The Ball Python (also called the Royal Python) is by far the most common pet python in this part of the world. Ball pythons are native to sub-Saharan West Africa and thrive in extreme heat and humidity. Ball pythons are generally hardy and tend to do well in captivity if all of their basic husbandry needs are met. They are friendly, easy to handle, and a bit shy — making them a favorite amongst many reptile owners. Males range in size from 2-3 feet and females 3-5 feet. A ball python’s lifespan is variable, however, they can live for up to 25-35 years in captivity.
Ball pythons consume rodents exclusively. Ball pythons can be fed mice or rats depending on the age and size of the snake. As a rule of thumb, the size (largest diameter) of the prey item should be approximately the same diameter as the snake’s body. Feeder rodents can be purchased alive or frozen. I recommend feeding frozen-thawed or pre-killed rodents to all pet snakes because live prey items are able to fight back. Keep in mind that rodents have very strong jaws, with sharp teeth, and are capable of inflicting serious wounds on your pet. Therefore, a live rodent should never be left in a snake’s enclosure without direct supervision. Some people prefer to feed snakes in a separate bin or tank (outside of their primary enclosure) which may help prevent accidental bites while reaching into their primary enclosure.
Juvenile ball pythons should be fed weekly and adults may be fed bi-weekly or monthly depending on the size of the prey item. It is not unusual for ball pythons to completely stop eating during the winter months when the ambient air is cool and dry. This can be very frustrating for reptile owners; however, I recommend continuing to offer rodents on a bi-weekly to monthly basis until they start eating again.
Large plastic or ceramic bowls can be used to supply drinking water. I recommend using a heavy shallow bowl that is difficult to tip over. Some snakes like to crawl through or soak in their water bowls; therefore, water should be replaced daily.
Juvenile ball pythons may be kept in a 10/20-gallon tank but will likely need a larger tank within a year or two. I recommend a 40-gallon long tank or larger custom-made tanks. Ball pythons spend most of their time on the ground and don’t need a whole lot of vertical space; thus, their enclosure should be longer than it is tall. Ball pythons love to curl up in tight spaces so plenty of hiding spaces should be provided in the form of cardboard boxes, wooden logs, or plastic hide boxes.
Heat and Humidity
Snakes are unable to regulate their own body temperature without the help of the environment; therefore, it is very important to establish a temperature gradient within a snake’s enclosure - this means that there should be a “hot side” and a “cold side” of the tank. This can be accomplished by placing an under-the-tank heater on the underside of one half of the tank. The hot side should range from 85-95 degrees while the cold side should range from 75-85 degrees. Humidity should remain at 50-75% and may be increased by misting regularly with water. Fluker® brand makes a combination thermometer/hydrometer that allows you to measure both temperature and humidity with the same device. Thermometers should be placed near the bottom of the tank or temperature probes may be placed on the surface of the tank’s substrate.
Ball pythons are nocturnal species and do not require any additional light supplementation besides normal ambient light. However, heat lamps may be used to increase the temperature within the enclosure. These lamps will dry out the air; thus, make sure to mist the tank more frequently if using heat lamps.
Repti-carpet, paper towels, pine shavings, and cedar/orchid mulch are all acceptable substrates that can be used to line the bottom of your snake’s tank. I recommend using something that is easy to spot clean.
Enclosures should be completely stripped down and deep-cleaned monthly. Discard substrate and clean glass surfaces with an all-purpose household cleaner or dilute bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly before replacing substrate and cage furniture.
- Abnormal shedding (dysecdesis)
- Thermal burns
- Prey bites