On Ball Python Cohabitation


I’m currently separating these three into Sterilite tubs for feeding in the same room. Removing them from enclosure doesn’t pose any additional problems - they’re typically pretty chill with being touched and separated, and I rarely experience hissing or much tensing up (tensing tends to be limited to cases where they’re really deep in a hide, and I usually don’t bother them if that’s the case). My roommate, GF, and I handle my entire collection regularly.

They’re currently on staggered feeding schedules, which has facilitated some interesting behaviors. First, when I remove one the others peek out to observe. Second, when the thawed feeder comes out the others often slither up to the front of the tank to smell - they all tend to become ‘engaged’ for a few minutes. By the time I put the fed snake back 10-15 minutes after swallowing, they’re usually back in hides…but about 10% of the time there’s an interaction where one of the others will still be exposed and will explore the smells on reintroduced snake before they return to hides. I actively try to minimize this by letting the snakes settle a bit before reintroduction.

But when it happens, I watch that interaction really closely for obvious reasons. It tends to have pretty calm, curious nature…longer tongue flicks, inching up with an outstretched neck. So far they’ve seemed to recognize each other fine. But I’m always on the watch for tensing, faster/shorter flicks, or jerky movements - anything that looks like the reintroduced snake could be mistaken for food.

I’m not yet sure where I stand on that possibility. I absolutely believe it could happen, but also feel like all of my girls take their time smelling and tracking feeders before striking. I suspect the feeding response is partly cognitive and partly an ‘overriding’ neuro-chemical cascade…but I don’t usually see balls succumb to that cascade and mistake prey like some other snakes that are considered ‘aggressive’ feeders. This gives me more confidence.



On shedding - I haven’t found much to worry about thus far. I’ve only observed two sheds so far, and the shedding snake seems more likely to find an individual hide for part (but not all) of that time. No obviously defensive behaviors between snakes that I’ve observed. Across my collection, usually limited to balling and a small hiss if I’m removing the one in shed for some reason (rare, typically only if I’m offering a feeder because they shipped in underweight).

One thing I might want to do is introduce a second bowl for soaking and see how they split the dishes if one soaks. Most sheds so far have been complete, but one had some top shed and I wonder if more soaking space could have helped. I live by the beach in Venice CA, so ambient humidity is typically 70-75% in the vivariums without maintenance.


Hello im Mark,

I have many balls. I keep 4 males together in one inclosure. I keep 2 females together. All of the enclosures are 2x4 x15 inches with heat panels. They have a hide and a water bowl/ small tot. I use coconut substrate. I have seen no problems with any of them. They all seem to get along and i would think enjoy each others company. I have a feeding tot for meal time. I never thought about cohabitation until someone at a pet store was really shocked that keep them together. I said well they have been that way for year and dont seem to mine. I dont know?


Interesting read, although I still am skeptical of cohabitation.
I have heard that its believed juveniles bundle together to appear larger and “scarier” to potential predators. So this could be a survival tactic engrained in them. I feel like this would not work out so well with sexually matured pythons.


I’ve never heard that…but that theory literally implies that bundling makes them feel more, not less, secure. There are many animals for which social behavior changes with season or age, and if that were true for pythons, it would suggests a pretty high level of social behavioral complexity, so… :slight_smile:

Most counterarguments that define a unitary social behavior actually imply social complexity from my perspective. You can’t really have animals with dominance behavior, unique personalities, etc etc without the ability to exhibit a range of social behaviors. Pythons have considerable brain complexity, including a modest cerebellum and several structures that don’t map well to mammals.

“After considerable study, we found that X animal was far less intelligent than we initially believed”…said no scientist ever. Practically every deep study on animal behavior has proven that it’s human nature to simplify and underestimate the intelligence and behavior range in other animals.


More pics! First two are a ‘loose overlap’ between Popcorn and Salana taken from two angles - back and front of tank, with only a small part of Salana’s coil in the hide with Popcorn. Third is Pyra poking her head out of another hide to watch me add isopods to the vivarium.


Yes that’s all very true. I am curious to see where this goes as they mature. Be sure to keep us updated


Beautiful vivarium, Wes. This thread has been a very interesting read. I’m “against” cohabbing but clearly your love and care for your animals takes precedent and this is not a mere case of a lazy keeper throwing 2-3 subs together in a tank because they can’t or don’t want to buy separate enclosures. I think giving cohabbing the ok overall is a bad idea, as it encourages people who do the bare minimum for their animals to do even less. But in the case of keepers who are genuinely invested in their animal’s health and well being and closely document the health and stress levels of the animals involved, it’s definitely something that needs to be looked into more.

Thank you very much for sharing! Your snakes are gorgeous, too.


A possibility that came to mind on the “dominance” topic with this picture: Could they be regulating temperature?


This is an interesting project, I cant wait to see the conclusions of it.



I don’t think it’s temp regulation for a few reasons. First, the stacking behavior doesn’t change according to weather or time of day. Second, the coupling is often very “loose,” where the snakes touch but don’t overlap the majority of their bodies. Third, temps should be very cozy already, with good gradient and heat pockets throughout given the foliage and natural burrows. For color, I live in Venice, CA where ambient temp/humidity are already comfy for ball pythons this time of year. Then I use a large heat mat that covers about 1/3 of the tank and have supplemental ceramic for when it’s chilly. Most of the time they’re on the cool side of the tank.


Two interesting developments over the last few days that I wanted to share.

First, more loose stacking pics.

Development 1: I managed to catch Popcorn exiting a pile to go explore, and caught a really interesting interaction. I didn’t capture the full event in pics, but I saw her top half emerge from deeep inside Salana’s coil (pic 1) until she was side-by-side with Salana’s face. She then waited a little bit while looking directly at Salana from ~1 inch away, and then booped Salana’s nose…at which point Salana jumped a little and adjusted so that Popcorn was able to slither the rest of the way out. I read the boop as intentional and related to her needing Salana to move to completely dislodge.

The pics don’t do justice to the interaction, but they show how deeply she was nested and how she exited right beside Salana’s snout.

Development 2: Salana had two failed feedings in the past three weeks after a successful post-shed rat, and I was starting to get concerned that it might have to do with cohabitation stress. I went so far as to separate the three snakes for a day while leaving Salana in the habitat to feed with the least handling. She ate instantly in that state.

So as I was thinking about it, I remembered how aggressively she tracked some prey from inside the tank earlier in the week alongside Popcorn, even though she later failed to eat that day. They both came to the edge of the tank side-by-side, and I was sure they would both strike on the prey if I didn’t separate.

It turns out the culprit wasn’t the other snakes, but the feeding environment - in both failure cases I had taken her into a bathroom with a loud fan and intense lighting, and she found that environment too unfamiliar and stressful to feed. I’ve now validated this by testing her response to prey in-tank with the other snakes (w/ precautions) after failing a bathroom feeding test, and feeding her successfully right in front of the tank without prior separation.

Just a case where the powers of suggestion lead to a misinterpretation of her health and behavior. Turns out she doesn’t care at all if other snakes are around when it comes to food :slight_smile:


Thanks for the great information. This was a very well-written and intelligent post.


to keep it absolutely simple, i view it just like i see cohabitating my leopard geckos. i’ve had females that did fine. i’ve had females that immediately needed to be removed. i have a female that used to have a tank mate and they were seemingly even bonded if at all possible, tank mate became gravid with duds when she was far too small, passed away. tried adding a new tank mate and she (new) immediately attacked my typically cohabbed female. it’s a case by case basis in my house. i have two male ball pythons who are living together, and they’re doing fantastic. they cuddle up, never aggressive etc. my dad also has two males living together, also doing fantastic. however, a few weeks ago when i needed to deep clean my boys’ enclosure, i went to put them with my dad’s snakes for the time being. one of his absolutely flipped out. not aggressive, but scared. he did calm down after less than a minute but his response was clearly due to the other snakes. you have to be willing to monitor your animals and respect when they’re showing that they are very uncomfortable. don’t wait it out.


I absolutely adored reading through this thread. So much thoughtful discourse on a subject that many can get defensive and even prickly about.

I have relatively low experience with ball python ownership, but I’d love to share observations from the past two months of caring for my brother’s ball pythons (he has had issues with the 5 ball pythons being ‘finicky eaters’ and doesn’t currently have the time to give them adequate, individualised care, so I offered to take them in and rehabilitate as needed.)

I will start off by saying I fall into the category of folks who anthropomorphise reptiles. I have grown up with a sulcata tortoise in our family who I now own, and over the past twenty-three years of growing up with her, I have witnessed activity which suggests that she can recognise distinct individuals and reacts to people differently given her relation to them. My personal opinion is that many people have a form of intellectual snobbery in dismissing intelligence/personality of animals, particularly reptiles. But again, that is all to say that I have my own bias of anthropomorphism.

Observations of my brother’s snakes:

One enclosure that I have set up currently holds a bumblebee and a lesser, both females, both roughly around 6 years old. Both females are small for their age, as my brother has always favoured underfeeding rather than potential overfeeding, although he takes it to an extreme that I disagree with. These two girls have lived together their entire lives, from when they were both very young and brought home from a reptile expo. At night, both are quite active and will come out of the various hides to explore, climb the arboreal elements I’ve added for them, and generally exist out in the open of their cage. I have frequently witnessed one moving from a hide on one side of the tank to the other, and often within a few minutes, the other snake will make the same transit, coiling up in the new hide with her cohabitor. As I’ve only been taking care of them for two months so far, I don’t have an extensive enough experience with their behaviours and temperaments to feel safe in judging whether this is resource hoarding, social comfort, etc. However, both snakes have been doing well together, eating in separate sterilite tubs for their weekly feeding, and exhibiting overall signs of relaxed behaviours.

To contrast that, one of my brother’s BPs, a pinstripe female who is roughly 4 years old, has shown incredible stress over moving from my brother’s individual rack system to a tub-vivarium that I made for her. She is a highly defensive snake, striking and drawing blood every time I interact with her. To clarify, I have not and would not cohabitate her. She showed high levels of stress after the move to my home, and is only now starting to calm down some after a full month with me (my brother requested I take her on a full month after I’d offered to help care for the ‘bonded’, cohabitating couple).

The third example of cohabitation that I am trying to help a snake recover from is my brother’s albino male. He had been kept in a cage permanently with a female common. I also brought him home a month ago and separated him out from the female immediately. He was disconcertingly underweight and sluggish. For his age he is VERY undersized, both in length and girth. Since separating him out, he is beginning to eat consistently on my weekly schedule, only missing one feeding due to being in preshed. I was not able to witness his past interaction with the female he was housed with, although she came to me gravid and my brother had stated she’d been gravid the year prior, but it is clear to see he was mating with her. I can’t say for certain if his startlingly small size is due to energy loss through frequent attempts to mate, stress over cohabitation, my brother’s once a month feeding schedule, or (the very likely) combination of all of the above.

My instincts are that cohabitation depends largely on the individual snakes themselves, but I agree with others who have concerns that lazy or under-prepared snake owners (and I fully admit that having taken on now five ball pythons in the span of the past two months puts me in the latter category) might lean towards cohabitation to save money or time/effort.

Your documentation throughout this thread shows just how deeply you care for your pythons and the effort you are putting into studying how to improve their lives, not just how to save yourself a buck. Again, thank you for this thought provoking thread.


I hope you end up keeping the snakes. You have improved their lives, not been offended when given heavy handed advice, think for yourself, and have an open mind. I too find this experiment interesting.


Awww, thank you. That means a lot. I have definitely been loving learning so much about ball pythons. It’s incredible how much more information there is on caring for snakes in general than there used to be back when I used to take care of my brother’s corn snakes in the early 2000s. The herp community is a true wealth of information, especially with interesting discussions like this thread.



+1 to @xamier.

I’m starting to lean towards smaller prey more often. The problem with feeding large prey less often is that the reasoning seems to hinge on research about multiplicative metabolic rates after feeding - something along the lines of “you don’t want to sustain high specific dynamic action in the animal.”

My sense is this is sort of (but maybe not entirely?) bunk. First, high metabolic rates are measured against a very low basal metabolism in resting snakes. It’s not so much that feeding boosts them to insane levels for their body mass as their resting expenditure is pretty conservative…so it’s easy to lose the forest from the trees if you see the 10-20x multiple. Second, SDA is proportional to food size…bigger prey causes larger boosts and organ enlargement anyway. Third, my (unvalidated) assumption they are adapted to eat relatively often in the wild; I have a hard time believing that a hungry snake in mammal burrows can’t find food for weeks (though research could change my mind…I’ve read the metabolic stuff but not the wild observations). Fourth, with smaller prey and a more relaxed feeding schedule, you can gradually feed if they remain hungry - it’s just a bit easier to adjust for growing or breeding animals. Annnd fifth, I think the health risk of underfeeding is higher than overfeeding…it’s relatively easy to put a snake on a diet, but hard to recover a starving snake.

On the other side, you can definitely go too small. To sustain growth you need to ensure that the previous meal provides more than enough energy to cover the energy cost of digesting the next meal.

I think all the comments about reading the health and social behavior of individual animals before cohabbing are totally on point. My snakes all have distinct behaviors; I think most of my females would work well cohabbed, but I can just tell some pairings aren’t ideal. A very chill snake might tolerate a very wired snake, but that’s not really a good pairing to me.


Meet Freckles and Terra. Terra is ~2mo, and Freckles is ~5mo. They’re both recent arrivals introduced into the same rack. Terra arrived pretty chill, but Freckles was nippy and curled tightly into a ball for the entire ride home last week. Not sure how much she’d been handled over the past few months, but the breeder expected her to be nippy. I’ve been able to open her up a little with very patient handling, but she’s clearly stressed by the change of environment and handling…and she’s been too spooked to feed.

So, I introduced them two days ago with the expectation that a few days with Terra will help relax Freckles. This is hard to define in any experimentally valid way, but my rough guesstimate is that Freckles would normally take a few weeks to open up with a good environment and a few short handling sessions…and that Terra might shave that down to 4-5 days.

Day 1, they primarily stayed 8-12 inches apart, on opposite sides of the cork bark (with Freckles straddling the top). She was a little more relaxed and exploratory when held, but she wouldn’t feed. Day 2, they’re starting to touch - first side by side, then after a few hours overlapping with Terra loosely coiled around Freckles. Notice how most of Terra’s body touches the outside edge of Freckles…that is, in places where she would normally like to be flush with something to feel secure. This is not an accidental position.

I think the next 2-3 days are gonna be really interesting. If it feels like Terra’s contact is persisting Freckles’ stress and little progress is made, I’ll separate them back out to individual tubs. But if each encounter seems to coincide with Freckles’ incremental relaxation, and she becomes open and confident with feeding/handling (I’ll try again tomorrow or Weds), AND there’s sufficient role-reversal in shared position…I’ll probably keep them together.

And for fun…pics of the tank girls snoozing and the growing psychic twins in their “we never leave this” position


I am curious to see how the cohabitation will go with Freckles and Terra! I wouldn’t have thought to put a stressed snake with a friend; so this should be an interesting experiment.

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