Are Ball Pythons Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

Written by Janet F. Murray
Published: October 20, 2022
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Ball pythons are nocturnal snakes that sleep most of the day and are active at night. These snakes are also well equipped with specialized eyes to see at night. They use their remarkable eyesight to analyze their surroundings for movement and to hunt, which is perfect for nighttime activity. Ball pythons are native to Sub-Saharan Africa. People often keep them as pets because they are low-maintenance.

Ball Pythons Are Nocturnal

Ball pythons are nocturnal but spend between 20 and 23 hours sleeping each day.

©iStock.com/Florian DENIS

Ball pythons are nocturnal and prefer dark spaces because their eyes are susceptible to UV lighting. In contrast to their exceptional nighttime vision, their daytime vision is not well developed. Poor daytime eyesight makes it challenging to be active during the day. However, ball pythons have another unique sense: detecting infrared heat radiation. This sense, coupled with their sensitivity to UV lighting, allows these reptiles to see incredibly well in the dark.

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Do Ball Pythons Sleep?

Yes, ball pythons are nocturnal but it is difficult to tell when they sleep throughout the day. These snakes love sleeping and are known to nap between 20 and 23 hours daily, making them sluggish snakes. Like all snakes, the ball python does not have eyelids, but they do have a “brille” on each eye. Brilles are a layer of skin that snakes have over their eyes, protecting them from dust and dirt. The brille is not visible to the human eye but becomes visible when the snake molts, shedding the brille with the rest of its skin.

Ball pythons sleep most of the day because of their size and diet. This sleep pattern is typical in predators as they must conserve energy to digest food correctly. When feeding, the ball python swallows its prey whole. This eating behavior means that its digestive system takes a long time to break down the meal entirely. The ball python sleeps through most of this process since it takes up vast energy reserves.

But, the ball python does not sleep for 20 to 23 hours straight. These snakes take naps and are active between these resting periods. Some will move around, while others will move their heads, observe their surroundings, and go back to sleep. The ball python is most inactive after eating but also during molting.

Ball Pythons Have Specialized Eyes

Ball python eyes contain UV sensitivity and are susceptible to light damage. Because of this specific feature, these snakes are nearsighted. Also, they only see a distinct but limited color range and can only focus on moving objects. Their vision becomes worse when they shed as their brille becomes cloudy. However, these nocturnal ball pythons rely on their other senses, mainly smell and hearing, to compensate for their poor vision.

Nocturnal Ball Pythons Can Sense Infrared Heat

macro of yellow belly ball python head
Ball pythons have specialized eyes and organs, which make them sensitive to UV lighting and infrared heat radiation.

©donald ginn/Shutterstock.com

These snakes are not only susceptible to UV lighting but also use infrared heat sensing in the dark. Ball pythons have “pit organs” on their heads which look like holes across their faces and mouths. They use these organs to sense infrared heat radiation from prey in their surroundings.

Pit organs comprise various membranes, nerves, and air chambers that allow ball pythons to observe the surroundings’ air temperature. These snakes use this ability to develop a thermal “picture” to move and hunt. Because of this capability, ball pythons can also perceive heat radiation levels as low as 0.003 degrees, which they use to make informed and accurate decisions. Their pit organs are well-developed, allowing them to sense objects and prey up to ten feet away.

Ball Pythons Use Pit Organs To Hunt in the Dark

Pit organs sense infrared heat radiation, which the nocturnal ball python uses when hunting. Ball pythons are ambush predators and undertake extensive planning before attacking their prey. These snakes use their pit organs to locate prey and determine the quarry’s size and heat density. They do so to determine how they will attack their target and if the animal will be a threat. Suppose the ball python calculates that the animal is prey. In that case, it will strike from its stationary position and kill it through constriction and suffocation.

Pet Owners Must Ensure Their Ball Python Gets Enough Sleep

Ball pythons are common pets among reptile lovers, but pet owners must care for them properly. If you do not provide them with the correct care or are uncomfortable in their cages, they will not sleep enough to remain healthy. These snakes need a living area of between 40 and 75 gallons in size to be comfortable.

The owner must consider the snake’s length when finding the perfect enclosure size. Ball pythons must be able to stretch out along two sides of the area. For example, if the ball python is five feet long, the cage area must be as near to three feet long and two feet wide as possible. Owners of a young ball python should increase the size of the cage as the snake grows instead of purchasing a large enclosure at the start.

Ball Python Enclosure Requirements

Nocturnal ball pythons are popular pets but must have at least two hides in their enclosures.

©iStock.com/Katie Yates

Besides changing the ball python’s enclosure size as it grows, pet owners should also take note of other requirements. These requirements include the material in the snake’s environment, building hides, temperature and lighting, and humidity.

Enclosure Materials

These snakes love sleeping in dark, covered spaces. Because of this preference, their living area should have coverings and other objects. Examples of these objects include branches, rocks, and other plants.

Creating Hides for Your Nocturnal Ball Python

Pet ball pythons also need at least two regular hides in their enclosure. Hides are essential as these snakes sleep or hide in these spaces. One of the hides should be cool, while the other must be warmer. You could turn the warmer hide into a basking spot, for instance. You should also create hides that are big enough for the snake to fit inside but small enough for a tight fit, as these snakes prefer the comfort of a snug living area.

Temperature Variations

The enclosure needs areas with different temperatures as the snake will move between them depending on the stage of its metabolic process. To create other temperature areas, owners can put the heat sources on one side of the enclosure to make one warm side and one side cool. An example of a warming source is an under-tank heating pad, which you must connect to a thermostat to ensure it is not too cold or too warm. The temperature of the heat pad should always be between 75°F and 100°F.

The cool side of the enclosure should be between 75 and 80°F, and the warm side should be between 85 and 90°F. In contrast, the basking area should be between 95 and 100°F. Pet owners can create a basking area using a heat lamp or ceramic heat emitter.

Lighting and Humidity

Lighting and humidity are crucial in the enclosure. Ball pythons need a 12/12 light/dark photocycle. To create this, owners should set the lights on a timer to create a schedule for the snake. The lighting should not create full-spectrum lighting and should also not increase the temperature inside the enclosure. It is also essential not to place the cage in direct sunlight as this will affect their sleeping pattern and increase the temperature inside the enclosure.

To ensure that your nocturnal ball python is happy and healthy, it needs humidity. In the wild, ball pythons often live in termite mounds which are pretty humid. The enclosure should have a humidity level between 45% and 65%, with 50% being the recommended level. The cage should have a hygrometer to measure this level. When the snake begins to molt, the owner should increase the humidity to 60%, which is ideal for this phase of the snake’s life.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

Up Next – All About Ball Pythons

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Ball Python
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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