Ball pythons are one of the most popular breeds of pet pythons. They originate from Central and South America and can grow up to 3 or 4 feet long.
Ball Pythons as pets are a great choice for those who want to have a snake but are not sure if they have the time or the space. They are also a good option for those who want to be able to handle their snake more often than other types of snakes.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Are Ball Pythons?
- 2 Ball Python Tank Requirements
- 3 Ball Python Tank Decorations
- 4 Ball Python Tank Humidity And Water
- 5 Raising Relative Humidity In Ball Python Tank
- 6 Ball Python Tank Temperature
- 7 Ball Python Tank Lights
- 8 What To Feed Ball Pythons?
- 9 Ball Python Diseases And Symptoms
- 10 Ball Python Shedding Information
- 11 Ball Python Incomplete Sheds
What Are Ball Pythons?
Ball pythons (Python regius) are found at the edges of the forest lands of Central and Western Africa. They are equally comfortable on the ground and in trees. They are crepuscular and active around dawn and dusk. Called royal pythons in Europe, and the United States we call them “balls” due to their habit of curling themselves up into a tight ball when they are nervous, their heads pulled firmly into the center. Like most pythons, ball pythons are curious and gentle snakes.
Ball pythons typically reach 4 feet (1.2 m) in length; occasionally some specimens reach 5 feet (1.5 m). When properly fed, their bodies become nicely rounded. Like all pythons and boas, ball pythons have anal spurs. These single claws appearing on either side of the vent are the vestigial remains of the hind legs of snakes lost during their evolution from lizard to snake millions of years ago. Males have longer spurs than females; males also have smaller heads than females.
Ball pythons, like all pythons and boas, devour a variety of prey in the wild – amphibians, lizards, other snakes, birds, and small mammals. They do not eat mice in the wild, however, and do not recognize the mice we offer them as being something edible. Thus, imported wild-caught ball pythons tend to be very picky eaters, at least initially, and drive their owners to distraction in their attempts to get them to eat something.
Ball pythons are reputed to be able to go for extended periods without food; wild-caught ball pythons have gone for a year or more without food until finally enticed to eat lizards and other snakes. This is not a healthy trait and must not be a reason for selecting this species. This should also make you suspicious when a pet store tells you that their ball pythons are eating well.
Buying captive-born ball pythons reduces the stress on the threatened populations in the wild and helps ensure you will get a healthy, established eater and a snake already used to contact humans. Buying from a reputable breeder will ensure that you will get the help and advice you need to assure that your ball feels comfortable and secure enough to eat after you bring it home and let it get settled for a week or so.
With the increased popularity of reptiles as pets, there is increased pressure on wild populations. In addition to the more than 60,000 ball pythons that are imported annually, ball pythons are killed for food and their skin is used for leather in their native land. For some reason, despite their low reproduction rate, wild ball pythons are the least expensive pythons on the market, generally wholesaling for under ten dollars. Imported ball pythons also harbor several different types of parasites which may go unnoticed by the novice snake owner. All around, it is better to buy a captive-born hatchling or an established, well-feeding juvenile, sub-adult, or adult than an imported ball of any age.
In captivity, young ball pythons will grow about a foot a year during the first three years. They will reach sexual maturity in three to five years. The longest-living ball python on record was over 48 years old when it died. Egg-layers, female ball pythons encircle their four to ten eggs, remaining with them from the time they are laid until they hatch. During these three months, they will not leave the eggs and will not eat.
Since they grow up to be relatively small in size, they can be handled by even children and those who are not very strong. They also do not need much space and can easily fit in any room of the house.
Ball Pythons are one of the most popular pets in the world. They are not only easy to care for, but also very docile and friendly.
Ball Pythons originate from Africa, and so they are more suited to warmer climates. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, which is what makes them so attractive as pets.
Ball Python Tank Requirements
Pythons are nonvenomous snakes that are found in many parts of the world. They have a docile nature and are easy to handle, making them popular pets.
When choosing a Tank for your ball python, remember how big it will eventually become. Either a large Tank should be selected, or the decision made to purchase larger Tanks as the animal grows.
Young pythons may be kept in vivariums that measure (L)90cm x (W)40cm x (H)40cm. After they reach about 1 meter in size, a larger vivarium with a sliding glass/acrylic front may be more appropriate.
Adult ball pythons should preferably be kept in a vivarium that is no smaller than (L)120cm x (W)45cm x (H)45cm. A general rule of thumb is that the perimeter of the Tank (2 times the width plus 2 times the length) should be equal to at least 2 times the length of the snake.
Snakes are excellent escape artists, so any Tank should have a tight-fitting lid or door, preferably one with a lock. The lid and/or other panels should allow for good ventilation. Cypress mulch, paper towels, and newspapers provide a good substrate, as does Astroturf. Have one or two spare pieces available to use when the Tank is being cleaned. Do NOT use wood shavings.
Ball Python Tank Decorations
Your ball python must have a hiding place in its Tank. It needs a place where it can comfortably retreat, a place to hide during daylight hours, and a place where it can feel safe and secure. Hides can be made from pretty much anything. Hollow logs, terra cotta flower pots, or purpose-made hides will all provide the necessary security, as long as they’re big enough to house the snake in question and as long as they allow for easy access for both you and your pet.
An excellent hide is made from a wide terra cotta flower pot. Enlarge the drain hole with a chisel and file it to remove any sharp edges. Place the pot in the Tank, and drain the hole side up. The snake will often spend most of the daylight hours inside the hide. Also, at least two hiding places should be provided at different ends of the tank, one should have a thermostat-controlled heating pad under it to allow the animal to regulate its temperature. Juveniles in particular may be stressed by overly large Tanks that do not have sufficient small hiding spaces.
Ball Python Tank Humidity And Water
A fresh pool of water should be available so the snake can immerse itself when it chooses. The container should be heavy so the snake cannot knock it over. Snakes often defecate in the water, so it is vitally important that the water is checked and changed daily.
Misting is generally not needed nor recommended, however, if the humidity is extremely low, a daily misting will provide the higher humidity that aids in proper shedding. Ball Pythons should not be kept in a damp environment since this can lead to skin infections and other problems. Humidity should be maintained at 50% to 60% with a dry substrate.
Raising Relative Humidity In Ball Python Tank
There are several things you can do to help increase the overall relative humidity in your ball python’s cage. You can mist the cage every other day to help increase moisture in the tank. Mulch has excellent water retention properties. You can also increase the size of the water bowl in the cage to help raise the relative humidity.
Placing a heat lamp or UTH (under tank heater) over or under the location of the water bowl will help raise humidity levels in the tank as well. Another technique is to add damp sphagnum moss inside a plastic hide box to create a humidity chamber that your ball python can enter when it’s nearing its shed cycle.
You should have a happy ball python that has complete sheds if you follow some of the techniques listed here.
Ball Python Tank Temperature
The temperature inside your ball python’s enclosure should generally be around 27-29ºC during the day, with a basking area that reaches 30-34ºC. The temperature should be cooler at night, dropping to between 21-24ºC. You must maintain this day/night cycle. The supplemental heat can be provided through under-Tank heating mats and overhead ceramic heaters.
During the day, incandescent light bulbs of 75 watts or lower, with reflectors and protective wire Tanks can provide a higher temperature for basking. This should be placed at one end of the Tank, so a temperature gradient can be achieved. Sturdy wooden branches can also be supplied, so the snake can choose how close to the heat source it wants to be, but not so close it could burn itself. The branches will also aid the snake during its shed. If necessary, an infrared bulb or room heater may be used to maintain the proper temperature at night.
Measure the temperature in several areas of the Tank both during the day and at night using a quality thermometer (see our products page) to ensure you have the proper temperature gradient. Measure the temperature both under the basking light and near the floor of the Tank. Providing a temperature gradient is crucial, as this allows the snake to thermoregulate (control its body heat).
To maintain the proper temperature, it is best to have thermostats connected to the heat sources. The Tank should be placed away from drafts or appliances which may put off heat.
Remember to never place a glass Tank in the direct sun.
Ball Python Tank Lights
“Day-light” or “full-spectrum” fluorescent lights will provide good lighting during the day. Unlike some reptiles, full spectrum lighting is not required, though it is still recommended.
During summer, your ball python should have a photoperiod of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, unless it’s brumating, in which instance it should be 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness.
The light can be slowly increased by 2 hours in the summer and decreased by 2 hours in the winter. Using a timer on the light will provide better control.
Keep in mind that your ball python is nocturnal (active at night). It is therefore essential that the light provided is only there to replicate a day/night cycle.
What To Feed Ball Pythons?
Ball pythons are one of the best beginner snakes in the pet trade today. They have earned this title because they are calm and docile, with easy husbandry needs, not because of their feeding habits.
They can be VERY picky eaters. It can prove difficult to successfully get a ball python to eat frozen/thawed mice or rats, but not impossible.
It is not uncommon for a ball python to go without food for a few months. This may not necessarily be due to the snake not being hungry, but it could refuse to eat for several reasons. I have had ball pythons that don’t want to eat during the winter, but they usually continue to feed normally once the temperatures increase again.
Ball Pythons will refuse to eat if the temperature in their enclosure is not warm enough.
The slightest change in temperatures, too hot, too cold, upgrading enclosures, changing habitat decor, or even just the placement of the tank, could all upset a ball python into not eating.
It may sometimes be necessary for you to have to force-feed them to get them started again.
I have heard stories of ball pythons losing a lot of weight, even after just six months of not eating.
A veterinarian told a customer to begin force-feeding when this happened.
In some cases, force-feeding is the only option to get your ball python to eat again, but this should not be attempted unless you know what you’re doing.
Force-feeding a snake is not the best option, but if the snake starts to lose weight, and still refuses to eat, it may be something that you want to consider to keep your pet alive. It is best that you use smaller frozen/thawed food items than what your snake usually consumes. It’s just easier to swallow. You can, also, look at what you’re feeding.
If your snake is used to eating frozen and then stops eating, you could try feeding him freshly killed food items. This way, the rat or mouse is still naturally warm but is dead or at least stunned so it can’t hurt the snake.
Before trying fresh killed, you can try dipping the frozen/thawed food items in tuna juice or even chicken broth (tuna juice works better). Pat it down so it doesn’t drip juice, and then offer it to the snake.
In many cases, this is a good way to get the snake to start eating. Once the snake is eating regularly, you can start thawing out the frozen feeder regularly without the juice.
The biggest thing that you, or any ball python owner, must figure out is your pet snake’s tastes. I know it sounds funny, but sometimes that’s the case.
WARNING: Do not, under any circumstance, feed your ball python live food items! Not only is it illegal, but also hugely irresponsible as you risk having your pet snake bitten.
And you can read a detailed article on feeding ball pythons snakes, from the link >> What to feed ball pythons.
Ball Python Diseases And Symptoms
Malnutrition: This will occur if your snake doesn’t eat. You may have to resort to force-feeding to get your snake to eat.
Thermal burns: Burns should never occur because hopefully, you wrapped any incandescent bulbs with wire when you set up the cage. If your snake does get a minor burn, swab it daily with a mild antiseptic.
For serious burns put a dressing on the burn and take your snake to the veterinarian.
Ectoparasites: These are parasites that live outside the body. The most common ones are ticks and mites.
Ticks can be seen when you inspect your snake and are fairly easy to remove. First, put a small amount of Vaseline or alcohol on the tick.
This will loosen the tick after a few minutes. Then, using your fingers or tweezers, gently pull the tick off. Mites, however, are about the size of a pinhead and difficult to see until there are a lot of them.
They can cause stress, shedding problems, anemia, loss of appetite, and even death. The good news is that they are easy to get rid of. Simply put a piece of fly paper (sticky fly paper) in a perforated container (so your snake doesn’t come in contact with it) and hang it in your snake’s cage. Wait three days and take the strip out of the cage. Repeat in ten days to kill any newly hatched mites.
Endoparasites: These are parasites (worms) found inside your snake. Just about all wild snakes have endoparasites, a good reason not to buy a wild captured snake. Your veterinarian can determine if your snake has worms by looking at a fecal sample under a microscope. If worms are present he will then treat your snake accordingly.
Abscesses: An abscess is a lump under the skin. It occurs when the skin has been damaged (like from a rat bite if you feed your snake live rats) and an infection sets in. Don’t try to treat this yourself.
Take your snake to the vet. The vet will probably treat it with antibiotics or in severe cases; he will surgically open the abscess, clean it, and then stitch it back up again.
Salmonellosis: This is an intestinal disease that can be passed from snakes to people. To make certain you don’t catch this from your snake, thoroughly wash and disinfect your hands after every time you handle your snake or clean his cage. If your snake has watery, green-colored, smelly feces, it most probably has salmonellosis.
Mouth rot: This disease is caused by stress, mouth injuries, or living in a dirty cage. If your ball python has mouth rot, you will see patches of white cheesy-looking gunk along his gums.
In severe cases, the snake’s lips may be forced apart. To treat this, use cotton swabs to clean the mouth and then wash with hydrogen peroxide. Do this every day until the mouth is back to normal. It may take up to two weeks for mouth rot to clear up.
Respiratory infections: They occur when snakes are kept in cages with low temperatures. Symptoms are wheezing and gaping of the mouth (don’t confuse this with a yawn), lack of appetite, and nasal discharge. To treat turn up the heat in your snake’s cage. If he doesn’t get better, see your veterinarian, your snake may need antibiotics.
Stomach rot: This occurs when a snake lives in a dirty cage and gets urine burned on its stomach. The stomach scales will get bubbles. The stomach turns brownish or reddish and gets crusty. Take your snake to your vet to be treated.
Ball Python Shedding Information
Shedding, or Ecdysis, is a natural phenomenon that ball pythons undergo for a varied number of reasons. As ball pythons grow, they shed old skin that’s replaced by new skin. Younger snakes shed more than older snakes because they’re growing at a faster pace.
It’s not uncommon for your young ball python to shed at least once a month. Shedding is healthy and natural and the shed skin should come off your ball python in one piece.
Ball pythons usually defecate and urinate right after they complete the shedding process. As they start to enter the shedding phase, they will darken up and become dull looking.
Their eyes will start to darken up and have a dark gray or blue color to them. It’s difficult for them to see during this stage of the shed cycle, so they can become nervous.
It’s best to leave them alone when they’re entering their shed cycle and make sure the relative humidity in the cage is conducive to a complete and proper shed.
The shedding cycle can last anywhere from 7 to 14 days on average. Although some ball pythons will eat in the shed, it’s not advisable to offer them food during this time as they may regurgitate the item.
After 3 to 5 days, the eyes and skin will start to clear, but will still look somewhat dull. They will often soak in their water bowl before shedding and will seek rough surfaces in the cage to rub against to help with the shedding process.
You can put sterile rocks or branches in its cage during this time to help it shed. They typically crawl around their cage pressing their face against the side of the tank or hard surfaces to get the shedding process started.
Ball Python Incomplete Sheds
Low humidity is just one cause of incomplete or poor shedding by ball pythons. Incomplete sheds can also be the result of less than adequate husbandry practices on the part of the keeper, parasites or bacterial infections, trauma, over-handling, and malnutrition. If the cage has proper humidity and your ball python still has incomplete sheds, you might want to look at some of the reasons just mentioned as a possible causes for the incomplete sheds.
There are several things you can do to help with the shedding process if you experience incomplete sheds. Soaking your ball python in lukewarm water for 15-30 minutes will help loosen up the dry skin to make it easy for the ball python to remove.
It will often rub its body against rough areas in its cage to free itself of the old skin. You can help this process by lightly rubbing your fingers over the loose shed and rolling it off your ball python.