On Ball Python Cohabitation

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.


I’ve been to the everglades plenty and never witnessed two pythons together


This comment is not necessary. Maybe find a better comparison please. It’s everyone’s choice whether they want to respond to you or not.


Ahhh I see, I’m so sorry…further fixed. That was tactless on my part.

I want to emphasize that I’m (…obviously) prone to vigorous debate and can get frustrated when I feel like parts of my story are being missed, but I’m here because I’m passionate about the animals and want to discover what’s best for their well-being. I mean no harm to anyone by arguing around these issues :slight_smile:


Also we like to encourage healthy debate not arguing.


It would be interesting if someone would build a big room for an experiment for cohabitation in ball pythons. Just using this as an example room, 20 ft x 20 ft square, 8 ft ceilings, a floor with multiple large heating areas, make it like it was a forest setting with trees and leaves, stumps and logs for hides etc, etc.
Lets just say put 6 adults pythons, 1 male and 5 females in there and observe them for a year to find out answers to all of our questions. Would the male breed? When would they breed? Would they stay together all the time or would they separate and go their on way? Would they climb the trees? When you release rats in the room, would they compete over them or would they not? So many Questions.
If I had my own place and had plenty of money I would do this. It would be very interesting and educational. (It would probably take more than a year to do this.)


It is funny to me that you can say this…

And then cite this…

That study specifically looked for animals in trees in only a forested habitat, completely ignoring all other habitat types and animals not found in trees.

So you are kind of guilty of the same thing you are accusing others of :man_shrugging:t4: :man_shrugging:t4:


Yeah ive started to wonder if theres ever been or ever would be a community driven fundraiser to send an actual research team to go and study these questions in a lab setting and the wild to get answers to these questions. Give it to the community in a matter of fact kind of way. That would probably take years though to get real results and crazy expensive lol


The problem with this is that science, especially good science, is crazy expensive. It would take more than a community fundraiser, there would have to be an organization that wanted to fund this kind of study. And there tends to be less incentive to study ball pythons in their natural habitat as opposed to cancer and Alzheimer’s. It wouldn’t be impossible, but short of someone organizing a team and writing a grant, or someone eccentric and independently wealthy funding it themselves, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. I would love to see more peer reviewed science on ball pythons in general, but alas, I’m not very optimistic that the funding is there