Ball pythons are also known as “royal pythons.” Their scientific name is Python regius. They are so named because they have a habit of curling up into a tight ball when afraid. These snakes are a kind of constrictor, and they are non-venomous. Ball pythons make really good beginner snakes.
The docile nature of a ball python snake makes them a good first pet. They are easy to take care of and unlikely to bite. Ball pythons thrive in a warm environment, and you can monitor the temperature and humidity of their enclosures with simple tools. These snakes can be fed frozen-thawed rodents. While many illnesses can befall a ball python snake, it is easy to watch for signs of sickness and disease.
It’s time to learn more about the details of taking care of a ball python snake. This includes the type of enclosure it should live in to what it should eat, and what to do if your snake gets sick.
How to Take Care of Your Ball Python
Ball pythons come from western and central Africa. They thrive in warm, tropical parts of the world. Their natural habitat includes the grasslands of the African savannah and sparsely wooded areas with trees to climb on.
Adult ball pythons are 3-5 feet long. Very rarely, a ball python will grow to around 6 feet. They are the smallest of the African pythons. Females are larger than males. Differences between males and females are known as “sexual dimorphism”, according to the Journal of Herpetology.
Their patterns and color variations vary extensively, including brown, pied, yellow, coral, and white scales. Ball python breeders are always coming up with new and exciting scale color patterns.
What Kind of Ball Python Enclosure?
There are multiple aspects you need to consider while creating a home for your new ball python. Let’s go over them one at a time.
The first thing you need to consider is the size of the enclosure. What size you choose should depend on how big your ball python is. The right size will allow your snake to move around an appropriate amount for exercise.
A baby ball python will feel safest in a smaller terrarium, between 15 and 20 gallons in volume. As your ball python grows, you should increase the size of their enclosure. An adult ball python should have a 40-gallon tank to move around in.
Whether you choose a cage or a tank for your snake, make sure that the enclosure is well-ventilated. You also want to check that the enclosure does not have any sharp edges or points for your snake to injure itself against.
The substrate is the substance you put in the bottom of your snake’s tank for them to crawl around on. Many different substances will work as substrates for your ball python. Here are some options:
- Aspen shavings
- Mulch substrates, such as coconut fiber bedding or reptile bark
- Dampened sphagnum moss
- Paper products, such as newspaper shavings or paper towels
Do not use cedar shavings or sand, as these substrates can irritate your snake’s skin and respiratory tract.
Remember that you need to clean and disinfect your ball python’s enclosure on a regular basis. This means removing and replacing the substrate in the tank at least once each month.
Then, disinfect the walls of the terrarium and rinse thoroughly with water. You will also need to spot clean the tank more frequently than this, to remove urates and feces.
Provide your snake with a place to hide, just big enough for the snake to fit inside. This will help your snake be comfortable in a new environment. You can buy a cave or hide box at your local pet store, or you can create a hide of your own from an old plastic container or clay flowerpot.
Two hide boxes, one at the cool end of the cage and another at the warm end, are good for your snake. It’s also a good idea to give your snake something to climb on, such as a sturdy branch or another piece of décor. In the wild, pythons often climb in trees.
You can also turn your python’s terrarium into a bioactive vivarium. Putting living organisms such as plants into your python’s home transforms their space into a natural environment. This can keep your python comfortable at the same time as giving you a pleasant green landscape to look at in your own home.
4/ Warmth and Light
Ball pythons thrive in warm temperatures. When setting up your ball python’s enclosure, make sure that there is a warmer side and a cooler side, to give your snake some options depending on its comfort level. The hot side should have a temperature between 85 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler side should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can keep track of the temperature in your ball python’s enclosure with a thermometer. Two thermometers are ideal, since one can monitor the hot side of the tank while the other can monitor the cooler side.
There are several ways you can keep your ball python’s enclosure warm, including heat tape, a basking light, or a heat mat. Heating mats go either on the side of the tank or underneath it. Avoid using heat rocks inside the enclosure, because they might burn your python.
Don’t leave your ball python in the dark all day. They need a natural day/night light cycle, including between 8 and 12 hours of light each day. During the day, use a white light. During the night, use a nocturnal or infrared light instead.
Ball pythons are used to humid climates. Therefore, they need to have the humidity level at about 60% in their enclosure. The right humidity level can help them feel comfortable and also assist with their shedding. Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to keep the humidity high enough during cold, dry winters.
Here are some ways to increase the humidity in your ball python’s tank:
- Use a spray bottle to dampen the bedding.
- Provide a larger water dish than strictly necessary.
- Cover about 3/4 of the screen top of the terrarium with a towel.
- Place the terrarium in the same room as a humidifier.
- Add a waterfall feature to the enclosure.
- Add live plants to the enclosure, and water them regularly.
A handy tool for keeping track of the humidity in your ball python’s home is a hygrometer. Hygrometers are inexpensive measuring instruments that tell you how humid the enclosure is.
6/ Water Source
It is essential that you have a water source available for your ball python in its enclosure. A simple water bowl will suffice. Either tap water or bottled water is good for your snake, as long as the water is clean.
Your snake’s water bowl should be big enough for your ball python to soak itself in. Keep in mind that larger water bowls can impact the enclosure’s humidity level.
Make sure to regularly clean and sterilize the water bowl. Clean it at least once per week, or more often if you notice the water is dirty. This will help keep your snake healthy.
What Should You Feed Your Ball Python?
Ball pythons are carnivores, and only need to be fed every 1-2 weeks. The best thing to feed a ball python is mice. Live mice may be appealing to your snake, but they can end up attacking and injuring your snake.
It is safer to feed a ball python thawed-out frozen rodents. Frozen rodents can be shipped in bulk and are easily thawed by placing in warm water for a couple of hours. Give your python a rodent that is no bigger in circumference than the largest part of your ball python’s body.
Ball pythons are commonly picky eaters. Do not be concerned if your snake does not immediately accept a meal from you. Here are some things you can do to try to get your ball python to eat:
- Give your python some time to get used to its new environment. It might just be nervous.
- Double-check the humidity and temperature of the python’s enclosure. If they are too low, adjust as necessary.
- Switch between trying to feed your snake live or frozen rodents.
- If it is a frozen rodent, warm it up a little more with warm water.
- Switch between trying to feed your snake mice and rats.
- Change the time of day you try to feed your snake.
- Move your snake to a separate, smaller box for feeding.
- Give your snake a different color of the mouse.
- Give the meal an additional scent to entice the snake.
Be careful not to give your python too big of a meal, or to not handle the python the same day as you feed it. Ball pythons can regurgitate easily. If your python regurgitates, wait around a week and a half before trying to feed it again. Be sure to give it smaller meals at first.
If your snake regurgitates again, it may be time to visit a veterinarian. Your snake could be sick.
Does Your Ball Python Snake Need A Companion?
Snakes are not overly familial creatures, and ball pythons are no exception. While mother ball pythons will brood their eggs, watching over them carefully, after the eggs hatch the mother does not care for the hatchlings.
While ball pythons can sometimes be co-habited, it often does not go well. Ball pythons are happiest when they are on their own. Two pythons in the same tank can lead to stress or even injury as they fight over resources.
The only time it is safe or ideal to have two ball pythons in the same tank is during a breeding attempt. It is also not a good idea to ever keep different species of snake in the same tank.
If you are planning on having more than one ball python snake or becoming a breeder, you should consider getting a rack system. Ball pythons generally do not like to live in the same tank as each other, but it is simpler for you as the keeper to keep them in the same general area. A rack system will allow you to connect multiple tanks to the same heat tape.
How To Handle Your Ball Python Snake
Since snakes are wild animals that tend to avoid humans, you might worry whether it will be stressful for your ball python to be handled by a human. However, this is not the case.
Researchers at the University of Maryland found that regular handling of ball pythons in captivity did not lead to signs of chronic stress. In fact, the snakes seemed less stressed overall when they had a chance to be handled than they did when they were simply left restrained in their container for long periods of time.
As hatchlings, ball pythons tend to be rather shy. They will coil up when frightened, which is where they get their “ball” nickname. However, as they grow older, ball pythons become more curious and socially engaging.
Handling your ball python on a regular basis will help it grow used to interacting with humans. Support it with both hands and allow it to explore your arms and shoulders.
Do not handle your ball python when it is shedding. This is a sensitive time for the snake and it can grow irritable.
How to Avoid Getting Bitten
Ball pythons are not aggressive. They rarely bite humans. However, when they are first in a new home and nervous, it is possible for them to bite. Here are some steps to avoid getting bitten by your new ball python snake:
- Allow your snake time to get used to its new surroundings before you try to handle it for the first time.
- Place your snake’s enclosure somewhere humans frequently walk around, so that your snake gets used to how you sound and smell.
- The first few times you handle your snake, use gloves in case your snake happens to bite you.
- Feed your snake using tongs so that your snake will not associate a bare hand with the arrival of food.
- Avoid touching the top of your snake’s head, as this can be perceived as threatening.
- If you are wary of getting bitten, pick up your snake from behind instead of the front.
What To Do If Your Ball Python Gets Sick
With proper care, a ball python snake can live to be anywhere between 20 and 40 years old. This is a friend for life. To make sure it stays that way, you want to keep out a watchful eye for signs of illness. A healthy ball python snake has the following characteristics:
- An active and alert snake
- Clear eyes, unless the snake is shedding
- A regular eating pattern
- Skin which is colorful and healthy, free of lesions or rashes.
- Regularly shedding its skin in a single complete piece.
On the other hand, here are some signs of illness to watch out for:
- Vomiting or regurgitation
- Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding periods
- Abnormally slow, lethargic behavior
- Reluctance to eat
- A change in the color of its urine or consistency of its feces
- Spots, bumps, or lumps on its skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Mouth rot, which is a white, cheesy substance in the mouth
If you notice any signs of illness, take your snake to a veterinarian. The sooner you go to a vet, the quicker your snake can be healed. Let’s talk about some ways your snake can fall ill and what symptoms to look out for.
Ball pythons in captivity sometimes fall ill with a respiratory disease. The American Society for Microbiology published a study reviewing this disease. The researchers determined that this disease is caused by a nidovirus unique to reptiles.
Different nidoviruses affect other species in different ways, but this is the only one known to affect snakes. These respiratory viruses can be fatal for the snakes, but this discovery helps reptile veterinarians better understand the disease and save sick ball pythons.
Veterinarians can provide antibiotics to treat the infection. So, if you notice your snake is wheezing or is particularly lethargic, take it to a vet.
Ball pythons shed their skin several times a year. When it is getting ready to shed, your snake’s scales may seem duller than usual and their eyes may turn cloudy and blue. This is normal. It is also normal for your ball python to not want to eat when it is shedding.
If your ball python is having a difficult time shedding, leaving the old skin stuck to its body, the humidity may not be high enough. If the humidity is high but your ball python is still having problems shedding, take it to a reptile veterinarian. The vet can safely remove the skin and determine whether this trouble is a sign of illness.
You should also go to the vet if the cloudy eye caps do not come off of the snake. Never try to remove these eye caps on your own. You don’t want to accidentally harm your ball python.
It is also possible for your snake to experience too much humidity. If you notice that your ball python has blisters or a rash on its body, this could be a sign of scale rot. Scale rot is caused by too high humidity in its tank, sometimes by a too-large water dish.
If you see any rashes or blisters on your ball python, take it to a reptile vet. Antibiotics are a necessary part of healing a snake with scale rot.
A good way to prevent scale rot is to carefully monitor the humidity in your ball python’s enclosure with a hygrometer. You can also keep an eye on the substrate in the tank. If the substrate gets too wet from watering plants or from your snake spilling the water dish, you should change out the substrate more frequently.
Is a Ball Python a Good Beginner Snake?
Ball pythons have a lot of qualities that make them a better first-time pet than other species of snake.
The ball python is a good size for a beginner snake. Other constricting snakes that are usually kept as pets tend to be longer. However, you will not find a ball python growing longer than 5 feet.
Ball pythons are more docile than other snake species. This makes them easier to handle and less likely to behave aggressively. There is also a wide variety of beautiful ball python color morphs available.