Are Ball Pythons Smart? The Answer Might Surprise You!

Are Ball Pythons smart

Are ball pythons smart, and can you teach them tricks?

Are ball pythons smart, or do they live according to instinct? The intelligence of ball pythons and other snakes remains debatable. While snakes show complex abilities like hunting for prey, animal behavior experts argue if these abilities result from intelligence or survival instinct.

It may sound confusing as animal intelligence is quite a complex topic. Thus, I collected the vital information you should know about snake intelligence to help you understand another aspect of your pet.

Are Ball Pythons Smart?

This question is difficult to answer as animal experts remain unsure about reptiles’ intellectual capacity. Some of them say that snakes use some form of intelligence to survive, while others claim snakes purely live and hunt using instinct.

Moreover, you can’t teach tricks to your scaly friend, like chasing a ball or playing dead. However, it’s possible to shape a ball python’s behaviors, like training them to eat particular food items.

For example, ball pythons climb trees to hunt for prey like rodents and baby birds. You may think these scaly animals are intelligent as they know where and how to find food.

However, some animal specialists claim these abilities result purely from instinct; thus, these reptiles cannot learn skills unnatural for survival.

For instance, it’s natural for these reptiles to hunt and kill their prey before eating. Your ball python may thus refuse to eat a pre-killed rodent you leave in its enclosure. So, you have to use tongs to shake and move the pre-killed rodent to attract your scaly pet.

What’s the Difference Between Instinct and Intelligence?

Instinct is the natural behavior of animals according to natural stimuli. For example, it’s natural for snakes to hunt for prey, avoid predators, find a mate, and protect their young.

On the other hand, intelligence is the ability of animals to learn new things according to new or unnatural situations they encounter. For example, it’s strange for a dog to learn to play ball, but its intellectual capacity allows it to do so.

The thing is that slithering reptiles don’t usually perform unnatural activities. Thus, they seemingly live purely through instinct or only possess limited intelligence.

Why Snake Intelligence Remains Debatable for Animal Specialists?

There are two primary reasons why animal experts remain unsure about reptile intelligence:

  1. Snake Intelligence is Difficult to Measure

Animal experts agree that it’s hard to measure the intellectual capacity of snakes as these slithering reptiles don’t respond to specific stimuli. 

For example, they only eat once every few days or weeks, so they don’t usually respond to food rewards. Moreover, they don’t want to move a lot, away from their comfortable space.

Thus, you cannot teach them to perform particular actions by offering food rewards, like how you train dogs

2. Animal Behavior Specialists don’t Focus on Reptile Intelligence

Animal behavior experts lack information on reptile intelligence simply because they have focused more on studies about mammals and birds. Thus, you can effortlessly search about the intellectual capacity of dogs, cats, and pigeons, but it’s challenging to search about scaly animals.

People lack interest in searching about reptile intelligence because it is difficult to measure. Moreover, the general public fears snake because of their predator nature. Thus, universities usually don’t fund research about these slithering reptiles.

Can You Train Ball Pythons?

While snakes’ intellectual capacity remains debatable, it’s still possible to train your slithering pet. However, you can only shape their natural behaviors and not teach them advanced tricks.

For example, you can’t expect your scaly friend to perform specific tasks, like remembering color codes on food containers. 

However, you can slowly shape their taste by training them to eat particular food options. For instance, you can teach them to eat pre-killed food instead of living prey.

Moreover, you can train your ball python to trust you. You only have to gently rub or tap their back to make them comfortable with your presence.

Why Snake Charmers Seemingly Train Cobras?

Are Ball Pythons smart 1

Now, you probably wonder, if you can’t train advanced tricks to snakes, then why does it seems that snake charmers have trained cobras?

The truth is that these entertainers cannot train the venomous reptiles. Instead, they make the animals react according to instinct. 

First, understand that snake charmers cannot hypnotize cobras through the music they play, as these slithering reptiles have poor hearing perception. What’s happening in their act is they use the stick they carry to provoke the cobras to respond. The vicious animal feels threatened by the person’s action, so they instinctively show a striking pose.

On a side note, most of these entertainers abuse their scaly companions. They remove the cobras’ fangs and sew the mouth shut to prevent venomous bites. These cobras also experience severe stress during each performance as their handlers make them feel threatened or uncomfortable. 

It’s thus better to report snake charmers you see to your local wildlife and environment agency.

What is the Smartest Snake?

While slithering reptiles seemingly show pure instinct or limited intelligence, king cobras perform actions you don’t typically notice in other species.

In the wild, king cobras build nests using twigs and dry leaves where they lay eggs. They are the only snake species observed doing such a task. 

In captivity, these venomous reptiles also easily recognize the smell of their pet owners or handlers.

Other intelligent species include rattlesnakes, reticulated pythons, and corn snakes.


So, are ball pythons smart?

It’s difficult to answer this question as these slithering animals could be purely living on instinct or may have limited intelligence. Animal experts still haven’t concluded their research on reptile intelligence because of some difficulties they encounter. For example, it’s challenging to measure reptile intelligence compared to the intellectual capacity of mammals and birds. 

Moreover, remember that you cannot train a ball python to perform advanced tricks; however, you can shape some of its behaviors to suit its situation in your home. You may consult a veterinarian, a breeder, or a reptile specialist to learn about conditioning your scaly pet’s behavior.



I'm Jennifer Mecham, worked for 7 years in an animal shelter in New York. I created this blog to educate people about these amazing creatures and to show them that reptiles can make great pets. Join me on this journey as we explore the world of reptiles.

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