired vision is likely to be more defensive and apt to react to handling and movement in its environment. It is advisable to not handle your snake while it is in shed for this reason.
Lastly, being mistaken for food is probably the most common reason, other than handling babies, that people get bit by their ball pythons.
If you feed your ball python by hand (holding the mouse or rat with your bare hands) you have an increased chance for a bite. Ball pythons ‘sense’ the heat signature and smell of their prey and sometimes it’s possible for your warm fingers to be mistaken for mouse or rat dinner!
It’s also possible to induce a feeding response bite if you’ve recently handled rodents (live or thawed) and have neglected to wash your hands before attempting to handle your ball python.
That rodent smell lingering on your hands can cause your snake to mistake you for a meal!
3 Tips to Prevent Ball Python Bites
- Do not handle your ball python when it is in shed
- Do not ignore the warning signs that your snake doesn’t want to be handled
- Use a pair of feeding tongs when feeding your ball python and wash hands thoroughly after handling rodents
Why Did My Ball Python Hiss At Me? And Other Warning Signs
Ball python hatchlings tend to hiss and tend to be a bit nippy with nearly everything! Older snakes hiss when they are stressed or displeased with their current situation/environment.
This hissing can be a warning to “leave me alone” or “I don’t want to be held.” Oftentimes hissing won’t even lead to a strike or bite, for many ball pythons hissing is their only (weak) defense.
Ball pythons communicate fear or discomfort by tensing up their muscles and bodies, becoming rigid or by twitching and acting jumpy. These are signs that your ball python would prefer to be left alone and it’s a good husbandry to give them space for a while if at all possible.
Ball pythons that want to be left alone or are fearful will also sometimes assume a ‘striking position’ with their heads and body that resemble a curved S-shape, they will also stop flicking their tongues almost preparing themselves for a strike.
Noticing behaviors like these are signs that your ball python doesn’t want to be held and prefers some solitary time.
What to Do If A Ball Python Bites You
So what happens if your ball python does bite you? The very first thing you should try to do is remain calm.
TIP #1 Remain calm
Understandably, sometimes that can be easier said than done. However, reacting by flailing your hand or arm, shaking or attempting to pull the snake off of you will almost certainly result in more harm than good.
If the bite is a feeding response bite and your ball python won’t let go, do not force it by pulling or attempting to pry open its mouth. You will most certainly cause more damage to yourself and you will potentially harm your ball python!
If your ball python has bitten you and won’t let go try running some warm water on its head to try to make it release its grip. If that doesn’t work a small amount of hand sanitizer or alcohol such as vodka or gin dripped into its mouth will cause an almost immediate release.
If you do need to resort to hand sanitizer or alcohol remember to be careful not to get it in your snake’s eyes and using more than a small amount in your snake’s mouth is unnecessary.
A defensive bite where your ball python strikes and lets go is simply a matter of cleaning the wound.
Clean any ball python bite with warm soapy water and if needed use a small bandage over the bite area.
All animals can carry infection and disease and there is a small risk of salmonella with reptiles so being sure that any bite is cleaned well with warm, soapy water is the best defense!