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BALL PYTHON Caresheet
CommonName: Ball Python, Royal Python
ScientificName: Python regius
Origin: Central and western Africa
Size: 4-5 feet
Lifespan: 30+ years
You will find many ways on the internet, on "how to" take care of this animal. This care sheet is showing the way we found works best for us from our many years of experience of breeding and caring for this species.
Ball pythons are a shy snake. In the wild they live in burrows most of the day and come out to hunt at night. They are not fond of large open spaces. You can start babies in enclosures as small as 10 gallons. At around a year old, you can increase the size. There are several kinds of enclosures that work for ball pythons, e.g., glass aquariums and any of the commercially available plastic-type reptile cages. For yearlings, you can step up to an enclosure that is at least 30" x 12" inches (like Zilla critter cage 20 Long) or go to the adult enclosure size. Adults do well in a tank at least 36" x 18" (Exo Terra Large, or Zilla 40 gal). If you use a glass tank, provide a humid hide--that is, a hide that has some damp moss in it for extra humidity. A shy ball python will feel more secure if there is a hide for them on the cool side and the warm side of the enclosure (more about that in the heating section).
You can use many types of bedding for your ball python. The ones that look the best and help hold some humidity are Zoo Med repti bark, Zilla jungle mix, Zoo Med eco earth, and Zoo Med forest floor. Spot clean the bedding whenever they defecate. You should only need to clean the whole thing out about once a month. Disinfect the enclosure and change the bedding at that time. Zoo Meds wipe out or vinegar and water both work good for cage cleaning.
LIGHTING AND HEAT
Ball pythons originate from Africa and they like it fairly warm. They do spend a lot of time in burrows, though, so they need to be able to cool off if they want to. Like all reptiles, they are dependent on external thermoregulation to control their body temperature. This essentially means you need to provide a hot and a cool side to your enclosure. All the heat elements should be on one side and the other will then be the cool side. This way your ball python can move back and forth between the different temperatures depending on its needs.
The hot side basking spot should be at 88-90 degrees. Put one hide there and another hide on the cooler side. The cool side can be between 75-80 degrees. At night it can drop down to 72 ambient temperature. It's a good idea to use a basking light and an under tank heat pad also. The heat pads are usually placed on the hot side with a hide over it. We recommend a Zoo Med heat mat or Exo Terra heat pad that stays on 24/7 to give them a little bit of supplemental heat during the night. Both of these are placed on the outside, underneath the enclosure. You want a heat pad that only covers half the tank (or less). The basking light should be housed in a good quality light dome like Exo Terra and Flukers that has a ceramic housing to tolerate high heat and an on/off switch.
Use a good quality temperature gauge too, like Zoo Meds digital temp gauge or Exo Terras Thermometer. Don't guess at it. You can also use a rheostat and/or timers to control your heat source. We do not recommend the use of hot rocks. They have a tendency to heat unevenly over too small an area and can cause serious burns.
Keep a non-porous water bowl in with your ball python and make sure they always have clean water. Exo Terras water bowls or Flukers water bowls are good decorative choices or a good ceramic crock dish. Scrub the bowl at least once a week to keep bacteria slime from building up. If you maintain a humidity level of 50-60%, your ball python will be able to shed properly. Hand misters are usually sufficient but if you don't care to remember to mist the cage, an automatic mister like the Exo Terra monsoon or the reptile fogger are nice options.
Do not handle your ball for several hours before you are going to feed it. We do recommend feeding your ball python in its own enclosure. Feeding in its home will not make your ball python more aggressive or associate you with food. Ball pythons are generally a very docile snake. Their defense is to curl into a ball--hence the name. Many ball pythons feeding "problems" stem from new owners trying to feed them in a location other than their enclosure. A few ball pythons don't mind being disturbed before they eat, but most will not eat if moved. If you are worried about your snake thinking you are going to feed it every time you go to get it out, get yourself a good snake hook. Hook your snake out of its enclosure when you want to hold it. Check out these hooks: collapsible hook for babies and larger hooks for adults. Using a snake hook when you take your ball python out will greatly reduce the chance of you being bit from a feeding response. If you don't have a hook and are still worried about picking up your pet, don't come at it from the front. Reach around and pick your snake up from behind. That way your hand is not coming at its face.
Hatchlings to 2 years
1 rodent of appropriate size once a week. This means the girth of the rodent should not exceed the girth of the snake (at it's biggest point, not his neck size) Some people say you can give them rodents 1 1/2 times as big as the girth of the snake. However, we have found that ball pythons eat better and tend not to skip meals if you don't exceed its girth. Do not handle your snake for at least 24 hours after it has eaten.
You can cut back to 1 rodent every 2 weeks if you want. If you do this make sure it is a decent size meal, don't skimp.
Continue on the once a week regime with a slightly smaller meal than if you are feeding every two weeks.
Snakes in general tend not to eat when they are in shed. Just wait to feed until your pet sheds.
Babies usually will eat through the winter as long as they are warm enough. However, adults have a reputation for being picky eaters or even going off food altogether during this time. If you are prepared for the possibility of your ball skipping some meals in winter, it won't be as stressful for you as a new python keeper. Just keep an eye on the snake's overall condition and body weight. Typically, with a healthy ball python, this is nothing to worry about, although it can sometimes be a little frustrating. If your ball is healthy and your husbandry and temperatures are good, then just only offer your snake food every two weeks or so until it starts eating again.
The ball python is certainly the most popular pet python out there, especially now with all the fancy "paint jobs" that they come in. They are also generally friendly and easy to care for.
When holding your snake, always remember to support its body. Once a ball python realizes that you will not hurt it, they often seem to enjoy being handled. Relax and give your pet time to get used to you. Avoid touching the top of your new ball pythons head. Unless it knows and trusts you, touching the top of the head will cause it to jerk back away. The fast movement is called being "head shy" and tends to scare a lot of new snake owners. Most balls will get over it with gentle handling.
Give your ball python at least a day to settle in to its new home before handling. Start slow and gradually increase the amount of time you have your snake out. Remember your new pet's life is in your hands. So please take care of it properly.