Ball Python Care and Pet-Keeping Information Care Sheet
About Ball Pythons:
Python regius or Ball Python, is a non venomous python species found in Africa. This is the smallest of the African pythons and is popular in the pet trade, largely due to its typically docile temperament. The name “ball python” refers to the animal’s tendency to curl into a ball when stressed or frightened. The name “royal python” (from the Latin regius) is based in part on the story that Cleopatra supposedly wore the snake around her wrist.
Sexing Ball Pythons:
Sexing a Ball Python requires a trip to your vet or reptile specialist, as it must be done with a painless probe of their cloaca with a small round metal probe. The scales are smooth and both sexes have anal spurs on either side of the vent. Although males tend to have larger spurs, this is not definitive, and sex is best determined via manual eversion of the male hemipenes or inserting a probe into the cloaca to find the inverted hemipenes (if male).
Ball Python Native Distribution:
Python regius is a non-venomous python species found in Africa. Look at the map on the right to see the area in Africa that ball pythons are native to, which include the sub-Saharan west and central Africa as well as Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia on the west coast, east to southwestern Sudan and northwestern Uganda in the center of the continent. Tens of thousands of ball pythons are annually imported into the U.S., mostly originating from Togo, Benin, and Ghana.
Ball Python Average Lifespan:
They can live for a long time with proper care – up to about 50 years, although 20-30 appears to be more typical. This is a snake friend that will be with proper care, a long-term pet and companion.
Ball Python Average Size:
The ball python (Python regius) is a good snake for a beginning snake owner. Growing to size of up to 3-5 feet, ball pythons are not as large as many of the other constricting snakes that are kept as pets, and are usually quite docile and easy to handle. A captive bred ball python usually flourishes given the proper care. Ball pythons are so named because when threatened they roll themselves into a tight ball, tucking their head inside their coils. Young ball pythons grow about a foot a year for three years. They can live for a long time with proper care – up to about 50 years, although 20-30 appears to be more typical.
Ball Python Enclosure and Housing:
A 30-40 gallon or larger aquarium or enclosure is the best habitat for this snake, depending on the size of your ball python you may even need to go larger than a 30-40 gallon tank. They prefer to have hiding spots in their tank, and seem to also enjoy limbs and sticks to crawl through and over, and possibly even climb up and hang out on as long as it isn’t too far of a distance from the ground, since a long fall could injure or seriously harm your snake. Remember that although they sometimes enjoy exploring their tanks, and even climbing or hanging out in low-laying branches in the enclosure, floor space is more important to ball pythons that vertical space, especially compared with truly arboreal species of snakes, such as tree boas that need lots of climbing space.
Ball Python Substrate:
We recommend using a jungle mix type of substrate. It has peat moss and coconut fibers in it. This remains damp, and adds to the hydration of your new friend.
You can also use reptile carpet instead of Jungle Mix or Coco Bark substrate as it is easier to clean and reduces the chance of your snake accidentally eating the substrate with his or her meals and becoming impacted – although it’s not common, it can happen, so many people choose the reptile carpeting for their ball python enclosure to ensure safety. There are good points and bad points to using Jungle Mix type substrates and Reptile Carpet, for example the Jungle Mix type substrates are more “natural” and, to some, have a more aesthetically pleasing look, as well as being able to hold moisture and contribute to the humidity in your enclosure which your Ball Python truly needs. Humidity is your snake’s best friend, but at the same time, you also need to make sure the enclosure is well ventilated – a screen top works well!
Clean and/or change your ball python’s substrate and enclosure as needed, usually a weekly cleaning is sufficient but you may have to spot clean more often if your snake is shedding or has defecated in the substrate.
Ball Python Heating and Temperature Requirements:
There are many varied points of view and many people have strong opinions on the subject of reptile enclosure heating elements. It can spur a strong debate from even the most experienced reptile owners, because there are many valid arguments revolving around the subject. We recommend using your own common sense, along with the type of enclosure and setup that you have uniquely for your own ball python to tell you which options work best for you.
One thing most knowledgeable reptile keepers will tell you that IS true is that heat rocks are EXTREMELY dangerous and can easily cause burns on your snake or reptile.
Most people recommend an over-head heat source because most ball pythons and other snakes enjoy “basking time”. Approximately 80 – 85 F (27 – 29 C) during the day, with a basking spot of around 90 F (32 C) is within normal ranges. Night time temperatures can fall to around 75 F (23 -24 C) as long as an area of 80 F is maintained. Remember that Ball Pythons come from a humid and warm area of Africa.
Unfortunately, comparatively few reptiles in captivity experience truly natural lighting. Most are housed indoors and behind glass, and they rely upon artificial light to make their day. Adequate light in captivity is best provided by emulating the reptile’s natural environment, including a temperature gradient as found in the species’ micro-habitat These provisions allow the reptile to decide how much heat, visible light and UV radiation it experiences each day.
Artificial Sunlight Options
Most lizards and chelonians, and many snakes, need high levels of full-spectrum lighting, which must include UVB and UVA. Herpkeepers must aim to to use the lamps available to provide pets with their specific lighting needs.
Incandescent lights, “daylight” fluorescent lights, UVB fluorescent tubes, mercury vapor lamp and UVB metal halide lamps are among the bulbs often used in reptile husbandry.
Incandescent (tungsten or halogen) lamps provide excellent heat and visible light for a basking spot, and they can be thermostatically controlled. Standard type-A household bulbs or flood lamps with a beam at least 30 degrees wide work fine. Their predominantly red-and-yellow light is deficient in blue light and UVA, and they do not emit UVB. These complement all UVB-emitting reptile lamps, which have little red or yellow light, extremely well. Incandescent lamps connected to timers can produce a simple effect for dawn and dusk. Timers can switch them on just before, and off just after, the UVB lamps.
“Daylight” fluorescent tubes are sometimes called “full-spectrum” lights, but they do not produce sufficient UVB for vitamin D3 synthesis in reptiles. Some brands produce traces of UVB and a little UVA. They can be useful for improving general light levels in cooler areas of a vivarium.
UVB fluorescent tubes produce diffuse, low levels of UVB resembling outdoor shade on a sunny day. They emit less visible light than other bulb types. These tubes are suitable for supplying UVB to species that do not bask in sunlight, such as some forest shade-dwellers, or for small enclosures where the heat from mercury vapor lamps would cause problems with the thermal gradient. Always combine them with a better visible-light source. Quality tubes emit light with a UV Index between about 0.5 and 1.0 (sunlight in the tropics before 7:30 a.m.) at 12 inches (the usual maximum distance suggested), and they need to be replaced every year.
UVB compact fluorescent lamps also produce diffuse, low levels of UVB at basking distances. However, at close range and/or if reflectors are used, the light and UVB may be intense, making good positioning difficult. These lamps decay more rapidly than tubes and may need replacement after six months.
A few brands of fluorescent lamps for reptiles, both compact and tube types, have been found to emit hazardous shortwave UVB. These have caused eye problems such as photokeratoconjunctivitis. Some manufacturers that experienced the problem say they have addressed the issue, while others are still addressing it. However, if your reptile develops swollen eyes or refuses to open them shortly after a new lamp is installed, see your herp veterinarian immediately. You may wish to refer him or her to this article. Lamp placement, the lamp itself and/or other factors could be responsible.
Mercury vapor lamps vary in quality and UVB output. These lamps also produce significant heat, and they cannot be thermostatically controlled, so they are most suitable for large enclosures. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and instructions for proper lamp placement and distances. Several mercury-vapor-lamp types are available.
Inexpensive spot lamps with clear-glass faces may produce extremely narrow, hazardous beams of intense UV light and are best avoided. Flood lamps have much wider beams, and they are ideal for reptiles that naturally bask in the sun. They create directly below the lamp a zone of bright light and UVB resembling a small patch of sunlight. Brands vary in their UV Index. Recordings range from about 2.0 (full tropical sun before 8:30 a.m.) to 7.0 (full tropical sun between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.) within the basking area.
Metal halide lamps are rapidly gaining a place in, or rather over, the vivarium. Like mercury vapor lamps, metal halides are most suitable for large enclosures and cannot be used with a thermostat. Most do not produce UVB. “Daylight” versions with a color temperature between 5,500 and 6,500 Kelvin are the best choice for creating the look of sunlight. Used with care, these lamps are superb for simulating bright daylight in a large vivarium when combined with a UVB lamp. However, they require an external ballast, and positioning them is crucial. At close range the visible light is extremely intense, and the lamp must never be looked into directly. Manufacturers are developing UVB-emitting metal halides designed specifically for reptiles, and early test results look promising. Although the UV Index range can vary depending upon the brand, some sample lamps I tested for UV Guide U.K. were emitting light with a UV Index between 2.5 and 5.0 (full tropical sun between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) at 18 inches.
To reptiles, sunlight is life. Artificial sunshine is not ideal, but there are now many combinations of lamps, bulbs and tubes available. When used with care and sensitivity, they will go a long way toward meeting the needs of all reptiles in captivity.
~ Excerpt from ReptileChannel.com ~ Read MORE by clicking here (opens in new window)
We recommend red or blue heat bulbs in a lamp with a dimmer switch as it is easier on their eyes, but the ball python as with all reptiles also requires a source of UVA/UVB light, and an under-tank heat mat on one side of the bottom of the cage (as long as it is a glass cage!) for under-belly warmth is also recommended. There should be a warm side of the cage and a cooler side so that your ball python can adjust his or her position in the tank to either warm up or cool down. Remember to put your water bowl or dish on the cooler side.
Controlled temperatures of 80 °F (27 °C) with a 90 °F (32 °C) basking area on one end of the cage are necessary for proper health. Humidity should be maintained at 60% to 80% with dry substrate, so you should mist your enclosure for your ball python regularly and often and make sure there is adequate humidity inside their enclosure, as they are from humid climates, and the humidity ensures proper skin health and good sheds.
Other tips for heating and lighting your Ball Python enclosure include the following (excerpt from ReptileChannel.com):
- Trust your reptile to know what it needs. Reptiles are extremely competent at deciding how much heat, visible light and ultraviolet radiation they need at any given time. Captive reptiles need a sufficiently large, species-appropriate micro-habitat with suitable heat, light and UVB gradients, shelters, and basking areas, so they can select their preferences like they would in the wild.
- UVB, UVA, visible light and heat go together. Because vitamin D3 synthesis in reptiles occurs only in warm skin exposed to UVB, ideally a UVB lamp needs to be over the basking area. Pairing the UVB source with the basking lamp is always a winning combination.
- Like the sun, lamps should be overhead. Reptiles have eyebrow ridges, and some have upper eyelids, for a reason: They shade the surface of the eye. All light sources should always be directly above a reptile’s head, not to the side. Lights shining sideways into its eyes are stressful (think of driving a car toward the setting sun). Also, intense visible light, as well as UVA and UVB, can seriously damage eyes.
- Keep a respectful distance. In the author’s opinion, no lamp or tube should be closer than six inches from the reptile, even when positioned directly overhead. Heat lamps usually require much greater distances than this. At close range many lamps are frankly dangerous. Most quality UVB lamps have minimum and maximum recommended distances, and these must be carefully observed.
- No spots please! Basking spots should be basking zones. A reptile’s whole body must fit within the high-temperature, brightly lit basking area. Flood lamps are essential. Narrow spot lamps may only heat a small patch of skin, which may become dangerously hot while the rest of the body remains cold. The hapless creature may stay where it is, trying to warm further, and sustain thermal burns.
- Always double-check your temperatures. It is vital to check the temperatures reached under a lamp. Take into account the height of a lizard’s head and shoulders, or a chelonian’s carapace, when doing this.
- Allow reptiles to set their patterns. Reptiles rely upon a distinct day and night to set their circadian rhythms. Day must be light; night must be dark. Use timers to provide the correct photoperiod for the species. If nighttime heat is required, ceramic heaters or heat mats mounted on a rear wall are more suitable than night lamps.
Ball Python Feeding and Watering:
Ball pythons can be fed exclusively mice or small to medium-sized rats (as appropriate for the size of the snake), and should be offered food at least once a week. Young snakes should be fed fuzzy mice every 5-7 days, older snakes should be fed increasingly larger prey and can go a little longer (i.e. 10 – 14 days). Use pre-killed prey as live mice can injure a snake – dangling the prey in front of the snake with forceps usually gets the snake interested.
ALWAYS feed your ball python or other snakes OUTSIDE THEIR ENCLOSURE. Most people use a spare Tupperware tub or similar appropriately sized tub or box to feed their snakes in. If you feed the snake in its own enclosure, it will learn to associate things entering it’s cage with food….including your fingers! So remove the snake from its cage to feed it, by placing it in a clean space with secure lid, and then feed it the food item in that space. After the snake is finished eating, you can gently and carefully place it back inside its own enclosure again.
We usually use African Soft Furred Rats. They are about the size of a large mouse, with less odor and if you get a breeding trio (2 Females and on male) You can easily start your own feeding colony. Please be aware that ASFs are prolific breeders and you will have to start to freeze them. Pre-killed food is best as it will not harm your buddy.
If you (like us) have a picky eater, then try defrosting frozen food in hot water with a chicken bullion cube. Most adult Ball Pythons are a bit slow to eat. If yours goes a few weeks or even a month or two, don’t be alarmed. Their feeding is often time with the seasons and slows down a bit during the winter months. The time to truly worry, is if your snakes back bone and ribs are becoming obvious. If he looks lethargic and moves little, see a vet ASAP.
Ball Pythons are also very good swimmers. Along with regular misting of their enclosure, a warm bath every few days (NO SOAP or other cleaners!!!) will help to keep them pretty and helps with shedding. Be absolutely certain to always add Repti-Safe or another reptile water conditioner and dechlorinator to the water you give to or let your ball python use, or the chemicals in your water could harm the snake.
Ball Python Handling and Temperament:
This is the smallest of the African pythons and is popular in the pet trade, largely due to its typically docile temperament. Ours was used as a teaching tool for 1st and 2nd graders and has been handled a lot. New snakes, and hatchlings should be handled often for short and positive sessions. Do not put the snake down if you’re bitten. This will teach them that biting will get them what they want. Also note, Ball Pythons, like all constrictors have teeth that curve back towards the throat, and can easily be broken, or pulled out if you pull away too hard or fast. Be sure if at feeding time, you do not handle the food then the snake. The odor of the food MAY invoke a response that you don’t want. If you do get bitten by your ball python, first stay calm and don’t panic (which is sometimes easier said than done). Try to gently remove the snakes teeth from your skin by pushing down and out before pulling so as not to accidentally break or pull it’s teeth. If the snake is coiled around you, or is biting down with force, try waving a small amount of rubbing alcohol in front of their nose, as they dislike the odor of alcohol and should let go or ease off.
This breed of python is a great addition to any home. Unlike most myths about snakes, they are NOT slimy, not are they all venomous. They are in fact constrictors and will flee before fighting if given the chance. Having a prehensile tail, they will hold on to your hands, arms and body. They LOVE being warm, and if you can, take them out into the summer sun for some natural UVA/UVB rays – just make sure they are in a securely area and can’t escape outside.
Mostly active at night, being nocturnal, they mostly move around at night. If you want to watch them, but NOT be up until 2am, (lol) try putting them in a low light situation during the day, and use infrared heat lamps. This will also relax them, as camouflage is their only real defense. Shy as they may be, if you keep your new friend in an area that has traffic and handle him or her frequently, he will become more used to things and be out more often. If you get one, and realize that you can’t keep it, please be responsible and look for a new home for him. Don’t just release it. It’s an ecosystem upset,and may kill your friend, or become a nuance.