How to Care for A Ball Python
The Ball Python is one of the most popular pet snakes on the market. Jokingly called “the Pet Rock”, the Ball Python comes in a variety of colors. They are normally a placid snake with an easy going nature. Once the environment is mastered they are a fantastic beginner snake. You need several basics to care for your pet. A tank, bedding, decor, heating, and food. Come along with us and learn all the things you will need and the choices you can make for your new scaly friend.
Ball Python Tank Size
When choosing your tank for your Ball Python you have several things to consider. Escapability, heat tolerance, aesthetic, and the size that your snake is currently.
When keeping an adult Ball it is suggested that you have at least a 40 gallon glass tank. It is suggested that a snake needs to be able to stretch out from nose to tail and not touch glass on either end. Ball Python’s can like to climb short heights, so a cage that has branches and taller rocks is a great idea.
Baby Ball Python’s can have a harder time thermoregulating and so a smaller tank is suggested. Minimum size of a tank for a baby would be a 10 gallon tank.
Ball Python’s are great escape artists! You will want to make sure that you have a locking lid on your tank or use a tank with the doors that open and latch. The front opening tanks are prettier, in my opinion, and can be used as a room decor item.
Many breeders will use plastic totes to keep their snakes in as they don’t have room for dozens of glass tanks. Plastic totes are not heat tolerant and you have to be careful when placing heat mats or lights on them as they can melt.
Best Substrate for Ball Python
There are varying opinions on what type of bedding is the best for your pet ball python. I’ll touch on a few that I have used and the pros and cons of them in this next section.
- Paper Towels – Paper towels are used for several reasons. The first is you are dealing with some kind of sickness or ailment. If your snake has mites, it is much easier to see the mites on paper towels than it is to see them on a natural type of bedding. Paper towels are deemed more sanitary, as you are changing the entire cage instead of spot cleaning. But paper towels are only absorbent to a certain point. They are also harder to keep moist and hold proper humidity for your pet. Many large scale breeders use them or newspapers as they are quick and easy to clean.
- Aspen/Pine Bedding – Tree wood chips is a very common type of substrate for ball pythons. It’s cheaper, and you can spot clean, which makes your bedding go even farther. One of the biggest issues with Aspen or Pine wood chips is that it does not retain moisture well and can become moldy. It is difficult to keep a higher humidity snake, like the ball python, in wood chips without shedding issues. If you provide a humidity hide it can be done though! Wood chips hide pests, like mites, and also can come with their own wood mites. Wood mites aren’t harmful to your snake, but I would imagine having lots of little bugs crawling on you would be quite annoying! Wood chip bedding is one of the easiest to find in pet stores or farm stores. If you are going to use wood chips, NEVER use Cedar. Cedar has oils in it that can be toxic to your snakes.
- Coconut Husk – There are different variations in the texture of coconut husk bedding. There are bricks of compressed husk, which are very fine and have almost the texture of dirt. Then there’s shredded, which is closer to the texture you would find in the wood chips. Last is large chips of husk, which will look like bark. Coconut husk is a great option for your ball python! It holds the humidity well, you can spot clean it and it looks more natural. Downfalls of coconut husk are that it can mold, but not as much as the wood chips, and it will hide pests very well as it is a dark substrate. It can be more on the expensive side but lasts the longest in my opinion. It can be harder to find depending on where you live.
- Bioactive – A bioactive substrate can be a really cool addition to your snake’s terrarium. Bioactive usually has several different layers of substrates, from rocks to coco husk and plain topsoil, and usually a carbon layer that helps filter the water. Bioactive terrariums also have live plants and organisms that help break down your snake’s waste. This is one of the most expensive setups but I think it’s the most fun! You get to add isopods and springtails that will eat your snake’s poop, though you should spot clean it as well, and you can have live plants with water features for your snake to drink from.
Ball Python Tank Decor
Ball Python’s are a den dwelling snake and prefer lots of dark hides. This can be really fun depending on what kind of aesthetic you want to have for your pet’s environment.
Hides can be naturalistic, like rock platforms or large logs. There are also hides that you can purchase at pet stores that look like rocks but are made from concrete.
If you want to go for a more mystical look there are hides that are shaped like rocket ships or skulls. The options are really endless!
The most important thing about tank decor is making sure that your pet can’t get stuck in them. When choosing a hide look at all of the holes and compare them against the largest part of your snake. While snakes are flexible and can smush themselves into small holes, they can get wedged into things and need to be helped out of them. Checking periodically that your snake hasn’t gotten too big for their tank decor is very important.
Plants are also a popular tank decoration used for ball pythons. You will want to use either plastic or silk plants, which are easier to clean and more durable. Live plants can be aesthetically pleasing but are far more delicate. They also require watering and pruning, which can be an added maintenance. It really just depends on what you are wanting your tank to look like. Live plants can help maintain the moisture inside your snake’s environment.
Ball Python Temperature and Humidity
Ball pythons come from the African savannahs, ranging across many countries. When keeping ball python’s you want to replicate their natural temperatures and humidity. There are four different temperatures that are important in their environment.
- Ambient Temperature – 80-85 Fahrenheit (26.7-29.4 Celsius)
- Basking Temperature – 87-94 Fahrenheit (30.5-34.4 Celsius)
- Cool Side Temperature – 76-82 Fahrenheit (24.4-27.7 Celsius)
- Night Temperature – 80-83 Fahrenheit (26.7-28.3 Celsius)
Ambient temp should be achieved either by heating the entire room or placing temperature controlled heat pads under the tank. The basking temps should be created by placing a heat lamp or a ceramic heat emitter on one side of the tank with a raised basking area. This can be made by a large log, a hide or a rock platform. Make sure that the tank is large enough that the basking area is only ¼-⅓ of the area so that your snake can go to the other side of the tank to cool down. Ball python’s thermoregulate by placing themselves in warmth or cooler areas. If your snake is constantly overheated you may find them in their water bowl. Night temps are easier to obtain as you can just turn off the basking light and it will lower the overall temps.
Whatever you do, do not use heat rocks. Heat rocks are very dangerous for your pet. Snakes do not sense temperature like we do. If you place your hand on a hot stove, you would instantly pull it back. Ball python’s do not have the ability to sense heat that quickly. So if your snake gets too hot on a heat rock, it will end up getting a belly burn before it registered as too hot. This is also why it is important to not use a heat pad without a thermostat to help keep it steady.
The savannas of Africa are fairly humid, around 50-60%. It is very easy to track humidity with a hygrometer from the pet store. Humidity is important when your snake is shedding. It helps them shed fully so they do not get shed stuck on their face, tails, or eyes. If a shed is left on the body it can constrict your snake and cut off the blood flow to that body part. To keep your snake’s cage humid you have a few options.
- Mister- Misters can be a spray bottle that you squeeze by hand, a pump sprayer that is usually used for spraying pesticides (make sure to buy a new one) or commercial made reptile misters.
- Humidity Hide- Humidity hides are simple to make. Wet down sphagnum moss and place it in a warm, dark hide or box. When your snake is needing more humidity, they will go into the hide.
Ball Python Diet
Ball Python’s are purely carnivorous. They eat mainly rodents but they can eat birds as well. The most common diet in captivity are mice and rats depending on the size of your snake. Many often feed african soft fur rats, which are in between an adult rat and a medium rat in size. Ball Pythons can get picky, so some people have had to result in feeding gerbils and other harder to find rodents, but it is not common.
When feeding your pet remember that they can stretch their jaws over a prey item that is 2.5 sizes bigger than the largest part of their body. While they CAN eat something this big, doesn’t mean that they SHOULD.
If you are feeding your Ball Python once a week then you can feed a smaller prey item as they are getting more consistent feed. If you are going to do it every two weeks you will want to feed a bigger meal to sustain their weight.
Ball Python’s are opportunistic feeders, meaning they eat when they can because they may not for a while in the wild. Signs of a skinny snake are a peaked spine or sunken muscles on the side of the head. On the flip side, snakes can also become obese. You will mainly see it in the tail, but if the scales are separated on the body you may need to make the food smaller or give your snake a meal less often. If you are worried, you can always take them to an exotic vet to talk to them about our snake’s weight and a proper feeding schedule for your pet.
You always want to provide water for your Ball Python. Giving them a bowl that they can get their whole body in is suggested, as they do like to soak in the water to cool down, help with shedding or kill insects that are bothering them.
Tips for Owning A Ball Python As A Pet
Once you get the habitat and feeding correct for your pet, you will have a Ball Python for 20-30 years. They are a long living snake, and very easy to care for.
Make sure that they can not touch anything and get burned. They are a curious snake, touching many things with their noses and faces.
They are escape artists! If your Ball Python does get out, look for dark, tight, and warm. Under bookshelves, in your couch, and I even found one in my garbage disposal!
Ball Python Care FAQ
Ball Pythons can reach up to 6 feet long, but normally it is 4-5 feet in length and around 5 lbs in weight.
Ball Pythons can be wonderful pets for children. But just like every pet given to a child, you as the parent need to monitor the care and interactions between the child and the pet. Balls are great kids’ pets as many have very calm personalities and are happy to just roll up in a ball and hang out with you.
The most common are respiratory infections, mites, scale rot/mouth rot, and burns. If you suspect anything is wrong with your Ball Python make sure that you get them into your nearest exotic vet.
While Ball Python’s are normally a very easy going snake, they are not a communal animal. Meaning, they don’t want friends. There have been reports of Ball Pythons eating each other. If you have two males they can fight, and if you have a male and a female then you may end up breeding your snakes when you are not prepared to do so. So, in short, the answer is no.
Nope! Ball Pythons are constrictors. That means they bite their prey and then squeeze them until they stop breathing. They can not harm a person.