A wild ball python’s diet will vary from what a captive ball python eats. However, we can replicate the wild snake’s diet using feeder rodents. As strict carnivores, there is no alternative diet for a ball python.
The ball python is an ambush predator. It will eat whatever happens to cross its path that it can overpower. That said, a ball python’s diet in the wild consists mainly of rodents, birds, small mammals, and lizards. Pet ball pythons are fed steady diets of mice and rats. Known to be tricky eaters, ball pythons can be picky about food.
Ball pythons may eat smaller snakes if housed together. The chances of this happening increase if there is a significant size difference between the two snakes. Even hatchling ball pythons can prey upon each other, as confirmed by a case of hatchling cannibalism reported in Current Herpetology.
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What Do Wild Ball Pythons Eat?
Ball pythons are native to West Africa. What an individual snake eats will vary depending on where it lives, its size, and what prey animals are available. A wild ball python will mainly eat:
- Rodents: Striped mice, gerbils, jerboas, and African soft-furred mice.
- Birds: Research in the Italian Journal of Zoology found that male ball pythons spend more time in trees. Thus, males prey upon birds far more frequently than females, which will eat mainly ground-dwelling rodents and mammals.
- Small mammals: Mainly shrews, but any mammal that the ball python can overpower will end up as a meal.
- Lizards. Ball pythons may eat smaller reptiles.
What To Feed a Pet Ball Python
Hatchling ball pythons are raised on frozen-thawed mice or rats. These rodents supply all the nutrients needed for a healthy ball python and variation isn’t needed. Pinkies and fuzzies are perfect for hatchlings.
Eventually, a ball python will outgrow mice and rats will become the staple of their diet. Transitioning from mice to rats can be tricky if the snake was fed exclusively mice beforehand. It’s recommended to begin feeding a ball python rat pups or fuzzies while it’s young to make this transition easier.
Male ball pythons may also be interested in eating chicks, although a snake may quickly outgrow what feeder sizes are available. Feeder animals should always be chosen based on the size of your snake.
The chart below offers a rough guide for feeder sizes based on the weight of the snake. Make adjustments based upon the girth of your snake. The feeder rodent should not be wider than your snake at its thickest point.
|Snake’s Weight||Feeder||Feeding Frequency|
|Hatchling (first 3-5 meals):||Pinkie rat or hopper mouse||Every 5 days|
|< 200 grams:||Rat fuzzy or small mouse||Every 7 days|
|200-350 grams:||Rat pup or adult mouse||Every 7-10 days|
|350-500 grams:||Weaned rat or jumbo mouse||Every 14 days|
|500-1200 grams:||Small rat||Every 14 days|
|1200-1800 grams:||Medium rat||Every 14 days|
Ball pythons should be fed a whole animal. Offering gutted feeder animals deprives the snake of key nutrients found in the organs.
How Often Do Ball Pythons Eat?
Adult ball pythons will usually eat every 10-14 days. Younger ball pythons will usually eat once every 5-6 days. Individual snakes will have preferences, down to feeding frequency and feeder animals. It’s normal for ball pythons to go off their food while in shed.
How To Feed a Ball Python
Feeding a ball python is quite simple. This guide uses rats as the feeder, but other feeder animals can easily be substituted.
Prepare The Food
Thaw the frozen rat in warm water. You’ll know when the rat is thawed when you poke its belly and can feel no firm lumps. Ensure that the rat is warm, not hot, to entice the snake.
Approach The Enclosure
Approach and open the enclosure. Ensure that your ball python is aware of your presence. A ball python may reject food if startled.
Offer The Food
Hold the rat by the tail with feeding tongs and offer it to the snake. Gently wiggling the rat can encourage the snake to strike and latch on. If offering a pinkie or fuzzy, use feeding tweezers to hold the rat by the middle.
Release The Food
Once the snake has securely latched on to the rat, lower and release it. Smoothly pull out of and shut the enclosure. At this stage, it is important to avoid frightening the snake. It may let go or regurgitate the food if you do.
Why Isn’t My Ball Python Eating?
There can be many reasons why, beyond being fussy, that a snake will not eat. As a shy animal, stress is the main reason why a snake will refuse food. Consider the below as reasons for why your ball python is not eating:
- Environmental stressors: External factors, such as loud noise, can stress the snake. Relocate the enclosure or remove the stressors from the room. Even a mild air freshener can irritate a snake.
- Enclosure parameters: If the enclosure is too large, this will make it feel more vulnerable due to the risk of predation.
- Feeder animal: The snake may prefer a different feeder animal, like a rat or chick. It may also prefer to eat live food over frozen-thawed.
- Feeding time and frequency: If your snake isn’t hungry it won’t eat. Consider the age of your snake and how long it takes to digest food. For example, rats take longer to digest than mice.
- Illness or injury: A snake probably won’t eat if it is ill or hurt. Constipation can also make a snake go off food.
- Shedding: A ball python feels more vulnerable while in shed. It won’t eat until after it has shed.
- Breeding: It is common for snakes to go off food during the breeding season. Breeding season is mid-September to mid-November.
How Long Can a Ball Python Go Without Eating?
According to Zoology, a ball python can lower its metabolic rate by up to 70% during periods without food. This enables a snake to go long lengths of time in between feedings.
A pet ball python can go up to 6 months without food before the situation begins to become dire. In extreme cases, a healthy snake can go up to a full 12 months without food.
Feeding a Picky Ball Python
Ball pythons have a reputation for being difficult to feed. This is largely a misconception carried over from before ball pythons were widely captive-bred. 20 years ago, many ball python pets were actually wild-caught.
Naturally, a wild-caught snake would be anxious and refuse food. In the current day, where ball pythons are bred in captivity and widely available, we can see that ball pythons are usually good eaters.
Of course, there are some holdovers, meaning that the ‘ball pythons are picky eaters’ saying still holds some truth. There are a few methods you can try to encourage it to eat:
- Changing the feeding time: Try offering food at different times to find your snake’s preferred dinnertime. Dimming lights can also help.
- Container feeding: Sealing the python in a round container with the food can encourage the snake to eat. Place the feeder animal inside the inner wall of the container. Seal the snake inside and cover the container with a towel. Leave it be for 10 minutes.
- Warming the feeder animal: A ball python hunts using the heat-sensing pits on its face. Warming the frozen-thawed feeder can make the food more appealing to the snake.
- Scenting the food: Scenting frozen-thawed feeders with live food can do the trick. Rub the thawed rodent on a live rodent.
- Feeding live: Some snakes will only eat live food. When feeding live mice or rats to your snake, be sure to supervise. If the snake does not eat within 15 minutes, remove the rodent.
- Braining the feeder: Exposing the brain matter can entice the snake to eat. Brain matter has a strong, unique smell that can trigger a feeding response.
A ball python won’t eat eggs or vegetables. They will eat small mammals, rodents, and birds in the wild. In captivity, ball pythons will mainly eat rodents. You don’t need to provide your snake with a varied diet plan.