Ball pythons are well known in the reptile community for their docile temperament, relatively straightforward care, size, and thousands of colour patterns (“morphs”) available in the market. This sheet will cover some information on ball pythons, as well as give a care guide so that you can take care of your properly.
Ball pythons are labelled as one of the best beginner reptile species available, but this care guide will also explain why this community tends to view them as more of a species between beginner and intermediate.
Ball pythons (royal pythons in EU) are a snake native to the central and western parts of Africa, in countries such as Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, and Uganda. The name “ball” refers to the way these snakes curl up when they feel threatened. This defense mechanism is done as a way of protecting their heads. The name “royal” was given due to the way African royalty would wear these snakes as jewelry. Like all pythons, they are a nonvenomous constrictor. Ball pythons are considered a python and not a boa because they come from the Old World (outside of the Americas) and lay eggs as opposed to incubating them inside the body.
This snake species is classified as terrestrial, but has been known to use opportunities to climb. There is currently a debate on whether or not this species is semi arboreal. Climbing tendencies are shown more in males than in females, but things to climb in an enclosure should be provided.
A general rule of thumb is to have an enclosure that is as long as the snake itself. This will allow your snake to fully stretch out. A 40 gallon breeder that measures 36 inches long will work well for a smaller male, and a 55 gallon measuring 48 inches long will work better for all males and some females unless they are especially large. That being said, ball pythons can be set up using tubs, as long as they follow the same rule of being long enough for the snake, and have enough height to add decor for enrichment. Tubs will allow you to hold heat and humidity better, which is a topic that will be covered later.
As with snakes in general, ball pythons require a temperature gradient in their enclosures. They are ectothermic (cold blooded), which means that they do not produce internal body heat like mammals and require the use of external sources for temperature regulation. Ball pythons need a basking spot of 88-92F, provided by an under tank heater hooked to a thermostat. Thermostats are not optional- please use one to avoid burning your snake or creating a serious fire hazard. Heat lamps are not recommended for ball pythons since they enjoy staying hidden. UVB is also not required (but can be added) since ball pythons are a nocturnal species, which means they rarely would get UVB naturally and do not depend on it. The warm ambient temperature should be at around 86F. The cool ambient should not drop below 75F. If your house is too cold, warmth can be provided to the air temperature of an enclosure by using a ceramic heat emitter. Keep in mind that these do not replace a basking spot.
Humidity should be kept at 60% normally. This should be raised to 70% during shed to allow the shed to come off in one nice piece. Please do not soak your snake while they are in shed, as this is unnecessary stress for the animal and may wash off oils needed for proper shedding. Simply provide a large enough water dish should your snake decide to do it on its own. Soaking is only needed if the snake has attempted to get the shed off and it is stuck. If you have a snake with a stuck shed please check your humidity. To increase humidity, you may do things such as put a wet towel on part of the lid (if using a tank with a screen lid), or manage ventilation if using a tub.
Ball pythons thrive security, which means they will do excellently in a secure environment. The minimum amount of hides for a ball python is two, one for the basking spot and one for the cool end. Make sure that your hide is large enough for the snake to fit in, but provides a snug and secure fit. Log hides are not recommended since they are open on both sides. You may search online for a suitable hide, but tupperware containers with a hole cut in them work well. Make sure that they are covered so they are no longer see through, and remove all sharp edges. Make sure your enclosure contains a water dish large enough to soak in, using dechlorinated water (you can use Zoomed’s reptisafe, or leave tap water out for 24h)
For substrate, a number of options exist. You may use paper towels, but be careful of feeding the snake on paper towels as it may ingest the towel along with the rat if the rat gets stuck to it. Newspaper works well if you live in the US or in EU since the newspaper in those locations have soy based ink, making it harmless to your reptile. If you are struggling with humidity, use coconut husk or cypress mulch (Zoomed’s eco earth and forest floor) to hold it better. Do not use aspen for ball pythons as it will get moldy quickly due to the high humidity.
To provide enrichment, you may add things such as driftwood and rocks for climbing, and fake plants to explore. These are easily bought online but sticks and rocks can also be picked up from outside and cleaned thoroughly. (boil them and then bake them in the oven) You do not need to worry about “overdoing it” as the more there is, the better!
Ball pythons eat a variety of things in the wild, such as birds, African soft fur rats, and shrews. In captivity, they can be fed a diet consisting entirely of mice and rats. They do not need supplements for their food since they will obtain all the calcium and vitamins needed from digesting their food while. Ball pythons are typically started on mice and switched over to rats, but since mice are too small for any adult ball python it is best to start them on rat fuzzies and rat pups to avoid the switch from mice to rats, since pickier ball pythons may not want to switch over.
Ball pythons can be fed frozen thawed, pre killed, or live food. It is recommended to do frozen thawed or pre killed if your snake will take it, since rats and mice will fight back and could injure your snake with a nasty bite that causes infection. To thaw your rat, simply place it in a sealed Ziploc bag and place the bag in hot water from the tap. Do not use boiling water. Leave it until the rat is warm and does not feel solid.
Some snakes will unfortunately refuse any food unless it is live. Make sure to monitor snakes each time while doing a live feeding to avoid as much injury as possible. If the snake expresses no interest in the rat, take it out so it does not attack the snake later.
These snakes are notorious for going on feeding strikes. Sometimes even the slightest change in husbandry will trigger a feeding strike, so it is important to stay on top of your husbandry with ball pythons. They may also go off feed during the breeding season.
If your snake has been refusing food, make sure to monitor its weight in grams using a kitchen scale. If your snake is not losing any weight or very little then there is no reason to be frightened since snakes can go a long time without eating, but keep checking to ensure your husbandry is correct. If your snake loses more than 20% of its body weight, however, go see a vet as soon as possible as that indicates a serious issue.
Ball pythons are very great snakes for handling. They are generally docile and do not move too much when being held. Make sure to give your snake a week to settle into its new home before handling or feeding. Do not handle your snake for about 48 hours after feeding. Remember that snakes tolerate handling but do not enjoy it, so limit handling sessions to 30 minutes (or sooner if your snake shows visible signs of stress such as moving extremely quickly to get away, or rapid breathing) every other day. A snake that is extremely adjusted to its owner can tolerate daily handling but unless that level of comfort is met, stick to 30m every other day.
If you have a snake that is not tolerate of handling, make sure to work with it slowly. Do not attempt to pick it up if it is striking at you. Hold the snake for very short sessions every other day when it is not nipping at you and increase that time slowly as the snake grows more comfortable.
There are plenty of morphs in the ball python world to choose from, such as mojave, clown, cinnamon, yellow belly, pastel, lesser and more, including combinations of the morphs. There are a few morphs with neurological issues, however.
Spider (sometimes labelled as “bee” in morphs), champagne, woma, hidden gene woma, super sable, powerball, or any morphs with these genes- has a neurological issue known as the “wobble” which affects all snakes with these genes (some minor cases, some severe). Wobble is essentially the snake shaking its head, corkscrewing, moving it’s head upside down, being unable to strike prey, and more.
Ball pythons come in many beautiful morphs outside of these. Even if yu choose to exclude these there is something for everyone in the world of ball pythons, so I recommend checking out morphmarket and seeing what catches your eye.
-High humidity requirements that may be hard for newer keepers to maintain
-Feeding strikes that may scare a new owner who isn’t used to a pet not eating
-Less forgiving of beginner mistakes.
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