Ball python care
If you found this article then the chances are, you are looking to get some solid information on “how to care for ball pythons”. In that case you are not alone; close to 50% of all beginner snake enthusiasts start their “snake keeping adventure” with this snake species. The following article is to provide you with an easy and comprehensive introduction as to what is takes to better understand the captive needs of this snake and the means to achieve it.
Originating from Africa this snake belongs to the family of Pythons (Pythonidae) and is a small to medium sized Non venomous constrictor.
Ball pythons (Latin name: Python Regius)sometimes also known as Royal Pythons get their name from the characteristic defensive position often taken by this snake, when frightened they curl around forming a tight ball shape while positioning the head in the middle of the ball, hence protecting it from attackers.
Characteristics, Size, Body type and Life Span:
Its broad head is lined up with heat sensitive pits around the mouth enabling the snake to detect its prey body heat amongst the colder environment temperature and pin pointing its position to strike even in total darkness when the eyes are of no use. Its characteristic forked tongue picks up small scent particles over the air and deposits them with each tongue flick inside a cavity in the mouth called the “Jacobson’s organ” where it’s then analyzed to help the snake determine the distance and direction of potential prey items.
Ball python’s size is typically around 3.5-5 feet (1-1.5 meters) and it’s considered to be a small to medium sized snake. Although the snake is not very long its body is very strong and heavily build. They can live up to more than 20 years in captivity with proper care. Of course the life span in the wild is much lover.
Ball Python Cage
For housing a ball python you will need to have some sort of enclosure, of which there are many available in the market or if you prefer you can build one on your own.
Most common and recommended are the following:
“Larger is not always better” As a general rule you will want to house a baby snake in a smaller enclosure so the snake feels secure and not overly stressed by a larger more intimidating space. In that case you can select a plastic faunarium as a temporary housing and rear the young snake ideally until they get up to 9-12 months old and then move it to the larger permanent enclosure. Now the size of the cage, although there is no set standard you will need to consider the adult approximate size of the snake and plan accordingly to allow your snake to move around the enclosure, explore, and appropriately thermoregulate.
Hides and terrarium furnishing:
All snakes and especially ball pythons are very shy animals that prefer to hide by instinct most of the time. It is crucial that you understand this in order to be able to provide them with sufficient Snake hiding places and allow it to feel safe. You have a very large selection of available commercial snake hides and caves to choose from, or you can get creative and make your own out of plastic tubs, shoe boxes, wood or any other material ,just make sure it’s strong and safe for your snake. Spread your hides across the enclosure 1 at each side and 1 in the middle. (Why? see Enclosure Heating Example)
Although ball pythons are mostly “terrestrial” meaning that they stay near the ground most of their time, they do occasionally like to climb so it’s best to provide them with some strong branches for climbing ,this way you maximize your available crawling space and provide a more natural feel to your set up.
This is what you use as a ground material, again there are many options to choose from. Most common ball python substrate materials are
We like to use bark as most people do because its relatively inexpensive, looks good and it’s easy to clean, remove snake feces and holds humidity nicely. Newspaper is often used by large scale breeders because is free. Personally, I never use it simply because it looks very ugly and does not hold any humidity at all.
All reptiles are cold blooded meaning they cannot control their body temperature as we mammals can, instead they rely on their surrounding environment for heating or cooling. Understanding their need for proper thermal gradient in captivity is the single most important issue you need to address for proper ball python care. Now, ball pythons require ambient enclosure temperature of around 80F (26c) but they also need a spot in the enclosure often called a basking spot where the temperature is higher at around 90F (32c) in this spot the heating must come from above simulating the natural heat of the sun. This can be achieved with the help of a spot light lamp and possibly a dimmer switch if necessary to control the amount of light and heat emitted to the basking spot.
Providing the heat can be done with several different types of heating elements. See list below:
Most common ones are heat pads, they are use almost by all snake keepers because they are easy to install (place under the enclosure) and do not get very hot in order to cause burns and blisters to the snake. The philosophy here is to set up an enclosure that will offer the snake different thermal options in one confined space.
Let’s split the enclosure into 3 parts (Left, Middle and Right) one side will need to be the warm side one the ambient correct and the other one should be the cold side, a bit colder that the other two. So the snake can move to the warm side if it needs to get some warmth and move away from it as far as possible to the cold side if it needs to cool down. A hide should be placed at each part of the thermal gradient to provide the snake with options to retreat and feel safe without compromising its thermal needs.
A snake will often choose to hide instead of moving to the correct temperature if no hide is provided in that area.
If you decide to use a spot lamp or a ceramic heat emitter then you will need to make sure the snake has no direct access to it, this heating elements get extremely hot to the touch and if the snake climbs on it or touches the surface it will get burnt .So proper care must be taken in order to avoid this. This can be easily taken care of with the use of a light bulb guard or a wire mesh.
Ventilation and Humidity:
If you choose to go with a good commercial enclosure then you will not need to worry about the ventilation as it probably will already have holes and grills for proper ventilation, but if you plan to make one on your own then you need to address that. Make sure that ventilations holes are correctly spaced apart and at the proper areas to allow some ventilation but not excessive so you can still keep your required temperatures inside the enclosure. Poor ventilations can result in many problems for the snake over time it can escalate leading to diseases and health issues. Now about the humidity, I personally would not stress very much about it but still is an issue to take under consideration for your animals well being. Ball pythons love a good mist of water especially when younger. And it helps tremendously with their shedding schedule, so a mist of the enclosure 2-3 times a week will be very beneficial. Make sure you allow the cage to dry out before you mist again, so if you mist 3 times a week and by the next mist the enclosure it’s not dried up, then you need to address your heating and ventilation (either you have a cold cage and water does not evaporate or you have poor ventilation or both).
This would probably be one of the most important issues that many fist time keepers seem to straggle with. Ball pythons sometimes are a challenge to get them to eat, but don’t worry there are many tricks that can help you with it. Most importantly thought is for you to understand their natural instincts and take “advantage” of them to get them on a regular feeding schedule.
Ball pythons eat rodents and in captivity they should be offered the same. A baby ball will need to eat small and frequent meals, so if you have a juvenile animal your best bet would be small baby mice or rats (pinky, fuzzy, hopper mice). Offer the appropriate sized food item (not much bigger than the animal’s thickest part) 2 to 3 times per week. Gradually as the snake get’s bigger, then larger food items will be required, so you move on to adult mice or small rats, to eventually full grown rats. Keep in mind that you are most likely to end up feeding your adult snake with large rats so it’s best to get them started as soon as possible with rats so you don’t run in to problems later when they might not accept rats and you need to offer 3-4 mice instead of 1 large rat.
Adult ball pythons don’t need to eat very often and sometimes they will refuse food for long periods of time (1-3 months some times more), in healthy animals this is not much of a worry as this comes naturally with their instinct to stop feeding during the colder months. This need to be closely monitored by you so you watch out if your animal’s behavior is the natural one or caused by some other external factor. Sickness, improper temperatures or stress. There is another article here if you encounter any feeding problems with your snake.
Ball python Behavior:
These guys have the tendency to be very docile calm snakes and this is one of the main reasons people seem to love them for. Having said that now please keep in mind that they are also very shy animals and they get easily stressed by excessive handling or improper housing conditions. Back a while ago when the market was full of wild caught Ball pythons were a lot more aggressive snakes not easily acclimated to life in captivity, however now the captive trade provides most of the animals, and all ball pythons for sale now are CB animals. If you have the option to choose from then always take CB (Captive Breed) snakes in general.
By now you should have learned the basics for “successful ball python keeping”, but as you gain more experience and familiarity with your snake you will begin to understand more about this wonderful snake. I urge you to continue reading and educating yourself as much as possible, about correct snake husbandry, breeding and health issues. Knowledge is indeed a great power and this is no exception!
Here are some nice Ball Python books we recommend