This Ball Python care sheet has been designed to give you all the information you will need to make informed decisions about your Ball/Royal Python’s care. It is based on my experience and is designed to give all the facts, without bias. There are no attempts to force you into buying expensive equipment.
Do Ball Pythons make good pets?
Ball Pythons (Python regius) make great pets for a number of reasons. So much so that they are now one of the most popular snake species for both beginner and advanced herpetoculturists around the world. In fact, if we could describe the good-old Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus) as the first domesticated snake, then the Ball Python is definitely the second. It exists now in stunning colour and pattern combinations (morphs) that would never have been seen in the wild – and which in great part have contributed to its success in the pet trade. Check out this Magpie Ball Python for example.
The “Magpie” Ball Python, above, is a new morph from NERD (New England Reptile Distributors). NERD are, and pretty much always have been, the leaders in creating new Ball Python morphs. They agreed to let me use this photo, but made it clear that the morph’s genetics are still under wraps! Photo courtesy of New England Reptile Distributors.
This male Acid Ball Python came with a hefty price tag, but given the potential of the morph he is more than worth it.
Are Ball Pythons boring?
A Ball Python is not a boring pet. In fact, it isn’t just their appearance that makes them so popular – it’s their personality. They have an incredibly gentle disposition, coupled with insatiable curiosity – something not often seen in reptiles.
I have some that inspect their tub after I clean it, and one that even watches TV. So no, Ball Pythons aren’t boring, but they are shy and need a calm environment before they will show their personality.
Once settled in, I’d go as far as to say that a Ball Python will grow on the whole family. If you have friends or relatives who are nervous about meeting a snake – then the Ball Python is your best bet for winning them over! I actually have a few that I am happy to let small children handle, something best avoided with a lot of larger snakes, no matter how tame they seem. Along with their temperament, these snakes have a range of behaviours that make them fascinating captives – just take a look at the following photos for starters!
The Fire Ivory Ball Python, top, is “Periscoping” – a good way to survey surroundings for predators or rivals. The Mochi Ball (Mojave and Enchi) in the second photo, is “balling” – the behaviour that gave these snakes their common name.
How long do Ball Pythons live?
Ball Pythons are a long-lived species. Some have even lived over forty years in captivity. As a general rule, a healthy Ball Python should live to at least 20 years old.
How big do Ball Pythons get?
Ball Pythons are medium sized species. Much stockier and robust than a Corn Snake for example, but also smaller and more manageable than a Boa Constrictor.
Their average size is around 3-3.5ft (90-106cm) for males and 3.5-4.5ft (106-137cm) for females. It must be said though that this varies a great deal, and buying a male doesn’t guarantee you a smaller pet. In fact, I have one male that is over 4ft long, and one female that is under 3ft, though both are perfectly healthy and normal.
Where do Ball Pythons come from?
In the wild, Ball Pythons live in west and central Africa, mainly in savannah and dry forest, but also in farmland and even some rainforest areas.
Back in the 90’s large numbers of wild-caught Ball Pythons were imported to the US and Europe, mainly from Ghana and Togo. These creatures were almost always dehydrated, severely stressed and laden with a heavy parasite burden by the time they made it to your local pet store. Many of them would succumb to necrotising dermatitis or respiratory infections, while others would only survive in captivity if subjected to months of veterinary treatment and force-feeding.
Thankfully, some reptile enthusiasts and zoologists managed to establish healthy, breeding populations of captive Ball Pythons – largely ending the wild-caught trade. Thanks to these people you can now acquire healthy, captive-bred snakes, safe in the knowledge that they are acclimatised to captive life and will be happy as long as you know how to care for them correctly.
Buying a Ball Python
This Sonnet Spider is a rare morph, produced here at ballpythonbreeder.co.uk
A young Ball Python should be bright, alert and without stuck shed or other skin issues. This is a hatchling Lemonblast Ball Python produced at Ballpythonbreeder.co.uk
Sadly, a few people are still selling wild-caught animals, so first and foremost be sure to check on the origin of any snake you buy. A good breeder would not sell you a freshly imported snake, with all the health problems that could come with it!
Remember, “captive-farmed” snakes are actually from clutches that were taken from the wild and then hatched in captivity, before being shipped to Europe or North America. The collection of reptiles should be reserved for species who are about to lose their last pocket of habitat and become extinct in the wild, or for highly aberrant morphs that tend not to flourish there anyway.
Why, on the other hand, do I find it acceptable to keep captive bred Ball Pythons? Because as I said before, I consider them domesticated. And like dogs, cats and rabbits, there are so many of them in captivity that they are here to stay. We now need to give them the care, time and consideration that we would any other family companion.
Now that I’ve gotten the depressing bit out of the way, let’s get to the exciting part: choosing your snake!
How to choose a Ball Python
These days you can easily check on the reputation of breeders or pet shops online, and once you’ve found a good one, that is your main piece of homework done. When buying look for an alert, reactive snake, without its back-bone sticking out and without sores, scabs or retained skin. If the snake is shy, curling into a ball and tenses or moves when you touch it – this is healthy behaviour for a juvenile.
Ask for its feeding records and to see it eat – knowing that a young Ball Python is feeding is the be-all and end-all when it comes to determining if it is healthy. This is really all you need to know!
Ball Python Temperature
Maintaining the correct temperature is essential when it comes to encouraging the healthy functioning of a Ball Python’s immune system and metabolism. As I mentioned before, most of our captive snakes originated from Ghana and Togo, equatorial African countries whose climates undergo some seasonal change, but are generally very warm. If we look at Sokodé. Central Togo, average daytime temperatures range from 82F (28C) in July, to 95F (35C) in February.
By looking at information like this across their geographic range, we can deduce that these animals have not evolved to deal with cold weather. In fact, I have known of Ball Pythons that have contracted sudden respiratory infections after being overnight shipped without proper insulation.
Now it is true that temperatures in parts of their range have been recorded above 104F (40C) during the day and below 68F (20C) at night, but we must remember that these animals generally live in rodent burrows or termite mounds, and occasionally large hollowed out logs. In fact, you may have noticed that they only constrict prey with the first third of their body, whereas snakes in the Boaconstrictor group often use most of theirs. This is a direct adaptation for constriction in burrows where room is limited.
Living in a burrow helps maintain steady temperatures
With regards to thermoregulation, burrows have the benefit of attenuating surface heat during the day but retaining some of it at night. Ball Pythons have been found in burrows over 3 ft (1M) in length, where they can go deeper or closer to the surface to thermoregulate. Essentially, the bottom of the burrow is the relatively cool end during the day and then the warm end at night.
All in all, this tells us that a thermal gradient is necessary in the enclosure, without a huge drop in nighttime temperatures (despite being nocturnal, they retreat to a warm burrow if they get too cool while on the prowl). In captivity we achieve this by having an enclosure with a warm end and a cool end, with a hiding place in each.
What temperatures for a ball python?
Personally, I measure the success of my parameters by observing the snakes’ feeding response over time. The best seasonally adjusted feeding response from my snakes has been achieved with a warm end at 90-91F (32C) and a cool end at 80-81F (27C). Generally, I only allow a small drop in temperature at night which can be achieved using thermostats with a nighttime drop option (I wouldn’t say this is essential though if your house cools down at night anyway).
A lot of people are now giving recommended basking spot temperatures in care sheets and promoting heat from above rather than heat mats, but I will explain in the Heating section why it doesn’t matter where the heat comes from – and go into where and how to measure temperatures.
Summary: Warm end 90-91F (32C), Cool end 80-81F (27C), Nighttime drop 4F (2C) lower temp. at both ends.
Ball Python Humidity and Shedding
As with temperature, the subterranean habits (not fossorial by the way – they aren’t able to dig) of this species also influence their humidity requirements. There is a persistent myth that Ball Pythons are from arid areas. Whilst they may have colonised some arid areas, the bulk of their home range is made up of savannah habitat, and the rest is either dry forest or tropical rainforest.
Even when you take into account seasonal variations in precipitation, savannah is actually far more hospital than arid habitat and maintains much higher soil humidity – something that Ball Pythons encounter in their underground lairs. For this reason, it is important to maintain a reasonably high humidity level of 55-65%. Lower than 55% will engender difficulty shedding.
Furthermore, some research suggests that very low ( -40%) and very high (+80%) can both contribute to susceptibility to respiratory infections, with the latter also being a factor in necrotising dermatitis (scale rot). Orchid bark, coconut fibre, cypress mulch and sphagnum moss are all great for raising humidity, but mist the enclosure if these are not enough.
What humidity for a ball python?
Generally, if your getting your humidity to that nice 60% area, your ball python will shed just fine. If you’re struggling to maintain humidity, these snakes can shed incompletely or retain eye caps. A good way to do this is to either mist the enclosure the day before they shed (not always easy!) or provide them with a “shed box”. A shed box is a plastic tub, filled with damp sphagnum moss and with a hole in the top for the snake to enter. Some snakes never actually learn to use these, but in my experience a majority of them do and it can lead to a perfect shed every time.
Summary: 55-65% humidity year round.
How often do Ball Pythons shed their skin?
How often ball pythons shed depends on their age, rate of growth, and whether they are going through breeding events such as ovulation.
Juvenile/hatchling ball pythons should shed once a month, whereas older animals (2-6 yrs old) should shed every 6 weeks at most. Some very old animals will even shed as little as once every 8-9 weeks.
If a juvenile sheds more than once every 3 weeks, or an adult more than once a month, I suggest a vet appointment to rule out parasites or skin disease.
I’ve linked a video here of Stefan Broghammer finding Ball Pythons in Ghana. Stefan is a herpetologist and author who has been to Africa many times to record observations this species in the wild. This video gives you a good idea of typical habitat for the species (not very arid!), and shortly after the starting point at which I’ve linked it, Stefan gives us a temperature reading (in English) from inside a wild Ball Python’s burrow. We should alwaysprioritise primary research like this when learning about how to care for our animals.
Stefan has asked me to add a link to his latest book, which is well worth the read (and available in English): Python regius: Atlas of Colour Morphs Keeping and Breeding
Ball Python Enclosures
First and foremost, it is worth noting that Ball Pythons are generally solitary in nature. In fact, nothing stresses them more than having another, unwanted, conspecific in their enclosure. I have known people who have successfully kept them together but generally it ends in fights and bullying (or as close as these gentle creatures can get to these behaviours), and results in poor feeding response from one or more them.
Whilst it is true that a male and female can be kept together for breeding, it is best to separate them after each successful copulation for at least a couple of weeks, then permanently once breeding is over. Some males will go off food for months if around females during the breeding season, and also harass them relentlessly.
In the wild males will seek out females to mate, then either move on to find another, or be ousted by a stronger male. This allows females to mate with several males – and for good reason: male-male competition. Male-male competition in Ball Pythons is composed of two stages: direct competition and sperm competition. Direct competition occurs when males fight each other on sight for access to, or monopoly over females or territory.
Stronger and larger males tend to win more fights and mate with more females. Small but fast/sneaky males do tend to breed all the same, but cannot circumvent sperm competition. Sperm competition occurs after copulation because females store sperm from each male until the moment of ovulation. It is the males with higher quality sperm (e.g. most motile, most long-lived) that will fertilise most/all of the eggs.
Why should Ball Pythons be kept alone?
The two stages of competition I’ve describe above allow females to only reproduce with the most genetically fit males, whose offspring will have higher survival rates and be more likely to reproduce in turn. From a male’s point of view, this means that they cannot be certain of fertilising the clutch of any female they mate with.
In a nutshell, females want access to the best males, and males want to monopolise access to all females. This tells us that both sexes have an interest in “shopping around” but that the males also have an interest in being territorial.
Don’t be fooled though, even if there are no males around, females are still thinking about the resources for their next clutch. They will subtly compete for the best hiding place, the warmest spot, or anything else until one becomes dominant. This results in the less dominant snake becoming stressed and – you guessed it – showing poor feeding response.
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen Ball Pythons kept together successfully for long periods in zoos, but the enclosures were huge and elaborate. So, if you are unable to convert your living room into a replica of the sub-saharan savannah ecotope, it’s best to keep these animals individually!
What do I need for a Ball Python?
Along with the heating equipment and other supplies that we cover in this care sheet, you will need a safe, appropriate enclosure for your ball python. Let’s look at the most popular options…
When it comes to housing, there are three main types: Vivariums (generally wooden with glass sliding doors here in Europe, but often all-glass in the US), Plastic tubs (aka R.U.B.s), and Rack systems.
I’m going to discuss all three housing types here, but first there are two main points to remember:
A. Whichever type you choose, you must meet the snake’s required parameters in TEMPERATURE, HUMIDITY and SECURITY. The security aspect is related to hides, and will be discussed shortly. A lot of websites try to convince you that vivariums are always best, and for good reason: they are more expensive and will make people more money! Neither vivariums or plastics are inherently “better” than the other – aesthetics, cost, etc. mean nothing to a snake.
B. An enclosure must not be a place in which an animal can injure itself! Vivariums are generally pretty safe but be sure to inspect a second hand one for screws/damage/splinters. Some plastic tubs have a lip or protrusions on the underside of their lids – so watch out for these too. Inspect all hides, branches and furniture for spiky or rough bits. If there is anything in the enclosure that your snake could either rub its snout on or get it stuck in, it eventually will.
Ball Python Vivariums
Vivariums are the type of housing that is the most aesthetically pleasing and usually the most spacious. Generally the wooden back comes with some pre-drilled holes so you can put probes and heating appliances inside. The downside is that the wooden base is too thick for you to use a heat mat from underneath. If a mat is your preferred heating method, it needs to be placed in a special holder for safety, and be used inside the vivarium.
This easily resolved issue leads many people to mistakenly think that you absolutely have to heat vivs’ with bulbs or ceramic heat emitters, both of which dry out the air and make maintaining humidity more difficult. Another issue that I have with vivariums is that they offer the snakes little privacy. The glass fronts can leave some (not all) Ball Pythons feeling exposed and more sensitive to disturbance. The easiest solution for this is hanging a drape over the front – defeating the purpose of having a beautiful vivarium!
A well thought-out, natural vivarium like the one on the left can not only provide a decent home for your snake – it can also be the centre piece of a room.
Ball python plastic tubs
Plastic tubs have the upside of being excellent at maintaining humidity, but the downside of being unsightly. The main issue with tubs though is that it can be hard to find ones that are big enough, yet are see-through and have a secure, locking lid. If big enough, tubs do work well, it can just be difficult to obtain an appropriately sized one for a 5 or 6lb (2.5KG) female! One important benefit that tubs offer is that they are non-porous and very easy to clean and disinfect, something that makes hygiene easier if you have several animals.
Once again, hanging a drape over the top of these enclosures can help make the snakes feel more secure – make sure the drape allows light to pass through though, we want to give them privacy, not total darkness.
This is a plastic tub that I made into a basic example enclosure for this article. It gives you a rough idea of how a Ball Python enclosure should look: two hiding places, a heavy water bowl and a branch for climbing.
It’s too small for Bobby, who you can see inspecting my work, but I use him for photos because of how calm he is. For a younger snake, this would make an ideal enclosure, and come in at a much lower price than a wooden vivarium. If anything, I probably should have added more plants to the sides of the tub to make a potential occupant feel more secure.
Ball Python Racks
Rack systems are plastic drawers in a stack, generally a few draws wide and as many high. Whilst they have the benefit of easily maintaining the correct temperature and humidity, the drawback is that the small size of the draws in some racks impedes the expression of an adult Python’s natural behaviours.
That said, racks easily provide enough space to correctly house hatchlings, in which case they are an appropriate and convenient type of housing.
For adults, it’s important to find a rack that is large enough for them, even if it’s a little more expensive. Personally, I prefer V70 for adults if a rack is used. Despite the fact that there is a growing number of people who consider racks cruel, Ball Pythons do seem to feed more consistently in them. In fact, they seem to breed better and shed better too…
Personally I don’t always produce more than one clutch a year, so I’m not pushed for space or particularly fussed about making a profit. I only keep a few animals and this allows me to invest more space and money in them than someone who has a large collection. A large-scale breeder would not be able to provide large tubs or vivariums for hundreds of animals, it’s just not possible.
In my opinion, racks are fine for breeders, but larger, well thought-out tub setups are best for individuals who can invest more time.
How big should a Ball Python enclosure be?
A Ball Python needs two hides (or more) that it fits into snugly, a decent-sized water bowl and some additional floor space to move around and stretch out. If the hides occupy more than 40% of the enclosure, then it is too cramped. Also, adults need at least 15 inches (40cm) of vertical space and a branch or two for climbing. Neonates do not tend to do well in very large enclosures and size should be adjusted as they grow.
Here are some general guidelines for minimum enclosure sizes:
Hatchlingswill need a 12 inch (30cm) long vivarium/terrarium, a 5-10 US gallon (19-38 litre) glass tank, or a plastic tub with equivalent floor space.
Yearlings/subadults will need an 18-24 inch (45-60cm) long wooden vivarium/terrarium, a 15-20 US gallon (19-38 litre) glass tank, or a plastic tub with equivalent floor space.
Adults will need a 3-4 foot (90-120cm) long wooden vivarium, a 40-50 US gallon (151-190 litre) glass tank, or a similarly sized plastic tub – generally these are around 40 US gallons (151 litres).
Glass tanks tend to have a higher height to width ratio, so a slightly lower capacity plastic tub can have as much floor space.
Ball Python hides
Of major importance for Ball Pythons is the SECURITY aspect. These animals are what is called positively thigmotactic (i.e. seek contact with objects/substrate for security), and must have a hiding place that is dark, sturdy and they fit into snugly. In a rack system the drawer itself provides the “hide”, but if you opt for a vivarium or large plastic tub then you need to provide at least two hides: one in the cool end and one in the warm end.
This way, your snake can thermoregulate by moving from one hide to the other, without remaining exposed. Personally, I like the Exo Terra caves because they are heavy enough for adults and now come in an XXL size that is large enough for most females. I have included a link to these in the Ball Python Products page. Occasionally, you will encounter a female that is too big for these hides, in which case using a log or constructing a hide out of cork bark is a good idea. You can also buy black plastic hides that are bit flimsy, but still better than nothing.
Ball Python Water Bowls
There are a variety of both naturalistic and basic water bowls available. The main things to remember are a. the bowl needs to be heavy enough to not easily be knocked over, and b. the inside surface of the bowl should be as smooth as possible. Materials that are rough or porous give bacteria, algae and moulds a greater surface area to anchor themselves to, and are harder to clean and disinfect properly. Though Ball Pythons do not generally soak, I do prefer bowls that are big enough for this just in case.
On a side note, I have read several times now that distilled water is bad for reptiles and amphibians as its demineralised state causes it to leach minerals out of animals’ bodies. Having looked into this, research and first-hand observations by herpetoculturists do corroborate this information. I recommend that you never use distilled water for herps. If the tap water in your area is safe for fish (a decent aquatics shop will be able to tell you) then it is fine to use, if not then opt for natural bottled water. Check out the hygiene section for how often you should change the water.
Ball Python Substrate and Decorations
As far as substrates go, the most popular options are aspen shavings, newspaper, orchid bark, coconut fibre, cypress mulch and paper towels. Newspaper and paper towels are cheap and absorbent. They also make it easy to clean out the enclosure completely and ensure correct levels of hygiene. Although it looks similar to paper towels, I do know of a python that had an allergic reaction to toilet paper, so this is best avoided!
A lot of people use newspaper or paper towels for the above reasons, but there’s nothing wrong with cypress mulch, orchid bark and coconut fibre. In fact, they are great for maintaining humidity. Personally I don’t like aspen shavings, but I have spoken to people with larger collections than me that swear by it.
Your best bet is to choose a substrate that makes it easy to maintain humidity and that you can afford to change regularly. Recently, coco husk has become extremely trendy, but personally I find it way too susceptible to mould. I don’t particularly care what’s trendy, or what other people use – and neither should you. Try some substrates and find the one that you suits your setup.
When choosing a substrate, bear in mind that Cedar, and to a lesser extent pine, are toxic to snakes and should never be used. Sand also appears to be harmful, being regularly inhaled and ingested by Ball Pythons if used. Whilst it is true that sand tends to block the digestive system of species that haven’t evolved to deal with it, don’t worry if your snake accidentally swallows a chunk of a different type of substrate – this happens all the time in nature with no ill effects.
Are ball pythons arboreal?
Are ball pythons arboreal? Well, no not really. What they are is opportunistic. They aren’t long, slender, graceful climbers like the Vine Snakes (Ahaetulla spp.), but if they’re hungry they will climb.
Over the last few years a study has been widely circulated that some people have cited as “proof” that male and juvenile Ball Pythons are arboreal. I have read the study in question and the authors (whose work was excellent by the way) did not state that all male Ball Pythons are arboreal. They stated that based on stomach contents of wild Ball Pythons in a south-east Nigerian rainforest, and how often they found them climbing, it was likely that males/juveniles there were more arboreal than females – as well as being opportunistic bird predators.
They go on to explain that some snake species show different dietary preferences between males and females because the females have to be big enough to produce eggs/offspring, giving them a different morphology and weight. In this case the aforementioned sexual dimorphism pushes females to prefer terrestrial prey and males to prefer prey found in shrubs and trees.
You don’t have to be arboreal to climb – or even very good at it!
This all makes perfect sense because most rainforest birds roost at night, making them easy prey for the male Ball Pythons who are generally lighter than females and therefore able to climb up and snatch them. Reptiles never turn down an easy meal, and a lot of terrestrial snake species will climb and eat birds if it is like taking candy from a baby. The authors never said that this is how this species behaves across their whole geographic range – only in one area of somewhat non-typical Ball Python habitat.
There aren’t a lot of trees to climb in some of the grassland habitats or agricultural areas that they occur in, and in these areas male and juvenile Ball Pythons occupy a terrestrial niche – not a semi-arboreal one. In the future we should be careful to interpret scientific studies correctly and proportionately, rather than taking the results of one observational study as a golden rule for a whole species. Especially one with as massive a geographic range as Python regius.
When people say that Ball Pythons are arboreal, it’s because they want to sell you nice, big, EXPENSIVE vivariums!
Sneak into the snake room at 1 or 2am and you will see both males and females climbing. They’re not exactly graceful climbers, and are by no means arboreal – but they still give it a try! Top is a 2300g female Spinner Blast Ball Python.
The reality is that both sexes like to climb, and enjoy a branch or two in their enclosure, but yes males are better at it. You do not have to provide a 6 foot (2M) tall vivarium with a small tree in it for a male Ball Python! 15-24 inches in height (40-60CM), with a climbing branch is completely fine.
As always, inspect any branches you use for rough or spiky bits and sand them if necessary. Also, if a branch is glued or screwed in place, it is best not to have it touching the floor as it will make it harder to clean.
Ball Python Heating
Ah, and now we get to that old argument, heat from above vs heat from below! It’s an utterly pointless argument, especially as Ball Pythons are nocturnal and rarely bask unless gravid or brooding. Sorry heat from above people – but just because the sun heats everything from above, that doesn’t mean that it makes a difference where your snake’s heat comes from. What you need to remember is that during the day a healthy Ball Python will spend most of its time hiding, and therefore gain (or lose) most of its heat through its belly.
Where the heat comes from doesn’t matter, but if the substrate your snake is lying on is too cool then heat will move out of it and into that substrate – that’s just how heat behaves, whatever the source of it may be. So, if you want to get the temperature right, then heat the enclosure however you like, just make sure you are measuring it under the hides if using heat mats or adjacent to the hides if using heat from above (i.e. lamps/ceramic heat emitters).
Are heat mats good for Ball Pythons?
Personally, I think heat mats are great for ball pythons. They provide gentle heat that replicates the warmth they would get from a burrow in the wild. For my snakes that have mats, I place both a thermostat and digital thermometer probe under the warm hide, and a digital thermometer probe under the cool hide. I secure them with perforated surgical tape and cover with a thin layer of substrate.
This is a particularly good way of keeping heat pads at a safe temperature. If you do use this method, remember that if a cool snake goes and sits on top of the thermometer probe it will read a lower temperature until the animal warms up – don’t turn up the thermostat in this case! Get the temperature right without the animal in there first, then use the thermometer probes and a thermometer gun to double check temperatures daily when the snake is in there.
Now I’ve mentioned digital thermometers and thermometer guns here for a reason: though essential for controlling your temperatures, a lot of thermostats are actually off by a few degrees. You should always place a thermometer probe close to your thermostat probe. Generally, a thermometer will be more reliable and helps you adjust the thermostat.
Perforated surgical tape is useful for keeping thermostat probes in place. It does not stick to animals like normal tape and is easily removed. You can use glue or silicone instead, but risk damaging your probe if you ever remove it.
Best heating appliances for Ball Pythons
As I mentioned earlier, heat mats are a great way to heat your snake from below. Mats work well if mounted on the outside (underneath) of plastic tubs and glass vivariums, as long as these are raised on furniture stoppers to allow for a little air circulation. Never place them inside these types of enclosures. In wooden vivariums heat mats can be used inside as long as they are in a special mat holder, and the thermostat/thermometer probes fastened to the top of it. If you chose this method make sure it is a decent holder – I have seen some useless ones.
Never ever use a mat without a thermostat; they can cause severe burns at relatively low temperatures due to the way heat can build up under heavy bodied snakes (referred to as thermal blocking). When using a heat mat, it should be placed under the warm hide. A mat that covers more than 30-40% of an enclosure’s floor space may make it hard to create a thermal gradient.
Other heating appliances for Ball Pythons
Heat bulbs should only be used if you can find a “night time” one – usually dark red or blue. A bright bulb as a heat source = all day and no night! That said, bulbs work well as long as the enclosure is big enough to allow for a thermal gradient to occur, and are housed in a metal cage to prevent your snake from burning its snout. Other than the fact that they make it harder to maintain humidity, it is worth mentioning that bulbs cost more to run than mats, especially if you choose the wrong wattage. It sounds counter-intuitive, but in a 3 foot (90CM) vivarium, a 50 watt bulb will struggle and cost more than a 100 watt bulb.
Ceramic heat emitters work like bulbs, but are more efficient, more powerful, and make no light – in fact they’re better all round! Like bulbs, they do of course heat the air and lower humidity, but as I said before, orchid bark, sphagnum moss and misting can help with this. Heat emitters can cause severe burns and do need to be in a metal cage.
Bulbs and heat emitters should be fitted at one end of a vivarium rather than the middle, and be at least 6 inches (15CM) from each wall. They are not suited to plastic tubs.
Last but definitely least – heat rocks are awful! They don’t work well with thermostats, are usually too small and cause more burns than any other heating appliance. Never use a heat rock!
Thermostats for Ball Pythons
Now that I’ve discussed the main types of heating appliances, lets take a look at thermostats. There are a number of brands, but three main types: dimming, pulse proportional and on/off. Always make sure that a thermostat is the correct wattage for the appliance you want to use it for.
Dimming thermostats are designed for use with heat bulbs, dimming and brightening them to control temperatures.
Pulse proportional thermostats send pulses of electricity to an appliance at a varying frequency to control temperatures. These are great for heat mats and ceramic heat emitters. They would wreck light bulbs though by making them flicker constantly.
On/off thermostats are fine for keeping heat mats safe, but not very accurate. They get to the set temperature, turn off, then cool down by several degrees before switching on again.
Ball Python Lighting
Constant bright light is not really appropriate for this species, unless they can retreat into a very dark hide. In fact, constant, strong overhead light can lower feeding response over time by stressing the snake.
Are Ball Pythons Crepuscular?
Recently a myth has started to emerge that Ball Pythons are crepuscular rather than nocturnal – but having slept in the same room as this species since I was 12 years old, I can tell you that it simply isn’t the case. Ball Pythons are nocturnal and crepuscular.
This myth has been created by manipulating a scientific study to suit those that want to sell you UV bulbs.
Basically there was a study that found that Ball Python eyes have evolved to respond to UV light. Some enterprising Ball Python “specialists” decided that hey, this must mean Ball Pythons are fully crepuscular and need UV! Cha-ching!
In fact, any eye of any animal on the planet that is not completely fossorial will respond to UV light and detect it. What other kind of light is there? And what kind of light reflects off the moon? All non-organic light in the natural world is UV light. Nocturnal animals have powerful eyes that make the most of any light available, so yes their eyes detect UV light – doesn’t make them crepuscular or diurnal though!
Do Ball Pythons Bask?
The second point these people make is that some Ball Pythons bask – so they must need it! Again, this is an interpretation by people who have little experience with the species. Female ball pythons will bask when gravid or brooding a clutch, and others will bask if temperatures are too low in their hideout. It’s not for UVB though, it’s to warm themselves up or to use this heat to warm up their eggs!
So when people tell you that Ball Pythons do need UV light – the proof being that their snakes bask – it usually comes down to the fact that their snakes don’t have heat pads so have to bask to warm themselves! In the wild, their burrows retain the heat from the day, making basking unnecessary most of the time.
Watch out for misinformation like this, as it helps to sell UV bulbs – not care for your snake appropriately.
The majority of these snakes are in fact nocturnal, being active on and off between 8 PM and 6 AM generally. Some of my snakes are more active around dusk, but not to bask. In fact, it’s usually because they’re hungry and getting impatient.
As a result, Ball Pythons have evolved to take up the necessary vitamin D from their prey rather than synthesising it with the aid of sunlight. The ambient daytime light that comes through your windows is perfectly adequate for their circadian rhythm, and specialised lighting is unnecessary.
Ok, so UVB isn’t essential for Ball Pythons, but can I give it to them anyway?
There’s nothing wrong with setting up a light in a vivarium and putting it on for just 4-6 hours a day – it’s entirely up to you and the odd exposure to UV light can’t do any harm.
I did the experiment myself with UV lighting on a 12hr daily cycle, and my snakes had a slightly lower seasonally adjusted feeding response over the course of 24 months. However… my snakes didn’t have burrows, rather, I give them caves. I suspect that if they had had very deep burrows to hide in, completely in in the dark, it would not have affected their feeding at all.
As yet, there’s no tangible proof that UV lighting actually raises the level of vitamin D3 in the bloodstream of Ball Pythons. But as I say above, there’s nothing wrong with providing it, or if you prefer, simply letting in natural daylight from your window.
There are only a few scientific studies available on this subject. They have shown no increase in vitamin D3 levels but are nowhere near enough to be definitive!
Other studies that have analysed basking in different enclosures have declined to record feeding response for the animals involved – something I find highly suspicious! It’s probably best to assume that these are biased and had the aim of attacking the use of racking systems.
Personally, I won’t be providing my snakes with UV as I was not happy with how it affected their feeding.
Ball Python Feeding
Ball Pythons have gained a reputation as picky feeders, due to their habit of fasting and their sensitivity to disturbance. This is a bit exaggerated however, you just need to remember that as adults these snakes naturally fast at different times of the year. In the wild they deal with differing food abundance by fasting or feasting, and also stop eating while breeding. Sometimes they fast for several months with no ill effects This is no reason to worry unless they are losing a lot of weight.
When trying to get your snake on a nice, regular feeding routine it is important to do two things:
- Maintain detailed records of feedings (or attempts) and include the snake’s weight every couple of months.
- Bear in mind the role that disturbance plays in feeding response.
Keeping records allows you to refer back to your snakes behaviour months or years before. It’s less worrying if it starts fasting in November but you look at your records and see that it did exactly the same thing the previous November. Considering disturbance is important because these animals are shy and it can cause them to go off food.
For example, putting a snake’s enclosure in a high-traffic area of the house is a common reason for poor/no feeding response. Another common mistake is trying to feed too often. If an adult Ball Python refuses to eat, don’t try again the next day – try again in two weeks with no handling in-between!
You have to remember that having its enclosure opened regularly is as annoying to your snake as being poked in the eye repeatedly would be to you. Also, moving them to a different enclosure to feed usually makes them even less likely to eat.
What do Ball Pythons eat?
When it comes to types of prey, the most commonly available are mice, multimammate mice (a.k.a. African soft-furred rats) and rats. Some snakes have a preference between these, whereas others eat all three.
If you have a snake that is picky with all of these, remember to try feeding it prey items of differing sizes, sexes and colours. Over time, I have found that snakes fed on rats grow faster than those fed either type of mouse. This is probably due to the fact that rats have a denser skeleton and musculature, making them a better meal by weight.
Frozen or live? In the UK these days it is illegal to sell live rodents as snake food. In many other countries it is still legal and the snakes usually kill the rodents very quickly (they’re snakes after all!). Nasty bites and gnawing do occur when too large a rat is given, or when a rodent is left in with a Ball Python that isn’t hungry. These snakes aren’t good at aggression; if they aren’t hungry they won’t kill a rodent, or even defend themselves when it gnaws at them.
Get to know your Ball Python’s feeding preferences
After a while, you’ll learn what tempts your snake and what doesn’t. Some Ball Pythons will eat a warm mouse left next to the entrance to their cave, whilst others will refuse to eat unless you make the prey “walk” around for them (feeding tongs are a good idea for this!). Don’t forget that they usually won’t eat when getting ready to shed, just like most other snakes.
Feeding this species is a learning process, but they aren’t as picky as people think. Personally I’ve had a couple of difficult snakes, but no major problems over the last 20 odd years.
How often do Ball Pythons eat?
Assuming you have a healthy, feeding adult Ball Python, you can feed it a meal equal to or slightly smaller than its greatest girth once every 7 days. Some keepers prefer to give a meal that is 1.5 times the snake’s greatest girth every 10-12 days but generally I’ve seen snakes do best if given the first option. Every once in a while you will get a snake that always seems to be hungry, and in this case it’s importance to give prey slightly on the smaller side to avoid it getting obese.
Very young hatchlings should be fed a meal equal to their greatest girth once every 5 days, then every 7 days once they have grown a bit. Occasionally, hatchlings will refuse to eat, and breeders resort to “assist-feeding”. This entails gently opening the snakes mouth and stuffing a pinky mouse in, eventually the snake realises the only way to get rid of it is to swallow it! You can find videos of how to do this online, but probably won’t encounter this problem unless breeding snakes yourself and starting off hatchlings.
In my experience, if you follow these guidelines it will suit most animals and they will not get overweight.
What you should bear in mind, however, is that my guidelines are just that – guidelines. Take them as a suggestion based on my experience – nothing more. When you’ve had your snake for 5+ years you’ll know what’s best for it, not me. There can be no set rules for a living creature, and you will have to get to know your animal. The metabolisms vary from individual to individual, but you will notice if your pet starts to get too fat or skinny. Weighing them every couple of months is helpful with this too.
Can Ball Pythons get overweight?
Some animals will always maintain a healthy weight on their own, whereas others will have a tendency to get fat and need close monitoring.
For example, I have a 4ft (1.2m) male Ball Python that eats a large mouse every week or two, but fasts for up to 5 months of the year. Generally once or twice a year he also accepts a small rat. With this routine, he has kept his weight to 1900g for 6 years now, only deviating by around 100g at any given time. I offer this guy a meal every 7 days (14 during a fast) and he maintains a healthy weight. He looks slim but healthy, exactly how a male should.
I also have a female that I offer food weekly and trust to maintain her own health. Her average body weight over the course of a year is roughly 2260g. When I breed her, on the other hand, she becomes extremely hungry for a couple of months when building her follicles and rapidly gains around 300g. This is perfectly natural and I feed her as often as twice a week during this time – she’s the one making the eggs and she knows what she’s doing!
There’s always one…
Now Bobby, the animal we can see in the enclosures section of this care sheet, is different all together. Bobby is always hungry, but as a young adult this was never a problem. Then, at the age of ten, he started to gain weight, despite being on the same diet.
This was entirely my fault because I didn’t weigh him often enough, and I had gotten complacent. His weight snuck up to 2300g from his usual 1800-1900! Fortunately I caught on and put him on a diet! He has since gone back to a year round average of 1850-1900g.
All that happened was that his metabolism changed with age and it was my job to spot this, lesson learned!
Tips for dealing with fasting Ball Pythons
Whenever a fast starts (so 3+ weeks without eating), you must double check your husbandry. If your husbandry is spot on, and the animal’s weight is fairly stable, then the fast is more than likely a natural one.
Every once-in-a-while, a Ball Python will go on a long fast. It can be weather related, life history related (i.e. breeding season) or a total mystery. For a healthy, adult snake, a six month fast is totally fine. If it goes past seven months, however, it’s a good idea to try some of the ideas on this list. For young snakes, (under 12 months) you should consult this list after five weeks.
After each step, wait a week before trying the next one for young snakes, or two weeks for adults.
These steps are in order of what to try first, all the way down to last resort.
One step at a time…
1. Drop feeding. Some snakes are shyer than others and can even change their feeding preferences over time. Try leaving a frozen-thawed prey item at the entrance to your snake’s hiding place overnight so that they can eat in private if they want to.
2. Experiment with low-light feeding, even if it is night-time. Ball Pythons are low-light feeders that use a combination of senses to lock onto their prey. They detect movement with their eyes, heat and movement with their thermo-receptive labial pits, and vibrations and very low frequency sound with their jaws and inner ear (their ears are atympanic).
If they were a diurnal, visual hunter, they would not have such highly developed labial pits. In my experience, many Ball Pythons are happy feeding when the light is on, but some prefer to eat in low-light conditions. This could be because their eyes are trying to filter out the excess light, rather than focusing on the movement of the prey, or that it simply doesn’t feel safe for them to risk the vulnerability of deglutition in what they perceive as daylight.
3. Try smaller prey. One thing I’ve noticed with my snakes is that they often break a fast when offered a smaller prey item than usual. This may be because a slimmer snake has less energy reserves to devote to digestion, or that their appetite takes time to ramp up properly.
4. Offer prey of different colours. It isn’t common, but some Ball Pythons develop a preference for prey of certain colours.
Try prey of differnet colours
5. Buy prey from a different supplier. Ball Pythons have a highly developed sense of smell. They can tell if you change supplier and sometimes it makes all the difference. This has worked for me on at least two occasions that I can remember.
6. Buy different prey. I’ve put this one further down on the list – despite the fact that it often works! Most Ball Pythons do fine on frozen rats or mice their whole lives. This is great because these rodents are the cheapest and easiest to find. Gerbils and African Soft-furred Rats (AKA Multimammate mice), on the other hand, are generally harder to find and more expensive. The problem is that Ball Pythons love them!!
If you try Gerbils or ASFs, your snake may well break the fast and go for it… but it could sow the seeds of a problem for the future. Weigh this one up carefully before proceeding! On a side-note, some Ball Pythons are fond of Chicks and Quails, but there is debate over how complete of a food source they are. I haven’t tried using chicks long-term, so can’t really add to this debate.
7. Clutter up the enclosure. If it doesn’t feel secure, a Ball Python will not eat. Sometimes, adding more hides and decorations to the enclosure can make them feel more secure and more likely to eat.
If it doesn’t feel secure, a Ball Python will not eat
8. Change the enclosure. This one is all the way down at number 7 because, frankly, it can backfire. In the wild, Ball Pythons are mostly ambush predators, but actively forage if they’re hungry enough. My snakes are in “ambush mode” about 60% of the time and “forage mode” about 40%.
Anecdotal evidence describes Ball Pythons entering a rodent burrow and wiping out all its residents. I can only assume that they constrict one rodent whilst killing others by using the rest of their body to press them against the burrow’s walls. I’ve actually tried simulating this in captivity, and some animals do react in a manner that supports the idea. When they get hungry again (after a long rest) they presumably have to go back to ambush mode at the burrow entrance – or find an entirely new one to exploit.
Moving a snake to a new enclosure (or even re-arranging an enclosure) does sometimes trigger a feeding response – possibly because it imitates this discovery of a new hunting ground. In balance, I say that this method can backfire because occasionally it creates a stress response and makes the snake even less likely to feed!
Moving a snake to a new enclosure does sometimes trigger a feeding response
9. Try feeding live prey. This is highly effective and works for a lot of tricky feeders. But… there are drawbacks. First off, it’s cruel. Recently a study has been touted as “proof” that death by constriction is quick and humane. This being determined by the fact that loss of consciousness and death happen rapidly.
Again, this is an example of people desperately trying to extrapolate a conclusion from limited evidence, without considering the bigger picture. An animal does die quickly when constricted – but what is terrible is the part before that, where it is bitten and stabbed with your python’s 30+ teeth. To put this to scale, imagine having 30 or more 3inch (2.54cm) long fishing hooks driven into you at once.
Second, live rodents occasionally bite back. Usually this is a minor injury, but occasionally a rodent bite can form an abscess and a hefty vet’s bill, all in one go. Furthermore, some rodents will gnaw at a disinterested snake. These injuries are horrible to see and often result in the snake being euthanised. Never leave a live rodent in with a snake!
10. So, you’ve struck out, and you’re getting very worried! Time to find an exotics vet and book an appointment. If an adult snake has been fasting for 7+ months and lost at least 10% of its bodyweight – it is time for this step. The same goes for a juvenile (less than a year old) that has been fasting for at least 5 weeks and lost at least 15% of its bodyweight.
Find a specialist at all cost, that is a golden rule with reptiles!
Do ball pythons only eat once a month? Really???
There’s another myth that’s been generated recently and goes as follows: “these snakes don’t eat much in the wild so adult ball pythons should only eat every 4 to 8 weeks”. Again, this myth is based on a couple of low-scale studies, no where near enough evidence to be conclusive.
This idea is simply negligent. It ignores the fact that in the wild Ball Pythons sometimes wipe out an entire nest of rodents in one go – then sleep it off for a few weeks. This does not equate to only eating one rat every two months! It also ignores the fact that adult wild-caught female ball pythons are often of a similar weight to captive ones that are fed one prey item every 7 to 14 days. Finally, it ignores the fact that the species fasts but also feasts in line with varying wild rodent abundance.
I choose to listen to associates that either live in or regularly visit Ghana and Benin, and have years of wild Ball Python observation under their belts. I’ll take several decades of observations over a short study any day, no matter how well it’s been executed.
Ball Pythons fast, but also feast!
Read your snakes behaviour. If it’s fasting, that’s fine. If it’s finished a fast and wants to eat once a week for 3 months then that’s fine. If it always eats regularly but only small meals, then that’s fine too! Following guidelines to the letter when feeding a living thing is ALWAYS a bad idea.
Starving a hungry snake by not feeding it for two months is CRUELTY! They are living things not robots. Their appetites will vary and you must learn to follow their lead. Clutching at scientific straws for the sake of appearing to be the ultimate Ball Python resource is damaging to the captive husbandry of the animals because loses sight of what should be every keeper’s defining principle: TO ALWAYS GIVE A CAPTIVE ANIMAL AN EASIER LIFE THAN A WILD ONE!
The absolute best time to feed a ball python is when you see them waiting at the entrance to their hideout.
Sometimes they simply will not wait – watch your fingers when they get like this!
Ball Python Diseases and Hygiene
With long-term captives special attention should be paid to hygiene. In the wild an animal will simply move away from a spot where it has defecated, but in captivity they can’t. This means they remain in close proximity to a high concentration of germs until you remove their mess.
The result of this is that if proper hygiene is not maintained, micro-organisms that are usually commensal can become numerous enough to overwhelm a captive animal’s immune system and turn pathogenic. A good example of this phenomenon is infection by Protozoa such as opportunistic amoebas and certain types of Coccidia.
Coccidia are a subclass of parasitic Protozoa that can infect Ball Pythons, but contrary to popular belief do not always cause symptoms. In one study, several snakes were found to remain subclinically infected with Coccidia if kept at certain temperatures, showing no symptoms whatsoever. It should be assumed that while some Coccidia cause an abrupt health decline, others will cause infections (Coccidiosis) if an animal is kept under poor husbandry conditions.
It is good practice to check your animals daily (just visually) and remove waste immediately. Enclosures, water bowls and hides should be disinfected with a veterinary disinfectant once every two months or more often if the snake makes a large mess. Personally I use F10 disinfectant. Water bowls should also be rinsed at least once a week and cleaned with washing-up liquid if any slimey-ness or build up is present.
My snakes love fresh water and often go straight to the bowl for a drink when I replace it every 3-4 days. On top of these hygiene measures, it is a good idea to completely replace the substrate every couple of months.
How to clean Ball Python enclosures
F10 veterinary disinfectant is incredibly safe when you respect the recommended ratios of solution to water. This is F10 Super Concentrate, but it can be bought as a pre-mixed solution.
Some pathogens can only be killed by heat or bleach, but if you use bleach be extremely careful to properly rinse it off before putting your snake back in. Also, be aware that bleach can soak into wood and slowly poison your snake afterwards.
Generally, veterinary disinfectant is the safest option when cleaning long-term captives. That said, bleach is your best option when cleaning newly acquired vivariums or furniture that are from pet shops and could have come into contact with Cryptosporidium serpentis, a highly contagious Coccidian parasite that kills snakes and is not killed by most disinfectants.
In addition to maintaining regular hygiene, quarantine any new snake for a couple of months in a different room to the rest of your animals.
Something that people often mention to me is their fear of contracting Salmonella from reptiles. Whilst reptiles do carry Salmonella, it is easily eliminated by using antibacterial handwash. Also, this disease generally attacks young infants or people with compromised immune systems. A healthy adult is no more at risk from handling reptiles than from handling eggs or chicken – but hand washing is vital.
When to take your Ball Python to the vet
Another question that pops up regularly is “should I take my snake to the vet if…”
If your snake does any of the following, take it to a vet immediately: wheezing/bubbling, salivating, getting a swollen face/neck, becomes unable to move/unfurl, shows lumps under the skin, looks straight up at the ceiling for hours (stargazing), or gets sores that seem to spread – take it to a vet immediately.
For minor scrapes and abrasions, a veterinary disinfectant ointment can be used. A tube the size of the one in the photo below will last you a long time and hopefully never be used, but it is well worth having it around in case.
Infections in Ball Pythons range from mites to Nidovirus respiratory infections. I’m not going to go into them all here, but the key to getting any of them treated is finding the right vet. If your local vet says “well I do have some experience with exotics so I’ll take a look” – that’s not good enough! It takes a specialist to have a high success rate when treating reptiles.
If you have to drive for an hour or two to get to the nearest specialist it will be worth it. In fact, it will probably be the difference between a dead or live snake after treatment.
Bioactive vs “sterile” enclosures for Ball Pythons
A very popular trend recently has been creating bioactive enclosures for reptiles. These have been extremely well marketed, based on the idea that they mimic an animals natural ecosystem and apparently never need cleaning. Generally these enclosures have live plants and a “clean up crew” comprised of isopods (woodlice) and insects called springtails.
These enclosures are fantastic for small amphibians and reptiles, but have to be used differently for larger reptiles (who make larger messes!). For starters, saying that they mimic a natural ecosystem is a bit far fetched – a natural ecosytem has hundreds or thousands of species, predation, food webs, exchanges with other ecosystems and generally a degree of complementarity between habitats.
At the end of the day, a snake in a bioactive vivarium is still confined to a relatively small area that it can’t leave, this is why Coccidiologists have determined that snakes in captivity are more susceptible to Coccidiosis than those in the wild.
Many other types of Protozoa, such as opportunistic ameoba, do well in damp substrate, and Coccidia can produce sporulated oocysts that survive for months in almost any conditions (other than extreme heat). There is no evidence that woodlice or springtails can destroy these parasites (though they will help keep your plants healthy).
So if your snake has in its digestive tract either parasitic, commensal or opportunistic Protozoa, they can eventually become a problem if the vivarium never has its substrate completely removed. Most of the time, woodlice can’t eat a hefty snake shit before the snake slithers through it – spreading amoeaba, flagellates and possibly Coccidia oocysts all over its enclosure!
Bioactive enclosures can lead to increased bacterial growth
Another problem with bioactive vivariums is that they can raise humidity a little too much, and that the increased depth of substrate or soil leads to an increase in bacterial growth. What I have observed since the bioactive trend is an increase in people asking for help with scale-rot (necrotising dermatitis). Scale-rot occurs after long periods of exposure to high bacterial growth, resulting from high humidity and poor hygiene.
There was literally a period of around 10 years where no one was asking me for help with this, then as soon as the bioactive trend took off scale-rot was back in fashion! You can now find videos on Youtube of “experts” treating their ball pythons for scale-rot and blaming it on adverse weather or accidentally spraying them too often. There is no excuse for an experienced keeper to have cases of scale rot in their collection.
I’m not blaming bioactive enclosures for scale-rot – I’m blaming the people that claim bioactive enclosures are zero-maintenance, all for the sake of making their products more appealing and profitable. Bioactive enclosures are great – but a zero-maintenance enclosure does not exist! Removing faeces is a must!!
Reptiles appreciate bioactive vivariums because they contain a lot of places to hide and climb that enrich their lives – not because they contain bugs and dirt. Personally I like naturalistic vivariums that look good but maintain high levels of hygiene, given that hygiene is the key to maximising a captive animal’s lifespan.
You can make a bioactive enclosure work for a Ball Python
It is definitely rewarding seeing your animal look like it is in the wild, but we have to remember that it isn’t. If you decide to make a bioactive enclosure for a Ball Python my advice is as follows: remove all excrement immediately and change the substrate every 6 months, disinfecting the enclosure every time. If you use plants that are hardy then you can re-pot them within a couple of hours. Also, you can keep a small portion of the substrate and put it back after cleaning, which may help maintain some of your insect/isopod population.
Baby Ball Pythons and Sexing
When you get a new snake, especially a juvenile, it is important to leave it alone for a week to acclimatise to its new surroundings. Be sure to put a juvenile in an appropriately sized enclosure, one that is too big can make them stop feeding unless there are very abundant hiding places.
Generally a new snake will have been correctly sexed if acquired from a good breeder. Mistakes do happen however, and there are two methods for sexing yourself: popping and probing. Popping refers to the practice of holding a snake above the vent and rolling your thumb along the tail to evert the hemipenes of a male. Whilst it is a useful method for juveniles, it can be difficult with adults who are more muscular.
In the video below, a breeder shows us how to pop Ball Pythons. I’ve chosen this video because the creator has included both male and female snakes, as well as a male with smaller than usual hemipenes.
Probing refers to the practice of inserting metal probes into the vent, and measuring the depth to which they enter. This method is particularly dangerous if done incorrectly, but both methods can harm a snake. If lacking in confidence your best bet is to have someone with experience show you how.
In the video below Brian Gundy shows us how to probe Ball Pythons. Brian is a life-long reptile enthusiast and definitely a breeder whose videos are worth watching.
Sexing Ball Pythons can be difficult
Last time I bought a Ball Python it was from a respectable dealer who was more than happy to probe the animal in front of me. As I said before, when you’ve found a good breeder that is most of your homework done.
Personally, I probe my hatchlings, then have another breeder double check their sex before I sell them – this gives us the best chance at accurately sexing all of them. The honest truth, however, is that some snakes can be exceedingly difficult to sex; the only 100% reliable way of knowing is if an animal has reproduced.
Ball Python handling
This Pastel Bongo ball python is particularly shy. Sitting down and gently handling animals like this can slowly tame them.
There is no particular method to handling ball pythons. Just make sure that they feel secure and that their body is supported. This Acid ball python is exactly the same age and weight as the Bongo Pastel above, but unlike her he is completely fearless. It just goes to show that their personalities do vary.
These snakes might hate being disturbed too often, but gentle handling once a week helps keep them tame and healthy. In the wild these snakes are mainly ambush predators but do regularly forage and climb as well. They also have to vacate burrows quickly when they flood, so they do get the odd bit of exercise. In captivity, using their climbing branches simulates this but climbing between your hands and exploring a (warm) living room is equally good for them.
A Ball Python should be picked up gently by the body, and with two hands if adult. When handling, the body should always be well supported and care should be taken not to touch the head, as this frightens them.
Do Ball Pythons Bite?
Ball Pythons rarely bite, and when they do it doesn’t do a lot of damage. In fact, I would say that a tame adult Ball Python will be less likely to bite you than a family dog, for example. They only snappy Ball Pythons I’ve seen have been hatchlings, or ones that have never had calm, gentle handling to tame them.
To this day I have only been bitten once by a Ball Python, and that was by accident because I fed it without using tongs. It resulted in a scratch, and of course reminded me that these animals are in no way a threat to humans.
Thanks for reading. I have made this care sheet as detailed as possible, but feel free to send me questions via the Contact page if I have missed anything!
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