As a ball python keeper, you probably notice your scaley pet staring at you. But what does it mean when a snake stares at you? Ball pythons do some weird things on some occasions, but is it a bad sign?
Ball pythons mainly stare at humans due to cautiousness, hunger, and curiosity. They will stare to determine whether they are looking at potential prey, predator, or neutral part of the environment. Symptoms of illness, like stargazing, and sleeping are sometimes mistaken for staring.
How can we determine that they are staring? Should you be worried about this? Learn the answers to these questions as you read below!
Ball pythons will often stare first before doing anything once it encounters a potential threat. Ball pythons stare at humans because they view them as potential predators due to the size difference.
Most ball pythons will stare at you because it is wondering whether you are a threat or not. In this situation, they will have the option of “fight or flight.”
To know if your ball python is cautiously staring, check if it shows any of these behaviors:
- Rapid breathing
- Staying still
- Attempting to flee
Some ball pythons even show aggression towards potential threats with signs like hissing, tail wagging, and puffing up, which they do to ward off a predator.
A ball python will also stare if it has found the heat signature of potential prey. They can strike at random parts of the cage where they can detect the heat of a human body or hand.
One way to check if a ball python is hungry is to put your palm up on the side of its enclosure. If the snake follows your hand with fast movements, with an elevated and retracted head, then it means it is eyeing down potential prey.
Ball pythons can accurately detect prey using infrared signatures within a distance of 30 centimeters .
I have also experienced this a number of times with my ball python, Choco. I conclude that he is hungry when he is being receptive or in a striking position when I am in close proximity to his enclosure.
Warning: Checking whether the ball python is hungry or not must be done quickly to avoid cage striking. This will happen if you try to tempt your snake with a potential prey outside of the cage and if it strikes, there is a chance of it getting a mouth injury or dislocated jaw.
>>Learn more about feeding frequency in our article can you overfeed your ball python?
On some occasions, ball pythons stare at humans because they are curious. Although this scenario only happens when a ball python has a confident temperament and trusting attitude toward a person.
Ball pythons are often naturally shy and would normally be afraid of you when you come too close.
As such, you should never expect your newly bought ball python to be friendly as soon as it comes home with you. Each python will have different temperaments!
Signs of a curious ball python include staring while calmly moving, “periscoping”, and approaching boldly.
>> Learn more about periscoping ball pythons in our article about taking your ball python outdoors
Tame ball pythons are not scientifically proven to view humans as a friend. But there are reports that suggest ball pythons can recognize their trusted persons using their senses of smelling and hearing.
In other words, they view us as a neutral factor (neither prey nor predator) in their environment. This can indicate that they trust you. However, it is still unsure whether they can form an intimate bond with humans.
If a ball python is staring if it displays the following actions: 1) varied responses, 2) receptiveness, and 3) tongue-flicking.
To know if a ball python is staring or not, observe if they show signs of being defensive, or curious towards a human. These responses resulted in a ball python’s assessment through staring.
A staring ball python will have different responses depending on whether they feel hungry, threatened, or just plain curious.
A ball python will either defend itself by fleeing or antagonizing a potential threat like a human. There are also cases, especially those kept in captivity, with ball pythons showing signs of comfort and trust towards their caretaker.
For their defensive response, they can curl into a ball, go back to their hide or stay frozen in place. Showing aggression by hissing and puffing up is also their defense.
Most of the time, ball pythons will stare and follow things with a heat signature especially when they are hungry. For example, the heat coming from a human hand can attract them which they will then follow with their head.
To know whether or not a ball is staring at you, you must look if its snout is pointing at you. Then place your palm near the sides of the enclosure to see if they will change their behavior.
Hungry ball pythons will be more receptive and be fast to follow a moving hand. Meanwhile, curious or wary ones will have slower and more careful movements.
Ball pythons that tongue-flicks while staring show that they are trying to monitor the environment to find the optimal pathway or prey. Their tongues are used for smelling the environment to help in navigation.
To compensate for their poor eyesight, ball pythons will also utilize their forked tongues, ball pythons can get a “taste” of the environment . In the wild, this can help them follow trails of prey that lead to a burrow.
Fun Fact: Ball pythons have poor eyesight due to their minimal UV-sensitive photoreceptors in their eyes.
Simply put, ball pythons have a blurry vision but this is compensated by their ability to detect objects and movements in their surroundings that emit infrared light (heat signatures) .
Ball pythons typically stare at humans for about 10 seconds to a minute, which can either increase or decrease depending on their purpose. This behavior is normal behavior and is needed for them to determine prey from a predator.
If your ball python stares at you, do not be scared as it is a normal behavior in snakes like a ball python. You don’t need to do anything unless your ball python shows signs of stargazing which requires immediate veterinary care.
Moreover, it is okay to let a ball python stare at you, But be wary to avoid cage striking.
When their neck is in an “S” position, it is a sign that they’re about to strike and I suggest staying away from the enclosure if you see them do this.
There are rare cases wherein ball pythons stare in a peculiar manner, which can indicate sickness in snakes. Stargazing is a primary symptom of ailments like inclusion body disease (IBD) and respiratory infections.
Stargazing is a common symptom of certain diseases. It is seen in snakes that are constantly staring upwards with seemingly no sense of direction.
Stargazing can also be accompanied by corkscrewing and other neurological problems. It is similar to a severe wobble but instead of being an inborn trait, stargazing is the effect of some ailments.
The most common cause of stargazing is inclusion body disease IBD and other respiratory-related diseases . It can also be caused by head trauma/injury and overheating.
Pro Tip: If a healthy neurologically normal ball python exhibits stargazing, immediate veterinary care is a must. It is also the only accurate way to know whether it is caused by a minor injury or a life-threatening disease.
Sometimes, ball pythons appear to be staring at humans and other objects when they are actually sleeping. Like most snakes, ball pythons do not have eyelids and do not close their eyes when sleeping.
Ball pythons can sleep from 15–20 hours a day depending on factors that might disturb them like prey or predators.
There are times ball pythons appear to be staring at you but are actually sleeping. You cannot determine a sleeping ball python through its eyes, but instead through lack of movement.
If a ball python is not moving for a few hours, it might be sleeping. They will wake up if they hear or smell you being in near proximity, then most of the time, they will just go back inside their hide when disturbed.
What happens if you look a ball python in the eyes?
Ball pythons would not see that someone is looking at them because of their poor eyesight. So if a human look at it straight in the eyes, there won’t be any effect.
Do ball pythons have great eyesight?
Ball pythons, due to their poor eyesight, cannot see details, especially from far away. This means that they cannot recognize a human through sight. But they are suggested to be able to recognize someone through their sense of sight and smell.
Ball pythons will stare at a human due to being cautious, hungry, and curious. Other rare factors include illnesses with a stargazing symptom and mistaking staring for a sleeping ball python.
To determine whether or not a ball python is staring, it is important to take note of their response to humans in near proximity, their receptiveness to heat signatures, and the flicking of their tongues.
If a ball python does stare, it is normal behavior. It is not indicative of anything bad unless they show signs of stargazing or they strike at their cage which can cause injuries.