Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ball Python

Ball Python (Python Regius) (A.K.A Royal Python)

Ball Pythons come from Central and West Africa where they live in rodent burrows, old termite mounds, etc. They normally have blotches of tan or dark green down the lengths of their bodies against black or dark brown, but, thanks to breeders, there are now over one hundred “morphs,” or alternate coloration variants. Some of these morphs are relatively common and will not cost you much extra, while others can run up to $1800.

Black-Eyed Leucistic Ball Python: One of the more
beautiful (and expensive) morphs.

The name “Royal Python” is partially based on a story that Cleopatra wore one around her wrist. Other versions say she wore it around her waist. However, the more commonly used “Ball Python” comes from their habit of folding themselves up into a ball, with their head in the center, as a way of hiding from predators.

Thanks to this passive defense mechanism, their relatively small size (6 ft. max.), and easy availability in a wide range of colors and patterns, they are extremely common in the pet trade.



No matter how high up it is, no matter how flat against the surface, no matter what size your snake is, never, ever, ever use tape in a snake enclosure. There is always an extremely high risk that the snake will get tangled in it. I have known people to have snakes that were severely, permanently scarred and blinded while having tape removed from their bodies, but it is very common for the experience to be fatal. Remember, tape is the devil.

That said, juvenile Ball Pythons (up to 2') can be kept in a secure enclosure the size of a 10 gal. tank, while larger snakes will need a space more like a 30 gal. tank or something around 36x18x12”. This may seem small, but these snakes naturally live in burrows in the ground. In addition, they are usually very shy and like small, tight places. Taking them out for a stretch is fine once in a while, but, in general, they appreciate their privacy. You may keep a Ball Python in a larger enclosure, but be sure to provide several good hiding places so they can still feel safe and secure. Ball Python's that feel insecure may develop behavioral problems or stop feeding.

Snake housing is commonly made of glass, plastic, or wood. Glass may be tempting because of its availability and because it makes it easy to view your snake, but glass enclosures make it very difficult to maintain proper, consistent temperature and humidity levels, which can lead to many health issues for a Ball Python, including potentially deadly respiratory infections. Also, the clear sides may make the snake feel exposed and insecure, which also means trouble.

Plastic storage tubs (like those made by Sterlite or Rubbermaid) have become more popular because they are cheap, lightweight, and very easy to clean. They can also be stacked to store several animals in a more compact space and holes for ventilation can (and should) be drilled to allow proper ventilation. Unfortunately, however, many people are turned off to plastic because, honestly, it's ugly. The semi-opaque sides also do not allow for easy viewing of the snake.

Wood enclosures are also very common and are easily customizable, but are also, typically, the most expensive. They sometimes come with heat and lighting features, but not always.

UV and other supplemental lighting is not needed for Ball Pythons. Ambient room light is fine, as long as the light is not constant and some sort of day/night schedule is in place. Too much lighting can be very stressful for these nocturnal creatures.

Substrate should never be pine or cedar chips because of oils they contain which are dangerous to many reptiles. Sand, gravel, and other gritty materials should also be avoided because of abrasions that can be caused and get infected. Cypress mulch, coconut husk-based substrates, or even newspaper are preferable.

Temperatures should be kept and about 80ºF overall with a 90ºF basking area. Temperature should never drop below 75ºF because of health risks. Hiding areas should be placed in different temperature ranges so a snake can regulate its body temp and still feel secure. A Ball Python will stay in a hiding area even if the temperature is too hot or too cool, so it is important to give several options.

Heating should never, ever be maintained with a heat rock because of the risk of burning or otherwise injuring the snake. Heat is best maintained from below, such as by a heat pad, or from above by a heat bulb or Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE). The only problem with bulbs and CHEs is that Ball Pythons are nocturnal, so a bright white light can be stressful. Red or blue colored bulbs are therefore preferable. Whatever method is used, the heat source must be well out of reach of the snake, to prevent burning.

One last note on heating: Be very careful about your choice of thermometer. I once had a pet shop manager test the accuracy of an dial style thermometer (of a very common brand), still in its original packaging, and we found it to be inaccurate by over 10ºF! That is a huge difference to your snake and can lead you to believe its enclosure is adequate while it is actually quite unhealthy. In general, go for digital thermometers over analog. Sticker-tape aquarium style thermometers are also terrible.

Humidity should be kept at about 50%-60%, and about 60%-70% while shedding. Too much or too little humidity are both unhealthy, so digital measuring is best here, too. There are many good ways to increase humidity, such as misting or placing the water bowl in the hotter area of the enclosure, but never sacrifice ventilation for humidity.

A water bowl should be placed in the enclosure. It should be relatively heavy, to keep it from flipping over as the snake comes and goes, and the water should be dumped out and replaced every few days minimum, or as needed. There should always be fresh, clean water in the enclosure. If you are having trouble maintaining humidity, the water bowl may be placed in the warmer area of the enclosure.

A Ball Python's diet is relatively simple. Rodents. In the wild, they are primarily rodent eaters and it's the same in captivity. Most common are rats and mice, but some other rodents may be offered. A Ball Python, though, is likely to pick a favorite food and refuse anything else. Many say that the size of the rat should be no bigger at it's largest point (its hips) than the snake is and it's thickest point. However, a Ball Python can live on prey just smaller than that, and it's probably safer to do so. An adult Ball Python can live on one small rat per week.

There is endless debate over whether you should feed live or pre-killed/frozen prey. Pre-killed/Frozen food is safer for the snake. It eliminates the chance that the prey will fight back, which can (and does) lead to injury, but care must be taken to make sure the food is fully, properly thawed. Do not ever use boiling water or a microwave to thaw food.

Feeding live prey carries some serious risks.


Partially because of their popularity in the pet trade, Ball Pythons are now considered “Threatened” in the wild. While many Ball Pythons are now bred in captivity, there is still a significant amount of snakes caught and exported from the wild.

To protect this species from endangerment, you should do all you can to make sure the Ball Python you are buying was captive bred, and not wild caught. Also, decreased Ball Python populations have allowed rodent populations to flourish, increasing human disease and parasites in the regions in which they live.

Even if you do not care at all about conservation, it would simply be a wise choice to not buy a snake caught from the wild, because they have a drastically higher chance of carrying mites or other parasites, developing behavioral issues such as increased chance of biting, and will likely have problems feeding. Wild caught Ball Pythons do such a poor job at adapting to captive life that many do not live more than a few years anyways.



1. Buy a Ball Python bred in captivity.
2. Use plastic or wood enclosures.
3. Use heat pads or bulbs for heat.
4. Always provide fresh, clean water.
5. Be careful with analog temp. and humidity measurements.


1. Use adhesive tape anywhere in the enclosure.
2. Use heat rocks.
3. Use pine or cedar chip bedding, or bedding that is hard or abrasive.
4. Decrease ventilation to increase humidity.
5. Leave live prey unattended in the enclosure.
6. Use boiling water or a microwave to thaw frozen food.


  1. Excellent care information - and very cleanly and brightly presented - i really like it!