Average adult size: 3 to 5 feet long
Average life span: 20-40 years with proper care
Ball Python facts: Ball pythons are named for their habit of curling themselves up into a tight ball.
Natural habitat: western and central Africa
Reptile keeping experience: beginner
Will reach adult size in 3 years, under ideal conditions; upgrade habitat size as your snake grows.
Ball pythons are generally shy and will spend much of their time hiding. Your ball python may initially see you as a threat and it must learn who you are. The goal is to establish trust between you and your snake, just like any other animal.
Always support your ball python’s body and avoid fast movements. Once a ball python realizes that you will not hurt it they often seem to enjoy being handled. Some ball pythons may try to hide when handled and occasionally there are ones that may even bite due to excessive fear. These ball pythons may require a bit more time to settle in and establish trust. A ball python’s bite is a superficial wound. If a snake looks like it is going to strike, it is best to not handle it. Relax when holding your animal – sit down and give the animal a chance to settle.
Some snakes may not eat for several hours or longer after being handled, so avoid handling if you plan to feed. After a snake has eaten it may be a good idea to limit the handling because it may be uncomfortable for the animal. Avoid putting your snake’s cage in a heavy traffic area, excessive movement, and other pets should be avoided.
Ball python enclosures can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to care for. Remember that the more you put in the cage, the more you have to clean and disinfect on a regular basis. That said, there are different enclosures that work well for ball pythons, including, but not limited to, plastic sweaterboxes (i.e. Rubbermaid), melamine racks and any of the commercially available, plastic-type reptile cages. Glass aquariums and tanks are adequate for ball pythons, but the screen tops on such enclosures can make it very difficult to maintain proper humidity levels.
The one cage accessory that is required for a happy ball python is a good hide box. . . maybe even a couple of them. Ball pythons are secretive snakes that appreciate and utilize hide spots. Provide one on each end of your python's enclosure so that it doesn't have to choose between temperature and security. Clay flowerpots, plastic flowerpot trays and commercially available hide boxes all work well.
Size - appropriate size and shape habitat for an adult ball python to accommodate normal behavior and exercise, at least a 20 long.
• Hatchlings can be housed in 10 gallon aquariums or similarly sized specialty reptile cages.
• Adults should be kept in cages with a footprint of at least 30" x 12". They are terrestrial so a larger floor area is preferred over climbing height. A screen lid should be used on top of the cage.
Substrate – aspen shavings, mulch-type such as coconut fiber bedding or reptile bark; dampened sphagnum moss.
• Avoid gravel and artificial turf (too harsh for skin).
• Never use any substrate containing cedar, as it contains oils that can be deadly to reptiles
Humidity – Humidity should be maintained between 40%-60%. If this humidity is not achieved with the water bowl alone, you may need to mist the cage and substrate 1-3 times daily. If the snake is having issues shedding, place moist sphagnum moss in the hiding area. Alternatively, you can A large water bowl, big enough for you snake to completely submerge themselves, would also work during shedding.
Habitat – provide a hiding area just large enough for your snake to fit inside and a branch or decor to climb on. Maintain 40-60% humidity; higher during shedding. A large water bowl, big enough for you snake to completely submerge themselves, would also work during shedding.
Temperature – temperature gradient (95°F for the warm end and 78° for the cool end); recommend radiant heat; use an incandescent light as primary heat source, use under tank heater as secondary source.
• The main source of heat should be an under tank heater or some form of belly heat. Snakes are more comfortable absorbing heat from the ground rather than from above. Place the under tank heater on one end of the tank and keep any lights on the same end of the enclosure as this allows the snake to thermoregulate. It is important to create a hot side and cool side in the tank so do not place heating and lighting in the center of the enclosure.
• Ball pythons do not require UVB lighting. A daylight bulb is important to provide a proper photoperiod. Be sure the daytime bulb is off at night so you do not disrupt the day/night cycle.
• Provide a range of temperatures in the enclosure with a hot spot of 88-92°F. This can be accomplished with an under tank heater, an incandescent basking light (or heat emitter) or a combination of both (as described above). The cool end of the enclosure should be 75°F. Daytime temperatures can range between 75-85°F.
Lighting – snakes need a day/night cycle. Lighting is not always necessary, if you keep your ball python near a window, to create this cycle nor is the need to use a black light at night (although, it may help you see your snake at night without causing your Ball Python stress). You can use a 12/12 day/night cycle on any lights that you choose to use. This includes the use of
Accessories – A hide box/shelter should be provided to allow the snake a place to rest. Ball pythons do not need climbing branches, but rocks or logs can be provided. A water bowl large enough for the snake to submerge is suggested. A thermometer and humidity gauge should be used to monitor cage conditions.
Juvenile ball pythons seem to do well in small enclosures that make them feel secure. A small snake in a big cage can become overwhelmed and stressed. Adult ball pythons do not require exceptionally large or elaborate enclosures either. A 36-inch by 18-inch by 12-inch enclosure will more than comfortably house an adult ball python.
Care and Husbandry
Grooming & hygiene
Snakes will regularly shed their skin; ensure humidity of habitat is at appropriate level to allow snake to shed properly.
Signs of a healthy animal
• Active and alert
• Clear eyes (except when shedding)
• Eats regularly
• Healthy skin
• Sheds regularly
• Sheds skin in one complete piece a photoperiod light cycle; provide 8-12 hours of light daily. Don’t leave white light.on at all times; a black or infrared light should be used at night.
• House adult ball pythons alone and do not house different snake species together.
• As snake gets ready to shed, eyes will turn a milky blue/grey over the course of a few days and body color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. May become irritable, avoid handling if needed.
• Appetite may vary.
Spot-clean your ball python's enclosure as necessary. Remove feces and urates as soon as possible. Do a complete tear-down every 30 days by removing all substrate and cage accessories and completely disinfecting with a 3 percent bleach solution. Rinse the enclosure thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach smell, and allow it to dry completely before replacing cage accessories and your snake.
Thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week: place snake in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all traces of bleach smell; dry the tank and furnishings completely and add clean substrate.
Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
• Dermatitis blisters, rapid shedding caused by an unclean habitat or one that is too cold or damp. consult your exotic animal veterinarian, clean the habitat and lower humidity.
• Respiratory disease labored breathing, mucus in mouth or nostrils. can be caused by a habitat that is too cold or damp. consult your exotic animal veterinarian and keep snake warm and dry.
• Stomatitis white, cheesy substance in the mouth, loss of teeth and appetite. if untreated, can be fatal. immediately consult your exotic animal veterinarian.
• Ticks and mites parasites on skin, can transmit disease. consult your exotic animal veterinarian.
If you notice any of these signs, please contact your exotic animal veterinarian.
• Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding
• Lethargic or reluctant to eat
• Abnormal feces
• Bumps or spots on skin
• Labored breathing
• Difficulty shedding
• White, cheesy substance in mouth
A well-balanced ball python diet consists of:
1. Appropriate size frozen rodents, thawed/warmed to above room temperature.
2. If feeding your snake live rodents, do not leave them unattended. Live rodents can injure the snake, sometimes fatally.
3. Ball pythons can be fed appropriately sized mice and rats their entire lives. Be sure to feed prey that is no larger than the widest part of the snake. There should never be a bulge after the snake eats.
a. Babies and juveniles should be fed every 7-10 days.
b. Adults can be fed every 7-14 days.
"Appropriately sized" means prey items that are no bigger in circumference than the ball python at its largest circumference.
Things to remember when feeding your ball python:
1. Feed juveniles once or twice a week, adults every one to two weeks.
2. Feed in a separate tank so that your snake doesn’t associate your hand or the habitat being opened with feeding.
3. Never leave a live rodent unattended with any snake, as they can injure the snake.
a. Ball pythons are well-known for not eating at certain times throughout the year, particularly in the winter months. Be prepared for the possibility of your ball python going off feed, and keep an observant eye on the snake's overall condition and body weight.
b. This is typically nothing to worry about with healthy, well-established pythons, although it can be extremely frustrating to the snakekeeper.
Ball pythons are native to central and western Africa and thrive in these warm, tropical areas. They are known as the royal python in many parts of the world and are revered in some areas of Africa.
Ball python hatchlings are approximately 10 inches in length. Adult female ball pythons average 3 to 5 feet long, and adult male ball pythons average 2 to 3 feet in size. This is a species in which mature females are typically much larger than the males. A 5-foot ball python is considered big, although lengths of 6 feet or more have been reported.