On Ball Python Cohabitation

And this was my vivarium this morning…was hard to get a good angle. The two 650g juveniles entwined together to sleep.

A few things to note here. First, the space they’re using is appx 1/16th of the vivarium. Their bodies are in elongated, relaxed coils. They chose one of the cooler and more exposed spots…it’s specifically NOT resource rich, over the heat mat, etc. It’s also not the only spot with that temperature…there two hides and more flora on that side available, if one wanted a more secure or personal spot with the same thermals. There is no clear dominance that I can measure - rather, they’re oriented with folded overlap such that they each have parts of their bodies on the ground and their heads comfortably resting in a nook at the same height.

To me this picture is a pretty strong indicator of relaxed, cooperative behavior. If their coils were tight, if Solana’s head/neck was less exposed (under the leaf), if similar resources weren’t available elsewhere, or if one of them seemed to ‘control’ the spot I would feel very differently.


See, to me it looks like the slightly larger one is laying on top of the other one, which in my mind is very much a dominance behavior.


Maybe…I’m definitely open to the interpretation. But it’s not super clear to me which you’re thinking is larger…they measure almost identically (+/- 5% body weight). I couldn’t get great angles without moving the leaves and disturbing them…I’ll post similar positions when I find them so stay tuned :slight_smile:

As I see it about 2/3 of Pyra’s (vanilla enchi) body is on top of Salana’s (firefly) back half, but the rest of Salana’s body emerges adjacent under the foliage and she curves back around with her head resting on top of Pyra’s back. It seems to me both have leverage to take much more controlling postures with little effort, which I think is key - Pyra could easily expand her coil over the rest of Salana’s body, or Salana could coil her front half back over Pyra (she definitely has the leverage for this in her current position).

One thing that I think I’ve observed is a good bit of casual repositioning…if I sample them several times over a few hours, their positions change. They might be adjacent or in a different position together. Leverage or resources rarely seem concentrated in one individual among this trio. The third (smaller) snake, Popcorn, was also sleeping in the hide right beside these two in a very lazy coil, similar to the BELs in the photos above.


Another hint that I think challenges the size-dominance interpretation is how they treat Popcorn. As the significantly smaller snake in the group, Popcorn always gets the top when they’re together; I’ve only observed 1 instance of her being truly under the weight of one of the others for an extended time. I was initially concerned she was being dominated, but then I realized about half of her body emerged into Salana’s relaxed inner coil with her head resting comfortably on top and decided from their postures to let it be. My read was that Salana joined the hide last, initially smooshing but then mutually adjusting with Popcorn.

Another interesting thought I had…according to census data, there’s substantial habitat differentiation between the sexes. Females are more terrestrial, and thus possibly more likely to be in regular contact with each other.


Yes I would not take the male/male Cohab experience mentioned above as an apples to apples comparison at all, that is something that shouldn’t be done I’m guessing you have no quibble with that specifically.

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Here’s their position change after a few hours. Salana now completely on top, which I think in isolation could go either way on dominance, with skew in favor of that interpretation…we’ll see how this shifts throughout the day. But as a signal towards cooperation, Popcorn has left the hide to join the crew…she’s never settled along the back wall to my knowledge, so this seems to be specifically because the others are there. This is a bit of a new spot for them. Which is great, since it’s actually pretty good visibility for study once I squeeze behind the table.


Ignore this. But I’ve read a few times from a few different people here “they then find them together in a hide and seeking each other”. Would they do the same in a larger enclosure? A room enclosure, a multiple room or facility. I’d be more interested in those results.

Absolutely, me too…and I hope to find out. My other big observation is that we’re generally keeping adults in tanks/racks that are far too small for them to exhibit their natural behaviors - dusk/dawn roaming and climbing in particular. I really feel like the 55g tank is barely appropriate for juveniles to express these behaviors, and that clipping them out with space constraints comes at a meaningful cost to the animal. There’s a lot of published research to this effect, but ofc the quality-of-life impact has to be inferred.

Do I think the hobby standard suffices? Meh, kinda. Their habitat and behavioral complexity are such that I think they both express a good proportion of their behaviors in closed space and adapt pretty well (captive lifespans imply they don’t stress about it too hard).

But still…I’m planning to rent more space to house my collection, and I suspect within a year or two I’ll be installing a large vivarium ecosystem (think 70-100sqft, maybe an entire room) that I can rotate my animals through for enrichment and observation. I’m very curious to observe how that goes.


The tides turn going into the night…Popcorn is off exploring (you can see her climbing a branch on the top right), but now Pyra is resting on Salana’s back half while Salana explores another hide and watches me take the photo. This sort of position shifting and exploring while continuing to touch is a VERY common behavior pattern.


My main quibble with our beloved “enrichment” crowd is it seems like the opinion is rarely stated with any good science or observation behind it just comes off as bad science and my snake is emotionally intelligent it loves this and blah blah just bs and I can’t even take the argument seriously at that point.


Well…that’s what I’m here for :slight_smile:. I get the concerns about anthropomorphizing the animals, and I see some of it in published literature. But a handful of the research is very thorough…as you might imagine from this thread, I’m not prone to accepting institutional research with any less skepticism.

For instance, the research team for the two largest surveys on spacial considerations and stress in pythons identifies and tracks 24 distinct behaviors that might reasonably be interpret-able as enclosure stress. I think it’s important to have an awareness of these behaviors and a strong sense for how environment changes their expression.

Thus I have a hard time disregarding the “enrichment” crowd…though they might be framing their argument weakly…without those making those observations for myself, because I see NO sound research experimental research that tests captive enclosure size. The industry incentive is overwhelmingly in favor of small enclosures, so the potential moral hazard is enormous. It very much concerns me that much of the hobby/industry disregards those concerns in the absence of supporting research, when natural habitat differs so greatly from the captive standard. Racks/tanks are the “experiment” that needs validation, not the other way around.

So I really don’t think the surgically precise argument comes down to emotional intelligence so much as simple habitat and behavior comparisons (even though emotional complexity is expressed broadly by animals in Pythonoidea and Booidea). I think the sound argument is simply:

“We’re simplifying environment, and thus behavior-clipping (obvious…burrowing, climbing, interactions, etc). In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we should be learning from nature and mimicking it within reason…not ignoring it because no body of research exists to force us yet.”

I do still think racks work OK. I use them, though I lean larger and bio-active. It mimics a large percentage of their “time-weighted environment” and they seem to feed well and survive for very long times in captivity (which alone implies low persistent stress). But I also take care to ensure they can express their exploring and climbing behaviors outside of racks regularly.

Here are some citations from the team I mentioned…I’m sure a lot of keepers have read these already. These surveys aren’t deeply experimental, but they’re thorough and reference plenty of other research on the topic.


Do you actually know who Clifford Warwick is?

If I tell you you will quickly understand his bias against the industry and matter of fact animal in captivity in general.

He is a radical animal activist :wink:

Do you undertand the agenda of animal activist such as PETA, HSUS, etc?


So, first answer is “yes to some degree.” The direction of his research is clear, and in some cases I’ve seen it taken badly out of context by what i would call “irrational activist groups.” For instance, a study on reptile mortality in captivity that had little relevance to snakes has been broadly cited and misused by the groups you list in articles (not scientific) challenging snake captivity. Like…I totally thought the “Ball Pythons are Wildlife” documentary from WAP was total bunk.

But I actually haven’t seen many of his firsthand comments outside of his papers…and by my read the papers are pretty reasonable? I don’t want to fall in a habit of accepting ad-hominem descriptors instead of sound criticisms of scientific method or interpretation.

Obviously his perspectives are very different than those of us who keep snakes. And I think it’s important to consider them thoroughly precisely because of that, so long as they are soundly argued. I’m confident the truth is somewhere in the middle. His list of stress behaviors seems accurate and comprehensive, for instance.


It’s not an attack on the article it is a well know fact that the author is radical animal wright activist, based on that I believe anyone is highly capable of drawing their own conclusions.

Do you also believe the scientific method and interpretation of the various paper regarding Burmese propagation beyond the state of Florida including as going as far as DC? (Rhetorical Question)

A paper can be written by anyone (including researchers, Dr etc) to fit one’s narrative, and group like PETA and HSUS have proven this over and over again, and it’s no different in England in this very case.

A true experiment/study (vs passing judgment like he has based on his agenda) would be to compare animals living in rack systems and larger environment where enrichment is provided and compare various data such as lifespan, health, stress level, feeding pattern etc.

No matter how well written an article is, if the author is bias the article looses all value for me.


Totally, 1000% agree. There’s not a whole lot of ‘hard experimental science’ in his surveys that I linked, so their relevance is limited. They just have good reference lists and the behavior classification schema that I find useful.

We also know something like 60% of academic papers can’t be replicated. The incentives in the ivory tower are perverse, and people bring their preconceptions into research. Good research is hard, and telling the difference is often harder (replication, multivariate math…).

My take is that breeders and hobbyists care about these animals more than anyone…the energy in the community is infectious. I’m throwing a lot of my work efforts into supporting their captivity (keeping/breeding but also engineering), and though I live to stir the pot I really do think we’re doing a lot of things right as a community.


Problem is Deb, that is kind of blurring the lines and falling into ad hominem. It’s saying hey this guy is a (label) so nothing he says has any validity. Which is more or less a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy. An attack on the article would actually be better argumentation.

So instead of addressing and engaging the argument head on we are dismissing it because of the source when in theory he COULD both be a radical animal rights activist and still have some valid points on a particular subject.

I think it’s right to have some distrust because yes if he believes the core values of PETA then his issue isn’t with rack size it’s people shouldn’t own animals at all, ever. And it’s solid reasoning to then expect that position to skew his argument .

Anyway idk if Wes is fully aware of some of the hidden agendas these organizations have…but at the same time It doesn’t mean it’s IMPOSSIBLE for the guy to still have a valid point.


Definitely a bookmarked thread I’m going to follow. I’ll never do cohabitation but this is a good read.


A few more pics. The first two are from last night where I turned the light on and snapped the photos after I heard them rustling around…showing independent exploration, climbing, and enclosure testing (all standard tank behaviors).

These next three are all from a few minutes this morning, when Popcorn decided to join the Salana/Pyra pile that I woke up to. Note how she drapes herself over them such that her head rests on Salana’s side under the cork. She’s been in this position for a while now, and I read this as a very relaxed posture. Before this she was laying adjacent in a loose coil under the cork (side-to-side with Salana), so to me it genuinely reads like she wanted to stay in the same hide but have more contact.

This is exactly the type of interaction that keeps me so curious.


This paragraph in your introductory post was great. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I’ve greatly appreciated your thorough explanation and well-reasoned analysis.


@wesjohnson87 so how do you deal with feeding, also what differences in their interaction when one is in shed and more likely to be defensive?