Do Ball Pythons Climb? Arboreal vs Terrestrial

Can ball pythons climb? Yes, ball pythons can climb but does that mean they are arboreal (or semi arboreal) snakes? No it does not. 

There is a distinct difference between having the ability to climb and with a species being arboreal (living in trees). Ball pythons are not arboreal, they are terrestrial snakes. 

Ball pythons can climb and yes, some ball pythons do climb, that however does not mean that ball pythons are an arboreal snake; just like people that can swim, or people that love to swim, are not (semi) aquatic!

If you’d like to learn more about ball python husbandry please check out our comprehensive care guide here!

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Do Ball Pythons Climb Trees in the Wild?

Ball pythons, or sometimes called royal pythons,  are native to central and western Africa, where they live in areas dominated by shrubs, grasses and geophytes (bulb plants).

Ball pythons are an ambush predator that tends to remain hidden, oftentimes in underground burrows, waiting for the opportunity to surprise (ambush) their prey as it comes too close!

Ball pythons are primarily crepuscular animals, meaning that they are most active during twilight period, the hours between just before sunrise and sunset.

Do ball pythons climb

Hills near Ngaoundal.jpg” is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Can Ball Pythons Climb? Are Ball Pythons Arboreal?

Arboreal animals spend their lives living in or among trees. Two of the most popular arboreal snake species are the green tree python and the emerald tree boa.

There is a very distinct difference between a ball python’s ability to climb and it being an arboreal species of snake. 

Ball pythons can climb, just like most dogs can swim, but that hardly describes or defines either species.

The term “arboreal” is often misused as an adjective to describe a particular ball python’s actions. Just because a snake does climb doesn’t mean that it’s arboreal. 

Arboreal animals, whether they be spider monkeys, squirrels, or rainbow boas, are all adept at life in the trees; they are structured and have bodies built for living on branches and tree tops.

Ball pythons have thick, heavyweight bodies that are not conducive to life above ground; rather they are suited for ambushing prey from a camouflaged hiding spot.

But the Internet Says that, “My Ball Python Climbs All the Time!?”

Again, ball pythons can climb but they are not arboreal, they do not live in trees! 

There are many forum posts where keepers will claim that ball pythons are arboreal or semi-arboreal and they present “evidence” that their specific ball python climbs on branches in their enclosure. 

Does this mean there is some debate about this issue? No, it does not, it’s just a misuse of the term arboreal and conflating the ‘ability to climb’ and the ‘act of climbing’ with species that actually live their lives in trees. 

There is NO debate that ball pythons can climb and that some may actively do so.

ball pythons are not arboreal

Do Ball Pythons Need Height?

Some keepers try to suggest that ball pythons need height, or expansive vertical space, in their enclosures. 

I firmly believe that utilizing the largest enclosure possible is nearly always a good thing, but one does need to understand the needs of the animal they are trying to keep and what best benefits them. 

There is a misunderstanding between the ‘couple of feet’ of vertical space commonly found in ball python enclosures and the vast vertical space (up to hundreds of feet) utilized by true arboreal species. 

Even an enclosure that is 3ft tall is not an adequate representation of “arboreal living space!”

Enclosures taller than 3 feet actually greatly increase the risk of your ball python falling and injuring itself. 

If your ball python enclosure is decorated with driftwood, cork bark and vertical branches and your ball python utilizes them, that’s great!

But the few inches (feet) in space in its enclosure is comparable to the fallen branches, trees and shrubs found all over the ground in nature. 

A ball python that inhabits all of the vertical space in an enclosure does not make it an arboreal snake. 

In fact, with all things being equal, a ball python will benefit much more from additional hides and horizontal space than it will over vertical “climbing” height. Period!

Why is My Ball Python Keep Climbing the Sides of the Tank?

Sometimes you may notice your ball python attempting to “climb” the smooth sides of its habitat or tank glass; it will raise up looking for grip on the smooth surface and ultimately ‘fall back’ onto the ground. 

Decorations, plants or driftwood in the habitat can assist the ball python’s efforts and help it reach higher heights posing potential escape risk. 

There are a couple of reasons that a ball python will attempt to climb the sides of its enclosure. 

  • New Enclosure -If your ball python has been a recent addition to the enclosure they will spend time exploring all areas of their new home
  • Escape -during their explorations, ball pythons will look for areas that they can “push” open/apart or squeeze into. A secure, tight-fitting lid is a necessity!
  • Poor Husbandry/Conditions -improper temperatures or temperature gradient along with too much or too little humidity can cause your ball python to seek refuge elsewhere. 
  • Stress -make sure that your ball python feels secure in its enclosure. Multiple hides, both on the cool side and warm side of the enclosure are necessary to reduce stress. 
  • Illness -occasionally ball pythons suffering from illness or disease will express this behavior

Can Ball Pythons Climb Walls?

Ball pythons do not have the ability to scale smooth surfaces like walls the way that geckos do.

Some snakes can “climb walls” made from rough, uneven surfaces like brick or stone.

Ball pythons, being thick-bodied snakes, are unlikely to even climb such surfaces as this.

Is it Normal for Ball Pythons to Climb?

As we’ve talked about in this article, ball pythons can climb, they do climb, and maybe even some of them “enjoy” climbing. 

Ball pythons do ‘climb’ over many objects, both in captivity and in nature, as they traverse the ground in search of their next hiding place or spot to hunker down and ambush a meal. 

In the home however, the overwhelming majority of ball python enclosures will not be more than a few feet tall and the “climbing” that a ball python does would hardly be considered arboreal.

Ball Python Enrichment

The BEST enrichment for your ball python is to provide it with all its necessities; various hiding places, multiple heat options, and a day night cycle. Ball pythons have evolved to ‘sit and wait,’ to ambush prey as it walks by. 

Ball pythons physiology is such that it preserves energy, using as little as possible, until another meal comes along; the end goal to reproduce and multiply. 

There are most definitely subtle differences in behavior between individual ball pythons, some being more active and others “climbing” more or less. However, a ball python is fundamentally a terrestrial ambush predator. 

Does that mean that ball python enclosures should not have branches and vines for them to explore and climb on? Absolutely not!

Feel free to decorate and provide a diverse home for your ball python, one that meets its needs and is also pleasing for you to look at too!

However, no amount of branches, driftwood or climbing enrichment will ever make up for a lack in a ball python’s basic needs!

Proper temperature, multiple hides, and the correct humidity levels will always be more beneficial to your ball python than “climbing branches” every will!

Ball Python Climbing Branch

As long as you’ve met the basic needs of your ball python, adding and decorating its enclosure with vines, branches and wood can be a great idea! Just don’t sacrifice the basic needs for aesthetics!

Do Ball Pythons Climb? Answered.

Ball pythons do climb, some more than others. Even terrestrial animals such as ball pythons are able to climb and can be quite adept at it. 

However, ball pythons do not live in trees, therefore they are not arboreal.

Your ball python’s enclosure should meet all of its basic requirements and if you’re sure to do that, adding some extra branches or vines for aesthetics or for “climbing” certainly won’t hurt!

Have you ever wondered why snakes “yawn?”