Ball pythons are among the most popular pet snakes. They’re a calm snake that is very easy to handle, but you need to know what to feed a ball python in captivity. Given that royal pythons originate from Western Equatorial Africa, new owners wonder if they need an exotic diet plan.
In the wild, ball pythons hunt small mammals such as African soft-furred rats, striped mice, and shrews. They also eat birds as they can climb trees. In captivity, ball pythons eat pre-killed frozen rats and mice, thawed out in lukewarm water. You can also feed them chicks.
We’ll explain what ball pythons eat in the wild, and what you should and shouldn’t feed them in captivity. We’ll cover how often ball pythons should eat and how long they can go without food. Finally, we’ll explore the reasons why your ball python has stopped eating food.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Do Ball Pythons Eat in the Wild?
- 1.1 Can Ball Pythons Eat Frozen Mice?
- 1.2 What Else Can I Feed My Ball Python?
- 1.3 What Not to Feed Your Ball Python
- 1.4 Will Ball Pythons Eat Other Snakes?
- 1.5 How Often Do Ball Pythons Eat?
- 1.6 How Long Can a Ball Python Go Without Eating?
- 1.7 Will Ball Pythons Eat While Shedding?
- 1.8 Why Isn’t My Ball Python Eating?
What Do Ball Pythons Eat in the Wild?
Ball pythons are native to the tropical regions of Africa, from Senegal in the west to Uganda in the east. They inhabit mostly savannas and grasslands, but can also live in forests and climb trees.
Ball pythons aren’t found in temperate regions, such as America, so their natural prey isn’t the kind of thing we can quickly get our hands on. Foods that ball pythons can eat in the wild include:
- Small mammals. These may include shrews, rats (such as African soft-furred rats), striped mice, jerboas and anything else that is small enough to overpower.
- Birds. As ball pythons can climb trees, birds can form a part of their diet.
Very young hatchlings may also eat insects, to begin with, but they’ll soon move on to rodents when they’re large enough.
Would ball pythons eat fish, toads, frogs or lizards in the wild? Probably not. Though plenty of other snakes do, ball pythons would probably not see these creatures as food options. This is because they are primed to seek out warm-blooded prey, using heat-sensing pits near their mouth.
If a ball python was starving, they might eat a cold-blooded animal out of desperation. However, it’s not possible to say for sure. What we do know is that they don’t recognize these creatures as food when offered them in captivity.
Can Ball Pythons Eat Frozen Mice?
Wild ball pythons catch and eat live prey. They kill their prey via constriction, grabbing the rodent or amphibian and contort their bodies around it, squeezing it to death.
In captivity, this is not necessary. Frozen rats and mice are readily available online. Then, it’s just a case of thawing them out in a bowl of lukewarm water and offering them to your snake.
Most ball pythons, while they are not instinctually primed to feed on dead animals, can be trained to eat frozen/thawed rodents. It requires a bit of persistence, but if you purchase your snake from a reputable breeder, they will have already done this for you before you take the snake home.
We recommend feeding your ball python exclusively rats (click this link to buy 50 Frozen rats on Amazon), starting from the newborn “pinkie” size and then working your way up. Purchase supplies in bulk and storing them away in your freezer will save you money.
If you prefer, you can use mice to start with, until they grow too large for them. However, we find that it can sometimes be difficult transitioning ball pythons from mice to rats. So, if the size of your snake allows, feeding them rats can make your life easier.
You can purchase live mice and rats from pet stores if you wish to feed your snake live prey. We wouldn’t recommend it, however. Live prey (especially rats) can attack, bite and injure snakes out of self-defense. This can lead to your snake becoming permanently scarred, infected or even dying.
We’re sure that you don’t want to take any chances with your new pet, especially when you can click this link to buy 50 pre-killed frozen rats on Amazon. It’s significantly safer for your snake.
What Else Can I Feed My Ball Python?
If your ball python isn’t eating rats or mice, there are a few other things that you can try. Sometimes, ball pythons don’t recognize white mice or white rats as food. This is because, in the wild, none of the small rodents they’d be eating would be white.
In this case, you may have better luck with:
- Brown, grey or black mice and rats
Some suppliers in the U.S. have also started breeding the African soft-furred rat, which is a natural prey item for wild ball pythons. They might be a good choice if you can get your hands on them. Here’s our complete guide to breeding mice and rats for snake food.
Always make sure that you use a trusted supplier for your python’s food. It’s essential that your snake isn’t exposed to parasites or infections from contaminated prey.
As ball pythons can also eat birds in the wild, you might even have some luck feeding them chicks. Some reptile food specialists do stock chicks alongside rodents, though they’re harder to find. Also, birds are not the most nutritionally complete food. Rodents are the best food for ball pythons.
If your ball python refuses to eat frozen rodents, you can try offering them live prey as a last resort. Keep a close watch when feeding to ensure that the rodent does not bite or attack your snake.
What Not to Feed Your Ball Python
There are some foods that you should not feed ball pythons. This is because they do not form a natural part of a ball python’s diet, and do not fulfill their nutritional requirements. You should avoid the following:
- Insects, such as crickets. Ball pythons would not naturally prey on insects in the wild, as they’re too small. They will not recognize them as food, and they will not thrive on them.
- Fruit and vegetables. All snakes are obligate carnivores, and cannot survive on plant matter. There is no such thing as a vegetarian or vegan snake.
- Cooked or raw meats, such as chicken. The organs, blood, hair, skin, and bones of whole rodents are essential. Feeding them muscle meat will not keep them healthy.
- Eggs. Ball pythons don’t eat eggs in the wild, and they do not have the basic physiology to digest them, unlike the African egg-eating snake.
- Fish, lizards, and amphibians. These animals are cold-blooded, and ball pythons will not recognize a cold-blooded animal as food.
Remember, if your ball python is eating rodents, there is no reason to offer them an alternative or supplementary foods. Mice and rats contain the nutrients that your ball python needs to grow.
Will Ball Pythons Eat Other Snakes?
Ball pythons will not eat other snakes. This is because snakes do not constitute a part of a ball python’s diet in the wild, and there’s a good reason for this.
Ball pythons, like most other kinds of python, have small heat-sensing “pits” below their nostrils. These pits are unique to boas, pythons and the appropriately named pit vipers.
They use these organs to detect the body heat given off by endothermic (warm-blooded) animals, which is primarily how they hunt.
As snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded), they don’t give off body heat in the same way that mammals do. For this reason, a ball python won’t see a snake as a viable meal.
However, we would still not recommend keeping two snakes together in the same enclosure.
This happens for the following reasons:
- Snakes are asocial animals. They live alone and do not interact with other snakes unless it’s time to mate. Being always around another snake could create unnecessary stress. This could lead to illness or refusal of food.
- Male ball pythons have been known to fight. This is a typical occurrence in the wild, during mating season, when males would compete for the right to breed with a female.
- Even though ball pythons don’t naturally eat snakes, if one is significantly smaller than the other (and the large one is hungry), there is a chance they could decide to eat it.
How Often Do Ball Pythons Eat?
In the wild, ball pythons eat whenever food is available. As soon as they’ve digested their meal, which will vary depending on how large it is, they’ll be on the lookout for food again. They’ll eat smaller meals more often when younger. As adults, they’ll hunt larger rodents less frequently.
As the owner of a ball python, you should follow the same rule for your snake. Young ball pythons (under a year old) should be fed pinkie or fuzzy mice or pinkie rats roughly once per week. As your snake ages, you can progress to feeding them every two or three weeks.
Of course, you should increase the size of the rodent that you use as your snake grows. It’s much better to feed a snake one large rodent than two smaller ones. Choose a rodent which is approximately the same width as your snake, or slightly larger.
Keep an eye on your snake’s body condition to get an idea of whether your feeding schedule is working. Pythons can overeat if offered food too frequently, leading to obesity. This is because their satiety signals subside only 24 hours after eating, according to a study in Physiology & Behavior.
How Long Can a Ball Python Go Without Eating?
In the wild, ball pythons may occasionally go weeks or even months without eating. It’s common for snakes to go a long period without food during the winter, for example.
This is because the food is scarcer, and temperatures are lower. Snakes can’t move as quickly in colder weather, as they’re ectothermic.
A study in Zoology found that ball pythons can lower their metabolism and regulate other bodily processes to cope with starvation. The researchers found that snakes were able to survive for over five months without any ill effects.
So, if your ball python hasn’t eaten for a few weeks, there’s no immediate need for worry. Monitor your snake’s weight every week, and keep offering food every now and then. If their weight starts to drop, consider seeing a veterinarian.
Will Ball Pythons Eat While Shedding?
If you notice your ball python beginning to shed, indicated by milky-blue eyes and dull scales, do not attempt to feed them. Ball pythons will general not eat while shedding because it’s a stressful experience for them.
Even if you do persuade them to eat, they’ll regurgitate their meal more often than not. Wait until they’ve finished shedding their skin entirely, and then offer them food a few days later.
Why Isn’t My Ball Python Eating?
One of the only downsides to this pet snake is that ball pythons can be finicky eaters. In the wild, they wouldn’t come across the white mice and rats that we offer them.
For this reason, ball pythons sometimes have trouble recognizing them as food. We’d always recommend buying a captive-bred ball python from a reputable breeder, rather than a wild import.
We strongly recommend stocking up in advance (this link will take you to a good Amazon snake food supplier) to ensure the highest quality and to minimize the cost of feeding your pet snake.
Always ask about the snake’s feeding history, and ensure that they are successfully eating mice or rats before you take the snake home.
If your ball python is refusing food, the first step is to give her a few more days, and then try again. It may be that she wasn’t hungry enough.
As ball pythons are nocturnal, feeding at night time (in the dark) can sometimes entice them to eat. If that still doesn’t work, watch out for the following:
- The prey is too large. Choose a rodent which is about the same width as your python’s body.
- Your snake is going into shed. Look out for the telltale milky-blue eyes, and don’t attempt to feed them again until afterward.
- Problem with the vivarium. It may be too cold, too hot, or the humidity may be wrong.
- It’s cold. Many ball pythons go off their food for weeks during the colder months.
- Illness. Your ball python is stressed or sick. For example, they could be constipated, have snake mites or a respiratory infection.
If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, take your snake to an experienced veterinarian for an examination and advice or read our complete ball python pet care guide.