Ball pythons are one of the world’s most popular reptile pets, and for good reasons.
Ball pythons come in over 6,500 different morphs.
There are ball pythons in pastel colors, albino ball pythons, purple ball pythons, black ball pythons, red ball pythons, yellow ball pythons, and ball pythons in pinstripe, clown, bumble, and spider patterns, to cite just a few.
Even in the wild, some ball pythons were so beautifully colored that they were worn as jewelry by African royalty, causing the nineteenth-century zoologist Shaw to give them their scientific name, Python regius, or “royal python.”
How Big Can Ball Pythons Get?
Ball pythons can be very social. No snake is affectionate, but ball pythons are easy to train and are naturally docile.
And ball pythons are very easy to handle.
They are the smallest of all African pythons.
Males may be just 3 feet (79 cm) long when they are fully mature. Females grow to about 4 feet (102 cm).
A few well-fed ball pythons kept as pets grow to a length of 6 feet (183 cm).
You don’t need to worry about your ball python growing too big to handle.
But ball pythons are notoriously picky eaters. The challenge of keeping your ball python healthy is not keeping them from getting too big, but making sure they are big enough.
In this article, we tell you everything you need to know to make sure your ball python is growing to and maintaining a normal weight, and what to do if your ball python is anorexic.
Ball Pythons Are Born Eating
Ball pythons usually get their first meal two weeks after they are born, just after their first shed. But ball pythons are born eating. Where do they get their first meal?
About 24 to 36 hours before it is time to hatch, a baby ball python uses its egg tooth to break slits in the shell of its egg.
The unborn snake absorbs nutrients from the yolk of the egg through blood vessels in its “belly button,” its umbilicus.
When the baby ball python has absorbed the yolk, the umbilical veins fall off, and it breaks out of its shell.
In the wild, baby ball pythons are in extreme danger from predators, sometimes including another hungry adult ball python!
But ball pythons raised as pets are separated, put in separate enclosures, and given their first meal.
Your Ball Python’s First Meal Imprints Your Pet with Its Idea of Food
Most ball pythons in the wild don’t survive very long after they are hatched.
They are attacked and eaten by birds, wild dogs and hyenas, large frogs, large insects, and large spiders.
The female lays 3 to 16 eggs, and only 1 or 2 hatchlings will survive their first year.
We don’t really know if some wild baby ball pythons starve because they are picky eaters.
But we do know that ball pythons in captivity can decide that the first prey animal they are ever served becomes “food.”
It is important that the first food you give your ball python is something you can feed it on a regular basis.
If your ball python gets a rat or a mouse as its first meal, it will know that rodents are food. If it gets, say, an exotic tree frog, it will expect a tree frog for its second, third, and future meals indefinitely.
Never feed a pet ball python live rodents. Live rodents can fight back! They can also bite you as you are putting them in the cage for your ball python to eat.
Only feed your ball previously killed rodents. They are available flash-frozen at pet stores. You thaw them out slowly to room temperature, and then offer them to your ball python with metal tongs. You use tongs because your fingers are edible, too!
Don’t thaw rodents for your ball python in the microwave. Thawing in the microwave may cause part of the rodent to become too hot to eat.
Microwaving can destroy enzymes and vitamins your ball python needs for health. And, when possible, feed your ball python rats instead of mice.
Also read: Why Is My Ball Python Not Eating?
Baby Ball Pythons Gain Weight Faster When They Are Fed Rats Instead of Mice
Rats provide ball pythons with more nutrition than mice. Frozen rats and frozen mice have about the same mineral and vitamin content, but mice are higher in fat and rats are higher in protein.
Feeding your ball python rats instead of mice will make it larger and stronger, but not so large that it will become hard to handle.
Ball pythons typically weigh 70 to 72 grams (that’s about 2-1/2 ounces) when they are hatched.
If a ball python is fed a pinkie mouse as its first meal, it will weigh 76 to 78 grams when it is one month old. If it is fed an immature rat, it will weigh 98 to 100 grams when it is a month old.
If you continue feeding your young ball python mice once a week, they will weigh 115 to 120 grams at the age of two months. If you feed your young ball python rats once a week, they will weigh 125 to 130 grams at two months.
At the age of three months, ball pythons that are fed mice will weigh 150 to 165 grams. Ball pythons fed rats will weigh 180 to 200 grams.
Ball pythons that are fed with mice catch up and weigh 180 to 200 grams by the time they are four months old. But at this point ball pythons, fed rats will weigh 270 to 280 grams.
Ball pythons fed mice will continue to weigh 60 to 80 grams less than ball pythons fed rats. At the age of 12 months, mouse-fed ball pythons weigh 480 to 500 grams, while rat-fed ball pythons weigh 540 to 550 grams.
Either ball python still only weighs about a pound. But the rat-fed ball python will be larger and stronger, and, if it is a female, mature to egg-laying age sooner.
|Ball Python Age||Weight When Fed Young Rats (grams)||Weight When Fed Mice ( (grams)|
|1 month old||98-100||76-78|
|2 month old||120-130||115-120|
|3 month old||180-200||150-175|
|4 month old||270-280||180-200|
|6 month old||340-360||280-300|
|12 month old||540-550||480-500|
Whether you feed your ball python rats or mice, you have to give your snake prey of an appropriate size.
Ball pythons can loosen (they don’t really unhinge) their jaws to swallow pretty that is up to 1.25 times as wide as their mouth is.
Preventing and Treating Obesity in Your Ball Python
Obesity is an alarmingly common problem in all kinds of pythons, including ball pythons. Obesity results from a combination of factors.
Ball pythons usually don’t get a lot of exercise, especially if they are not tame enough to be taken out of their enclosures.
Most ball python owners feed their snakes previously frozen and thawed mice, which are higher in fat than rats and Reptilinks.
If you are feeding your ball python mice, and it puts on weight at the same rate as it should if you were feeding it rats (see the section above), it probably isn’t growing fast. It is probably obese.
Signs of obesity include wrinkly scales. Sometimes obesity will cause folding scales. Visible space between the scales is caused by excess subcutaneous fat.
The skin of an obese ball python will be very soft to the touch. Its body will be round, instead of flattened on the top and bottom.
If your ball python is less than a year old, weigh it once a month to make sure it is growing normally. If its weight is higher than expected, check for the signs of obesity.
Male ball pythons should not gain weight after the age of 16 to 18 months.
Females will not gain weight after the age of 27 to 31 months, except when they are carrying a clutch of eggs.
Mature males and females that are not carrying eggs should not put on weight at their monthly weightings.
If they are gaining weight, and they display signs of obesity as described above, then you need to feed them less.
How much you should feed your ball python depends on its age:
- Hatchling ball pythons need food every 5 to 7 days.
- After the age of one year up until maturity, ball pythons need food every 7 to 14 days. They will need more food less often.
- Adult ball pythons only need food every 14 to 42 days, but they may need multiple rodents to get full.
Obese ball pythons need to be fed rats instead of mice. Most ball pythons won’t have a problem with the switch. Anorexic ball pythons, however, are a different challenge.
What to Do If Your Ball Python Is Anorexic
Weighing your snake is the best way to make sure it is eating enough.
If an immature ball python is not gaining weight, or if an adult ball python is losing weight, anorexia may be the problem.
Getting your ball python to eat requires different strategies at different stages of its life.
Young ball pythons, less than a year old, maybe timid about striking their food, coiling around it, and swallowing it.
Placing a small live rodent in your ball python’s enclosure will stimulate it to defend itself by striking.
It will then realize that the rodent you put in the case with it is food. It is always better to feed your ball python pre-killed, previously frozen food, but sometimes live food is necessary to stimulate an appropriate response.
In their native habit, ball pythons will stop eating when nighttime temperatures are relatively low for the tropics, just 70° F (21° C) or so.
Raising the temperature in your snake’s enclosure by 5 to 10 degrees F (3 to 5 degrees C) stimulates your snake’s appetite.
Days and nights in the tropics are always about 12 hours long. Making sure your ball python gets 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark may also stimulate its appetite.
The next thing to try when your ball python won’t eat is to offer some variety in its diet.
Give it a newly weaned gerbil, a thawed adult gerbil that was previously killed and frozen, or a different rodent.
Offer it a mouse if you have been giving it rats, or a rat if you have been feeding it mice.
Brown Bag Method
If these measures don’t persuade your snake to eat, try the brown bag method. Raise the temperature in your ball python’s enclosure to 85°F to 90°F (29.4°C to 32.2°C).
Punch a few holes in a brown paper bag. Place your ball python in the bag with a live, almost-weaned rat. Since the rat is alive, it will provoke a strike response. Since it has just been weaned, it cannot do physical harm to your snake.
Fold over the top of the bag with the snake and the rat inside. Then staple it shut. Leave the bag with your ball python and the rat inside it in your snake’s terrarium overnight.
If your snake eats the rat, the problem is solved. If not, try again a week later with a different prey animal. Repeat until your snake decides to eat.
Rodent Hole Method
Cut a hole big enough for your snake to slide through in the side of a plastic bucket.
Then place a freshly weaned rodent, some of its bedding, and some of its feces or urine in the bucket and put the lid on top.
Lower the bucket into your snake’s enclosure and leave it overnight.
This method encourages timid snakes to overpower weak animals and eat them.
If your snake does not feed the first time you offer it a rodent in a hole, offer it a different rodent in the same bucket once a week until it decides it is time to eat.
Grass and Leaf Method
Replace the substrate in the bottom of your ball python’s enclosure with dry grass of hay, simulating your snake’s natural environment.
Drop a young, freshly weaned rodent onto the dry grass and close the lid to your snake’s cage. If your snake does not eat the rodent, take it out, and try another rodent next week.
Feeding your ball python live prey is not ideal. Your goal should be to get your snake to eat pre-killed prey, if possible.
Adult rats and gerbils have been known to seriously injure or even kill ball pythons.
Also, leaving the live prey in the enclosure, waiting to be eaten, for more than 30 minutes is inhumane. You always need to supervise your snake when you are feeding it live prey.
As a last resort, your veterinarian can force-feed your snake.
Unless you have been trained in the procedure, you should let your vet do it. Anything that causes your snake to vomit cancels any benefit of the force-feeding.
Frequently Asked Questions About How Big Can Ball Pythons Get
Q. Which is bigger, the male ball python or the female ball python?
A. In ball pythons, females are larger than males. The largest female ball pythons can be as much as 6 feet (183 cm) long, while the largest male ball pythons are just 4 feet (128 cm) long.
Q. How fast can ball pythons grow?
A. Male ball pythons can grow 8 to 12 inches (21 to 31 cm) a year, but females can grow 12 to 16 inches (31 to 39 cm) a year.
Q. What do adult ball pythons weigh?
A. An adult male ball python usually weighs about 2.2 pounds or about a kilo. Females can weigh up to 6.4 pounds, or nearly 3 kilos.
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