The ball python (python regius) is quite clearly the most popular pet snake in the world. Generally a bit shy, they make for ideal pets because they are smaller in size, typically friendly, easy to care for and come in many beautiful colors and patterns, known as “morphs.”
Native to central and western Africa, these snakes thrive in warm, tropical areas. Ball pythons make an excellent pet snake for first-timers and experts alike. Each year, breeders create incredible, innovative, never-before-seen patterns and color varieties that continually generate new fans and admirers.
Availability of Ball Pythons
Ball pythons are quite easy to acquire, being found at most pet stores, reptile shows, and online. The best choice for a pet is a snake born in captivity because they are free from parasites and the most likely to be healthy.
Hatchlings are approximately 10 inches long. Ball pythons are a species of which mature females are typically larger than the males. Adult females average between 4 to 5 feet long, while adult males average only 3 to 4 feet. In rare cases, these snakes have been known to grow up to 6 feet long.
With proper care, ball pythons can live for more than 20 years. The record is more than 40 years.
Cages can be as straightforward or as elaborate as desired. Different pens, including melamine racks or any of the plastic-type reptile cages, work well for these snakes. Glass aquariums and terrariums are also suitable options.
Juveniles do well in smaller cages that make them feel secure. A baby pet snake in a large cage can become stressed easily. Adults do not require extensive or elaborate enclosures either. A 36x18x12-inch enclosure will comfortably house an adult ball python.
Spot-clean your python’s enclosure as necessary. Remove all waste daily and do a complete cleaning every 30 days by removing all bedding and cage accessories while thoroughly disinfecting with a reptile cage cleaner. Rinse the cage well with water, and allow it to dry completely before replacing.
The one cage accessory required to make your pet snake happy is an appropriately sized hiding spot. Ball pythons are secretive and appreciate a nice place to hide. Provide your pet a hiding place at each end of the cage so that it doesn’t have to choose between temperature and security. Be sure that both are large enough to fit your growing snake.
Lighting & Temperature
Cages must provide a proper temperature range to make your snake feel at home. Do this by placing a hotspot on one end of the cage and a cool spot on the other, allowing your snake move to regulate its body temperature between the two. Provide it with a designated basking spot of 85˚ to 95˚F and an ambient temperature of 70˚ to 80˚. The ambient temperature should not be below 70˚. It’s crucial to know the temperature in your snake’s cage — don’t guess! The best way to monitor temperatures is to use a digital thermometer with a probe or an inferred thermometer.
There are many ways to heat a ball python cage, including under-cage heating pads and tapes, ceramic heat emitters, and basking bulbs. When using ceramic heat emitters and basking bulbs, it is essential to keep an eye on the humidity level within the cage, especially if using a screen top as they don’t trap moisture well and could invoke shedding issues. Use thermostats, rheostats, or timers to control the heat source. Do not use heat rocks with snakes as they could cause severe burns. When using heat pads without a thermostat, lay down a cage carpet to prevent injuries.
Lighting is not necessary but if used, it should run 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Continuous, bright light causes snakes stress. Not only are they a nocturnal species, but snakes also don’t have eyelids. Ball pythons prefer humidity levels of 50-60%, which allows them to shed easily.
Cypress mulch and orchid bark are excellent substrates for controlling humidity, but remember that too much or too little moisture could both be detrimental. Aspen is an excellent choice, but can sometimes drop the humidity level. Avoid cedar, sand, as well as pine shavings. Never use cedar bedding, as it contains oils that can be harmful!
Feed your ball python an appropriately sized meal weekly. “Appropriately sized” means food items that are no bigger in circumference than the snake at its broadest part. Always feed in a separate feeding container outside of the cage. This prevents the snake from accidentally eating bedding and prevents the snake from confusing your hand for a mouse.
These snakes like to eat fuzzy mice when they’re young and move up in size as they grow. Adults can be fed every 1 to 2 weeks, and younger ball pythons should be feed weekly as they need the food to help grow. You can feed frozen/thawed if you wish, but live is preferred by the snake. Never leave a live rodent unattended with your snake, as they can injure the snake. It’s best to not handle your ball python for at least a day after feeding, as this can lead to regurgitation.
Ball pythons are known to not eat at certain times. Snakes, in general, tend to not eat when in the shed cycle, but individual snakes are all unique. Snakes also tend to not eat in the winter. Be prepared for this and don’t worry — simply keep an observant eye on the snake’s overall condition and body weight. This is typically nothing to worry about with established pythons, although it can be frustrating for the owner. Offer your snake food every 10 to 14 days until it is interested in eating again, as the snake will eventually resume regular feeding.
Always have clean water available for your snake and be sure to check the water daily. The size of the water dish should be large enough for the ball python to crawl into and soak, as ball pythons seem to enjoy a nice bath from time to time. Ensure that the water dish is not too deep for juvenile animals.
Many snake species will poop in their water dish occasionally — be prepared to clean and disinfect the water dish. The water dish should always be cleaned and disinfected weekly. Having a spare water bowl can be handy so that while one is in use, the other can be washed.
If your ball python starts spending a lot of time soaking it may be an indicator that your snake has mites. Give your snake a proper inspection all over to make sure it’s not infested and seeking relief. If you’re in need of mite spray, give us a call.
Handling & Treatment
Ball pythons are shy and will spend most of the time hiding. Your python may initially see you as a threat, and it must learn that you’re not going to hurt it. In time, you will establish trust with your snake and it will allow you to handle it.
Avoid fast movements and support your ball python’s body. Once your ball python realizes that you will not harm them, they enjoy being handled. Some may try to hide when being held and occasionally some may even bite due to fear, but it’s uncommon. These ones may require a bit more time to settle in and get to know you. A ball python’s bite is not bad and much more preferable than a bee sting, for example. If a snake looks stressed, it is best not to handle it. Relax when holding your animal and give the animal a chance to relax as well. Avoid sudden movements between hands and never reach toward their face — always approach from behind.
Avoid handling if you plan to feed. Some snakes may not eat for several hours or longer after being held. After a snake has eaten, it’s best to limit the amount of handling because it may be uncomfortable for the animal. Avoid putting your snake’s cage in a high traffic area. Excessive movement, noise, and other pets should be avoided.