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Are Ball Pythons Smart? Intelligence Or Instinct?

how smart are ball pythons

Are you a first-time ball python owner?

Have you noticed their odd behavior and wondered are ball pythons smart?

Pet snakes, just like any other intelligent animal, come in varying types and levels of intelligence.

Keep reading to learn about the intelligence of your ball python and reptile intelligence in general

Are Ball Pythons Smart?

The answer is, yes. Snakes have the ability to learn new behaviors in response to new stimuli, which is how most scientists define intelligence. While they may not be able to tackle complex puzzles, they can problem-solve on their own level. They also have the ability to adapt to their environment beyond instinctual responses.

How Do We Define Intelligence in Ball Pythons

A snake’s intelligence is defined in two ways: first, natural instinct, and second, the ability to learn new ways of behaving.

However, scientists don’t agree on how to analyze the smartest reptiles because they operate differently from other animals.

Instinct is the natural behavior of animals according to natural stimuli. For example, it is natural for snakes to hunt prey, find mates, and protect their offspring.

Conversely, it is unnatural for snakes to learn new things like a dog learns how to play with a ball.

For this reason, many experts are uncertain about whether pet owners have intelligent snakes or not.

Additionally, snake experts are uncertain about how to measure snake intelligence. One of the reasons for this is the snake’s ability to respond to specific stimuli doesn’t seem to exist. Intelligent creatures typically do respond to stimuli.

Still, animal behavior specialists don’t spend a lot of time focusing on reptile intelligence. Instead, they’d rather focus on other intelligent animals like mammals and birds.

The difficulty of measuring a snake’s intelligence is one of the main reasons there isn’t a solid consensus on whether or not ball pythons are the smartest pet snakes.

The question, are ball pythons smart, is a bit complicated to answer.

In general, reptile intelligence is disputed. Ball pythons may be smart, but many experts feel they act out of instinct alone. However, if you ever have owned a ball python, you know they have weird quirks that make them unique. Some even seemingly can learn how to do new activities.

Despite this, many still feel that ball pythons are solely driven by eating, mating, and sleeping. All of which are instinctual activities.

Let’s learn more about the ball python and its level of reptile intelligence.

Do Ball Pythons Recognize Their Owners?

One of the main hallmarks of intelligence in the eyes of many snake owners is whether or not the snake recognizes its owners.

It’s important to note that the ball python doesn’t have the same cognitive ability as its owner. They don’t have the same memory, either. They do have an ability to recognize smells and sounds.

This means that all snakes, even the smartest snake, can recognize the scent of their owner, making the more likely to relax and feel good being in their owner’s hands.

Translation, yes, ball pythons can recognize and like to be handled by their owners.

Is The Ball Python Trainable?

While reptile intelligence is debated, what’s not debated is that ball pythons are somewhat trainable. However, the extent to which you can train these snakes is limited to altering their behavior and pure instinct.

An example of this is that ball pythons can be trained to perform certain tasks like remembering color codes on containers. You can also train them to eat a particular food, instead of solving problems. You can teach them to eat pre-killed food instead of having to hunt their prey. This process equates to food rewards, and it does work to train your ball pythons. Keep in mind that in their natural habitat, ball pythons feed on live animals.

You can also train your pet snakes to trust you. Simply rubbing their back can calm them in your presence.

How Ball Pythons Communicate

Like other reptiles, the ball python doesn’t communicate with other animals. When they make any attempt at communicating, it’s only for breeding purposes. To find their partner, they use pheromones and scent. They use their vomeronasal system to find prey and small predators.

Key Takeaway:

The vomeronasal system has a central organ called the Jacobson’s organ which is inside its mouth. The snake uses its tongue and this organ with flicks to find other snake’s age, gender, and reproductive state.

Another way that pythons communicate is by jerking and twitching. The snake uses this skill to discover if a female snake approves of the male snake. Female snakes will lift or wave their tails if they do approve of a male.

python female

Other Intelligent Pet Snakes

As we previously discussed, snake intelligence is disputed. It can be difficult to study their intelligence, because more resources go to studying snakes that are venomous like the king cobra or most animals that are simply cute or interesting.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most highly touted intelligent snakes based on the limited research, herpetologists, handlers, and amateur keepers.

King Cobra

This snake has a higher level of reptile intelligence because they can recognize their trainers and handlers. They also guard their nests when they lay eggs, but you can chalk that up to instinct, instead.

If you simply check out videos of king cobras, you can see how these snakes act when faced with unique challenges.


Rattlesnakes can adjust the frequency of their rattle based on how far away the snake is and how quickly the predator is approaching. This indicates some level of awareness about their surroundings, and they can anticipate future events to some degree. Both of these characteristics are considered a sign of intelligence.

Another feature of intelligence is social communication. Rattlesnakes have been spotted congregating in groups of 100 or more snakes. And they don’t do this to mate, they do it to stay warm.

Is this instinct or is it intelligence? It’s not clear, but it certainly points to some level of intelligence.

Boa Constrictor Imperator (BCI)

One of the big consensuses about the BCI is that they are able to recognize and interact with their owners, even showing interest in what you’re doing. This is a sign of intelligence, but it also makes them a more enjoyable pet to be around.

Reticulated Python

Reticulated pythons are generally agreed to be clever, intelligent, and inquisitive. They are also one of the largest snakes known to man. They do require an experienced handler to be their owner, but they are great pets.

Some snake owners have even claimed they were able to train their pet reticulated python to come when called. Whether or not they’re trainable is debated, but the reticulated python is considered an intelligent snake.

Burmese Python

The Burmese python is not considered to be the sharpest of the snake kingdom, but they are smart enough to learn your routine and react to your presence. These snakes have a level of awareness and adaptability to stimuli that makes them an intelligent snake.

Cuban Boas

These big boas exhibit group hunting behaviors. They will team up and block the entrance fo a cave to hunt bats as they leave a cave. Why do they hunt in groups? Because they get more food together than they would on their own.

This behavior could indicate intelligence.

How Does Reptile Intelligence Stack Up to Other Animals?

While growing literature indicates that snakes are intelligent, by most studies’ standards, even the most intelligent snake doesn’t compare to the average dog, cat, or bird. Snakes may be more intelligent than others species, but other lizards and reptiles tend to be more intelligent.

Yet, intelligence is difficult to define, and some snakes can be super clever in certain situations, which makes them still competitive in the animal species markets.

The bottom line is don’t write snakes off. They are intelligent, just might not be in the ways you would expect.

What’s The Least Intelligent Snake?

They are more than 3000 snake species in the world. That means that with that many species, it can almost be impossible to study which one is the most intelligent. However, some recent studies have indicated that the brahminy blind snake are likely the dumbest of all snakes.

This snake has scales covering its eyes and it has one of the smallest brains of the entire reptile world. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent, but they are considered among the least intelligent because of their body and how they react to stimuli.

Is The Ball Python A Good Pet?

The ball python is one of the most popular pet snakes out there. They are the ideal beginner snakes because they are easy to care for and they are docile. They also don’t require expensive housing. The most important thing you should do for your pet python is to research what environment makes them comfortable and feel at home in your home.

Other species likely have other needs you’d have to meet, but the ball python will require their own set of care instructions. Do your research, find out what they enjoy, and then create that environment for them.

Does the Ball Python Have Emotions?

Yes. Snakes exhibit emotional behavior. While it was previously thought that snakes didn’t have emotions, research is showing that isn’t the case.

Like other animal species, the ball python does have emotions. But they don’t feel emotions the way we humans do. Studies show that snakes definitely feel fear and aggression.

They can also show that they feel content and familiar in an area. Likewise they can feel stressed out in unfamiliar areas. They show satisfaction with certain people, like their owners, while they feel and operate in a fearful way around strangers.

On the other hand, there is no solid evidence that the ball python feels affection towards their pet owners. They might be driven purely by instinct and fear, in other words. They could simply be showing tolerance to their owners, rather than affection.

Snakes and other reptiles are not social creatures, which means they likely don’t have a lot of affection for their owners.


When ball pythons feel threatened, they react. They don’t typically solve problems, either. However, they are somewhat intelligent. Consider these points before you make this your new pet snake.

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