Care Guide and General Information
Ball pythons, (Python regius) also known as the royal python are great beginner pets, and have great personalities. They have basic care and unique patterns. Ball pythons originated from western Africa, found both on the ground and in trees. They have been bred in captivity for decades. If you purchase different morphs, prices run a little high, but these are one of the most popular snake pets.
These pythons are very thick around the middle, but stay at an average size. Males rarely exceed 4 feet, and females about 5 feet. The longest on record was 6' 6". The head of a ball python is triangular, and is connected to the body with a narrow neck. On average, a healthy ball python will live to be 20-30 years old. Sadly, because of the way some beginners misunderstand their requirements, only 30% make it past the first year. All ball pythons will develop different patterns ranging from black to tan. New morphs such as the albino and pie ball are becoming more and more popular, but prices are well in the thousands.
Hatchling ball pythons, especially imported ones, are snappy to start off with, but if you handle them regularly and respect them, they become quite tame. Ball pythons have a strong grip, but are not venomous.
Be careful at first when handling your python because they will attempt to escape. Never handle them 48 hours after they have eaten. If you do, they are likely to regurgitate when they have not finished digesting.
Hatchlings require feeding every 5 days. They should receive a mouse as round as its widest point. Feeding a mouse too large will most likely be thrown back up, and your python will not grow and will be hungry if you provide a mouse or rat too small. Adults need to be fed every 7-10 days, and the sizing rule applies to them as well.
Wild caught ball pythons have been known to not eat on a schedule, and some go for months without eating. One ball python went 22 months without eating, and survived. If you just got your python, give it a couple of weeks before you start worrying if it does not eat. Some pythons do not have a problem with this.
There are debates about feeding frozen/thawed prey versus live. Live prey can and will attack and defend itself. This could harm the snake. Frozen/thawed is pre-loaded with essential minerals and vitamins. They may have to be shaken in front of the snake the first couple of times to stimulate live prey, but they cannot hurt the ball python in any way. Frozen/thawed mice cost a little more, but in the end it is worth it.
Ball pythons do not require much space. Hatchlings need a minimum of a plastic shoebox to start off with. As it outgrows that, you can switch him or her to a regular tank or keep them in a sweater box. They will not care, and plastic boxes are affordable. Adults need a minimum of a 20-30 gallon tank, or a 65 quart sweater box. They will curl up, and are not as active as some snakes, but more active than bigger pythons. Ball pythons normally have no use for height of a cage, but need humidity, which plastic boxes do well at controlling.
Aspen bedding is a popular, and effective substrate. Simple things like dried newspaper work well. Ball pythons like loose substrate so they can burrow and hide, so they should have an inch or two of bedding. Do not ever use cedar or pine because those are toxic to all reptiles. Your python will die if you use either one of them long enough.
If you use a plastic box or container, a hide is not needed because the plastic is not clear, making your snake feel a little more protected. If you give them a hide, they will use it. A hide should be nice and snug for your python, but not too small.
Give ball pythons a log or rock that they can rub against while shedding. They will effortlessly shed if given something to rub against.
Being from Africa, these pythons need a basking spot of 90-95F, and the rest of the tank about 80F. Drop the temperature 15F during the night. Heat pads work well because they are on the ground. Heat lamps can also be used, but it may over heat a plastic cage.
Do not use hot rocks or anything similar to heat your cage because they get extremely hot, and have melted the scales off of many reptiles. There is nothing proven that UV lighting will benefit ball pythons, so they are not needed.
A water bowl should be provided, big enough so the entire ball python fits in it. They often go to the bathroom and absorb moisture in it, so clean the water when needed. Bottled water is preferred over tap.
If you use newspaper or paper towel, remove when soiled. Loose substrates should be replaced every 6 months or so. Fresh water should be given daily or every other day, and spot clean as needed. Cleanup is easy, but will prevent bacteria from growing. Disinfect the cage completely each month with a 5% bleach solution.
Ball pythons are slowly becoming extinct in the wild because so many are being shipped to the Americas. Captive bred ball pythons have fewer problems, and are healthier and cleaner than wild caught. Breeding ball pythons is fun, and a rewarding experience, but be sure you know what you are doing before you throw a female and a male together and hope for eggs.
Sexing males and females is difficult with snakes, but your vet can do it. The breeding process takes a full year. During spring through fall, house them at normal temperatures, and feed regularly.
In late October still keep up the temperatures, but stop feeding them for a couple weeks. After a month has passed, put all the snakes you want to mate in a 50-60 gallon tank. Provide at least 2 hide boxes, and one water bowl. Give them 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark, and keep the temperature in the high 80's, dropping 15F at night. When they are grouped together, offer them food, but do not be surprised if they refuse. After 5-6 months the snakes should once again be separated. Now females should be fed every 5-7 days, and if they become pregnant, they will start refusing food. You may notice they have their bellies pointed up, and she might shed. About seven eggs a week will be laid. The females should have a lay box that is plenty big filled with moist sphagnum moss. This is where she will spend the majority of her time.
After the eggs are laid, remove the female from the box, remove the eggs, and put her back. The eggs should not be turned from the position they were laid in because that may destroy the embryo. All the eggs should be incubated for 60 days at 90F. Incubators can be purchased for about $30. The entire clutch will hatch almost at the same time.
Once they break out, remove them into a 90F ten gallon tank, and let them fully emerge from the egg. They will be out after a day or two, and they will have used up all the yolk reserves.
Start feeding hatchlings after their first shed, about a week after they have emerged from the eggs. Be sure every snake gets the same food because larger ones will bully smaller snakes. Keep them on newspaper or butcher's paper for easy cleanup and monitoring. As they grow, separate them into larger tanks until they all have their own.
Give baby snakes a place to hide and rest so they feel secure. This hide should be kept at 70% humidity. The hide should be snug, but not too tight.
Ball pythons have been removed from the wild by the millions, and some people consider them disposable pets. Soon importing will come to an end, and captive bred snake prices will go up when it is recognized how valuable they are. Ball pythons are shy, docile, and easy to keep. Even advanced reptile keepers cannot deny that ball pythons are wonderful creatures. Do your research and homework before you purchase any pet.
Sharon D. Webb - April 16, 2013
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