Ball pythons (Python Regius) or Royal pythons are the most commonly kept pet snake today along side Corn snakes and Boa’s. I believe ball pythons have that exotic awe factor that corn snakes and other colubrids simply do not and attain a more manageable size than most boas’s. The ball python got it’s name because when threatened instead of biting it will coil up into a protective ball with it’s head buried in the middle of the snakes coils. Ball pythons originate from the forest grasslands of west and central Africa where they are primarily nocturnal spending most of their days in abandoned or active rodent burrows or even termite mounds emerging at nightfall to hunt for prey which mainly consists of rodents. The majority of pet ball pythons around today are captive bred and are not imported, captive bred snakes make much better pets than imported snakes. Most wild caught snakes harbour external and internal parasites and don’t adjust well to captivity often having feeding issues. Ball pythons make the perfect pet snake they are robust pythons that can attain a girth of 4-6 inches but the average length is a very manageable 4 ft, there have been females that reached 6 feet but this is very uncommon. Female ball pythons are usually bigger then males and usually have larger heads but this is not a rule. There is no way to tell if a ball python is male or female by simply looking at it, it must be sexed by probing or popping. Once the ball pythons basic requirements are set up (housing, heating ext) they require minimal maintenance making them a great pet for anybody that dosen’t have a lot of room or tons of time. Ball pythons have a very docile nature making them easy to handle as they rarely ever attempt to bite and are slow moving snakes. Ball pythons average lifespan in captivity is around 25 years when properly cared for but the ball python holds the record for the longest living snake in captivity being 48 years old! Keep this in mind when thinking about a ball python as a new pet. Ball pythons are available today in a astounding assortment of colour and pattern morphs, there is something for everyone’s personal tastes and budget. I believe the ball python has a very exciting future and as more people learn what their all about it’s obvious they are only going to become more popular amongst collectors and breeders. The information below is a great guideline and is what works for me, it is by no means the only way to keep ball pythons!
There are lots of different ways to house your ball python such as wooden cages,plastic cages,plastic storage boxes,glass tanks or rack systems, as long as it’s basic requirements are met it’s up to you what you choose. Do not house your ball python in wire or mesh screen cages as these cannot retain heat and humidity properly.Wood or melamine (coated particle board) enclosures can be used but have drawbacks like they are heavy and if not properly sealed can warp and rot when exposed to moisture, also the material can degrade, being porous it is hard to disinfect and clean which can lead to harbouring harmful bacteria and fungi. On the plus side they hold in heat and humidity better then a glass tank. If you only plan on having a few snakes individual cages will work great, i believe plastic cages with front opening doors are they way to go as opposed to glass terrariums with screen lids for several reasons. Plastic cages are specifically designed for snakes and are lightweight, usually stackable, long lasting, durable and easy to clean. The best thing about plastic cages is that they retain heat and humidity extremely well. Also for ball pythons and any snake for that matter a door that hinges in front is better then one that opens from the top cause the snake feels more secure when being grabbed from the front, not top like a bird of prey would in the wild, not to mention you may have a light source on top. If using a glass tank i highly recommend covering 3 sides of the tank with something like construction paper (on the outside) so the ball python feels more secure. Also if using a screen top this is where you will loose a lot of your heat and humidity so cover it up with saran wrap,plexi glass or something similar. Of course some air circulation is required but to much means heat and humidity loss.
Cage Size And Furnishings
Baby ball pythons do better off in a small enclosure like a 10 gallon size tank or smaller (16” long 10” wide) and can become stressed out in to large of an enclosure. Remember ball pythons are shy creatures by nature and in the wild baby ball pythons are at the very bottom of the food chain. If you put your young ball python in a larger cage be sure to provide extra ground cover and hiding spots. Adults require a cage about 36” long and 18” wide. Ball pythons are terrestrial snakes and may climb a little when younger but they will appreciate more ground room in the enclosure then height, remember the higher the enclosure the harder it becomes to heat. Inside the enclosure you must have a water dish with clean water that is changed every couple of days,don’t allow harmful pink algae to grow in the water dish. I’ve noticed that ball pythons truly appreciate fresh water, often taking a long drink right after the water is changed. Make sure to provide somewhere for the snake to hide, ball pythons love small hiding places they can jam themselves into to feel safe. Your ball python will spend a lot of time hiding, this is normal! You can buy a hide box or make one at home, small boxes with a entrance hole work well although they don’t last long after being exposed to moisture. You may also add a few ground branches and fake plants. Ball pythons, being heavy bodied snakes will crush and dig up most live plants in the enclosure and generally make a big mess. Another must have item is a digital thermometer and hygrometer to accurately measure heat and humidity. In Vancouver Home Depot has these in the garden section for $10. The pet store sells them for $40! After keeping snakes for awhile i have learned that pet stores aren’t the best place to buy your supplies and especially not your Snakes for that matter. Generally (not always) most employees working in pet shops know little about snakes and are just trying to sell you useless overpriced products you don’t need like UVB lighting. A great place to order snake supplies online is the Bean Farm or LLL Reptile, you can find everything imaginable you will need for your snakes there. These companies are located in the USA but ship to Canada, i have used them several times and have been very happy with the service. If you live in the lower mainland you can even get the supplies shipped to Point Roberts in Washington using the letter carrier service for a minimal fee, you save tons of cash and time on shipping. Cornels World in Alberta has a great selection of cages ,racks and supplies as well.
Ball pythons will generally shed their skin every 4-6 weeks, more often when they are young and growing fast and less as they become older and their growth rate slows down. You will notice a pink belly on your snake and dull skin when heading into a shed and cloudy blue eyes while in a shed. Just before your snake sheds it’s skin it’s eyes and skin will clear up and it will appear normal. It’s best to leave your snake alone during this time until it’s done shedding. It’s common for ball pythons to refuse food during this time but strong feeders will feed even when shedding. The shed cycle usually takes about a week in young snakes and a little longer in older ball pythons. Ball pythons require 50-60 percent humidity at all times and 70-80 percent when in a shed cycle. This is very important because ball pythons come from tropical/arid Africa. They require high humidity to properly shed their skin in one piece. If your snake sheds it’s skin in one piece this is a good indicator that your snake is healthy and you are providing the correct humidity levels. If your snake has a little bit of stuck shed left on it keep the humidity at around 75% and leave it alone, the skin will come off, there is no need to stress out the snake by bathing it. Bathing ball pythons is only necessary in extreme cases of retained sheds. Humidity levels can be maintained by light misting every couple of days or a humid hide (a hiding spot with moist moss inside) Depending on the relative humidity of the region you live in you may or may not have issues with humidity , here in Vancouver BC the relative humidity is pretty high naturally so there is no need to take these extra steps.
Ball pythons DO NOT need any form of supplementary lighting to be healthy and will do just fine with ambient light from nearby windows but to display your snake you can use a low wattage light, to bright of a light can stress your ball python out and cause eating issues. Heat lamps will drastically lower your humidity levels within the enclosure as well. If using a light be sure to turn it off at night to give your snake a day/night cycle. A common electrical timer works great for this.
There are tons of different substrates (stuff to cover the floor of the enclosure) to choose from all have their pro’s and cons. I use bounty paper towels for all my ball pythons they are relatively cheap and super easy to replace when soiled. You should clean your snakes enclosure at least once a week, don’t allow feces and urates to build up! F-10 veterinary disinfectant is a great product that dosen’t need to be rinsed off and kills all bacteria and viruses. I like paper towel cause when my snakes defecate i change all the paper towel spray the cage out give it a wipe and replace fresh paper towel keeping things very clean and sterile. Loose substrates like aspen and repti bark can be spot cleaned when soiled and completely replace about every 4-6 weeks. Other good substrates for ball pythons are newspaper, aspen, repti-bark and cypress mulch. If you live in a region with low humidity or you are having trouble keeping the humidity up then repti- bark or cypress mulch are a great choice. It’s not a big deal if a little loose substrate gets into your snakes mouth when eating and is swallowed, obviously try to avoid this but your snake can handle it no worries! Just remember your snake digests a whole prey item, fur, bones everything no problem. Make sure the mulch you use it suitable for snakes and does not contain pesticides or bugs (some mulches bought at gardening centres have these problems) Do not use cedar shavings as a substrate as the oils in the wood are toxic to snakes also avoid using sand as it can become lodged in the snakes scales/nose/ mouth which will irritate the snake and potentially cause respiratory issues.
It is very important that your enclosure is secure and escape proof, ball pythons are very strong and will test their enclosures for weak points to push out of, the last thing you want is to loose your snake! Rack systems are great for a larger collection of snakes and can be purchased (although expensive) or made at home, using simple Rubbermaid bins as the enclosures. I have built my rack systems and with a little skill and planning it’s pretty easy and i saved tons of cash. If you have any questions about rack systems building or set up don’t hesitate to e-mail me. I am not going to go into great detail here on rack systems as most people will be housing their snakes in cages. Ball pythons are seditary animals and prefer smaller enclosures, bigger is not better with Ball pythons. I have found that my ball pythons have a much stronger feeding response in a smaller tub than in a large enclosure.
Heating your ball python is the most important aspect of properly caring for your animal. Ball pythons are ectothermic (cold blooded) and need an external heat source to provide their bodies with heat to keep their immune systems healthy and strong and to properly digest their food. If you do not provide the proper heat your ball python will suffer and eventually die. You need to give your ball python a heat gradient within it’s enclosure so it has the ability to regulate it’s own body temperature. The temperature on the hot side or basking spot (directly ontop of heat pad) should be 88-92F and the rest of the cage or ambient (air temp) should be around 80f. A laser temp gun is a great tool to use, do not guess your temp measure them! a digital thermometer w/ probe also works good. Stay away from analog,dial and sticky strip thermometors as they are almost always innacurate. To provide heat for your ball python you should use a under tank heater because they spend all of their time on their bellies.I strongly believe this is the way to go opposed to a heat lamp. Heat lamps can dry out the air in the enclosure to much and stress out the shy,nocturnal ball python. Not to mention they use a lot more energy than a heat pad and replacing the bulbs every few months becomes very costly! In the wild ball pythons do not bask out in the hot daytime sun like a lot of other reptiles.Whatever you do, do not use hot rocks as they become to hot and can burn and injure your snake! There are many UTH’s available like flex watt heat tape which you have to order from the states or pet store heat pads that stick to the bottom of your enclosure. Whichever you choose you NEED TO USE A THERMOSTAT to control the temperature so it dosen’t become to hot and burn/kill your snake. Thermostats range in price from 40-400$ the question is why would you cheap out and risk your snakes well being? Thermostats are either the on/ off type or the proportional type. I prefer the proportional type because it regulates the percent of power flow to the uth 0%-100% to achieve more accurate, steady temps whereas the on off type is either 100% on or 100% off. Some excellent types of thermostats are the Herpstat line by spyder robotics, Helix thermostats are also very good. Thermostats come with probes that read the temp, you should place the thermostat probe in the cage directly over the UTH where your snake lays, you can use electrical tape to tape it to the floor of the enclosure under the substrate,some people don’t use tape in fear of it sticking to their snakes but i have had no problems with it, check it once in a while to make sure it’s still securely in place. it is very important that your temperature probe is secured to the hot spot or it will relay inaccurate readings to the thermostat resulting in possible overheating! Do not use duct tape. If you don’t want to put tape inside the enclosure you can leave a small portion of the uth exposed or sticking out on the bottom outside of the cage and you can secure your temp probe directly to the uth but don’t forget you will loose heat through the bottom of the enclosure so you need to set the thermostat hotter then the desired temp inside the enclosure , for example if you want 90f inside then set your thermostat at 95f and go from there. Your UTH should cover about 1/4 -1/3 of the floor of your enclosure and should be placed on one end of the enclosure to create a hot and cool side. Never place your uth inside the cage always on the outside! Ball pythons like to sleep on their heat pad so you can place their hide over top of it. Your UTH will plug directly into your thermostat which plugs into the wall. Thermostats are better then rheostats because they adjust automatically to changing room temps and turn the heat source on and off accordingly. Rheostats or dimmer switches just regulate the temp at a constant setting regardless of fluctuations in room temp ext and need to be adjusted manually. If you have any questions about thermostats or uth set up don’t hesitate to e-mail me i know this can be a little confusing at first.
Proper feeding practices are very important to the well being of your ball python. It’s truly amazing watching your snake strike and constrict then slowly swallow a big rat! Ball pythons are constrictors and squeeze their prey until it suffocates then consume it whole head first (usually). Ball pythons are usually fed mice when they are young, then they are switched over to rats as they become older. You need to be comfortable feeding your ball python rodents and handling the rodents as this is obviously something you are going to need to do the entire ball pythons life. Rats are a better food source for ball pythons because they are bigger, contain more fat and protein and have more dense skeletons which provides the ball python with a higher level of calcium. Ball pythons get all the nutrients they need from their whole prey items and do not require any additional supplementation to their diet. For a adult ball python to fill up , they would have to eat a lot of mice at once! or they could just eat one medium or large rat. I get all of my ball pythons eating rats as soon as possible and i really notice a change in growth when they are switched from mice. As your snake grows you will need to feed it bigger prey items.As a rule You should feed it a prey item that is about the thickness of the fattest part of your snakes body, a little more or less is fine and you will be surprised of how large a meal your ball python can handle. I feed my young ball pythons rat pups then as they grow just advance through the many available sizes. My adult female ball pythons will eat medium-large rats. One of the worst things i hear a lot is that you only need to feed your snake once a month, this coulden’t be farther from the truth!. Young ball pythons should be fed once every 5-7 days and as they get older they should be fed every 7-10 days. Once you get your ball python on a feeding schedule it will know when it’s feeding day and often cruise the front of the cage or tub in anticipation of food. Young ball pythons grow extremely fast and it’s amazing you can almost see them get bigger with every meal! I believe it’s much better to feed your ball python frozen thawed food as opposed to live prey items, this is because if left unsupervised a rat can seriously harm or even kill your snake. If your ball python isin’t hungry it will not kill the rat in self defense, the rat will just chew on the snake and trust me this isin’t something you want to happen to your snake! Another reason is it’s very convenient to have a bunch of frozen rats in the freezer ready to use when you want as opposed to having to go to the pet store every time you need to feed your snake. If you want feed your snake live prey then you must supervise it and if your snake dosen’t eat the rat you gotta take it out of the enclosure do not leave it alone with your ball python!! Frozen rats need to be thawed out completely and warmed up for your snake, this can be done with a blow dryer or an easier way is to put the rat in a sandwich bag and run it under some hot water for a couple minutes, some people don’t use bags but i prefer a dry rat over a dripping wet soggy one, your snake probably dosen’t care as long as it’s warm. You need to warm it up so your ball python can sense it with it’s heat sensing pits that line it’s upper jaw, this way the rat appears to be alive. It’s a good idea to use tongs or forceps to hold the prey item when offering it to your ball python, your snake can easily confuse your warm hand for food and before you know it you will have a snake latched onto your hand constricting you! Ball pythons strike extremely fast! Ball pythons will usually have a stronger feeding response at night time, so this is the best time to offer food to your snake. I do not believe it’s a good idea to feed your ball python in a separate enclosure, moving the animal before and after feeding can be stressful and i feed all my snakes in their enclosures. Moving your snake to a different enclosure for feeding so your snake dosen’t confuse handling with feeding dosen’t make a lot of sense if you think about it as this same logic could be used as an argument against this statement! After your snake eats leave it alone for 24 hours and let it digest, handling it right after it’s eaten can result in regurgitation. It’s a common belief that ball pythons are picky eaters, i disagree. 9 times out of 10 if your snake isin’t eating it’s just cause it’s not hungry! it’s not a machine that eats every 7 days on command, sometimes your snake won’t eat this is OK as long as your heat and husbandry are where they should be your snake will eat when it’s ready. If your snake dosen’t eat do not try to feed it everyday, try once a week only, offering food everyday can stress your snake out. During the winter or if you are breeding your snakes it’s common for ball pythons to go off food for a while, sometimes months. My pinstripe male i just bred diden’t eat a single meal from mid february to the beginning of June! During breeding males will go off food, only concerned with nearby females. Now he is a eating machine always ready for a meal at the front of the tub. During 4 months of not eating he only lost 50g . If your ball python isin’t eating don’t stress out just check your temps, make sure there isin’t anything stressing it out and monitor it’s weight to make sure it’s not losing to much weight. If your snake stops eating and starts losing a lot of weight it could be due to a illness or internal parasites and you should take it to a qualified herp vet asap.
Ball pythons are definitely one of the easiest snakes to handle, they are docile by nature and rarely bite, they are slow moving and calm. When you first bring your ball python home let it get accustomed to it’s new home for about a week before handling it to much, i know it’s hard! It’s also a good idea to make sure it eats at least once before you start handling it to much. Babies are more easily stressed than older ball pythons and can be more skittish, sometimes striking out of fear not to be confused with aggression! Babies will calm down as they get used to you and get a little older. A bite from a baby ball python is painless and nothing to get worked up over. Sooner or later you are going to get bit when keeping snakes, i know my cat has drawn blood on me lots of times and these attacks are way more painful than a snake bite. If your snake isin’t eating you shoulden’t handle it except for cleaning maintenance. Always wash your hands before and after handling ball pythons you don’t want any rat scent or any other furry household pet scent on you before you handle your snake, a feeding response bite is when the snake bites you and coils not letting go thinking you are food, these bites are more painful then a defensive bite that is very quick. If your snake bites you do not become discouraged and don’t take it personally your snake dosen’t hate you and he’s not evil. Ball pythons rarely ever bite but like any animal they all have their own personalities. When you open your cage or tub and go to pick up your snake it’s best not to hesitate just grab it gently away from it’s head and pick it up! When holding your snake support it’s body with 2 hands and avoid making any quick movements around it’s head as this will frighten it. You will soon be able to read your ball pythons body language and become very comfortable with handling. Handling your snake is one of the best parts of being a snake owner!
Ball pythons are hardy snakes and will thrive for you in captivity if you provide them with the proper living conditions, as a snake owner it’s your responsibility to provide your ball python with what it needs, it’s life is in your hands. As mentioned above ball pythons require a specific heat range to stay healthy. Keeping a ball python in a enclosure that is to cold and dry can potentially give your snake a respiratory infection which is a fairly common problem with ball pythons. A respiratory infection is like a bad cold for a snake but unlike mammals which have a faster metabolism and can shake a cold with no issues , this can be serious for a snake and potentially lead to death if untreated. Respiratory infections can be recognized by constant wheezing or popping sounds in your snakes breathing, don’t confuse this with a hiss which is a common defense mechanism often displayed when picking up your ball python. Check your snakes mouth and nose area, there shouldn’t be any mucus crusted around the nostrils or running out of the snakes mouth. The inside of the snakes mouth should be healthy and pink without any buildups of yellow substances. If you suspect your ball python has a respiratory infection raise the heat in it’s enclosure and monitor it closely if it dosen’t improve shortly take it to a qualified herp vet ASAP. Ball pythons are robust snakes and should be plump and full in appearance, feeling strong and muscular when handled. They should have clear eyes and shiny skin. A healthy ball python is alert and is constantly flicking it’s tongue to smell it’s surroundings. Another common problem with Ball pythons is snake mites, these are tiny parasites that suck your snakes blood. They are visible under your ball pythons chin buried between it’s scales. If your snake is spending all its time in it’s water bowl and is not due for a shed it’s likely trying to drown the mites on it’s body. Mites can also be seen on your hands after handling your snake. If you think your snake has mites it’s very important to treat them quickly and aggressively as mites will quickly reproduce and spread to any other snakes in your collection and overwhelm your poor snake. I have used NIX lice cream in the past to treat mites and it has worked great. This can be found at any drug store for about $12. it’s very important to dilute the solution properly. http://www.albertareptilesociety.org/caresheet/Onix.pdf this is a great guide to using NIX to eradicate your mites be sure to follow the directions carefully and you won’t have mites anymore! Mite treatments available in pet stores will not work trust me i have tried them. Prevent a Mite (PAM) is also very effective but hard to find in Canada. There are other health issues associated with snakes but these two are the most common. You should familiarize yourself with the nearest vet in your area that has experience treating snakes, chances are you will never has to use them.
Ball Python Morphs
One of the coolest and most desirable things about ball pythons is the endless amount of colour and pattern morphs available today, everyday there are new morphs being created with different combinations of multi gened animals. The snakes pictured above are all 2 gene co-dominant animals. The albino and pied ball pythons in mid 90’s were some of the first colour and pattern morphs available, and sold for as much as $25 000 per animal! Today these morphs although considered common, and sell for around $500 are the foundation for many multi gene morphs. There are dominant gene ball pythons such as spiders, pinstripes and calico’s. Co-dominant animals such as pastels, butters, mojave’s, fires, lesser platinum’s, phantoms, yellowbelly’s and simple recessive animals like albino’s, pieds, clowns, lavender albino’s, hypo’s just to name a few. The above ball pythons are considered base morphs and when two or more base morphs are bred together they can produce designer morphs such as pastel clowns, pastel pieds, killer bee’s (super pastel spider), butter spinner (butter spider pinstripe) dragonfly’s (fire pastel pinstripe) super blast (super pastel pinstripe) purple passion (mojave phantom) The list goes on and on and when you start putting together different combinations of all these morphs the possibilities are endless!! To produce recessive animals both parents must posses the recessive gene in either the homozygous form (visual form) or the heterozygous form (normal looking animal that carries the recessive gene). For instance you cannot make a pastel clown (pastel being co-dom clown being recessive) by breeding a pastel to a clown, this will give you het clowns (normal looking ball that carries the clown gene) and pastel het clowns (pastel looking ball that carries the clown gene) Now you can breed one of these Heterozygous pastels to a clown (homozygous) and produce pastel clowns as well as clowns, het clowns and more pastel clowns. This info is only a small chip off the iceberg! If you wanna learn about genetics check out http://www.newenglandreptile.com/genetics_intro.html New England Reptile Distributors basically wrote the book on breeding ball pythons! Another really cool site to predict the outcomes of breeding your ball pythons is http://www.worldofballpythons.com/wizard/. The prices of ball pythons can range from $50 for a normal or “wild type” animal to $60 000 for the legendary double recessive Dreamsicle (lavender albino Piebald) These prices are based on current supply and demand, where you live and when the morph was created. In general recessive morphs are a little more pricey and hold their value longer because they take longer to produce than co-dominant morphs. I’m not gonna get to much into genetics and breeding here cause it’s just ALOT of information, if you have any questions about breeding or genetics don’t hesitate to e-mail me!
I hope this information will be useful in caring for your ball pythons, i enjoy every aspect of breeding and caring for these awesome snakes and love talking to others that share the same passion. I am always learning new things about ball pythons and there is so much to learn! obviously there is information about caring for ball pythons that i diden’t cover here so please don’t hesitate to ask me anything no matter how simple or complicated and i will do my very best to help out, Thanks for visiting Pacific Pythons!!