Amongst the most popular species of snake to keep, the ball python is one of the most rewarding as well. They’re typically extremely docile, and make wonderful pets. Ball python care is possibly the easiest in not only reptiles, but most common pets, as well.
The aim of this article is to equip you with the basics of ball python care, and get you well on your way to a lifetime of happy snake memories.
Ball python care
Ball pythons are considered small compared to other pythons. In the wilds of Sub-Saharan Africa, the ball python spends most of its time hiding underground. They are non-venomous, but they do constrict their prey.
Setting up your ball python for success from the beginning is the key to having a happy and healthy snake. They, exactly like any other pet, are a commitment.
Size and life expectancy
How long does a ball python grow?
Fully grown, they can reach lengths of anywhere between 3-5 feet. That being said, however, they typically don’t take up much space as compared to other constrictor species.
What is the lifespan of a ball phython?
The normal ball python lifespan is anywhere between 20-30 years. There are some rare cases where snakes have reached over 40 years of age. Any way you slice it, ball python care is something that you will require you to sign up for the long run.
Ball python terrarium setup
Ball python terrarium setups can range anywhere from very basic, all the way up to jungle-like replicas. Depending on your budget, you can go just about as minimal or elaborate as you’d like, given the minimum requirements for proper ball python care are met.
With that said, there are essentially 2 different enclosures to consider: terrarium or rack.
What kind of terrarium does a ball python need?
Typically speaking, a simple glass tank is most common, as they’re more available and far more affordable. As a juvenile, your ball python needs to feel secure, and a 20 gallon tank should do just fine, providing it has lots of places to hide. When it gets bigger, something like a 40 gallon tank will suit them, again with the aid of lots of places to hide.
A rack system is typically for housing multiple ball pythons in one area. They have a plastic bin that pulls out like a filing cabinet, and are usually much easier to clean. These bins range in sizes, and you can pick the correct size according to the weight of the snake.
Even though these two cage styles are pretty drastically different, the care required remains the same.
What do I need to add at the bottom of the terrarium?
Ball python care requires a lot of humidity. Humidity levels should be between 55-60%. The average home has about 30-40% humidity, so a good substrate can aid in raising the humidity to the correct levels.
Opting for a substrate that holds moisture well will definitely help your cause. Something like cypress mulch works perfectly for all ball pythons, regardless of size.
Some ball python keepers choose to humidify the room the snakes are kept in instead of each individual bin/cage. We’ll go a little more into detail on that in a moment, but for now, let’s talk about alternative substrates in this case.
If you’re able to maintain a constant level of humidity that is ideal for your snake, then ball python care just got a little easier for you. In some cases, ball python keepers use a simple paper towel for the substrate. It’s both easier to clean and cheaper. Just make sure that it has no added chemicals or scents.
A big downside to using something like paper towels over mulch or something similar is that your ball python will not receive any enrichment from digging. If you have plenty of hides in the enclosure, this isn’t a big deal for the snake, but it does provide that extra layer of brain stimulation for ball python care.
Lighting and heat
Contrary to many chain pet shops’ beliefs, lighting is not important for ball pythons. In fact, they’re not very big fans of it. Some “Ball Python Starter kits” will come with lights that can be blinding and uncomfortable for your snake.
What is important is heat. But, it’s not as simple as throwing a heat source and the tank and calling it good.
Do you need both hot and cool sides for ball python terrariums?
Like almost all reptiles, you need to have a hot and cool side. The cool side should be the area where the water bowl is kept, and both sides should have hiding spots.
Again, there are a variety of ways to get heat into the snake’s cage. Most commonly, people use under-tank heaters or heating mats for ball python care.
You can also use something called a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) to provide heat from above. It is a bulb, but it provides heat without producing any light. Most often, both of these sources are not needed at the same time. As long as you can keep the hot side around 89 degrees Fahrenheit (31.7 C), and the cool side around 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit (25.5 – 26.7 C), your snake will be happy.
For a ball python, as long as there are places to hide, a heat source, and a water bowl, they are not picky. Decors such as fake plants, rocks, and driftwood are all very common and affordable options.
There are a few things to keep in mind, however, when searching for that perfect decoration setup. First, ball pythons do not need to climb. Although they will if needed, they are ground dwellers 99.9% of the time. Having branches and rocks to climb on will provide enrichment, but climbing up to a high branch for a thick-bodied snake such as a ball python can result in a nasty fall and an injury. If you decide to add something for them to climb on, just make sure it’s secured properly.
Secondly, contrary to popular belief, snakes in general are very delicate. They have scales to protect them, sure, but pointed and sharp edges can puncture and injure them severely, so it’s best to avoid any decorations that are sharp to the touch.
Ball python diet
Ball pythons are 100% a predatory species. They hunt for their food, and the same kind of meals should be provided for them in captivity.
What kind of food does a ball python eat?
Of course, they eat all kinds of creatures in the wild, but the most common and recommended food sources in captivity are mice and rats.
Depending on how many snakes you have, it might be worth it to breed your own source of food for your snakes.
As time goes on and your ball python gets older, it will need to be given larger meals. The general rule of thumb is to make sure that the meal is no larger than the largest part of your snake’s body. Since their jaws detach in order to swallow large prey items, the mouse/rat can and most likely will be larger than their mouth initially.
Each snake has its preference on whether it wants to eat frozen/thawed meals, or live. Snakes can be conditioned to swap to either, but it could take some work. If you feed live meals, make sure you never leave the rodent unattended with your snake. Rodents have instincts just like any other animal, and a very powerful bite. Leaving the two together can result in an injury to the snake.
Your snake may be picky with food at certain times, but you should always offer food once a week. And of course, a staple in ball python care is to always provide clean drinking water.
How to handle your ball python
No doubt, ball pythons are very unique animals and draw a lot of attention. They can also be quite fun to hold. That being said, ball pythons are solitary creatures, and prefer to just do their own thing without being tampered with too much.
You definitely need to take great care when you handle your ball python and make sure that they have plenty of time to themselves in their cage. Avoid touching the face area, and make sure they’re able to move freely in your hands. The best and most effective technique for holding a ball python is to just let it move from hand to hand if it wishes.
Additionally, it’s always recommended to avoid holding your snake for at least 48 hours after a meal. This will give them plenty of time to digest and relax again.
Signs of a sick ball python
There are many sicknesses that can affect a ball python. Some of these illnesses can take hold rather quickly if you’re not careful. Here are some of the most common:
Scale rot/mouth rot
Respiratory infection (RI)
There are a few different signs for each of these illnesses:
Scale rot/mouth rot – The scales are discoloured (often brown) and rotting. They will most often fall off or be easily irritable for the snake.
Impaction – Impaction happens when the snake eats something that can do damage to the organs as it’s digested. This can result in bloating, extreme loss of appetite, and lack of stool.
Respiratory infection (RI) – RI is a very serious illness that is often overlooked by inexperienced ball python keepers. Again a major sign would be loss of appetite, but there are a few indicators that let you know that your snake definitely has an RI. Your snake’s breathing will be accompanied by a whistle, as well as be inconsistent. In extreme cases, the mouth and nose areas will produce mucus bubbles.
In all of these cases, it’s vital that your snake see an exotic vet. Antibiotics will be needed to help cure your legless friend.
We’ll also mention stuck shed in this section, as it could affect your snakes health. Although it isn’t a sickness, it should be handled very delicately.
Stuck shed is very easy to spot, and equally as easy to treat. When your snake sheds, the skin should all come off in just a few, if not one piece. If you notice skin sticking to the snake anywhere on its body, it’s time to take action.
Most often, stuck shed can be blamed on low humidity. So before you try any remedies or take it to the vet, check your humidity and increase it if needed.
If it’s an emergency, you can make something called a humidity box. This basically consists of an enclosed box with breathing holes, warm water at the bottom, and a towel, sponge, or divider to ensure that the snake doesn’t touch the warm water. A few minutes per day until the shed comes off should do the trick.
Ball python morphs
There are hundreds of different ball python morphs, and more are discovered each year. This means that the rare morphs won’t always be so rare, and the price will consistently drop over time.
It’s also important to note that no matter what the morph is, the care is the same. There is only one exception to this rule, but we’ll discuss that at the end of this section.
But, it’s always fun to look at some cool snakes! Here are a few of the more popular ball python morphs:
Normal ball python
(Photo credits: www.worldofballpythons.com)
The normal ball python is what you would most commonly find in the wild plains of western africa. Although the pattern and color can vary quite a bit from snake to snake, they’re classified as being normal by their dark coloration and bold patterns from head to tail.
Banana ball python
(photo credits: pythonregius.com)
Banana ball pythons are probably one of the most sought after morphs simply because of their availability and colors. Many years ago, they cost just as much as a new car, but now they’re relatively cheap.
Albino ball python
(Photo credits: pythonregius.com)
Albino ball pythons are one of the original imported morphs. Many years ago, you would be lucky to pick one of these up for less than $20,000. But now, they’re readily available, and a great addition to anyone’s home.
Pastel ball python
(Photo credits: pythonregius.com)
Pastel ball pythons are much like the normal morph, only lighter in color. One of the defining traits of a pastel ball python are their green eyes.
Enchi ball python
(Photo credits: pythonregius.com)
To the untrained eye, an enchi ball python is fairly similar to a normal. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice much brighter colors, and more sporadic patterning.
Leucistic ball python
(Photo credits: pythonregius.com)
The Leucistic ball python morph exists in 2 forms: black eyes and blue eyes. Each one of these special morphs is the result of selective breeding between 2 lesser genes.
Clown ball python
(Photo credits: pythonregius.com)
Although clown ball pythons are getting more and more available, their prices seem to be holding strong. The clown gene is quite unique, and is easily identifiable by the head stamp and markings under their eyes.
Spider ball python
The spider ball python, or the gene that makes them, rather, is quite controversial. The gene that they carry is proven to produce a neurological disorder in some snakes, causing them to lose balance easily. In some extreme cases, the snake can’t even slither or eat properly.
Scaleless ball python
(Photo credits: Worldofballpythons.com)
The scaleless ball python is a genetic wonder. It’s also the exception to the ball python care rule we discussed at the top of this section. Although they are strikingly beautiful, they are slightly more delicate than your average ball python. They will absolutely require some extra special attention as far as terrarium/rack setup goes.
Average cost of a ball python
As stated just above, new morphs are discovered and come into the industry each year. As time goes on, the demand for each different morph can either go up or down.
Comfortably speaking, however, you can pick up a normal ball python for as little as $20-30. On the other end of the spectrum, new and unique morphs can range anywhere from $10,000 all the way up to $100,000+.
If you’re up for the job, ball python care really isn’t all that bad. They make wonderful pets and come in a very large variety of colors and patterns. Living up to 20+ years, they’ll certainly be a conversation starter in your home for a long time to come. Congratulations on your new friend, and good luck!