Looking for a lifelong pet companion? Well, don’t go any further; ball pythons are the perfect choice for both first-time owners and enthusiasts looking to add to their families. Ball pythons are hardy, easy-going, and boast of an incredibly long lifespan. Because they are non-venomous, the snakes don’t pose any threat to you and your family, and handling is not a challenge.
However, it is essential to learn everything about ball pythons before you bring one home. A clear understanding of your pet will ensure they are happy and healthy. Better husbandry will also help establish a better interaction and bonding experience with your family.
This piece will cover all about ball python care tips, including their housing, diet, tank requirements, and many more.
Ball python enclosure tips
Unlike other snake species like Boa constrictors or Burmese pythons, ball pythons don’t need special enclosures. A plastic vivarium with top, sides, and bottom covered will do. Such an enclosure affords the snake some level of privacy and security. You can also house him on a plastic cage that maintains the right temperature and humidity levels. Whatever housing material you choose, ensure it has an adequately secured top to prevent any budding escapist. Typically, the size of the enclosure is influenced by the size and age of the snake.
However, when it comes to purchasing an enclosure, keep the following in mind:
- Hatchlings should be housed in a 10-gallon container. Snakes are scared of large spaces, and anything larger may cause a lot of stress and discomfort.
- House juveniles in 20-gallon enclosures.
- However, an adult python must be housed in a 30 to 40-gallon enclosure.
Decorations in the enclosure
Additionally, you should use ideal decorations on the enclosure to provide enough places for the snake to hide. These decorations could be in the form of rocks and fake fauna. To encourage exploration, do the following:
- Provide hatchlings with one or two hide box and adequate fauna and rocks in their housing
- Use two to three hide boxes in the adult ball python enclosures.
- Ensure you put one box on the cooler side and the other on the warmer side. The right hide box can be cork bark tubes or half logs.
Enclosure humidity tips
Ball pythons do well in humidity levels of about 60 percent. However, babies need a little bit higher humidity in their enclosures. Besides, during shedding, ensure you raise the humidity levels slightly. Ideal ways to increase the humidity include:
- Dampening the bedding with water
- Covering 75 percent of the screen top of the enclosure using a towel
- Placing the humidifier in the same room where the enclosure is located
- Adding live plants inside the enclosure.
It is also advisable to place a hygrometer inside the ball python’s enclosure. A hygrometer is an essential tool that allows you to monitor the humidity levels inside the snake’s tank.
Cage lighting and temperature
Ball pythons don’t need any special lighting in their enclosures. However, you should mimic the regular day-night cycles as closely as possible. Don’t place the enclosure too close to the natural light source, for example, next to a window. You can also provide a basking bulb that heats only a small area in the enclosure. Ensure you also use an ideal heating tape at the bottom of the tank. The tape helps to heat the snake’s underbelly. Ideally, the thumb rule is to aim at heating one-third of the ball python’s enclosure.
Keep in mind the following things when heating the enclosure:
- Provide both a cooler and warmer side in the tank that closely replicates their natural habitat
- The ambient temperatures should be around 82 degrees. Typically, the cooler side should be 76 to 80 degrees while the cooler side 88 to 92 degrees.
- The enclosure temperature should not exceed 95 degrees or drop below 75 degrees.
- To guarantee the housing is provided with ideal temperatures, install a thermometer inside the enclosure. One is recommended to buy two thermometers, one for the cooler side and the other for the warmer side.
Water in the enclosures
Water is vital for a ball python. You should provide a water dish in the enclosure at all times. Do not use distilled water as they are full of harmful chemicals such as chlorine. Ensure you change the water in the pet’s tank at least once a day
The ideal substrate in the enclosure
Ball python do well in a warm and humid environment. Consequently, you should choose a substrate that helps retain moisture and maintain optimal humidity levels inside the tank. An ideal substrate to use is cypress mulch. The mulch not only helps retain a lot of moisture but also provides the snake with places to burrow. They are also relatively cheaper than other options, and thus you can make replacements during the monthly deep cleans.
Tank cleaning tips
You should spot clean the ball python’s tank each day. Ensure you get rid of the wet and soiled substrate to prevent unwanted bacteria, mold, and foul smells. Additionally, you should deep clean the enclosure at least once every two months. Remove all items, including the hides and decorations, and thoroughly clean them. Additionally, after every deep cleaning, replace the substrates. Misting the tank and the pet daily is unnecessary unless when the snake is shedding, or you realize the humidity levels are too low.
Ball python feeding
In their natural habitats, ball pythons feed on small mammals such as rats, birds, and shrews. The snakes possess intriguing hunting skills. Typically, they use their powerful mouths to strike at prey after which, they coil around and constrict them. You should provide meals that closely mimic their natural diets.
It is advisable to feed your ball python appropriately sized rats or mice according to their age and size.
Typically, the size of the prey should be the same size as the largest body part of the snake. Buy frozen mice or rats from your nearest pet store and thaw warm them to room temperature before feeding them on the snakes. Do not microwave the rodents, and once the python has eaten them, ensure to remove any remnants within 24 hours. The following is an ideal feeding schedule:
- Feed the hatchlings one pinkie rat or crawler mouse every five days.
- The juvenile ball python should be fed appropriately sized pinky or fuzzy rats every seven days.
- Adult ball pythons should be fed medium, sized rats after every seven to ten days.
- Typically, as the pet grows, you should also increase the prey’s size and the amount. If you have a picky ball python, use tongs or a gloved hand to shake the prey and entice the python to “hunt” and catch it.
Ball pythons may occasionally refuse food for several reasons. According to VCA Hospitals, the ball python may not eat for weeks to months after the stress of shifting to a new environment and home. Additionally, a male snake often stops feeding for several months during the breeding season. Most of the pythons will also refuse food while undergoing shedding or in case of illness and injuries. You should not panic if your snake refuses to eat. Keep good feeding records and contact the vet should his fast last for more than one month.
Ball python handling
Before you handle a ball python, ensure you first wash your hands with soap and water to prevent the transfer of germs and pathogens from the animal. You should also do the same after handling to avoid salmonella infections. Handling a ball python is a lot easier than other pet snakes. If you are a beginner, you should remain calm and confident when handling the pet. Do not startle or mishandle your snake as this may lead to bites.
Use the following handling tips:
- Once you bring home a ball python, allow for two weeks to pass before you handle it. Give the ball python time to get used to you and adjust to their new surrounding.
- Once you are sure he is ready, start with short handling sessions that typically last for less than 10 minutes. As the ball python gets more comfortable with you, lengthen the handling sessions for up to 30 minutes. But don’t exceed this duration in a single handling session.
- Start by giving the python gentle touches on the back while they are inside their enclosures. Do this for up to 4 times a day until the pet gets accustomed to your presence. If you fear bites, you can use protective gloves.
- Once the sake gets accustomed to your presence, reach out to them under his mid-body and support its body weight before you confidently and deliberately lift him into your arms.
- Allow the pet to coil around and explore your arms and body.
- If the snake hisses or perch upwards when handling, it means he is not comfortable, and thus, you need to back off.
- Never tightly grasp the pet as this will cause them to be defensive and may bite.
- Ball pythons should be handled during the day. This is the time the snakes are not as alert or active as at night.
- Do not handle the snake at all during shedding time.
- After feeding, wait for at least 24 hours before you handle him. This will reduce the risk of regurgitation.
- Routine handling of a ball python fosters tameness that encourages better interactions with you and your family.
Ball python breeding tips
Typically, the male ball pythons court their females by pressing their belly on the female. However, successful breeding takes more than just placing a male on the female cage and hoping for the best. If you are looking to become a serious breeder, you should underhand the science behind the ball python breeding process.
The following are some of the essential breeding tips to use:
Just like other mammals, timing is critical when breeding ball pythons. Most ball python breeders consider the first day of December as the start of the breeding season. This is typically the time breeding happens in nature. The snake’s breeding process is highly dependent on temperature. During the colder months, the snakes in their natural habitat copulate frequently. However, the best time for copulation is during spring when the temperatures are warming up.
Successful breeding cannot happen if sexing is wrong. Before you breed your pet snakes, ensure you are working with female and male ball pythons. Sexing a snake is not a work of novices, and if you don’t know how to do it, have a professional to guide you. A process called probing is performed to determine the sex of the pet. Ideally, this process involves sliding an appropriately sized Sterilite probe into the snake’s cloaca towards the tail tip. You can use an ideal water-based lubricant to help make the snake stay more comfortable. When you feel resistance, stop the probing and mark how deep the probe went in before you slide it out. If the probe went in between seven and ten subcaudal scales deep, the ball python is a male. If the probe went in between three and four subcaudal scales, then the ball python is a female
Reduction of temperatures in the female enclosure
Ideally, temperatures influence fertility in female ball pythons. You should keep the female’s habitat cooler than the optimal temperature for between one and three months for her to become more fertile. To mimic the ideal natural environment, do the fowling in the pet’s habitat:
- Keep the ambient air temperatures below 75 degrees at night.
- Reduce the enclosure’s warm spot temperature to mid-80s at night
- During the daytime, you can revert the temperatures to the normal range. However, ensure the enclosure is kept cool at night.
After one to three months of the cold spell, take back the temperature to its normal nightly temperatures. The change typically signals the return of “spring” for the snake and will prepare her for the breeding process.
Stimulation of the male snake
Male ball pythons are typically not excited about the fairer sex. You may need to stimulate the male snakes by putting him in an enclosure with other males. You may notice the ball python taking keen interest of the other males by rising to a near-vertical stance. This exchange stimulates the sexuality of males. They will afterward become so engrossed with the females during the copulation period that they refuse to eat.
Introduce the male to the female
You should take the male snake into the tank housing the female ball python and not the other way round. Although they may fight a little bit, the injuries will be minimal. Let the snakes familiarize themselves with each other as nature takes its course. After a while, the snakes will settle down and do their thing.
During the breeding process, ensure you don’t disturb the ball pythons. The snakes may remain connected for as long as two days. If they are interrupted or frightened, they may halt the coupling process. Should this happen, the breeding may become inconclusive. Typically, ball pythons need at least four hours for successful breeding to happen. Anything less than that results in an ineffective breeding
How to know the ball python is pregnant
After the breeding process, carry out a careful examination to determine if your ball python is pregnant. If you notice heaviness in the lower half of the snake, then the snake is pregnant. You will also witness the following during after pregnancy:
- As the birth time nears, the female ball python will grow restless as she looks for an ideal place to lay the eggs.
- Once she has laid the eggs, the ball python will wrap herself securely around them. You should have an incubator ready to transfer the eggs from the enclosure to the incubator immediately.
- When moving the eggs to the incubator, ensure you keep them right side up. You can mark the eggs before lifting them off to know which side is up easily.
- Once you place all the eggs in the incubator, reacclimatize the female ball python by getting rid of birth and egg scents. Reacclimatization can be easily achieved by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the habitat. If you fail to do this, the snake will miss her eggs and start incubating bedding or her dishwater. She may also refuse to eat.
Expect the eggs to hatch from the 80th day after you place them on the incubator. Baby pythons hatch from eggs once they hit 10 inches in length.
Baby python (hatchlings) care tips
After waiting for over two months to see the babies, what do you do when they finally hit home? Well, you can do the following:
Step 1: Don’t interfere with the hatching process by attempting to help the seemingly stuck baby python. You should not freak out until the snake is finally out of the egg
Step 2: Once the snake hatches out, rinse him with warm soapy water to get rid of the goo that covers the body
Step 3: Look out for common hatchlings problems that include:
- Hard bellies
- Attached umbilical
Should you notice any of these issues, consult your vet immediately.
Step 4: Set up the hatchling tubs and line them with paper towels that are lightly misted with water to ensure the humidity is right.
Step 5: Wait for the baby python to shed. Typically, the hatchlings shed more frequently. The first shed occurs 14 days after hatching. If the baby python doesn’t shed within this period, it could indicate an underlying problem, and you may need a vet to check them out.
Step 6: After shedding, sex them up, and split them according to the sex.
Step 7: Put the snakes in individual tubes. Then allow for two to three days for the pet to acclimate before you attempt feeding.
Step 8: You can feed them rat crawlers or mouse hopers. Start with the rats first and if they don’t eat them, switch to hoppers. If that doesn’t work, leave the babies for 3 to 5 days before you try giving them mouse hoppers again. Force-feed the baby python only as a last resort if the snake refuses to eat after a couple of months.
Although you can hold and love on the baby ball pythons as much as you want, you should be conscious of the pet’s needs at this time. The snake’s infant period makes him touchy and stressed out, and it is best not to play with them too often. If they get stressed, they may bite often. They will also refuse to eat, and this leads to poor growth and health.
Ball python shedding
Ball pythons shed their skin several times throughout their lifespan. When the snake is ready to shade, it will typically display the fowling signs:
- The eyes may turn cloudy and bluish. The color change is due to the eye caps loosening as it sheds along with the rest of the skin.
- The old skin may look dull or hazy. The snake’s belly may also take a pinkish color.
- The ball python will tend to hide more than usual.
- The pet may refuse to eat, or his appetite may reduce drastically.
- The python may become more defensive because of poor sight.
- He may seek out rough surfaces on the enclosure to rub the old skin off. You may also notice him spending more time soaking in water.
Shedding issues and how to avoid them
Stuck shed– Should your ball python experience a stuck shed, ensure you rinse the humidity high enough in their enclosure. You can also help with the stuck shed using a Sterilite tub or a Rubbermaid. The following are other tips that help with stuck sheds:
- Soak the python in warm water for about 30 minutes.
- Once the ball python is adequately soaked, put a rubber thumb on his body to remove the stuck shed.
- If you cannot remove an eye cap or other stubborn sheds, take the pet to a vet to help remove it in a professional way.
Scale rot– after shedding, you may notice rashes and blisters on the pet’s body. Typically, this could be scale rot. Scale rot occurs when the humidity levels are too high in the enclosure during shedding. Should you experience this problem, do the following:
- Place the python into a completely dry environment for a few days.
- You can use a paper towel as a substrate that allows for the enclosure to be kept dry
- Wait for two days before you place a water dish back inside the tank
- Clean up frequently when the snake defecate or urinate
- Take your snake to a vet to start a course e of antibiotics.
Tips to prevent shedding problems
Do the following when you notice the signs the pet is about to shed:
- Provide ideal cage accessories like clean rocks or driftwood to help the ball python rub off its old skin. Ensure the accessories are smooth with no sharp edges.
- Make sure the ball python’s tank is humid. You should also provide the snake a shallow bowl of water for the pet snake to soak itself in. Because the snake will spend more time hiding inside the box during this shedding time, ensure the container has a humid hide box.
- Do not handle the snake just before and during the shedding period. After shedding, the skin is very delicate and will tear off easily if handled.
- Monitor the skinning process to ensure it goes smoothly. Check the shade skin to determine if the whole skin came off in one piece. You should also check the eye caps to ensure they shed as well. If you notice holes in the skin, you may have to take the pet to a vet to remove any old skin remnants.
Ball python health
In the wild, sick or weakened snakes are a sitting target for predators. Snakes are, therefore, experts at feigning robust health. Ideally, you have to be extra keen to notice changes that may indicate the pet is ill.
You can monitor the pet’s health using the following tips:
- Weigh the ball python each week and keep records. Any sudden loss in weight may indicate illness.
- Monitor the python’s feeding habits, shedding, and general behaviors. If you notice any unusual changes, then take the pet to a vet.
- Invest in a reptile first aid kit that comes in handy if your snake falls ill or is injured.
Ball pythons are generally hardy reptiles with no known health problems unique to the species. However, in case of illness or injuries, the ball python may display the following signs:
- Unusual posture– if you notice the pet stretching out for long periods or holding their head in an elevated position, often referred to as a stargazing behavior, there is a reason to be concerned.
- Too much time spend soaking– the pet may also spend a lot of time in the water dish. Investigate for mite infestation if you notice your snake taking too long to come out of the water
- Breathing difficulties- breathing problems characterized by wheezing, labored breathing, or mucus on the nose are signs of illness.
- Anorexia– the ball python may also refuse food when sick. If breeding or shedding behaviors is not a cause for anorexia, the pet could be sick.
- Lumps on the skin– if you notice lumps on the pet’s body, take him to the vet. Lumps under the skin could be a sign of certain health issues that you cannot diagnose without a vet.
- Unusual activity patterns– during the day, pythons typically spend most of their time sleeping or hiding in their cages. But if you notice an elevated activity during the day, the pet could be sick.
Ball python fun facts
- According to Animal Diversity, ball pythons are natives to central and western Africa. In their natural habitat, they inhabit open forest and grassland.
- Ball pythons are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night.
- Ball pythons don’t have fangs. They are non-venomous snakes and kill their prey via constriction.
- The snakes have thermal receptors on their mouths, which they use to detect heat.
- Ball pythons are egg-laying species that produce between 2 to 10 eggs per year.
- Whenever they feel threatened, ball pythons roll into a tight ball ideally to protect their neck and head.
- Ball pythons come in different morphs. There are at least 26 morphs. While most may look the same to the untrained eye, there are a few distinct features that differentiate the morphs.
- Ball python enjoys a long lifespan of up to 30 years of age or more.
- Females typically grow to an average length of 3 to 5 feet while the males can grow up to a length of between 2 to 3 feet.
FAQs about ball python care tips
Can I house multiple ball pythons?
Do not cohabit ball pythons. Ball pythons are solitary animals that prefer living alone. Unless during breeding time, cohabiting two pythons result in stress and injuries.
Is ball a good pet?
Ball pythons are popular for their friendly nature, docility, and variety of appearances and colors. They are also easy to care for as pets because they don’t demand too much attention. They are also non-venomous and typically strike before constricting on their prey.
What should I think of when buying a ball python?
You should only buy a ball python from a trusted breeder or supplier. Before you buy one, ensure you find out with the supplier the kind of food he feeds the snake. Find out the age of the snake and the number of times it should be fed in a week. An ideal snake to buy should come with full-body, clear eyes, a flicking tongue, and normal movement.
According to Texas University’s department of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, ball pythons are now among the most popular pet snake choice for beginners and veteran snake keepers. There are many reasons why ball pythons are popular. Their docile nature and low maintenance make them an ideal choice for many enthusiasts. However, you need to keep in mind that the snakes have a long lifespan and need your commitment to enjoy a healthy, happy, and active life.