On Ball Python Cohabitation

Thanks for sharing! It’s super interesting to me to see something so against years and years of standard practice in the hobby that appears like it may have some validity. I would like to see some more experienced keepers look into a experimenting with this a little more.


In my experience, some species do very well in a natural setup and some are much more practical in the sterile setup. What’s best for the health of the animals is the direction I tend to take.


So I was recently given two adult ball pythons by someone who couldn’t take care of them anymore. I was told they’ve been housed in the same cage their whole lives and they show no signs of aggression towards each other. However I have had a couple instances of aggression towards me when I went to get them out to handle them. I’m hoping that it’s just because they’re stressed from the move and that they will settle in here soon. Does anyone have any tips for getting them to relax? Should I separate them for a while to see if they’re more relaxed apart? I have two glass tanks, one that is 18in wide, 72in long, and 24in tall and another that is 48in wide, 60in long, and 48in tall. Theyre currently in the one thats only 18 inches wide because they came in that one and I didn’t want to stress them out even more after they got here by trying to put them in the one 48in wide which I already had. I’ve never kept more than one snake in an enclosure so this is totally new to me. Any feedback is welcome and appreciated!!!


I would separate them its like here at work they say we been doing it this way for years but that doesn’t always mean its the best way . Does co habitation work yes it can in a pinch or short term but in this case you don’t have the need for it so I personally wouldn’t. As far as stress goes I think that I would just do it and get it over with if you plan to do it cause it would be worse for the to be stressed out get comfortable in the new spot and then you move them and stress them again I would say just get it all over with in one shot. Just my 2 cents I hope it help’s and what ever you do they thrive and have a great life with you.


This has been an interesting read for sure

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3 posts were split to a new topic: Why do my ball pythons act like they want to be together?

Your observations are very interesting and I will probably come back to this thread tomorrow once I’ve digested it with some rest. I will say what popped into my mind first though before I flit away

I don’t know whether you’re on to something or not. However I will note, that I’ve watched a lot of harping vids and I’ve seen corn snakes curled up together under bark or a log pretty often (other types of small snakes as well).

And I will also note from personal experience, that I believe aquatic snails show socializing behavior preferences, so if snails can show it why not snakes occasionally in certain cases? Snails are extremely simple creatures. My ramshorns, pond snails, and mystery snails (I know the scientific names for those but please dont ask me to remember right now haha, I do need bed rest) all 3 species REALLY do seem to enjoy each others company. You really have to watch a tank of healthy robust snails do their thing to see what I mean, it’s pretty fabulous. They ride around on each other like piggyback, they seem to play together in the water flow of bubbles, they eat together in little groups and sleep together in their little groups. If you have snails exclusively in a tank and no fish, the snails will build invisible mucus elevators all over the vegetation in the tank and you’ll see lines of snails three or four or five deep riding on each others backs up and down these invisible elevator threads, it’s pretty amazing actually! And when I have to pull snails out because they breed fast and I trade them to the pet store for fish food, the rest of the ones left truly do seem to sulk for a couple days before they go back to usual activities.

So if snails can show basic social preferences why not some reptiles? After all, they are not emotionless robots. They can suss out whether their keepers, we, are dangerous or not. They learn when we are going to handle them and that they’re safe. They get used to us. And sometimes even seem to enjoy exploring when taken out. They can grow confident over time that a situation is safe and maybe even that brings them some kind of comfort we cannot truly empathize with, nevertheless the emotion exists. So why can’t they learn that another creature that feels and looks similar to them, looks that trigger that “it’s another of me” instinct that some creatures truly seem to have deep inside, why can’t they learn to associate that with a sense of safety and comfort if the pairing proves beneficial to their survival?

Anyway, I’m going on here. I don’t know whether your experiments are dangerous or not, I am nowhere near experienced enough to make that call, but I am definitely interested to see how things develop over time for you!


I know this is a late reply to all of this. I have been around snakes my whole life and have done tons of research. Still learning tons. But a couple weeks ago, me and my husband bought our first 2 snakes. Roughly the same size and from the same breeder. The man we got them from said it would be fine for them to be in the same tank. I had never done any research on it before hand. So we took his word.

Obviously, I am now aware that it is frowned upon to cohabit BPs. But it is going on 3 weeks now with them being together, separate hides and same undertank heating pads. We keep close attention to temperature and humidity.

Both females, Lucy is alot more adventurous and Stevie was very shy. Now, Lucy has chilled out (still seemingly unstressed) and Stevie does not ball up anymore. They both are fed separately and have no problem with feeding.

They had chosen their own hides in the tank and stayed fairly separated. Over time they would check out each others hides and move on. Today I went to get Lucy and give her some attention. When I lifted her hide, they were both there. Very relaxed and their heads were side by side. When I had lifted the hide, they both raised their heads slightly to see me and that was it.

They seem to be way more relaxed then when we first got them. And again, never had any issue with feeding in a separate location. I keep a close eye on them due to the fact that there are so many accounts of this going wrong. But so far everything has been going great.

Here is Lucy and Stevie!!!


If I were to put all my snakes into one enclosure wouldn’t they just be competing for space and not “relaxing” with each other?

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That’s what they’re doing when “relaxing” they’re guarding the other to make sure they don’t find something that they would miss out on. They’re preventing a future competitor by making sure they can’t become stronger than them.


That is what I thought.

I was searching the forum for threads about whether or not my male snakes could sense my female and this popped up


Couldn’t disagree more:

  1. Your interpretation defines an extremely complex cognitive calculation that includes social awareness and futurising, but assumes a singular behavioral output. As a result you’re drastically simplifying the behavior of the animal across the path of input to output.
  2. Violates Occam’s razor: social/physical comfort is a simpler explanation with less cognitive complexity. It’s literally just touch => endorphins.
  3. I’m confident you would struggle to find one other well-studied animal with similar or higher cognitive capacity that exhibits such singular social behavior. We misread it because the animal and its sensory equipment operate so differently, not because there are other similar examples in nature. Hell, we even give bees more credit.
  4. My observations across an increasingly large sample size specifically show that stacking tends to favor smaller pythons, not the other way around. In other words: accommodation.
  5. The only resourching behaviors ball pythons consistently exhibit is preference for tight “touch” (hint hint) hides. They aren’t intensely sensitive to temperature (hide >>> temp), and they often go months without exhibiting hunger.
  6. Have you ever seen a male relax into a loose, post-coital coil with a female after breeding? That interaction takes a very specific shape: small male protected inside coil of large female.
  7. Have you ever noticed that different snakes seem to have different preferences for touch and interaction when handled? Some are relaxed and curious and will even approach you directly with eye contact, while others exhibit more fear and train away…but almost all will stop and chill if you massage them with care.

I’m now very confident that the common narrative has gotten this social behavior so, so wrong. I’d even put a considerable bounty on anyone producing meaningful, rigorous scientific evidence to the contrary.


Ball pythons in the wild are social animals, they only come together for mating. In the wild you don’t see them on top of one another for an extended time. You’re trying to compare humans (social animals) to pythons (solitary animals). Reptiles are simple creatures, they don’t need to add unnecessary emotions and feelings to everything. They hide to reduce energy consumption, they scavenge to get the most nutrients for the least energy consumed. They attack and strike to take down larger prey. It does favor smaller pythons because they don’t have to forage as far because the other snake does it for them, they are just able to take advantage of it. Has anyone who has cohabitated pythons given them a single food source when they were together? Did they share it, did they offer to each other, or did they compete to try and eat it? When I handle my geckos (I don’t have any snakes, it’s still the same concept) they don’t like being picked up, once I am holding them the two tamest will franticly move around for about 2-5 seconds and then relax. The one that’s the worst at handling will run franticly away from me for at least 10 seconds and then try to escape by jumping. She then usually settles down after around 5 more seconds. I think this shows that the ones that know I’m not a threat are okay with being handled, they definitely don’t enjoy it but they aren’t going to waste energy running from something that’s not going to hurt them. I don’t think they crave contact, some are relaxed and curious, curiosity helps them learn more and find new food and heat sources.


All of the census research I’ve found on wild snakes suggest ‘solitary in wild’ is just not true. They are found sharing burrows in the wild and have population densities/stability that suggest considerable overlap for members of a given population. In Benin, they’re found in clustered groups in resource-rich areas. Not only is this ‘aggregation behavior’ the case for pythons, it’s observed for other snake species as well, including some with much simpler brains. On garter snakes:

We show that their social interaction patterns are influenced by individual boldness, sociability, and age. The snakes’ social networks were perturbed twice a day by “shuffling” their locations. Despite these disturbances, the snakes eventually re-formed their preferred social environment. Aggregation and exploration patterns also varied across time, with most activity occurring later in the day. These results highlight the complexity of snake sociality and may have important implications for conservation efforts.

Not only does both wild and captive observational data seems to disprove the ‘solitary’ claim, so does ecological reasoning. Food sources and hides in a given environment can be limited, so some cooperative behavior maximizes viability in the wild. This is why cooperative social behavior is everywhere in the animal kingdom. What you absolutely do not see, to my knowledge, are examples of pythons aggressively competing for most of these resources. No fighting for hides or chasing each other away. They exhibit hardly any intra-species aggression. Even mating competition is pretty tame.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that pythons won’t compete for food. I would never feed mine together. They are ambush hunters with an overriding food instinct. It’s commonly observed that snakes seem to have several ‘cognitive states,’ and it’s obvious that the fear/feeding strike response has an impulsive neurological profile. I’ve definitely seen a few snakes (rarely) go ‘crazy’ for food. But ball pythons do not spend most of their time in this cognitive state.

What I am claiming is that modest cooperative social behavior increases the viability of the species (as is the case with almost all species), that pythons are adapted to feel most secure with neuromuscular feedback, and that they have more than enough sensory and cognitive capacity in their ‘thinking state’ to recognize that others of their species are not an existential threat. Hence the relaxed state and tendency to touch when cohabitating. I think it literally makes their brains release ‘feel good’ chemicals.

Reptiles as a category are not simple. Many larger species have complex neurological structures and a modest cortex that suggests the potential for memory and some abstract processing. They recognize other living creatures, explore their environments for stimulation, and can even solve puzzles. Large snakes and monitors exhibit a level of intelligence much higher than other species that we accept as having social complexity. Surely they are capable of adaptations for neurochemical social feedback.

All animals, including humans, optimize for their environments and core needs. But to assume that implies some binary carnal simplicity is to disregard the sophistication and beauty of complex life that we see throughout the natural world.


Garter snakes are the only snake species that are known to be able to be cohabitated. That really isn’t relevant to ball pythons. Are you saying that ball pythons would do better in captivity if they were cohabitated? A solitary species won’t gain anything from touching another snake. And reptiles (unlike most mammals) don’t have positive emotion chemicals that come from contact. Just because a snake has a larger and more developed brain doesn’t mean that they can’t and won’t be solitary. And just because many large snakes (especially Retics) and monitors can think and process thoughts doesn’t mean that a much smaller, less mentally advanced species has to.


Yes. I’m suggesting that cohabitation provides them a richer experience and likely reduces stress by tapping social/neuromuscular feedback loops (involving oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, etc) that are - to the best of my understanding - largely shared across major phyla. Or else they wouldn’t overwhelmingly choose contact in resource-rich environments.

If you have any evidence to the tune of differences in those feedback loops or the absence of those neurochemicals for ‘solitary’ animals or reptiles, that alone would give pause to my hypothesis (though I still think the claim that ball pythons are strictly solitary is about as poorly substantiated as the claim that they’re strictly terrestrial). But your statement on reptile neurochemistry seems pretty deeply at odds with my current understanding of neuroscience and evolution. And all the loosely related research on neurochemistry that I can find in a cursory search.

It kinda baffles me that you acknowledge the research on positive socialization in garter snakes but posit a much simpler behavioral interpretation for ball pythons with much larger brains because you view them as solitary. Do you think BPs have the raw cognitive capacity but are wired in some vastly different way without the potential for the same feedback loops, or do you think neither species has the capacity for this ‘intelligence’ and the research on garter snakes is bunk for some specific reason? I feel like one must be true.

I don’t mean to pick at you specifically for representing a view held broadly across this community, but I think we really oversubscribe to binary human categorizations like ‘solitary vs. social’ that are rough approximations at best. I just don’t think these rigid definitions map well at all to the complexity of life and gradients of observed behavior across different environments. Like…‘solitary’ spiders can even cooperate to build webs.

I think it’s a disservice to the animals to draw strong conclusions from definition and not from observation.


Garter snakes breed in groups ball pythons do not. That kinda tells you which one is a social animal. Garter snakes are observerd in large groups breeding in the wild. Ball pythons are not observed in the wild breeding in large groups. In captivity the ball pythons are laying on each other resource guarding. These ball pythons in the wild would not go out of there way to find and be around each other. The opposite is true with the garter snakes in the wild. Isn’t the actions of snakes in the wild a better indicator than putting two snakes in a tank they can’t leave and then being surprised when they lay on top of each other.


@saleengrinch does make a wonderful observation here


If they crave being together then how is it that ball pythons are sometimes cannibalized in captivity when breeding. And that’s when they’re just together for a few days at the most. Or how when people cohabitate snakes that are of a different size, the smaller one is eventually eaten. Or when they “cuddle” the larger snakes head is on top, that seems a lot like dominance or resource guarding. If they crave contact so much then why does it stress them out to handle them? They should be thrilled and eat the next meal they possibly can, instead they usually refuse their meal if it is given too soon.
I am not acknowledging the socialization in garters because garters are the only snake that is known to be cohabitatable. And @saleengrinch made a very good point about how garter snakes breed in groups. Humans usually do give things human emotions, especially reptiles.
Humans do use those terms often, many animals do in fact cooperate and work together. However only a few species of reptiles, amphibians, or arachnids do. And from observation I see the larger snake resource guarding the smaller snake. In rare cases even eating them. The “cuddling” you see is really just survival. Preventing another competitor before they can become strong. If you put two rats a week in a cohabitated snake habitat, do you think each snake would eat one? Or do you think the larger one would take both?


Not really…it’s bad science to extrapolate an animal’s capacity for behavior from an animal’s observed behavior in a specific environmental context with high dimensionality. There are myriad reasons why BPs are more solitary than garters in the wild, and lots of reasonable possibilities have more to do with environment than capacity for positive social interaction - food source distribution, viable ecology vs. population growth rate, rodent burrow size, energy demands of digestion vs. difficulty of hunting, etc etc etc. Some of these factors may absolutely drive population behaviors at scale or even suggest that socialization has very low energy efficiency for stimulating the animal. But that doesn’t mean the behaviors are singular and ubiquitous across all environments.

Zookeepers figured this out a century ago with tigers and house them together even though they are solitary hunters in the wild. When you drastically clip their environment such that hunting, exploring, and other ‘interacting with nature’ instincts can’t be expressed, often the healthiest thing you can do for the mind of the animal is provide some additional semblance of nature in the form of social context.

Another thing that keeps being ignored is my point that no rigorous census data I’ve read or viewed implies strictly solitary behavior in the wild. The same conviction was held about terrestrial behavior until a researcher finally sat down and counted snakes climbing trees. :man_shrugging: :man_shrugging: :man_shrugging:

This is my concern. We’re limiting the ability of a python to express its roaming, climbing, and other ‘interacting with nature’ instincts. There are economic incentives to delude ourselves into a belief that our rack systems mimic their natural world. We’re then making gross extrapolations from the wild that further limit the amount of stimulation available to the animal. We haven’t mimicked the wild in any meaningful way - they aren’t brainless beings that simply sit in a hole to strike at the smell of a rodent precisely once per week.

I keep posting observations where I’ve done my best to practically measure the impact of social contact in resource-rich captive environments. I’ve sampled many animals, held/toggled controls, repeated experiments with different combinations, and searched obsessively for any meaningful negative signals. I started this process very aware of the null hypothesis, and thus afraid that I might inadvertently kill a pet.

I’ve documented a lot of this process here in excruciating detail. I’ve provided reasonable explanations that interleave my observations with sound scientific frameworks. I’ve given other examples in both nature and captivity. My conclusions might not be up to the standards of peer review, but they’re clear and obvious to me and everyone else who sees my animals.

There is one picture on the internet of a ball python cannibalized by an emaciated peer. Someone else in this thread mentioned an example in an old book. I’m waiting to see more observations of ball python cannibalism, but it isn’t happening in my racks or tanks.