Are you seriously thinking about buying a ball python? If so, great choice! Ball pythons are absolutely one of the best pet snakes for beginners. That is why they are also one of it not the most popular snake for reptile keepers today.
But, you really should know what goes into to caring for one before you make your purchase.
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Python regius or royal python is the scientific name for a normal ball python. This species originally came from Africa, particularly the West and Central regions before becoming a staple of the North American reptile trade.
They are popular for newer snake keepers because they are fairly easy to care for, they are not all that dangerous and they are pretty open to handling if you put in some time getting them used to it.
But, that doesn’t mean more experienced snake keepers don’t like them. They are very popular with all types of reptile owners and one of the key reasons more experienced people like them is due to the many types of genetic ball python morphs being bred.
These morphs allow for a very broad variety of colors and patterns.
Regardless of if you choose to get a very cute but standard one or a special morph, you are going to need to do your prep work to ensure your new snake has a suitable home waiting for it.
Proper Enclosure Setup
One of if not the very most important thing for someone to do before buying their new slithery pal beside plenty of research is to make sure they get and properly setup the enclosure or tank. You are basically recreating the natural habitat so that your python can thrive and not just survive.
A good tank will include plenty of space, the right kind of lighting and heat, the right humidity, a safe substrate and at a minimum a safe hiding spot.
What is the right tank size for my ball python?
This is probably the most important question when choosing an enclosure. You can’t really choose a tank that is too big except if it’s too big for you to keep in your house, but you can go too small.
In general, you will want to plan for a full-grown ball python even if you are buying a baby. That baby will grow.
Because they can grow to a length of five feet, you will want to consider purchasing what is called a 40 breeder, or 40 gallon breeder tub. It might be a big much for a baby, so be sure to give them plenty of hides.
You can also start babies out in something small like a 20 gallon tank and then upgrade as the grow, but that will cost you more money in the long term.
Mimicking Their Natural Habitat
Aside from having the right sized enclosure, you will want to recreate a habitat in which your python will feel at home. That starts with a substrate or bottom layer as a glass floor is anything but natural.
Aspens shaving are commonly accepted as the best substrate for ball pythons, but cypress mulch, coconut husk and even paper towels are often used too.
They have have their various pros and cons, so you need to figure out what works for you. For example, paper towels don’t look wonderful, but they are easy to clean and replace.
Certain substrates will affect the tank’s humidity too. Your python is going to thrive in the right humidity, which should be around 55% to 60%. You will have to play around with the humidity a bit to dial it in correctly once you place your substrate of choice.
Lighting & Heat
Once you have the tank picked out and the substrate situated you can spend a little time getting the heat and lighting worked out. Reptiles require different lighting and heat than we do to stay healthy.
For a ball python, you don’t need to worry too much about lighting. They do rather well with natural room lighting as long as they get a fairly even mix of light and dark.
The do not need supplemental UVB, but many owners have reported that giving them some UVB increased their pet’s activity.
Heating however is a different matter. This is because they are a cold blooded species.
Your slithery friend is going to want a relatively static ambient temperature throughout the enclosure. For this particular species, that is about 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can also provide a cooler side of the tank that checks in at around 75-80 degrees. This lets them find a place that they are comfortable with at various points throughout the day.
Besides the ambient temperature, they like to have a warmer basking area. That should be closer to the 90 degree range. This will be where they get a lot of their energy. Try not to exceed 93 degrees though as that can be detrimental.
You can use a mix of heating pads and lamps to achieve your desired temperature gradient. Just make sure to get accurate readings on the various temperature zones. The easiest way to do so is to use both digital thermostats and a handheld infrared thermometer for spot checking.
Now that you have the tank, the substrate and the heat and lighting established, you can fill in the rest of their new habitat.
Water – Yes, you need to provide a nice source of clean drinking water. A water dish usually does the trick. You will want to either use spring water or tap water that is treated for snakes.
Hides – Hides are shelter you provide so that your python can, as you guessed it, hide. At a minimum you should have one on the warmer side of the tank but it’s recommended to have one on both the hot and the cool side.
Decorations – You may want to provide some purchased (thus clean) stick and artificial foliage to fancy up the enclosure and give your snake something to do aside from chill out under its hide.
Lastly, remember to keep your enclosure closed. Balls are very good climbers and will not have any problems getting out if you give them the opportunity to do so.
Ball Python Feeding Tips
For this particular species, feeding is a bit of science and a bit of art. That’s a fancy way of saying they can be picky eaters and getting to know how your pet is will help you ensure feeding goes as smoothly as possible.
Babies vs. Adults – Babies tend to eat every few days while an adult may only feed once a week. Part of that is due to the baby needing to grow while also only being able to consume smaller prey.
Food Choices – You are mostly going to be buying rodents of different sizes. You should use frozen as they are safer than live. Your baby though can also eat crickets until it gets bigger.
Food Size – Try to keep baby food smaller than the head of the snake, while adults can actually consume mice and rats that are of a similar size to the snake’s girth.
Sometimes you snake is just not going to eat though. It could be for a variety of reasons such as it’s about to shed or it feels stressed. Don’t fret, just wait a few days and try to feed it again.
Common Ball Python Questions (FAQ)
Because this is one of the most commonly kept pet snakes, there are a lot of questions people tend to ask. So, we put together this mini Ball Python FAQ below.
How big do ball pythons get?
A fully grown adult can get up to on average five feet in length though females tend to grow larger than males who often top out at the three foot mark.
How long do ball pythons live?
Like most reptiles in captivity, they love longer in a safe environment and on average have lifespans of about 20 to 30 years. But, some have been known to live for 40 years or beyond. In the wild they average closer to about 10 years due to the harsher survival conditions.
Are they poisonous or venomous?
No, they are neither. Poisonous refers to when you consume something that then releases toxins. Venomous however is when an animal injects toxins via a sting or in the case of a snake, a bite. Ball pythons are not venomous and instead use constriction to suffocate their prey.
What do ball pythons eat?
This depends on the age and size of your pet snake. Younger ones will eat crickets and pink baby mice. Adult snakes will be able to eat and digest adult mice and rats. Frozen rodents are much safer than feeding your ball python live ones.
How much does a ball python cost?
A common ball python will set you back around $50 to $80, but some of the fancier morphs can run into the thousands. Don’t forget about the enclosure and monthly upkeep too when planning your budget.
How often do ball pythons shed?
You should expect it to shed about once every four to six weeks.
Are ball pythons dangerous?
Generally speaking, no. They are not venomous and are too small to be a danger with both their bite and constriction to an adult. They are also fairly passive. A bite can still cause an infection if not treated properly however, so always take care when handling one and if bitten, treat the wound properly.
Are ball pythons nocturnal?
Yes, they are most active at night. They sometimes will be active at dawn as well, but in general are more nocturnal than they are crepuscular. So, don’t be surprised when they stay in their hide most of the day.
Do ball pythons have teeth?
Yes, they have teeth but do not have fangs since they do not inject venom into prey. Their teeth are mainly to help them secure prey long enough to constrict it to death. A bite can still hurt though.
With a little research and preparation and a lot of love, caring for your ball python doesn’t have to be difficult. And, you always have the wealth of knowledge from resources like reptile forums on the Internet and local pet shops if you ever find yourself in a jam.
One final word before closing out this care guide for beginners. We highly recommend you avoid making your snake purchase from one of the corporate pet shops. They are perfectly fine for buying supplies like lighting and enclosure decorations. But, you will get a healthier and happier pet from a reputable breeder or small independent shop that puts a lot more heart into their live animals.