THE URBAN GECKO

caring for a ball python

12 Name/Common Name: Ball Python or Royal Python
Scientific Name: Python regius

General Information

Ball pythons are one of the most common snakes held in captivity today. The combination of their docile nature, easy captive care requirements, tolerance for handling and seemingly endless potential for selective breeding has made them popular with everyone from the new hobbyist right through to the sophisticated collector/breeder.
Ball pythons are terrestrial snakes and are native throughout Western and Southern Africa. They are shy and reclusive animals by nature and true to their name will coil themselves into a tight ball if frightened or stressed. Adults will grow anywhere from 3 to 5 feet, with females being distinctively larger then males. Captive bred ball pythons do very well in collec¬tions and have been known to live upwards of forty years.
Ball pythons are visually very attractive snakes. The normal coloration of a ball python consists of a black background with contrasting dorsal and side markings in browns and yellows. The belly of a ball python is typically white/cream and sometimes has random black markings. However many ball pythons in captivity today are anything but normal. Selective breeding projects have resulted in the creation of many morphs that have specific markings and/or colorations. Additionally the potential for new morphs remains an exciting proposition for many collectors. Here at The Urban Python we specialize in some very exciting morphs including our extreme toffee ball, sandblast and lemon frost.

Enclosure

Regardless of whether you are a hobbyist/breeder or a pet owner our advice is the same and that is to keep it simple. For pet owners your best option for caging is a glass/plastic enclosure while the hobbyist/breeder who will be keeping several ball pythons should look to a rack system.
Glass enclosures can be used to provide a naturalistic and visually appealing environment for a hobbyist. For those looking to house several ball pythons a rack system is an excellent option. These systems can be built by the hobbyist or purchased from a caging company such as Animal Plastics. The benefit of a rack system includes: ease of cleaning, efficient use of space and provides a secure space that is conducive to the humidity requirements of a ball python. For either set-up an average sized ball python should have an enclosure that is approximately 500 square inches, which in a rack system would be the equivalent of a sweater box for males (26” x 17” x 5”) and blanket box for females (36” x 17” x 5”) and for a glass enclosure a 30 gallon tank. Hatchlings are best started out in a shoe box sized enclosure, but will need to be “upgraded” to their larger enclosure as they grow to adult¬hood. The enclosure should also be well ventilated and should be securely closed at all times.

Ball pythons should always be housed individually.

Within either of these types of enclosures there are four basic fixtures required to provide an environ­ment that your ball python will thrive in; they are heat/light, humidity/water, substrate and shelter.

Heat and Light:

We believe it is best for the heat to be provided from below. In the case of a glass enclosure one can use an under tank heater, while the breeder’s best option for a rack system is heat cable or heat tape controlled by a thermostat. Because ball pythons are cold-blooded, they rely on their environment to control body temperature. The enclosure’s heat source should remain at approximately 90F and be situated at one end and create an overall ambient temperature within the enclosure of 80 F to 85 F. This will give the snake the ability to thermo regulate by moving from the heat source to a cooler area of the enclosure. In other words do not heat the entire enclosure. Also it is important not to guess or estimate the temperature – an accurate thermostat is a must. Night time temperature drops are not required and a minimum ambient temperature of 80 F should be maintained at all times.
Ball pythons should be exposed to light for 12 hours per day and dark for 12 hours per day, but because they are nocturnal they do not require a UVB light.

Humidity/Water:

Ball pythons require an environment that has a 50-60% humidity level. Humidity can typically be maintained by misting the substrate so that it is damp but not wet. Rack systems lend very well to creating this humid environment – however glass enclosures with screened tops can create some challenges. In this type of environment a humid hide shelter is a great idea.
Humidity should be watched very closely. Too dry of a habitat may result in repository infections while too wet can result in bacterial or fungal infections. But with proper care and monitoring this humidity level can easily be maintained.
Fresh water must be available at all times and can be provided by utilizing a heavy bowl that will not be easily overturned by the snake.

Substrate:

Ball pythons can be kept on many different types of substrates such as: Cypress mulch, Aspen shavings, Jungle Bark, Melaleuca mulch, newspaper, butcher/packing paper or paper towel. Here at The Urban Python we use Melaleuca mulch for our substrate, we find that it holds humidity well and is easy for cleaning. DO NOT use cedar products as a substrate – cedar contains toxins which can cause serious health problems in ball pythons.
All substrates should be spot cleaned of fecal matter/urates as soon as possible. Additionally the entire enclosure should be completely cleaned and sanitized about once a month, including a complete change of substrate.

Shelter:

Ball pythons are nocturnal and in the wild spend a lot of their time hiding underground. Because of this shelters are a very important component of their enclosure as they provide the snake with a sense of security. The shelter can be as elaborate as you like or can be as simple as a plastic container turned upside down with a door cut into it to allow the snake passage. The shelter should create a dark environment and be sized to provide a snug space for the snake to coil up in – if it is too large it will not give them the same sense of security.

Food

Ball pythons diet typically consists of rodents and in captivity are usually fed a diet of either mice or rats. Frequency of feeding can vary depending on the size of rodents being fed. Hatchlings are started out on rat pups and prey size is gradually moved up as the snake grows. We feed our adult ball pythons a meal of a small to mid size rat once a week. If you are feeding a larger meal you can stretch out your feeding cycle to around every 10 days. However it is important that you do not feed too large of a prey item. A general rule of thumb amongst keepers is that the rodent should not be larger than the width of the snake at its widest point. Ball pythons will accept either live or pre-killed rodents, but if you are feeding live it is imperative that you do not leave the rodent unattended.

Live rodents can cause serious injury or even death to your snake if not closely monitored at all times.

After a feeding we recommend not handling your ball python for a 48 hour period to allow proper digestion to occur.
It is not uncommon for ball pythons to go off of food, and this often happens during the winter season. Generally this is not a concern as a healthy snake can go several months without a meal and experience no ill affect. If your snake refuses its meal – simply remove the food item and try again at the next scheduled meal date. Handling of your snake should be minimized during these periods. We also recommend closely monitoring the snake to make sure their general health remains good and that their weight does not change materially.
Shedding: Prior to each shed the snake will start to appear dull in coloration, their eyes will appear milky and their belly will turn a pinkish tone. It is a good idea to slightly increase the humidity level of the snakes enclosure during this period to around 60-70%.
We developed this care sheet based on our experiences of keeping and breeding ball pythons. But, while this information has worked for us over the years we still recommend watching your snake closely as you may have to make your own “tweaks” based on the specific needs of your ball python and the unique features of your location.
We hope this care sheet has provided you with some useful information and insights into ball pythons. We are always available to support our client so please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail if you should have any further questions.

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