If you’re a new ball python owner, it can be difficult to determine their sex. In this article, I will discuss popping ball pythons and how to perform the probing method to tell the sex of a ball python using two methods used by breeders today: popping and probing.
As a breeder, it is important to know how to perform these two methods because when you begin pairing two snakes, you may inadvertently end up with two males or two females in the same enclosure and that’s not good.
Keep reading below as I go into more detail on how to perform each of these two methods.
Ball Python Sexing
Popping a Ball Python - Method #1
Popping a ball python is relatively easy and it involves four simple steps:
- Positioning the snake
- Positioning your thumbs correctly on the tail
- Pressing down on the snakes tail
- Rolling the snakes tail to open the vents
Before you begin, I highly recommend putting on gloves. Gloves are more for the safety of the snake, as well as for my safety. I think it’s a good practice because you don’t want to risk introducing your snake to any type of infection due to you not washing your hands. On the flip side, your snake may poop or pee on you during the process exposing you to infections also.
1. Positioning the snake
After you have gloved up you want to position the snake in preparation to pop it. To do this, you need a flat surface to lay your snake on. I use a table that I have set up in my shed.
Once I have my snake on the table, I grab the tail and gently turn the tail up so that I can see the underside of the tail. Don’t worry if the snake moves while you are doing this, that’s normal.
2. Positioning your thumbs correctly on the tail
With your snake’s tail properly positioned, you’ll want to slide one thumb just behind the scale just before the vent. Place your other thumb about two scales past the vent. Your fingers should look like the image below:
3. Press down on the snakes tail
Now that you have your fingers in, you’ll want to apply slight pressure with your other thumb positioned behind the two scales aft the vent. Pressing down in this area begins to open up the vent. Once again, you do not need to press down hard, just enough where you can see the vent opening.
4. Rolling the snakes tail to fully open the vents
At the same time, you want to push forward slightly with the thumb that is on the scale behind the vent and roll with the opposite thumb. If you see an opening that looks like the images below, then congratulations! You just found your snake’s gender!
Why Does my ball python squeeze me?
There a few schools of thought as to why ball pythons squeeze their handlers. One theory is because of muscle control: when ball pythons are startled they contract their muscles all at once, including those in the mouth as well as elsewhere on the body.
Another theory is because they are trying to investigate the handler. Ball pythons are naturally curious creatures and their first instinct is to probe any new object with their tongue, mouth, or nose.
Regardless of why your ball python has squeezed you today, remember not to get frustrated about it but rather just laugh it off! They are just trying to get comfortable with you.
Is Popping a Ball Python Safe?
Popping ball pythons is a safe and non-invasive way of determining a snake’s gender when done correctly. The video below shows you how to correctly do both the popping and probing methods. But if you are unsure, seek a more experienced breeder to help you.
Can You Hurt A Snake By Popping It?
If you are not experienced with performing the popping method, you may end up hurting your snake. Popping a ball python requires some experience to be able to tell the difference between male from female snakes when gently squeezing them.
Your best bet is to find a local breeder to help you determine the sex of your snake. They can show you the correct technique and you will know for sure.
Probing Ball Pythons - Method #2
Probing is a technique used by some breeders and hobbyists to determine the snake’s gender. In order to do this, you will need a sex probe kit and some lubricant.
The probing kit I use is the Repti-Zoo Snake Probe Kit that comes with six different size probes. They range from teeny tiny little hatchlings all the way up to pretty big snakes.
The lubricant I use is Vaseline, but you can also use a water-based lubricant such as KY Jelly. The choice is really up to you, but you want to apply a lubricant so that the probe slides in easily.
Probing is a five-step process in which I:
- Sanitize for Probing
- Lubricate the Probe
- Position the Snake for Probing
- Insert Probe Into Snake’s Vent
- Measure the Distance Probed
1. Sanitize before Probing python
I usually sanitize my hands and my probe before I start probing so as not to introduce any bacteria into the ventral scales. Just as with the poping method, I always put on gloves as an extra barrier of protection for me and my snakes.
2. Lubricate the Probe
I always take a little Vaseline and rub it all over the probe before I insert it into the snake. As I noted earlier, this is to make sure that when I put in the probe, it slides right in without any resistance or discomfort for my reptile friend.
If you think you have put too much on the probe, remove as much of the excess lubricant with paper towels so as risk infection to the snake later on.
3. Position the Snake for Probing
This is the one downside to probing. I have found that if you position your snake so its stomach is facing upwards. You can expect the snake to be a lot less cooperative as this is an invasive procedure.
Try your best to get the snake relaxed before you proceed. You could potentially harm your python if it’s wiggling its tail all over the place. So they really have to be in the right position for this.
4. Insert Probe Into Snake's Vent
It is easiest to start at the snake’s vent, which can be easily found by feeling for the pocket on either side of its tail. When you feel the probe go inside, gently insert it until it will no longer go any further. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t force the probe in, but rather allow it to naturally slide all the way inside.
5. Measure the Distance Probed
When you feel the probe “hit bottom”, gently slide the probe out with your fingers marking the point the probe stopped. I do this by placing the probe against the snake’s vent and count the number of scales the probe went in (see image below).
There is a significant difference between the sizes of the pockets on either side of the snake’s tail. Depending on how far you can insert the probe.
For male ball pythons, the probe will go about six scales in length. For the females, it will be about two to three scales. Almost half. So, a longer probe insertion is a good indicator it’s a male, a shorter one, a female.
The process is not all that difficult, but I must strongly caution you that you should do this by yourself if you are a beginner. Once again, find a local breeder that is more experienced to help you!
Are Female Ball Pythons More Aggressive?
“Aggressiveness” in ball pythons is not really a thing…if that sounds right?
What I mean is ball pythons are not truly aggressive. The use of the term “aggressive” (notice my air quotes) would mean that they have ill will towards you. They want to attack you. That is so not what a ball python is!
Ball pythons are either defensive or they’re hungry. Those are the only two reasons they will ever bite.
Defensive just means they have high anxiety about you as the person who is handling them. They’re nervous that you’re a predator. That you actually have ill will towards them They’re scared and so they are defensive.
So, if you get a female…or male that starts to get “aggressive” while you are popping or probing them, they are probably just uncomfortable.
Popping or probing ball pythons to determine their gender is relatively easy to do, but you should not go it alone if you have never done it before. When I first did it, I reached out to Rob Starzman from Designer Ball Pythons.
He coached through the entire process. So always make sure you have somebody experienced when you do it for the first time. If you don’t, you can really hurt your snakes rt them if you don’t do it correctly.
Well, I hope you have learned something and if hove have any questions feel to email me or contact me via social media, and I’ll help you in any way I can.
You can also check out my other articles on my blog.
Until next time, happy breeding!