About Ball Pythons
Are you new to snake ownership? The ball python (Python regius) may be a good choice for you. The typical ball python grows to a maximum size of 3-5 feet, and is usually passive and easy to handle. With proper care, a captive bred ball python can live for up to 50 years, although 20-30 years is the norm.
Your ball python will be a part of your life for a long time, if taken care of properly, and should remain alert and active well into its old age. Premature deaths in captive snakes are usually directly related to their care – improper temperatures, contact with heating and lighting elements, no regular access to water, lack of necessary veterinary care and treatment and careless handling. These are all things for which you, as their caretaker, are directly responsible
Ball Python Characteristics
Wild ball pythons are found at the edges of the Central and Western African forest lands. They live on the ground and in trees, and are most active around early morning and early evening. When properly fed, the ball python’s body is rounded. In Europe, these snakes are often called “Royal Pythons,” because throughout history they have been pets of herp-loving royalty. In the United States, they are called “Ball Pythons” due to their habit of curling themselves up into a tight ball when nervous, with their heads pulled firmly into the center. Like most pythons, ball pythons are curious and gentle snakes.
• In the wild, normal diet includes amphibians, lizards, birds, small mammals, other snakes.
• Mice do not live in Africa, so ball pythons do not eat them in the wild, but will learn to eat live or dead mice with gentle training.
• Ball pythons reach sexual maturity in 3-5 years. Females will encircle the 4-10 eggs they lay, remaining with them until they hatch. During this three-month period, the female ball python will not leave the eggs and will not eat.
• Ball pythons can refuse to eat at times, though this is usually only an issue with wild caught specimens. Wild caught snakes can also be stressed from capture and transport, and often have a large parasite load.
How to Choose a Snake
Choose a ball python that has clear, firm skin, rounded body shape, clean vent, clear eyes and actively flicks its tongue around when handled. Make sure your ball python is eating before you purchase it.
All ball pythons are naturally shy about having their heads touched or handled by strangers; a normal reaction is for the ball python to pull its head and neck sharply away from such contact. When held, the snake should grip you gently but firmly when moving. It should also be alert to its surroundings. Your new ball python may be a little anxious at first, but will become comfortable fairly quickly with proper care.
Bringing Your Snake HomeIf you already have a constricting snake at home, your new python should be quarantined due to the risk of inclusion body disease. Experts vary on the length of quarantine, but 3-6 months is recommended. You should always have your new snake checked out by a veterinarian, especially for internal and external parasites (take a recent stool sample).
How to Handle Your New Snake
After giving your ball python a few days to settle in, begin picking it up and handling it gently. It may move away from you, and may threaten you by lashing its tail and hissing. Don’t panic, this is just the protective mechanism of the snake. Be gentle and consistent; the everyday contact you share will begin to establish a level of trust and confidence between you and your snake.
Once it is comfortable with you, you can begin taking it around the house, but be careful. The ball python can be quick in its movements, and you need to make sure it doesn’t get away from you.
Some snakes are sensitive about being handled soon after they have eaten. If you feed your snake out of its enclosure, which is always a good idea, put it back in its enclosure immediately after it finishes and leave it alone for a few days. As your snake gets more comfortable with you, it will be less nervous and less likely to regurgitate its food.
• Always be gentle.
• Avoid sudden movements.
• If the snake wraps around your arm or neck, unwind it by gently grasping its tail and unwrapping it.
• Do not try to unwrap a bull python by moving its head, as that will cause it to tighten down further.
Housing for Your New Snake
Ball pythons are somewhat sedentary, so a small tank is sufficient (10-20 gallons for a young snake, 30 gallons for an adult/larger snake). However, ball pythons are known to escape, so a securely fitted top is a necessity.
There are several options available, but Astroturf is usually the best. Cut a few pieces to fit the cage, and then replace used pieces as necessary. Soiled pieces can be soaked in a solution containing one gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of bleach, rinsed well, dried and reused. Non-reusable options include:
• Carpet (harder to maintain)
• Coconut Husk-based substrates
• Cypress Mulch
• Paper towels
• Repti-Bark or Jungle Bark type chips
The best enclosures include sturdy branches and a dark hiding place. A ball python likes to feel securely enclosed in a small place where it feels “hugged” on all sides, so it should be just large enough to accommodate it. Hides can be constructed or bought in a wide variety sizes, shapes and materials.
• Provide two adequate hides in your ball python’s enclosure, one on the warm end and one on the cool end, so that it does not have to make a choice between regulating its body temperature and feeling secure (ball pythons will sacrifice warmth in favor of feeling safe).
• For sanitary purposes, avoid hides that are very porous, difficult to clean or which could rot, mold or mildew.
The temperature of the tank should be between 80 – 85 F (27 – 29 C) during the day, with a basking spot of around 90 F (32 C). Nighttime temperatures can fall to around 75 F (23 -24 C), as long as an area of 80 F is maintained. Maintaining proper temperatures is essential to keeping your ball python healthy. Failure to do so can lead to many different problems, from poor feeding to potentially lethal respiratory infections.
• Be sure you are able to measure the temperatures accurately.
• Use multiple thermometers to monitor the temperatures in the cage (one at the bottom of the cage and one at the basking spot).
• Sticker-type thermometers used in aquariums, as well as small dials found in pet stores, are routinely inaccurate and do little more than measure the temperature of the glass to which they are adhered. Invest in a digital thermometer. One of the most cost-effective and easily available is a digital thermometer/hygrometer combo, which retails for less than $15 and includes a probe to monitor warm side and cool side temperatures (as well as the humidity levels).
• A heating pad that is designed for reptiles and is placed under the tank works well for providing heat, with an incandescent bulb or ceramic heating element used to provide the basking temperatures.
• To avoid snake burns, the bulb or heat element should be screened off to prevent contact.
• Never use hot rocks.
Neither UV lighting or supplemental lighting is required for ball pythons. They do well with ambient room light. However, a day/night schedule is very important. Excessive lighting can induce high stress levels in these nocturnal creatures.
Water and Humidity
It’s important to ensure that your ball python has an available supply of fresh water at all times. Use a weighted bowl or dish to prevent it from being overturned. Ball pythons do not usually soak in their water sources, so an oversized container is not necessary unless needed as a means for maintaining adequate humidity. It is recommended that you clean the dish and completely replace the water every few days at a minimum.
What to Feed and How OftenBall pythons are primarily rodent eaters. In captivity, the most common diet is either domestic mice or rats. Other rodents can be offered, but ball pythons tend to latch onto a favorite prey item and may refuse anything else. As a result, it’s best to choose a prey that your snake will eat and that you can easily obtain on a consistent basis.
Many keepers hold to the standard of choosing a rodent that is as big around at its widest point (the hips) as the snake is at its widest girth. With ball pythons, though, the best way to have a consistent eater is to feed smaller-than-typical prey sizes. A fully mature ball python can thrive on nothing more than a small rat (50-60g or 1.75-2 oz.) offered weekly.
Ball pythons do well on a regular feeding schedule. How often to feed really depends on what size prey is being offered. If you offer the smaller size, a feeding schedule of every seven days works well. Slightly larger prey items can be fed every 10 days. Larger than normal prey items will cause the ball python to refuse food for an extended and unpredictable length of time.
In the reptile world, there will always be an ongoing debate about whether it is best to feed live or pre-killed prey. There is really no right or wrong answer – it’s important to just be consistent.
• Live: Never leave a live rodent unattended in your snake’s enclosure, and do not leave it with the snake for longer than 20 minutes. If the snake does not eat it within that time, remove it and wait until the next scheduled feeding day before attempting to feed again. It will not hurt your snake to miss a meal.
• Pre-killed: A keeper may choose to kill the rodent first before offering it to the snake, which prevents the risk of having the snake bitten by a live rodent. It is the keeper’s responsibility to use a humane (as quick and painless as possible) death. Also, be sure the rodent is truly dead, not just shocked, as a shocked rodent that awakens can be dangerous.
• Frozen/Thawed (F/T): There are many sources for rodents already killed and frozen. Commercial pet stores often carry them, as do online vendors that can ship them out in bulk, if preferred. Local herp shows are another good source. Many snakes will readily accept prey that has been properly thawed and warmed. Rodents can be thawed overnight in the fridge and then warmed with either hot water (while zipped in a plastic bag) or a blow dryer on feeding day. Never use boiling water or a microwave for thawing rodents, as you do not want to cook the rodent. Feel the rodent’s stomach and ribcage to make sure it is warm all the way through.
• Pre-scenting the area near your snake’s enclosure is an ideal way to get your snake ready to eat. Warming a fully thawed or pre-killed rodent nearby, or leaving a live rodent in a well-ventilated, but enclosed, container close to your snake’s cage for 15-30 minutes can also be a big help in getting an indifferent or tired snake ready to eat.
Why Won’t My Snake Eat?
In almost all cases, a ball python refuses to eat due to care issues (this is especially true with young ones). If your snake misses more than two or three meals (sometimes it won’t want to eat while in the shedding phase for example), it could be because of a number of issues:
• Not Feeling Safe: If there are no hides, or the hides are too large or exposed (i.e., half logs) snakes will feel threatened. They prefer dark, tight hides. The snake will also become anxious if the enclosure is too large, too open (glass), or in a high traffic area with a lot of loud noise or movement. Another snake in the same enclosure can also cause anxiety.
• Over Handling: Frequent intrusions into the enclosure, adjustments to the enclosure, and/or long, frequent handling sessions can cause a shy snake to feel vulnerable and refuse to eat.
• Unsuitable Temperatures: Temperatures that are too high or too low, or temperatures that fluctuate too much, can cause a snake not to eat. Make sure you have an accurate and consistent read on your temperatures at all times.
• Incorrect Lighting: Bright white lights shining directly into the enclosure or 24-hour lighting can cause stress. Make sure there is a consistent day/night cycle.
• Change of Diet: Changing prey species (i.e., mice to rats) or methods (i.e., live to fully thawed) can cause refusal to eat. Such changes can be made but require time.
• Improper Offering of Prey: Offering prey too frequently can do more harm than good. If a snake refuses to eat, do not attempt to feed again for a week. Also, changing environments by moving to a feeding-box or removing hides and “furniture” can cause temporary refusal in these shy snakes.
• Prey Too Large: Prey that is too large may scare a snake and cause refusal or possibly regurgitation if it is eaten. Also, if a ball python has eaten large meals in the past, it can cause a sudden, indefinite period of fasting.
• Mites: Mites are external parasites common to snakes that must be treated and eradicated. A product called Provent-a-Mite (P.A.M.) is the safest and most effective method.
• Mating Season: Sexually mature ball pythons may refuse food for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months during their mating season (typically anywhere from late fall to early spring), especially if a sexually mature snake of the opposite sex is in close proximity.
• Sickness: If all other possible reasons are eliminated, take your snake to a veterinarian, who will look for internal parasites, as well as possible infections to the skin, scales, mouth or respiratory system.
Fortunately, ball pythons are extremely hardy snakes that can go for months (if necessary) of fasting without suffering any ill effects. This gives a responsible keeper plenty of time to figure out why the snake refuses to eat and get it on a regular, consistent feeding regimen.
SheddingAssuming good care practices and properly maintained humidity, your ball python should have no problems shedding successfully.
It has been said that “one-piece-sheds” are a signal of good care, but this is sometimes heavily dependent on how the snake sheds and what items are within the enclosure that the snake can use to rub against. As long as the snake sheds completely without retained patches, eye-caps, or partial/incomplete sheds requiring special attention or intervention, the care you provided was fine.
Signs that a shed will start soon include a pink or reddish belly, eyes that turn a milky blue-white and fading color. These signs clear up a few days before the actual shed. During this time, pay special attention to your humidity level – increase it to 60-70% to ensure there is enough moisture present to assist in the process.
Ball pythons are available in well over 1,000 color and pattern combinations. There is no animal on earth that has shown as much genetic variation as the ball python. Some of the earlier morphs originated from wild-caught or farm-raised snakes in Africa in the 1990s. A single gene (or gene pair) will mutate outside of the normal variant range, causing the animal to look different from its normal peers – these are called “morphs.”
Here is a list of basic morphs to get you started:
- Caramel Albino
- Genetic Stripe
- Ghost (Hypo)
- Lavender Albino
- Piebald (Pied)
- Yellow Belly
You are now ready to start your relationship with your new snake! Owning and caring for a ball python can be a rewarding experience. Be sure to follow the tips outlined above and most of all enjoy your experience with your new ball python!
About FairPlay Pythons
Our ball python collection is growing faster than we could have ever imagined – turning our hobby into a business. FairPlay Pythons is a family-owned business that was created from a fascination of the world of the python regius commonly known as the royal or ball python.
We are reptile enthusiasts who believe captive breeding is integral to the future of the market. It not only helps protect the wild herp population, but it is also an incredibly rewarding experience. Our exceptional care practices allow us to provide the healthiest and highest quality animals to our customers.