Ball Python Care Guide
Origin & Habitat
Ball pythons are indigenous to the grasslands and open forests of West and Central Africa. They thrive in a warm and tropical climate. The landscape consists of shrublands, agricultural areas, and forest edges, offering both sunlight and ample shade. These snakes are known for their secretive and nocturnal nature. During the day, they seek shelter under rocks, in burrows, or within dense vegetation to avoid extreme heat and predators.
With proper care, Ball Pythons commonly live 20-30 years, but there have been instances where they live up to 50 years in captivity.
Ball Pythons can grow 3-5 feet long, with females typically larger than males. Although reptiles continue to grow throughout their lifetime, most growth occurs during the first 2-3 years of their life.
As ectothermic creatures, these snakes snakes rely on external temperatures to regulate their bodily functions. Additionally, they need moderate to high humidity levels to maintain healthy skin conditions. To ensure their well-being, it is crucial to maintain the following temperature ranges and humidity parameters:
Basking Spot: 90-92°F
Ambient Temperature: 80-82°F
Humidity: 50-60%, with an increase during shed cycles (up to 75%)
A proper feeding regimen will keep your Ball Python healthy and ensure proper growth and weight management throughout their life.
Prey Type & Size
Ball Pythons are carnivorous creatures that primarily feed on rodents in the wild. In captivity, the most commonly fed prey for them are mice, rats, and African Soft Furs, which are all suitable sources of which are all suitable sources of nutrition provided they are of an adequate size.
An appropriate-sized meal is roughly equivalent to the snake’s girth and should leave a noticeable but not obscene lump in the snake after consumption. Prey that is too small will not provide adequate nutrition, while too large of prey can lead to discomfort, digestive stress, and regurgitation in severe cases.
Longterm, rats are the most preferable prey for Ball Pythons, as the size of a single rat can scale with the snake and provide adequate nutrition throughout their life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with feeding multiple prey items – and in some cases, it may be necessary – but it’s much more efficient to feed one medium rat than it is 4 adult mice.
As supplemental variety, you can offer alternative prey types such as quail, chicks, or Reptilinks; however, it’s worth noting that many Ball Pythons will only accept rodents.
The ideal frequency of meals depends on the size of the prey offered, the age of the animal, and its current metabolic needs. For example, juveniles need to eat more frequently than adults, as they have higher caloric needs to support their rapid growth.
Each animal is unique, but the following can be used as a general guideline:
Juvenile (up to 1 year): Every 5-10 days
Subadult (1-3 years): Every 7-14 days
Adult (3+ years): Every 14-21 days
Note: Subadults and adults used in a breeding program will need to be fed more heavily at certain times of the year to support the demands of reproduction.
Live vs. Frozen Thawed
Many keepers prefer feeding their Ball Pythons with frozen-thawed prey for safety and convenience. However, some snakes will only accept live prey; if this is the case, simply monitor the feeding and remove the prey from the enclosure if the snake does not eat within 30 minutes. Feeding live may be uncomfortable for some owners, but it is perfectly natural for the snake. It is important that they receive proper nutrition no matter the method.
There are various ways to house Ball Pythons effectively as long as the appropriate environmental and behavior needs of the snake are met. Your choice of enclosure will depend on several factors, including your budget, the conditions of your snake room, and your personal preference.
Glass Terrariums: These are widely available and allow for easy viewing of your snake. However, this can cause some animals to feel vulnerable and over-exposed, which increases stress levels. These enclosures usually have screen tops which provide great ventilation; however, this can make it difficult to maintain humidity, especially in dry environments. Additionally, glass is not an excellent insulator, so additional measures may be required to maintain proper ambient temperatures.
PVC Enclosures: PVC enclosures are excellent for retaining humidity and heat. They come in a wide variety of sizes with built-in configurations for heating and lighting, and can also be stacked if you have multiple snakes. The design of these enclosures usually includes front sliding or hinged doors, which minimizes stress during interaction, as you don’t have to reach in from above, which can be intimidating for the snake. For display enclosures, this is what we recommend.
Rack Systems: These are commonly used by breeders and those with multiple snakes. They consist of a shelving unit with individual drawers for each snake. These systems can be heated efficiently, are easy to clean, and provide a more secure and enclosed space, which can be comforting to snakes. However, they are not ideal for display, as you can’t view the snake without opening the tub. They are also not compatible with any overhead lighting or heating.
Single-Tub Transition Setups: Forward-thinking cage companies are now making stand-alone tub systems that combine the security, efficiency, and ease of maintenance of racks with the added height, improved visibility, and lighting capabilities of Glass or PVC enclsoures. These setups are ideal for transitioning a young snake from life with a breeder to life as a pet and setting them up for future success in a display enclosure.
In our experience, young Ball Pythons are more likely to thrive when their initial environment is carefully controlled for security, temperature, and humidity. This often means starting them off in a smaller enclosure where these factors can be easily monitored and maintained.
This smaller setup, whether a modified glass terrarium with additional cover and less open space, a PVC enclosure with appropriate hides, or a rack system, can help reduce stress for the young python and promote regular feeding and overall health.
As they grow and become more confident, transitioning to a larger enclosure to provide more space for movement and exploration can be worthwhile for the snake and keeper. Still, ensure the snake has plenty of hides, especially in larger spaces, to prevent stress.
Below are our recommendations for enclosure sizes based on the typical growth rate of Ball Pythons. Some individuals are faster or slower than others, and thus, the enclosure size should be adjusted accordingly.
Glass or PVC Enclosures
Juvenile (0-1 year): 30″x15″x15″ or similar
Subadult (1-3 year): 36″x24″x18″ or similar
Adult (3+ year): 48″x24″x24″ or similar
Juvenile (0-1 year): 24″x18″x9 or similar
Juvenile (0-1 year): V-18 up to FB10 or similar
Subadult (1-3 year): FB40 or similar
Adults (3+ year): FB40 up to FB70 or similar
Various options are available to provide heat to your Ball Python, and different heat sources are better suited for different enclosures. When choosing a heat source, it is essential to consider the enclosure’s size, materials, and how effectively it retains heat and humidity.
Radiant Heat Panels: These are perfect for PVC enclosures as they can be mounted on the ceiling to provide consistent overhead heat without light, making them suitable for 24-hour use. They are great for both creating basking spots and elevating ambient temperature.
Under-Tank Heaters (UTHs): These are commonly used for glass terrariums but are also suitable for other enclosure types. They are great for creating a basking spot with belly heat. However, colder rooms may require an additional heat source to maintain ambient temperatures.
Heat Tape: This inexpensive, versatile heat source is particularly useful in rack systems, but it requires careful monitoring for safe operation.
Halogen Lights: Halogen bulbs are excellent for creating a basking spot with a natural light cycle. They are best for daytime use in glass terrariums or PVC enclosures.
Deep Heat Projectors (DHPs): DHPs emit long-wave infrared heat, penetrating deeper into the muscle tissue than other heat sources, simulating natural sunlight. They do not produce light, making them suitable for 24-hour use without disrupting the day-night cycle. They are ideal for glass terrariums and PVC enclosures.
Ceramic Heat Emitters (CHEs): CHEs also emit no light and provide consistent ambient heat. They are excellent for maintaining temperature gradients, especially in cooler environments. However, they tend to put off a very “dry heat” that may necessitate additional measures to maintain proper humidity.
Using a quality thermostat to regulate temperatures is crucial, no matter what type of heat source you use. Unregulated heat sources can lead to severe consequences like burns, neurological damage, and even death.
In addition to using a thermostat, you should regularly monitor the surface temperatures of the enclosure using an infrared temperature gun. This will help ensure accuracy and prevent any possible mishaps.
Choosing the right substrate for your Ball Python’s habitat is essential. The substrate is more than just the floor of their home; it affects humidity, cleanliness, and overall well-being. Properly maintaining the substrate will help create a healthy and comfortable environment for your pet.
Coconut Husk: This substrate is highly absorbent and excellent at retaining moisture, making it ideal for maintaining humidity in drier environments. It’s also mold-resistant and reduces odor.
Aspen Shavings: This substrate is excellent for burrowing, which Ball Pythons love. However, it can mold if it becomes too damp and isn’t well-equipped to retain moisture. It’s best for use in humid environments where additional measures to increase humidity (such as misting) are not required.
Cypress Mulch: This substrate retains moisture well and resists mold, making it beneficial in maintaining humidity in drier environments. It also has a very natural appearance.
Newspaper/Paper Towels: While not the most natural-looking option, this substrate is practical, especially for monitoring your snake’s health. It’s easy to replace and keep clean.
Bioactive Substrate: This mixture of soils, barks, and other natural components supports live plants and microfauna. It creates a dynamic and naturalistic environment but requires more knowledge and maintenance.
Maintaining proper humidity in your Ball Python’s enclosure can require diligent effort or none at all, depending on the conditions in your home and the type of enclosure being used. Humidity levels should be monitored via a digital hydrometer to ensure proper levels are met.
The following methods can be used to increase or decrease the humidity as needed:
Water Bowls: Place a large water bowl on the enclosure’s warmer side to help increase humidity through evaporation.
Substrate Saturation: Add water to a substrate that retains moisture, such as coconut husk or cypress mulch, to raise the overall humidity.
Humid Hides: Create a humid hide by adding moistened sphagnum moss to an enclosed area. This way, your python can have a micro-habitat with higher humidity while keeping the rest of the enclosure at normal levels.
Misting: If the humidity in the enclosure is low, mist the animal and enclosure with water a few times per week, especially during shedding.
Ventilation: For a glass terrarium with a screen top, partially cover the screen with acrylic panels, PVC sheets, or aluminum foil to retain humidity. Adjust the amount of screen exposed to control the ventilation and the effect.
Room Humidifier: In particularly dry environments, use a room humidifier to help keep the ambient humidity around the enclosure at appropriate levels.
Hides and Decorations
Ball Pythons need a minimum of two hides – one on the warm side and the other on the cooler side. However, it is better to provide more hides as this species highly values security. Each hide should be sturdy and just large enough for the python to fit snugly inside.
For larger enclosures, additional cage furnishings like branches, ledges, and foliage can provide more cover for the animal, surfaces for climbing, and visual interest.
Ball Pythons should always have access to fresh and clean water, even though they may not drink it frequently. The water bowl should be heavy enough to prevent it from tipping over and large enough for the snake to soak if it wants to.
Maintaining a clean and hygienic environment for your Ball Python is essential to ensure its overall health and well-being. Changing the water frequently and disinfecting the bowl every week is necessary to prevent bacterial growth. If you use a solid substrate like paper or newspaper, replace it as soon as it becomes soiled. If you use a loose substrate, spot clean it at least once a week to remove feces, urates, and other debris to prevent mold and bacteria growth.
Additionally, we recommend that you perform a complete cleaning of the enclosure every 1-3 months as needed. This includes changing the substrate entirely, disinfecting the enclosure, and sanitizing all cage furnishings.
Ball Pythons are extremely hardy, but as with all animals, they can sometimes develop behavioral or medical issues. It is vital to inspect your python regularly to spot any problems early. Below is a list of the most common ailments encountered by Ball Python owners:
Stuck shed: Healthy shed skin comes off in one piece. If the shed comes off in patches or sticks to the snake, it indicates too low humidity or dehydration. You can soak the snake in a shallow container of lukewarm water to soften the skin and allow for removal.
Mites: Look for small black dots moving on the snake’s skin or wedged between scales or the snake soaking more frequently than usual. If mites are present, seek immediate intervention through chemical treatments such as Provent-a-Mite, Frontline Spray, or other means of eradication.
Respiratory Virus / Infections: Listen for wheezing or look for excess mucus. If these symptoms arise, seek veterinary care to determine the cause and the right course of treatment. In addition, confirm the enclosure temperatures and humidity are in the correct ranges.
Scale Rot: Too much humidity or an unclean enclosure can lead to skin infections marked by discolored or swollen scales. You can resolve minor cases by cleaning the enclosure and switching to a clean and dry solid substrate until the animal’s next shed cycle. However, more severe cases may require antibiotic treatment. If you are unsure, seek guidance from your veterinarian.
Fasting: Ball Pythons are known to fast occasionally, particularly during winter or breeding seasons. If your snake refuses food, wait a week before offering food again. If the fast continues, try these tricks to get your Ball Python back on track.
We highly advise establishing a relationship with a reptile-savvy veterinarian for regular check-ups and consult them if you notice any signs of illness.
To find a qualified vet, visit www.arav.org
Commitment to Care
The care and keeping of a Ball Python involves a comprehensive understanding of their natural habitat and requirements. This includes creating an appropriate living environment with the right temperature and humidity levels, providing them with a proper diet, and conducting regular health checks.
With their docile nature and fascinating variety, Ball Pythons can make rewarding pets for those willing to invest time and effort into their care. Remember, a well-cared-for Ball Python can be a long-term companion, living up to 20-30 years and sometimes even longer in captivity. As such, owning one is not just a hobby but a long-term commitment to the health and happiness of a remarkable reptilian friend.