The ball python is one of the most popular species of domestically kept snakes, and can also make a good choice for the first time reptile owner, providing that you do plenty of research before buying. They are smaller than many of the other common breeds of captive-kept constricting snakes, growing to a maximum of 3-5 feet long when adult. They are also easy to handle, and one of the easier pet snakes to keep.
As with any other snake or exotic pet, it is vitally important to do plenty of research before you commit to a purchase, and in this article, we will take you through some of the basic care requirements for the ball python.
The ball python rolls itself into a small ball when they are alarmed, hence the name. When juvenile, the ball python will grow around a foot or so a year until they are about three, when they stop growing. They are relatively long lived snakes, often reaching 20-30 years old in captivity when correctly cared for.
The ball python usually breeds happily in captivity, so there is not usually a lack of availability of captive-bred snakes. It is much better to buy a captive-bred snake, as these will be less fussy to feed, and will not come accompanied by parasites and bugs that can potentially affect wild-caught snakes.
When looking at ball pythons offered for sale, choose a young snake that was captive bred, and that has clean, bright eyes, a rounded body, and is not showing any signs of respiratory problems. When handled, the snake should be curious and interactive, and will usually coil around your hand once they have relaxed. While the snake might be skittish if not particularly tame, they should nevertheless be alert and not lethargic when handled.
The ball python is not a hugely energetic or active snake, and so a 30 gallon tank is usually sufficient for a fully grown adult specimen. One point to bear in mind is that the ball python is a skilled escape artist, so ensure that the tank has a well fitted lid that is weighed down and not able to be pushed off.
For the floor of the tank, a substrate of either newspaper, Astroturf or shredded bark is fine, with Astroturf being the easiest substrate to manage and clean. The tank should have plenty of coverage in the form of branches, false foliage and lots of hiding places, to enable your snake to feel secure. The daytime temperature of the enclosure should be between 27-29 degrees Celsius, with a hotter spot of around 32 degrees for basking. At night, a temperature of 23-24 degrees is fine, providing that there is still a warmer spot at one end of the tank. Under floor heating is the best choice of heating element for the tank, with a heat lamp to permit a basking area.
The ball python does not require any special tank lighting, and as nocturnal animals, they needs to have the correct cycle of light and dark maintained. You can illuminate the tank at night if you wish, using red or blue bulbs to mimic the natural ambient light of night.
Ball pythons like to soak in water, particularly when they are in the process of shedding their skin, so provide a bowl that is large enough to house your snake comfortably. You can even put a lid on this with a hole for your snake to use for access, in order to allow them to feel more secure when soaking. You may also wish to provide a humidity corner, lined with sphagnum moss, with a water dish to drink from.
Ball pythons more or less exclusively eat pinkie mice and rats, which must be defrosted before giving them to your snake. When your snake is juvenile they will likely need to eat every few days, but when they are larger and can accordingly be fed larger prey, they may go as long as 10-14 days between feeds. Never feed your snake prey that is larger than the width of their body, as this can cause blockages and problems with digestion. If your snake is reluctant to eat defrosted prey, you may have to entice your snake to eat by dangling the mouse into the tank with forceps and moving it around to mimic the natural behaviour of live prey!
Any uneaten food should be removed from the tank promptly to prevent it from rotting, and you should remove faeces from the tank regularly too. Clean, fresh water must be provided to your ball python at all times, and this should be topped up or replaced on a daily basis.