The best way to feed a Ball Python involves simple tactics that will imitate natural circumstances and get a feeding response. Let’s find out more…
Ball Pythons are shy, mostly nocturnal ambush predators that prefer to use the element of surprise. When feeding them it’s important to take this into account. Therefore, the best way to feed them is at the correct time of day, and in a way that simulates the behaviour of wild prey.
In this article, we’re going to look at the best way to feed Ball Pythons by following the 6 steps that I always use for my collection. But before that, we’re also going to answer some common questions about feeding juvenile Ball Pythons, feeding frozen mice, and whether Ball Pythons can eat eggs.
How often to feed a juvenile Ball Python
Baby Ball Pythons live at a faster pace than adults. They grow faster, poop more, pee almost every day, and generally grow like weeds. This is because of their high metabolism, which is in place to facilitate their rapid growth.
Because of this rapid growth and metabolism, there is a popular misconception that you can’t overfeed them. The truth is you should feed juvenile Ball Pythons a meal roughly equal to their thickest body width every 5 days.
If you feed them more often than this, it can lead to constipation. This condition is quite common in baby Ball Pythons, so it’s important to keep to a regular feeding schedule and not give in to the temptation to overfeed them.
Once they reach 3 months of age, you can then move onto feeding them every 7 days instead, until they reach full size.
Let’s look at Jumbo, a very shy baby Ball Python being fed… This guy had ZERO tolerance for mistakes during feeding.
How to feed a Ball Python frozen mice
As you may or may not know, Ball Pythons don’t have the best eyesight of the reptile world. They can see movement, but they aren’t great at analysing what they’re looking at.
From my years of observations, I can tell you that Ball Pythons use a combination of senses to identify prey and strike. Your best bet is to stimulate a combination of them to get your snake to strike and eat.
These senses include:
- Thermoreception (heat sensing)
- Hearing (in a limited way)
- Smell/chemical reception
Of these senses, you can stimulate their sight and smell easily. The problem is the thermoreception – or heat sensing. This sense relies on the thermoreceptive labial pits that you can see on your Ball Pythons lips. To activate this sense, a prey item must be giving off heat.
In a nutshell, many Ball Pythons simply will not strike at any kind of food – mouse or other – unless it is nice and warm.
To warm up the mice (or rats, or whatever frozen-thawed food item it may be) there are two main methods:
- Defrost and/or warm up the mice in warm water.
- Let the mice defrost at room temperature, then use a hairdryer to heat them up for around 10 seconds before feeding.
I know people who have success with both methods, but personally I prefer the warm water method, as I find it heats up the mouse for longer. This is important because some of my snakes really take their time finding the head and starting to swallow their food.
Should you feed your Ball Python in its cage?
The longest-standing and dumbest myth surrounding pet snakes are that you should feed them in a separate container! You should always feed your Ball Python in its cage. Its enclosure is where it feels safe and is most likely to eat. Some Ball Pythons will refuse to feed if moved to a different enclosure!
Ball Python feeding chart by age
This chart was originally posted in another of my articles called How often should Ball Pythons eat?, and gives you broad guidelines on how often to feed Ball Pythons.
Don’t forget to weigh your adult snakes every few months though. If they’re not breeding, fully grown and still piling on the pounds (or kilos), it’s time to reduce the frequency!
|Age/circumstance||How often should they eat?|
|hatchling to 3 months old||every 5 days|
|3 months to 1 year old||every 7 days|
|1 to 10 years old||every 7 to 10 days, reduce to every 14 – 20 if necessary|
|over 10 years old||once a month or twice if giving small prey|
|while building follicles||twice a week|
|after laying eggs||twice a week|
|after a long fast||twice a week for two to three weeks|
What size rat to feed a Ball Python
What did your parents always tell you at the dinner table when you were growing up? Probably something along the lines of “eat up!” or “finish your dinner or you can’t have desert”. A lot of parents naturally have this concern over whether their kids are eating enough.
As snake parents, on the other hand, we really need to tone this down. Feeding too much or too large a serving can be a bad thing.
One thing in particular that can be a bad idea is feeding rats that are too large. If you feed them too often, your Ball Python can get obese. Some Ball Pythons have also shown a tendency to fast more often when consistently offered very large food items.
In my experience the best size rat to feed a Ball Python is always the same: a rat that is as thick or slightly thicker than the thickest part of your snake’s body. It doesn’t matter what size the rat is labelled when you buy it, or how much it weighs – just stick to this measurement and you’ll be fine!
This is true for Ball Pythons of all ages.
Can Ball Pythons eat eggs?
Doesn’t this sound like a crazy idea – feeding a specialist rodent predator eggs? Well, it’s not crazy when you think about it: it just doesn’t work. Ball Pythons cannot – and will not – eat eggs.
I say it’s not crazy because there have been so many cases of reluctant or even sick reptiles accepting eggs when they have refused all other food items. In fact, even some very picky Western Hognose snakes have accepted scrambled eggs.
As a herpetologist, I realise this makes perfect sense. Eggs are rich in protein, fat and a dense mix of vitamins that include Vitamin A, D, B2, B12, Folate, Biotin and Choline. They are the definition of a superfood.
The problem is that Ball Pythons like rodents, and occasionally birds. It is instinctive for them to eat these prey items, and they are genetically programmed to do so. As we discussed earlier, they need to see heat and movement to identify prey. Eggs just don’t fit the bill.
The Best way to feed Ball Pythons in 6 steps
- Get out a frozen prey item (mouse, rat, soft-furred rat or other) in the morning. Leave it to defrost in front of your snake’s enclosure. This is to allow the scent of the prey item to fill the room and slowly get your pet’s interest.
- Leave the prey item to defrost until 8 or 9PM, or until you see your snake waiting with its head poking out of its hiding place. When the snake is in this position, it means it’s waiting and ready to strike.
- Put the prey item in a ziplock bag and put it in warm water to warm up for ten minutes. The water should be 104 – 113F (40 – 45C).
- Turn off the light in the room to make the snake feel safer (Not always necessary, but definitely helps with shy Ball Pythons).
- GENTLY open your snake’s enclosure. No sudden movements! The last thing you want to do is scare your pet back into hiding.
- Use tongs or forceps to get the prey item by the tail or back of the body and dangle it in front of your snake. Move it towards your snake a little, then backwards a bit, then forwards again, and so on.
The bottom line
This method of feeding is the best that I’ve found so far. But it is by no means the only one. There are other breeders who do things slightly differently, and it’s important to do your research and use advice from several resources.
It’s also important to get in touch with other keepers for help and support. The best place for this is usually on social media groups and online forums.
That said, feeding your Ball Pythons is a learning process. The best thing you can do is get to know your snake over time. Keep records and get to know your pet’s preferences. This can make feeding time go a lot more smoothly.
Also on this topic:
- How often should Ball Pythons eat?
- Do Ball Pythons Need Vitamin Supplements?
- Ball Python not eating (what should I do?)
- When should you assist feed a baby Ball Python?
- Ball Python heat pits
For more on Ball Python diet in general:
Back to the Ball Python feeding page