Ball pythons are popular pet snakes that are easy to care for due to their small size and docile nature. As such, they make great pet snakes even for beginner snake hobbyists.
We have prepared this article to provide you with a guide on how to care for your new pet ball python.
Ball python species profile and characteristics
Scientifically, ball pythons belong to the genus Python regius. They are commonly known as the ball pythons or the royal python.
The name ball python is derived from their tendency to curl into a tight ball when frightened or stressed.
Ball pythons are native to west and central Africa, living in the grasslands and savannas.
The ball python is the smallest non-venomous constrictors among the African pythons. They grow to maximum of 3 to 5 feet as adults.
Averagely, ball pythons live between 20 and 40 years. Therefore, new ball python keepers should be ready for a long term commitment before purchasing a ball python.
The ball python is a colorful snake. They are either black or dark brown with light brown blotches on the back and sides. Additionally, they have a white or creamy belly that is scattered with black markings.
Generally, a ball python is a stocky snake with a small head.
In captivity ball pythons make good pets. This is because they are small in size and relatively docile in nature. They are also easy to handle which makes them easy to care for.
Common name: Ball python, Royal python
Scientific name: Python regius
Adult size: 3 – 5 feet (6 feet rarely)
Lifespan: 20 – 40 years
Color: Black or dark brown with brown blotches
Are ball pythons easy to care for?
Ball pythons are easy to care for because they are docile non venomous constrictors. Additionally, ball pythons are small in size and thus easy to handle. They are therefore popular pet snakes among most snake hobbyists.
Setting up for a ball python
Ball pythons are terrestrial species preferring grasslands, savannas and sparsely wooded areas. In the wild they prefer to retreat in mammal burrows or other hiding areas.
Ball pythons are generally not very active snakes. They therefore do not need very large enclosures. You can use a 10 – 20 gallon tank for a baby ball python and a 30 gallon tank for an adult ball python. However, we recommend buying a 30 gallon tank even for a young snake as eventually they will grow bigger.
Ensure that the tank has a secure lid or secure mesh covering at the top as ball pythons can easily escape from their enclosures.
Like other snakes, ball pythons require a thermogradient. Meaning they require a hot spot for basking and a cool spot.
To create a basking area include heat sources in the enclosure. You can purchase a heat lamp such as Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp or Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot Bulb. Place the heat lamp on one corner leaving the other corner as the cool spot. The basking area should be between 90° and 95° F while the cool end should be between 80° and 85° F.
Alternatively you can use under tank heating pads or ceramic heat emitters. Do not use hot rocks as the source of heat. Ensure that heating pads or lamps are screened to avoid direct contact as it may lead to severe burns on your snake.
To monitor the temperature, purchase two digital reptile thermometers. Keep the thermometers one on each end of the enclosure. Make sure you monitor the temperature daily.
The humidity of a ball python’s enclosure is important. Make sure you maintain a humidity level of between 50 and 60%. You can do this by regularly misting the enclosure or using a humidifier available in gardening stores.
You can also include a soaking tub. Most owners prefer using a water bowl that is large enough for the snake to soak in. Ensure however that the bowl is shallow especially for younger snakes to prevent drowning.
Use a humidity gauge to regularly monitor the humidity levels. If the humidity goes above 60% you may need to increase the ventilation of the cage.
Substrate and hiding places
In the wild ball pythons prefer to hide in mammal burrows or other hiding areas. It is therefore important to provide hiding areas for your pet ball python. You can do this by purchasing commercial hiding areas or broken flower pots if available.
Place two hiding areas in the enclosure, one in the basking area and the other on the cooler spot. The hiding areas should be large enough for the snake to fit but designed in a way that it will be easy to remove the snake if need be.
Although ball python are terrestrial they have arboreal tendencies. Provide them with sturdy branches to provide for climbing.
Line the bottom of the tank with substrates such as moss, shredded newspaper or shredded bark. Natural substrates such as aspen shavings, pine bark and coconut fiber although have a cosmetic appearance occasionally cause problems if ingested. Cedar and pine shavings also affect the snake’s respiratory system and therefore should be avoided.
We recommend using shredded newspapers, paper towels or reptile carpeting as ball python’s enclosure substrates.
Feeding a ball python
What do ball pythons eat?
Ball pythons in the wild feed mostly on small mammals such as mice, rats, shrews, birds among others. Young ball pythons prey exclusively on small birds nestlings while adult ball pythons prey on small mammals.
In captivity, you can feed your pet ball pythons exclusively on mice and small to medium sized rats. Baby ball pythons eat baby mice and rats (pinkies or fuzzies) while adult ball pythons feed on adult mice and rats. The size of the prey should be approximately the width of the largest part of the snake’s body.
We recommend feeding your ball python on pre-killed prey or frozen thawed prey. This is because live prey could fight back and possibly injure your snake.
How often should I feed my ball python?
You can feed your ball python every 7 to 14 days.
Younger ball pythons need to be feed every week.
We recommend feeding young ball pythons once every week and adult ball pythons once every 2 weeks. Snakes may refuse to eat during winter particularly in adult snakes. You can therefore increase the feeding interval during winter.
How should I feed my ball python?
To feed your ball python, simply place the prey item in the snake’s enclosure and wait. If the snake is not interested in the prey remove the prey after 1 hour. For young snakes try again the following day during warmer months.
You can try to dangle the prey in-front of the snake to make him or her interested in the prey. You will get a grip on the preferred feeding behavior of your snake with time.
Transferring your ball python to another cage during feeding can make handling easier. The ball python will not associate their cage with food and will therefore not strike your hand if you attempt to handle them.
What about water?
Make sure that your ball python has a clean supply of water at all times. Remember that your ball python may soak in her water dish.
You should therefore change the water daily. Change the water immediately if the snake defecates in the water.
Cleaning a ball python and his/her habitat
If you have a large water dish in the enclosure, your ball python will bathe themselves.
If for one reason or another your snake isn’t bathing, a bath during shedding will help remove the dead skin. To bathe your snake, place him/her in a water bath using warm water. Let the snake soak for 10 minutes then remove him/her.
Spot clean the snake’s enclosure daily. Remove any wet bedding and feces daily. During the shedding period, remove any dead skin you see in the enclosure.
Clean the water dish daily as your snake may soak in the water dish then replace with clean lukewarm water.
Disinfect the enclosure once every month using diluted bleach and water. Rinse the enclosure well then let it dry completely before replacing with bedding and clean cage accessories.
Handling a ball python
To handle your ball python, carefully scoop him/her with both of your hands. Support their entire body to keep them comfortable. Do not move quickly so as not to startle them. Keep your motions slow and gradual. Sit down and relax to help you keep still and make the snake feel secure.
If your snake is fearful, be patient and make handling gradual. Allow your snake to know you before attempting to handle them. You may get bitten the first few times you handle them but eventually you will learn how your snake loves to be handled.
If bitten, wash your hand with soap and running water and do not attempt to handle the snake again until after a few days.
Do not handle your snake on feeding days as they may get stressed and refuse to eat. Do not handle your snake after a meal as they may vomit.
Read next; Are ball pythons aggressive?
Ball pythons are docile constrictors that are relatively small in size, growing to an average of 3 to 5 feet in adulthood. They are easy to handle and have minimal requirements. As such, ball pythons are easy to care for.
Enclosure; 30 gallon tank
Temperature: Cool spot 80 – 85° F , Basking zone 90 – 95° F
Humidity: 50 – 60 %
Substrate: shredded newspapers
Hiding areas: yes – 1 on each corner
Diet: Rodents – mice and rats
Water: Clean supply at all times