The secret to success in caring for a ball python is something you do before you ever take your snake home:
Make sure you are buying a captive-bred ball python, not a wild-caught ball python.
Why Are Ball Pythons So Popular?
People love ball pythons for all the reasons we previously mentioned, especially their gentle nature, and their easy care.
If you have never taken care of a snake before, they are the ideal first reptile pet.
Experienced pet snake owners also love ball pythons because they come in so many interesting morphs.
Ball Pythons come In at least 1000 colors and patterns.
Color morphs include stark white, pure black, neon yellow, lavender, and more.
Ball pythons also come in pattern morphs like a bumblebee, pinstripe, leopard, spider, and woma.
Your ball python can be your first pet snake because it is so easy to care for.
At the same time, if a ball python is your first pet snake, it can be a morph that other collectors will admire.
Both newbie snake owners and experienced snake owners like ball pythons.
Are Ball Pythons Good Pet Snakes?
Ball pythons make great pets. They are non-venomous. They are easy to handle. They can get upset, but when they do, they just roll into a tight ball.
They seldom get sick, and they live 20 to 30 years when kept as pets.
You won’t have trouble handling your ball python. As constrictor snakes go, they are relatively short.
A male ball python is just 2 to 3 feet (about 60 to 90 cm) long at full maturity, and female ball pythons aren’t a lot longer, just 3 to 4 feet (or about 90 to 120 cm) long when they are fully grown.
Ball pythons are entertaining, and they come in multiple morphs, so there you can find ball pythons in an astonishing range of colors.
They live on a 100-percent rodent diet and don’t have any special requirements for their enclosures.
Anyone who likes snakes can find a ball python that matches their personality. Read on to learn more about how to care for ball pythons.
We will cover their diet, their enclosure requirements, and the best places to buy them.
But first, we will go over the surprising reason that ball pythons are among the most popular pet snakes.
How to Care for Ball Python?
Ball pythons are native to the warm, dry grasslands of West Africa. They aren’t exclusively tropical snakes.
They can adjust to the slightly cooler temperatures that occur in winter in their African home.
Male and female ball pythons, however, occupy slightly different habitats in those places where they are found in nature.
Female ball pythons live their lives almost exclusively at ground level. After all, they have to coil around their clutches of eggs for up to two months at a time until they hatch.
Once the eggs hatch, hungry new mother ball pythons hunt for the closest prey, at ground level.
Male ball pythons have more freedom to roam during the rainy season when their mates are guarding eggs.
Male pythons instinctively climb trees to find rodents to eat, so they won’t interfere with the feeding habits of their mates.
You can’t go wrong by making sure a female ball python has a ground-level place to hide in her enclosure.
You also can’t go wrong by making sure a male ball python has a piece of driftwood to climb in his.
Of course, you aren’t likely to know the sex of your ball python unless your vet has probed their caudal area during your snake’s first checkup.
If that hasn’t happened yet, get both a snake hide and a climbing branch for your ball python’s enclosure.
Housing Your Ball Python
Ball pythons can be beautiful snakes, but you shouldn’t display them in a glass terrarium.
Ball pythons like their privacy. They are more comfortable in an enclosure made of plastic than they are in an enclosure made of glass where they are always visible to everybody passing by.
Plastic containers also make it easier for you to maintain the humidity and temperatures at which they thrive, along with an escape-proof lid that keeps both your snake and your other small pets safe.
How big does your ball python’s enclosure need to be?
The size of the enclosure should be based on the size of your snake”
- Limit the enclosure to 10 gallons (about 40 liters) for hatchling snakes. Anything larger makes them nervous.
- A growing ball python that has shed its skin several times can be transferred to a 20-gallon (80-liter) home.
- Fully grown ball pythons need a plastic tub of at least 30 gallons (120 liters) up to 50 gallons (150 liters) with a secure lid for their home. You should also keep their smaller, 20-gallon container, without substrate or decorations, for feeding them or holding them while you are cleaning or repairing their main home.
Give your ball python something to do by adding toys to its enclosure. For ball pythons, toys are places to hide rather than things to do.
A hatchling ball python should have at least one hide box or tunnel, plus some rocks or fake vegetation to explore.
Silk plants are better than real plants. Even young snakes tear up real plants, and they won’t get enough light through the plastic enclosure.
Adult pythons enjoy at least two hiding places, usually cork tunnels.
Males, as we mentioned earlier, will climb on fake driftwood. Don’t use real driftwood, because it can splinter and injure your snake.
Lighting for Your Ball Python
Scientists measuring changes in vitamin D with and without special lighting systems have found that ball pythons don’t need special UV lamps for lighting their enclosures.
Ball pythons get all the vitamin D they need from the fat and liver of the rodents they eat. UV lamps can even cause them some skin problems, such as photodermatitis and photokeratitis.
They do need periods of light and dark every 24 hours to regulate their circadian rhythms.
Ball pythons are nocturnal animals.
They hunt at night and hide during the day. Dimming light, as they would experience at dusk in nature, is a signal for them to be active.
Turning off room lights at night and using a dimmer to slowly reduce the light in their cage imitates natural conditions and relaxes your snake.
In nature, a ball python would usually crawl up inside a termite mound to hide during the day.
Your ball python will be more interactive with you at night than during the day.
Heating for Your Ball Python
In nature, ball pythons live in places where winter mornings are no cooler than about 63° F (17° C) and summer afternoons are as warm as 95° F (35° C).
These are the coolest and warmest temperatures your ball python can safely experience.
If you place your snake’s enclosure in a sunny window, temperatures inside can quickly rise high enough to cook it.
If you don’t provide a heat source for your ball python during the winter, it won’t be able to digest its food and it can quickly become very sick.
Avoid overheating your snake by placing its enclosure away from any windows.
Aim to provide heating for no more than one-third of your ball python’s enclosure with a basking lamp or with a heating pad placed under one end of its cage.
Many plastic enclosures come with a heating pad installed at the factory.
If you use a basking lamp, it should be just large enough for your snake to coil under to warm up.
It should not heat the entire enclosure, so your snake can go to the other end to cool off if it feels too hot.
The air temperature inside your ball python’s enclosure should be a constant 82° F (27° C).
The cooler side of your snake’s enclosure can run 76° to 80° F (24° to 26° C), and the temperature under the basking lamp or over the heating pad can run up to 92° F (33° C), just to stay on the safe side, so there is no danger of either hypothermia or overheating for your snake.
Bedding (Substrate) for Your Ball Python
No pet snake should just be plopped into a cage without any kind of bedding, also known as substrate.
Snakes need substrate to give them traction for moving around in their enclosures.
Substrate catches waste, so it doesn’t coat your snake’s body. And for ball pythons, the substrate retains moisture that keeps the air inside the cage humidified for easier shedding and healthier waste.
Cypress mulch is an ideal substrate for your ball python. It isn’t expensive, and it allows your ball python to burrow to create another hiding place.
Ball Python Tank Cleaning
Clean your snake’s enclosure every day. Remove any waste, anything decayed or causing a foul odor, and any unidentified slimy substance.
Give your snake’s home a complete cleaning every one to two months, removing everything for cleaning and replacing the substrate.
Feeding Your Ball Python
In nature, ball pythons catch their food with their mouths, holding it tight while they constrict around it to suffocate it before swallowing it whole.
Female pythons, which live mostly at ground level, eat more rodents. Male pythons, which climb trees, eat more birds.
In captivity, all pythons can eat rats. Hatchling pythons need to be fed smaller rats to get used to feeding on them. Adult pythons can be fed adult rats. But not just any rat will do.
- Never feed your ball python a rat you caught yourself. Feral rats may have swallowed rat poison, which can make your snake sick. They usually have parasites.
- Never feed your ball python a live rat. The rat may bite your snake as your snake is catching it.
- Never feed your ball python a killed rat that is still frozen. Always thaw the rats you buy to feed your snake and allow them to come to room temperature before offering them to your snake.
Smaller pythons can eat mice, but if you start them off on mice, it can be hard to transition them to rats later. Mice aren’t enough nourishment for an adult ball python.
It is usually a good idea to take your ball python outside of its enclosure and into a second enclosure for feeding.
Hungry snakes often strike at the sight of food. Your fingers can get in the way.
If you train your snake to be fed in a different enclosure, then there is a lesser risk it will mistake your fingers for dinner when you are reaching in to pick it up.
How much should you feed your pet ball python?
- Give hatchling ball pythons one pinky rat every five days. They can also be given crawler mice, but it will be harder to get them to eat rats later.
- Give adolescent ball pythons one fuzzy rat every seven days.
- Give adult ball pythons a single medium-sized rat every seven to 10 days. Larger ball pythons can be fed larger rats.
Your ball python will only eat one prey animal at a time. Use tongs to let your ball python “catch” its prey.
Preventing Common Health Issues in Ball Pythons
Ball pythons don’t get sick very often, and their most common health problems are preventable.
Failure to shed completely leaves caps over your ball python’s eyes.
You can prevent this problem by making sure you keep the humidity in your snake’s enclosure around 50 to 60 percent. Use a gauge to monitor humidity. Don’t guess.
It also helps to give your ball python a soaking dish as well as a drinking dish. Keep the water in both dishes clean to prevent infections.
Mites show up as little, moving brown or black dots on your snake’s skin.
Prevent mites by inspecting your snake carefully before purchasing it, and by never placing two snakes in the same enclosure.
When your ball python has bubbles around its nose or it seems unusually lethargic, the problem can be the reptile equivalent of a cold or flu.
Reduce the risk of this problem by avoiding extremes of heat or cold in your snake’s enclosure.
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