Baby ball pythons have different feeding requirements than adult snakes. That is why it’s so important that you know exactly what and when to feed them correctly.
The best guide you can get to how much you should feed a ball python is your pet itself. They’ll show you when they’re not hungry, or when you’re not feeding them often enough.
- 1 How Often Should Baby Ball Pythons Eat?
- 2 Baby Ball Python Snacks
- 3 How Long Can Baby Ball Pythons Go Without Eating?
How Often Should Baby Ball Pythons Eat?
So, how much do baby ball pythons eat? Hatchlings don’t eat anything at all. But when they do start to eat, most ball pythons have voracious appetites.
As they grow, they need to eat less frequently. Start your baby ball python on a pinky mouse once every five or six days. Click on this link to buy them on Amazon. As an adult, this should be changed to larger portion sizes at a lower frequency, i.e., once every 10 to 14 days.
But rather than sticking rigidly to a set schedule, let your snake be the judge of how often they should eat. If they start to become significantly more active for at least a day before feeding—and consistently—this is a sign that they could be eating on a shorter schedule.
And if they consistently refuse food, then perhaps making that schedule more spread out (and perhaps increasing portion sizes) would be a good idea.
What Do Baby Ball Pythons Eat?
Young ball pythons share the same diet as adults. In the wild, they live in sub-Saharan Africa. In their natural habitat, they can find prey like soft-furred rats, shrews, different kinds of mice, and birds.
Babies and juveniles will almost exclusively eat birds—more specifically baby birds, which they find in nests. When they’re big enough, that’s when they’ll start to hunt more active rodent prey.
In captivity, however, it’s not going to be easy or even possible for you to replicate this diet for them. As such, ball python owners will typically feed their pet a frozen and thawed rodent diet.
This is the easiest way to feed a snake, which is why it’s the basic diet of almost every pet snake there is. Surprisingly, snakes don’t need a varied diet with lots of different nutrient sources; rodents provide them with everything they need.
You can buy bulk bags of baby rodents on Amazon by clicking on this link. These come in many sizes: pinkies (the smallest), fuzzies, pups, weanlings, and then small to large adults.
A baby ball python should start on the smallest size, pinkies. As a rule, the snake should be fed food that’s no bigger than one and a half times their jaw width.
What Do Hatchling Ball Pythons Eat?
Hatchlings are a different story. To be clear, by hatchlings, we mean snakes that have only just hatched within the last week—not a store-bought pet.
Unless you breed ball pythons, then it’s unlikely you’ll come into contact with a hatchling like this. During the first 7-10 days of a hatchling ball python’s life, they actually don’t eat anything at all.
Now, if you’re completely new to breeding, this might come as a surprise. You would think that a snake would hatch raring to go, ready to eat and start growing.
When the snake forms in the egg, they eat the yolk for its nutritional content, and keep eating it right until the moment that they hatch. And since snakes eat infrequently anyway, a hatchling ball python is ‘full’ for about a week after they hatch.
But to be clear, once they do start to eat, you can start them straight on solid food: pinkies. Snakes don’t need milk like mammals, and can start on basically the same diet as adults from the get-go. The only difference is in portion size and frequency.
Baby Ball Python Snacks
It isn’t possible to get a ball python to eat ‘snacks.’ Unlike many other snakes, ball pythons won’t eat crickets or eggs. These are common snack foods for other species, but don’t bother trying your ball python on them, because they won’t want them.
Other species can eat fish, but again, the ball python won’t. Even if you do offer them a snack and they accept it, it isn’t a good idea to feed them snacks regularly. That’s because:
- Snakes associate food with smells. You want your ball python to associate the smell of rodents with food. They’ll do this by themselves anyway, but you don’t want to stop your ball python from accepting a rodent diet in any way.
- Ball pythons are biologically set up to thrive on a rodent diet. If they find themselves overeating of anything else, they won’t be getting the nutrients they need. That’s not a good thing.
- Some snakes will happily eat as often as you offer them food. This means that if you consistently offer them snacks, they’ll gain weight. This can shorten their life span significantly.
Most people associate a varied diet with good health, but for snakes, the opposite is actually true. It’s far better to stick to an approved rodent-based diet.
What Size Mice do Baby Ball Pythons Eat?
Baby ball pythons should first be fed pinkies. These are the smallest possible mice you can buy. They are between .5 and 1” long. They vary in weight, however, between 1.5g and 3g.
As a rule, you shouldn’t feed your snake any food that’s bigger than one and a half times the size of their jaw. The correct portion size should give the snake a small lump in their stomach after they eat it. As they grow, you’ll need to up their portion size.
How Long Can Baby Ball Pythons Go Without Eating?
Hatchlings won’t eat for a week to ten days after they hatch. But they can go for longer. For reasons that aren’t always clear, some hatchlings take more time to start eating than that.
This is very common in hatchling ball pythons. The same goes for imported, wild-caught adults which can take 6 to 12 months to begin feeding. Even babies can last for weeks or months without eating.
The danger is that these snakes could starve themselves to death. That’s why it’s a wise move to buy from a breeder that only sells snakes which have already fed. But even these snakes can be put off their food by being placed in a new environment.
As a last resort, you could try assisted feeding. This is where you hold the ball python at the back of their head, and gently push the mouse into their nose. This should trigger their feeding response.
Overweight vs. Underweight Baby Ball Python
You have to make sure to keep an eye out for whether your snake is overweight or underweight. While breeders and other owners can tell you what works for them, strict plans don’t work for every snake.
Some are particularly fussy eaters, for example, and don’t seem to like feeding on prey that’s already been killed. Others will eat whatever you feed them, whenever you offer it to them.
Others will go off their food for no obvious reason at all, randomly deciding not to eat for a month or two. And all snakes vary their diets throughout the year, eating more in the summer than they do in the winter.
As such, it’s necessary to be able to identify whether a snake is overweight, underweight, or a healthy weight.
- An overweight snake will be an almost perfect circle: they’ll be rounded on the top, rounded on their sides, and rounded on their underside too. You may also notice that they’re carrying more weight and showing more width than snakes of the same age. Scale spreading is a tell-tale sign, where you can see their skin between their spread-out scales.
- An underweight snake will be like a triangle, flat side down, with a ridge along their back. This ridge is their spine, which is showing through because their fat and muscle have wasted away. This means you will also be able to see their ribs, which run along the middle third of their body. An underweight snake often also shows other signs of neglect, e.g., scale rot, parasites, and mouth rot.
- A healthy baby ball python will have a rounded top, but a flat underside, like an arch. They should also have bright scales once they shed, and will usually show no sign of other illnesses, because they’re well cared for.
You should be checking on your snake frequently enough to spot signs of disease or poor diet before they get too bad. Spot clean their enclosure once a day, and when you do, take a look to see how your snake is doing. This two-minute routine is enough to ensure your snake is healthy.
What to Do If My Baby Ball Python Won’t Eat
If your baby ball python won’t eat, there are several reasons why that might be the case. As we’ve established above, some baby ball pythons refuse to ever eat, and will starve to death before they begin eating. While this might appear a strange choice for them to make, there are two good reasons for them to behave this way:
- Stress makes it very difficult for a ball python to feed. They can feel stressed because of their environment, or because of you. Remember, while you know that your intentions are good, they don’t know whether you’re a predator or not—at least not yet. Stress can also make ball pythons regurgitate their food.
- In the wild, ball pythons don’t eat a frozen and thawed diet. When they eat, their prey is still alive (if not moving), or very freshly killed. This means that the temperature of the prey is unusual for them. Imagine you went to a restaurant and you were served a stone-cold meal—it’s the same for a snake eating a cold prey item. Freezing and thawing can also alter the smell of the prey.
If your snake isn’t eating, there are many ways to convince them. First, make sure the prey is at least room temperature before feeding. If this doesn’t work, try more freshly killed prey, i.e., killing it yourself rather than buying it frozen.
Alternatively, try assisted feeding. Hold the snake by the back of the head, before pushing the prey against their nose using tongs, like these from Vorcool on Amazon. This should trigger their feeding reflex. Do remember, though, that assisted feeding is stressful for the snake.
Here is our complete guide to caring for a ball python for beginners.