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How to Care for Your Ball Python

How to Care for Your Ball Python

Ball pythons (Python regius) are small- to medium-sized, semi-arboreal snakes native to the semi-arid grasslands, forests, and agricultural areas of central and western Africa. Although they are frequently found in burrows, they are known to hunt in trees — thus their semi-arboreal nature.

Ball pythons are typically 3-5’ long, although they can be as small as 2’ or as large as 6’ in rare cases. They have a thick, muscular body and a peanut-shaped head, and males are typically significantly smaller than females. Wild-type ball pythons have a brown and black pattern outlined by white, and a pale belly. However, due to captive breeding efforts, ball pythons are now available in a diverse array of colors and patterns.

Ball pythons are among the most commonly-kept pet snakes in the US, due to their hardiness, manageable size, docile nature, and slowness of movement. This also makes them a good option for first-time reptile keepers. With good care, they are capable of living 30 years or more.

How much space do ball pythons need?

Ball pythons are perceived as inactive snakes that don’t need very much living space, but they still need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and climb. That is why ball pythons should be housed in no smaller than a 48”L x 24”W x 24”H enclosure — although contrary to popular myth, larger IS better, and the extra space will be happily used!

Cohabitation (keeping multiple ball pythons in one enclosure) is not recommended, as ball pythons are not a social species, and keeping them together causes stress.

Do ball pythons need UVB?

They can survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. UVB gives ball pythons all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.

Ball pythons do best with low-strength UVB as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for ball pythons housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” enclosure are:

The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed close to the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” above the basking area if not. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your snake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.

Due to their equatorial origin, ball pythons should receive roughly 12 hours of light year-round.

What basking temperatures do ball pythons need?

Like other reptiles, ball pythons are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.

Ball pythons should have a basking surface temperature of 95-104°F, and a warm hide temperature of 86-90°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 72-80°F. Surface temperatures can be measured with an infrared thermometer, but air temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.

Provide heat for your ball python by imitating the sun with a halogen heat lamp placed on one side of the enclosure, positioned over the warm hide. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

If the heat lamp is not enough to get the warm hide to an appropriate temperature, use a heat mat connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide temperature.

What humidity levels do ball pythons need?

Ball pythons need an environment with both dry areas and humid areas, creating a gradient between 45-75% on average as measured by a digital probe hygrometers placed on both sides of the enclosure. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Always having a humid retreat is essential.

Misting your snake’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. If you need more, moisten the substrate by mixing water into it as needed.

What substrate is good for ball pythons?

Ball pythons require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to cushion their bodies and help maintain healthy humidity levels. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.

Ideally, this substrate should resemble what ball pythons naturally live on in the wild: soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. We recommend the following substrates for ball pythons:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.

Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

What décor can you use in a ball python’s terrarium?

It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate, hides, and a water bowl. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.

Aside from hiding places, you will also need at least a couple of sturdy branches for your ball python to climb on, as well as some live or artificial foliage to provide cover. Additional options include:

What do ball pythons eat?

Like other snakes, ball pythons are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake weight:

  • Hatchlings (up to 5 weeks old) — every 5 days
  • Juveniles <200g — every 7 days
  • Juveniles 200-350g — every 7-10 days
  • Juveniles 350-500g — every 10-14 days
  • Subadults and adults 500-1500g — every 14-21 days
  • Adults >1500g — every 28-56 days

Prey items should be around 10% of your snake’s weight and no more than 1.5x its width. Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to approximately 100°F before offering with a pair of soft-tipped tweezers.

Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! Aside from offering mice and rats, quail and chicks can also be used to create nutritional variety in your ball python’s diet.

Supplements

Ball pythons can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your snake’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.

Water

Your ball python should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Provide a water bowl large enough for the snake to soak its entire body if desired. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

Do ball pythons like to be handled?

Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but ball pythons generally tolerate handling well. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick a ball python up by its tail!



*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some other great sources to read:

  • The ReptiFiles Ball Python Care Guide
  • Dispelling Python Regius Myths by Francis Cosquieri
  • Not Just a Pet Rock (Python Regius)
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