In twenty years of owning ball pythons, one of the things that is most clear about this pet is that they like coming out at night! But does this mean that they are nocturnal? Is your pet python going to be more active at night, or during the day?
Ball pythons are largely nocturnal, meaning many will be most active at night, and sleep through the day. However, some ball pythons will show more of a tendency to be crepuscular. That means that they will be most active around dawn and dusk.
Either way your python will be more active when it is twilight or dark, and sleep during the day.
It’s strange that there is not a definitive answer to this question! Some ball pythons go for the full nocturnal experience, while some are more active in half-light – that’s just the way it is!
But why are they more active around these times? I am going to use all my experience of keeping ball pythons to help me dive into the ins and outs of ball pythons, what they do at night, and why.
A Wild and Pet Ball Python Will Act the Same
Let me put one thing straight here to kick things off. Your pet python is going to follow the same living patterns as a wild ball python, even though you will have artificial light on them and all of those other creature comforts at home.
They do this because this way of being more active at night is hard-wired into a ball python. They cannot change that, as it’s their natural way of living. They have the same instincts instilled in them, even when they are pets and in captivity, as they do if they were out in the wild and battling to survive.
Why Are Ball Pythons Nocturnal?
The ball python is going to use the night in order to go out there and hunt. They are acutely aware of the prey they are going to go after, while also understanding that they too are prey for other animals. That’s just the way it all works. [Source]
So, they are nocturnal in order to get out there and grab some food. They are aware that the prey they are after will be sleeping, which makes them more vulnerable. It means their prey will not put up much of a fight, and it’s an easier catch for them.
Also, you need to think about the animals that are most likely to see a python as something they can feed on. Young pythons can be easy targets for birds of prey. A bird of prey is usually going to be out hunting during the day, so it makes sense for the young python to hide away out of sight when it’s light.
Other animals, such as wild dogs, may also see a python as a handy meal, so they want to avoid all of this, leading to them coming out at night when it’s a whole lot safer.
How Do They See?
The ball python is pretty lucky when it comes to its eyesight. They have a sort of infra-red vision that makes it easier for them to pick up on things at night. They use this to not only spot potential prey, but also to navigate around in general.
Well, describing it as some form of vision is slightly misleading, so we can explain it in a bit more detail.
What they actually have are sensors that pick up on heat. It has its own name as well, the pit organ. [Source]
With the pit organ, what they have here is a sensor that is highly sensitive to the world around them, which includes picking up on heat changes in the air, and they can do this up to 1 m away. If you want to see what they look like, then they are generally a series of holes that appear across the top of either their mouth or face. They don’t look like much, but they are highly effective at what they are for.
Overall, this allows the ball python to get some sense of what is around them, whether it be an obstacle they need to avoid, or prey they need to go ahead and grab.
As you can imagine, this changes everything for the ball python when it comes to surviving at night.
But Don’t They Need Heat?
People always think that snakes need a huge amount of heat in order to survive, so being active at night would sort of contradict that. Well, you just need to remember where a ball python comes from. It doesn’t really get that cold during the night.
But that then means you need to prepare the tank for your ball python to make sure they feel warm enough to move around at night, just as they would do in the wild.
You need to have the heat mat on in a part of their tanks where they can get warm, and then move to a cooler part of the tank when they get too hot. Also, you can put an infra-red light bulb on in their tank to allow you to see them moving throughout the night, if that’s what you would prefer to do.
You must also remember that the python will soak up the heat during the day, but from a safe spot, and that does help them as well when it comes to later on. But then, it’s also the humidity that helps them out, and once again, we only have to look at their natural habitat to see that humidity is not a problem.
This also helps you better understand what is required for the tank. They need that heat and humidity to feel comfortable. The conditions need to be the same as they would expect to find out in the wild, as this will then prevent their circadian rhythm from being upset, and that’s something you don’t want to happen.
So, the apparent lack of heat at night won’t be a problem for the Python, but it does mean you need to pay attention to their home and provide them with everything they need at all times.
Here’s a great video I found that explains how to get the whole heating situation just right for a ball python:
What Do They Do During the Day?
Your ball python is going to do one thing during the day, and that’s sleep. Actually, a ball python likes to sleep a lot. You may even notice that your ball python likes to sleep up to 23 hours a day, although the average is around 20 hours a day.
They use the day to rest, save energy, and digest any food they were able to catch the previous night. They do need the heat in order to have all of their bodily functions work perfectly, but they will snuggle up in a safe spot, which in their enclosure will be a hide box, and have a snooze until they feel like going out to grab a bite to eat.
In the wild, they will bask in the sun to get some heat into their body. That is why having the correct lamps to replicate those conditions will be so important in their home. However, the Python will also then want to slink away into darker spots to feel safe. Therefore, providing them with those options is also something you want to be doing in their tank.
But as you can see, the Python doesn’t get up to much during the day. So, if your pet is lying around sleeping, then it does mean you are doing things right when it comes to looking after them.
More On Their Sleep Patterns
Now, even though we just said they can sleep for up to 23 hours a day, that doesn’t mean they sleep for a solid 23 hours.
Instead, they will sleep for a bit, move around or rearrange how they are curled up, and then sleep again. How long these sleeping sections will be does vary quite considerably, as each ball python has their own way of doing things.
So, don’t be surprised if your Python is still lying there for a couple of hours. Then the next time you look, they are in a different position, even though it’s the middle of the day. They are only doing their natural thing.
They Become Less Active When Shedding
Even though they sleep for such a long period of time, there are points where they become even less active, and this is primarily focused on when they are shedding.
When shedding, the python can effectively vanish from view for a couple of weeks. This is because they feel extremely vulnerable at this time, and they need to hide in order to protect themselves.
If your pet ball python is going through their shedding phase, then they are going to want nothing to do with you whatsoever, and that applies no matter the time of day or night.
Other Factors That Affect Their Movement
There are other factors that will also affect the amount of movement they indulge in throughout the night. Their size, age, how they are feeling, what they have had to eat recently, and even their enclosure will all have an impact.
For example, if they feel their enclosure is not comfortable enough, then they will be more hesitant to move around. A ball python does not like to feel unsettled, as they are quite a timid creature by all accounts. So, having that hide box, or two, if you want to help them out, will be an essential piece of kit. They will then spend all their time in their hide box, as they will get that sense of security that they are searching for.
With their age, it makes sense that the older they get, then the more they will slow down. It happens to all of us.
Also, when they have a full belly, they will have less need to move, as it has eliminated the desire to hunt. They will be too busy using up all of the energy that they do have with digesting the food in their belly, so they will be quite content to just sit there.
Basically, your pet python is not all that active most of the time, especially if you feed them regularly.
So, the Summary
A ball python is going to be mainly nocturnal, but your pet python may be more active at both dawn and dusk, in which case they are crepuscular. Either option is perfectly normal for your Python, and you will quickly get used to the times when they are a bit more active.
However, the most important point is that they will not be active during the day. In actual fact they will sleep a lot. But then, don’t worry about the amount of sleep they indulge in. A python is one of the longest sleepers in the animal kingdom.
With their ability to sleep up to 23 hours a day, in some cases, your python is not the most energetic pet you will ever keep.
So, if you want to see what your ball python gets up to, then you will need to do so at night. But even then it may be tough, as they will only really move when they need to go and hunt before settling down once again to digest food or preserve their much needed energy for something else.
Finally, just make sure you provide them with a heat source, hide box, and humidity in their tank to replicate their natural surroundings. That will help them feel as if they are out in the wild, but with a regular food source coming their way. With all of that, you will have one happy pet python in your home, and one that could then live for up to 30 years with the correct care.