Ball Python General Reptile Care Guide
|(Python regius) Difficulty: Easy - Intermediate|
Ball pythons (also known as royal pythons) are a terrestrial species of constricting snake native to regions of western and central Africa. They are most often found in semi-arid grasslands, forests, and near agricultural areas. Although frequently found in burrows, they are known to hunt in trees.
Ball pythons are 3-5’ long snakes, with males tending to be significantly smaller than females. Ball pythons typically have a thick, muscular body, a peanut-shaped head, a brown and black pattern outlined by white, and a pale belly. However, due to enthusiastic “morph” breeding in the reptile hobby (the practice of breeding for specific colors and patterns), captive-bred ball pythons are now available in an extremely diverse array of colors and patterns. At the moment, there are about 6500 known morphs!
Ball pythons are some of the most popular pet snakes in the United States, as they’re manageably sized, are fairly tolerant of being housed in sub-ideal conditions, are slow-moving, and generally tolerate human interaction well. Ball pythons are known to live upwards of 30 years with good care.
- 4'x2'x2' Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- dual dome heat lamp
- 2x 90w halogen flood heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- sturdy branches
- Zen Cave or Zen Corner Cave
- zip ties
- reptile mister
- plug-in outlet timer
- large water bowl
- soft-tipped feeding tweezers
Leading modern ball python husbandry experts recommend keeping ball pythons in no smaller than a 4'x2'x2' Reptile Enclosure. There are many outdated sources which claim that ball pythons don’t need a lot of space, and even prefer small enclosures no larger than a 40-gallon tank or tub. However, these claims are not science-based, and a 48”x 24”x 24” enclosure has been determined
to be the minimum amount of space for promoting adequate thermoregulation, exercise, and general welfare for ball pythons.
Can multiple ball pythons be housed together in the same enclosure?
Ball pythons are not social animals, and there is no significant benefit to the animal that would justify keeping two or more in the same enclosure. In fact, keeping multiple ball pythons together can cause competition for food, warmth, hiding places, and other resources, which is likely to prevent the snakes from thriving. So, it’s best to keep only one ball python per enclosure.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Ball pythons are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at night, particularly around sunset. Many people attempt to use this fact to argue that ball pythons do not benefit from, and are even stressed by, the presence of light in their environment. However, providing a light source is important to regulating their day/night cycle and associated hormonal rhythms. Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
UVB lighting has also been proven to be beneficial to ball python health. Although ball pythons can technically survive without UVB light, we strongly recommend providing it in order to promote optimum welfare!
UVB lighting can be tricky because, to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB for a corn snake, you will need a T5 5.0 or 6% bulb, long enough to span half of the enclosure and placed on the warm side of the enclosure, preferably not obstructed by mesh.
The basking branch or platform should be placed according to the following, with the distance being measured between the UVB lamp and the height of the snake when on the basking surface.
With mesh obstruction: 9-11”
Without mesh obstruction: 15-18”
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Ball pythons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. Ball pythons warm up by sleeping in warm patches of sunlight or warm burrows. In captivity, using a halogen flood heat bulb is the best way to replicate the type of warmth provided by sunlight.
Basking surface: 95-104°F (35-40°C)
Basking air temp: 86-90º(30-32ºC)
Cool hide: 72-80°F (22-27°C)
Nighttime temp: 72-78ºF (22-26ºC)
Generally speaking, 90w PAR38 halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve your target basking surface temperature, especially if the basking branch is placed 9-11” below the heat lamp. If you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer. If your basking surface is too cool, you need higher wattage bulbs.
The heat lamp should be able to warm the hide to the target temperature, but this can vary depending on the thickness of the rock on top. If your warm hide is not getting warm enough, add a thermostat-regulated heat mat under the hide box, covered with 1” of substrate to prevent direct contact. Place the thermostat probe inside the warm hide to regulate temperature.
To measure the temperature of the warm hide, use a digital probe thermometer. The Etekcity 774 is a good infrared thermometer, and most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well.
According to TimeandDate.com climate records from known ball python habitat in Africa, humidity levels are generally between 60-80% during the day, rising to 80-100% at night. It’s best to replicate these conditions in your pet’s enclosure, although occasional short dips and spikes outside of the given ranges are not likely to be harmful.
To raise the humidity in your snake’s enclosure, you can use a pressure sprayer to mist the habitat twice a day in the early morning and late evening. If more is needed, place moistened sphagnum moss inside the cool hide. Check and change this moss regularly to prevent mold growth. Placing a thick layer of leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help maintain humidity.
Ball pythons are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat and facilitates moderate to high humidity levels. Natural soil is generally best for meeting this need.
Provide a substrate layer that is around 2-4” deep. Although ball pythons don’t dig, deeper substrate is better able to maintain humidity. Provide a generous layer of clean leaf litter on top, plus sphagnum moss if desired.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your boa’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Cork rounds, cork flats, sturdy branches, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a ball python terrarium. All branches should be firmly secured to the walls or floor of the enclosure to prevent accidents. This is especially important as your snake matures and becomes heavier!
Feeding Your Ball Python
Ball pythons are carnivores, which means that they need a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need.
A good rule of thumb is to provide a prey item(s) which totals around 10% of your snake’s weight, assuming that it is not obese. Each item should be no larger than 1.5X the snake’s width at its widest point.
Although rats and mice are the most common feeders, ball pythons need to eat more than just rats and mice to truly thrive. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier snake! Prey ideas for ball pythons are:
- Domestic rats
- African soft-furred rats
How often ball pythons need to eat depends on age:
- Hatchlings (up to 5 weeks old): every 5 days
- Juveniles <200g: every 7 days
- Juveniles 200-300g: every 7-10 days
- Juveniles 350-500g: every 10-14 days
- Subadults & Adults 500-1500g: every 2-3 weeks
- Adults >1500g: every 4-6 weeks
It’s best to offer frozen-thawed prey rather than live to your pet snake. This is safer for the snake and generally considered to be more humane as well. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to reduce the risk of getting accidentally bitten when the snake strikes.
Snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements but using them occasionally is a good way to help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Every once in a while, lightly dust the prey item with a 50/50 mix of calcium and multivitamin before thawing.
You will need to wait a little while after bringing your new pet home to let it settle in. This usually takes about 2 weeks, but you shouldn’t start handling it until it’s eating regularly.
Once your ball python is ready for handling, take it slow at first — just like any relationship. Start with brief handling sessions (no longer than 5 minutes), and don’t return the snake until it is calm. This teaches your pet how to behave during handling by using rudimentary positive reinforcement. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to longer sessions. Handling should occur at least weekly, but no more than once daily.
While handling your snake, be gentle. Rather than grabbing it, let it crawl onto your hand. Lift it from below rather than above, and support as much of its body as possible. Use slow movements and don’t walk around too much. Ball pythons usually tolerate handling well.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
Need to rehome your pet?
Don't let it loose! Remember - it is NEVER okay to release animals. Many pets released into the wild are unable to survive. If your pet does survive, it can become an invasive species that can be harmful to native wildlife, the environment, and the economy. If you are no longer able to care for your pet, you can reach out to friends, retirement communities, local shelters, or visit https://www.dontletitloose.com/rehoming-a-pet/ to find a rehoming partner near you.