Can Ball Pythons Breathe Underwater?

can ball pythons breathe underwater

Snakes have a reputation for being dark, evil, and mysterious!  As reptile lovers, we know that for the most part, the “dark and evil” just aren’t true.  But, because snakes look so different from us, they can seem a little mysterious sometimes!

We know that some snakes are arboreal, some are terrestrial, and some are even aquatic!  Some snakes can hold their breath and essentially breathe underwater, but what about your average pet snake, the ball python?

Can ball pythons breathe underwater?

Although ball pythons are fascinating pets, no, they cannot breathe underwater.  Unlike some snakes, ball pythons don’t have special adaptations that help them get oxygen while submerged.  However, ball pythons are able to swim if they need to.  Plus, they can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!  That’s impressive for a terrestrial snake!

In this article, we will discuss why ball pythons can’t breathe underwater, and uncover some of the mysteries surrounding the snakes that do spend almost their entire lives in water.

Are Ball Pythons Good Swimmers?

Even though ball pythons can’t breathe underwater, they can swim.

Actually, if you didn’t know, all snakes are able to swim!  Some of them can swim very fast using similar techniques to what they use on land. This is an innate skill that all snakes have!  But, not all snakes are good swimmers.

Ball pythons are not great swimmers!  Naturally, ball pythons will only swim if they are threatened or evading a predator.  But, they can keep themselves afloat when they need to, and some of them seem pretty comfortable underwater.  You can read more about ball pythons and swimming here.

Do Ball Pythons Enjoy Being In The Water?

It can be hard to say if ball pythons do or don’t enjoy being in the water.

In the wild, you will often find ball pythons around and near a body of water.  They stay near the water for many reasons related to survival.

In captivity, however, you can sometimes find ball pythons hanging in and around their water dishes!  While this could be a sign of an environmental imbalance (we’ll cover that more below), it could also just be your scaly friend’s way of relaxing.  Pets usually start to pick up behaviors that they would never have considered in the wild.

How Long Can Snakes Hold Their Breath?

Snakes are so cool!  But, if you’re reading this you probably already know that.

One of the reasons why snakes are amazing is that they can hold their breath underwater for a very long time!  Compared to humans who have a world record of a 24-minute breath-hold, some snakes can hold their breath for hours!

How do snakes do this?  Well, they have some special traits that allow them to be more efficient while underwater and while breathing in general.

The Special Anatomy of Snakes

The first place that is special in a snake’s respiratory system is its glottis.  Unlike humans, snakes have a tough, hard glottis that opens and closes when air moves in and out of the throat.  So instead of breathing steadily, every breath is a small breath hold because their glottis closes between breaths.

Snakes also lack a diaphragm.  Instead, snakes breathe by expanding and collapsing their ribcages.  Many snakes also only have one very long lung!  Ball pythons are one of the few snake species that still have two lungs.

The most amazing trait that sea snakes have for underwater life is specialized blood vessels on their heads.  The blood vessels near their noses are poor in oxygen and can pull oxygen straight into the blood from the water.  In this way, they work a lot like gills. These sea snakes can stay underwater for hours at a time because of this adaptation, but still need to surface for fresh air every once in a while.

If this piqued your interest, take a look at this video explaining the amazing adaptations of sea snakes!


How Long Can Ball Pythons Hold Their Breath?

So, we know that sea snakes can basically live their entire lives underwater.  Ball pythons cannot!

But, how long can a ball python hold their breath?

Well, it’s not unheard of for an owner to observe their snake holding their breath for minutes at a time.  It’s estimated that ball pythons can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.  There doesn’t seem to be any official research on this.

If a snake is cool and calm, they can hold their breath longer than if they are warm and stressed, because their metabolic rate is slower.  So, if you think your snake is dying in their water dish, they are probably just relaxing and holding their breath!

Why Do Ball Pythons Sit In Water?

Do you have a ball python that spends some part of each day in its water dish?

As we mentioned, they could just be enjoying the water!  However, your ball python isn’t a naturally aquatic snake, and there could be another reason that they’re always underwater.

Your Snake Could Be Dehydrated

Snakes can easily become dehydrated.  Even ball pythons, who live in the desert need water and humidity in their enclosures.  Your ball pythons enclosure should stay around 55 – 65% humidity at all times.

Snakes are able to rehydrate themselves by absorbing water through their skin.  So, your snake might sit in its water dish to correct a hydration imbalance.  It might even place its entire head underwater if its eyes are feeling dry too!

Your Snake Could Be Too Hot

A ball python’s enclosure should have a thermal gradient that ranges from 75F to 85F with a spot for basking.  If your housing is lacking a cool side for your snake, they might overheat.

The water is a natural heat absorber, so, if your snake is hanging out in their dish a lot, it could be a sign that they’re just too hot!

In this case, you need to make sure to cool down your snake’s enclosure.  Providing a dark hidey-hole on the cool side is a way to make sure your snake has a dry place to keep cool in.

Your Snake Might Need A Soak

Besides being hot and dehydrated, it’s possible your ball python needs a soak, and this is their way of telling you!

Your scaly firend could have mites, a difficult shed, or be constipated.  Maybe, your ball python is underwater because they are trying to fix one of these issues themselves!

If you think your snake might need a real warm water soak, read our article here to learn more about the process and what to look out for!

Final Thoughts

I know we said it a few times but ball pythons aren’t the top aquatic athletes.  They have no adaptation like sea snakes do to breathe underwater.  But, they can hold their breath underwater for a surprisingly long time!

If you see your pet underwater and start to worry, you can always move them from the water.  If they keep going back, there might be a reason for it!