The male and female ball pythons look so much alike that it would seem impossible to differentiate between them by physical attributes.
However, there are subtle differences between the male and female ball python, and we detail all these below.
Comparing a Male and a Female Ball Python
|Male Ball Python||Female Ball Python|
|Popping Method||Pops hemipenes||Doesn’t pop hemipenes|
|Probing Method||Probe depth of 9-15 scale rows||Probe depth of 3-5 scale rows|
|Tail Thickness||Thick tail and bulge with sharp tapering||Thin tail, no bulge, and minimal tapering|
|Pelvic spurs||Generally larger pelvic spurs than females||Smaller pelvic spurs than males|
|Size||Average of 2 to 3 feet in size||Average of 3 to 5 feet in size|
The Key Difference Between The Male and The Female Ball Python
The primary physical difference between male ball pythons and female ball pythons of the same age range is their size. The male ball python is usually smaller than the female ball python. The female ball python grows faster and, on average, is bigger and thicker than the male. However, some males are bigger than females.
Furthermore, a pet owner will need to know the exact age of the snake and other markers like diet to be able to use size to determine the sex of the snake.
Let’s look at the differences between a male and a female ball python in detail.
Male vs Female Ball Python: Tail Thickness
The tail of the male ball python is generally thicker and fatter than that of a female. For the male, there is a bulge right after the cloaca, which is where the snake’s hemipenes are located. Hemipenes refer to the two penises that the male ball python mates with. The female ball python will have no such bulge, thereby making her tail thinner than that of the mail.
Furthermore, the tail base of the male ball python is a square-like structure with a sudden tapering. On the other hand, the female ball python has minimal tapering and ends in a fine, delicate point.
This method of differentiating the male from the female is best done with both genders right in front of you, and even then, it is not a foolproof method to determine the gender of a ball python.
Male vs Female Ball Python: Pelvic Spurs
Both male and female ball pythons exhibit spurs, which are very tiny leg structures that are located on both sides of the cloaca. However, male ball pythons generally have larger spurs than females. Male spurs are primarily used for tickling and clasping while mating.
Male ball pythons also use it during combat with other males. However, just like the initial physical characteristics, pelvic spurs are not a foolproof method to determine the sex of a ball python. This is because, sometimes, males have equally small spurs like females, and even those with larger spurs have those spurs shrink over time.
Male vs Female Ball Python: Probing
Probing is a more accurate method of telling the difference between a male and a female ball python. However, it is important that it is carried out by professionals or someone with sufficient knowledge of the method in order not to cause injuries to the animal.
Probing involves inserting a thin, long, and lubricated probe rod (often found in probing kits) through the cloaca of a ball python. The length of the probe determines the sex of the animal. The cloaca of the ball python refers to a small vent located near the tail of the python which is used to urinate, reproduce, and excrete.
In the probing method, the probe rod is slowly pushed into the cloaca to see how deeply it can go. When the rod cannot go any further inside the vent, a finger can be used to mark that point, and then the rod is slowly withdrawn.
The depth of the probe can be determined using the scales of the ball python. A distance of about 9-15 scale rows tells you that you are dealing with a male ball python, while one of 1-3 scale rows, tells you that you are dealing with a female.
The reason for the difference in depth is due to the male’s hemipenes. For a male ball python, the probe rod enters its hemipenes when it passes through its vent, whereas for a female, it enters its homologs. Because the hemipenes are significantly longer than homologs, they allow the probe to fit more deeply in the male.
It is very important that this method is done carefully with next to little pressure so as not to hurt the snakes or destroy their reproductive organs. Generally, once a probe into the snake stops, do not try to push further, just mark the point and slowly withdraw.
Male vs Female Ball Python: Popping
Another method of accurately differentiating a male ball python from a female ball python is to pop the hemipenes of the male. This method is easier practiced on baby ball pythons than on adults. It involves holding the body of the snake just before the tail and behind the vent to attempt to release the hemipenes.
If there is no release, it means that you are dealing with a female. However, adult ball pythons have greater control over their muscles and prevent the release of their hemipenes. This is why popping is best for babies.
Just like with probing, this method requires that it is done carefully, and preferably by a professional to avoid hurting the snakes.
Are Male or Female Snakes More Docile?
Although females tend to grow larger, there are generally no gender-related differences in temperament among snakes.
However, it’s important to note that individual temperament can vary from snake to snake. The species of snake should also be taken into consideration. Further, male snakes, in particular, become significantly more aggressive during the breeding season, engaging in dramatic battles with each other as they compete for female mates.
In essence, not all snakes share the same temperament, with some being naturally more aggressive than others. Typically, snakes exhibit aggression when they are caught off guard or feel threatened.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Hand Robot/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.