Ball pythons (Python regius) are very common snakes. Many people love their calm and docile personalities.
Once you own a snake, you will likely become fond of your snake. This will lead to you wondering if ball pythons can recognize their owners.
So can a ball python recognize its owner?
Many ball python owners will report that ball pythons do recognize them, and will only allow a specific person to handle them. Snakes do not feel affection like a mammal would, but they can feel secure in your presence. There is however very little scientific research on this topic.
There have not been many studies that focus on how reptiles experience emotions. While they do not have many of the portions of the brain that allow for emotions like love in mammals, they may have other ways to process emotions.
This review of reptile sentience notes that part of the problem is that humans just do not relate to snakes the same way we relate to mammals. We view their behavior through our own biases and may misinterpret their actions.
However, research indicates that even animals as simple as honeybees experience cognitive biases and pessimism.
Other experiments have confirmed that crayfish experience anxiety. This indicates that some emotional states in animals are based so far back in the evolutionary tree that all living creatures experience them to some level. How reptiles experience emotion is up for debate however.
It is noted that they likely can’t feel love like mammals since they are not social animals and have no need to form bonds with other snakes.
Can Ball Pythons Recognize Humans?
Everything you need to know about caring for Ball Pythons in captivity:
Read our Ball Python Care Sheet (Complete Setup & Guide)
Ball pythons can definitely recognize humans over other creatures.
They will learn your scent over time and this teaches them what to expect from humans in general. Snakes that have had negative experiences with humans such as an abusive owner will be more hostile in general. However, reports from snake owners indicate that they can recognize individual humans.
For instance, snakes may not be willing to interact with unfamiliar humans but will tolerate handling by their owner. This is very widely reported, so it is likely that snakes can come to recognize you.
Ball pythons do not have the best vision. They likely identify you by your smell, since this is their strongest sense.
They can also recognize whether there are multiple humans in the room. Most snakes will be stressed if there are other people or animals in the room while they are being handled. However, some snakes will show less stress if the other human is familiar.
Some snakes are noted for having preferences when it comes to caretakers. They may move towards certain humans and be neutral or avoidant to others.
One tip that seems to hold true for nearly all species of captive snake is that you can use a piece of fabric with your scent on it to help desensitize a defensive snake to you.
A slightly worn sock can make even a very reactive snake less likely to strike if you need to do basic maintenance like changing the water. This indicates that snakes likely can at least learn to tell what humans smell like and that the scent doesn’t indicate danger.
Does My Snake Love Me?
The current understanding is that love and bonding are restricted to animals that live in social groups or practice parental care. Ball pythons are solitary animals. They only interact with other ball pythons during mating season.
Female snakes may feel something for their eggs, since they practice maternal care to protect the eggs from predators. Most female pythons are very defensive over their eggs. Female ball pythons guard their eggs and incubate them. They may also guard the hatchlings like some other related pythons.
This doesn’t mean that snakes feel love as we understand it. This also doesn’t mean that snakes truly view humans as anything other than predators.
Most research indicates that you might be viewed as safe. Your snake will learn that you won’t hurt it so it can relax in your presence. It will likely come to associate you with both food and enrichment.
Handling your snake is one of the best ways to offer mental stimulation.
Ball pythons are incredibly curious animals as adults and will likely welcome a chance to see new and interesting things. Many owners note that some snakes will come to the front of the enclosure when it is handling time.
This can indicate that the animal is eager to begin a session. New smells are the most likely to be appealing to a ball python.
Taking them around your house or outside briefly on a warm day can be a good way to let the snake experience new scents. Just remember that you shouldn’t put your snake down.
Ball pythons are escape artists and they will take off if they find something interesting.
Ball pythons likely don’t feel love like humans do. There isn’t anything to indicate that this is an emotion they feel. They are solitary animals, so there’s no evolutionary reason why they would feel it.
However, they can feel trust and comfort. If you are consistently kind to your snake, it will trust you. Earning an animal’s trust is a gift of its own. Even if your pet can’t return the love you feel for it, you can still have a positive relationship with your ball python.
Ball pythons do not feel love like humans do, but they can learn to recognize you as a safe person.
If you own a ball python, please leave a comment below about the emotions and behaviors you see your snake exhibit. If you have any questions, please leave them below.