Ball Python (Royal Python)

By Snaketracks / June 20, 2019
Ball Python
Ball Python (Royal Python)
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How To Care For Ball Pythons

Also known as the royal python, the ball python are popularly kept as pets because of their small size and docile nature. They are known as ‘ball python’ because they often curl into a ball when threatened or stressed. They are easy to care for, docile and long-lived. These characteristics make the ball python a great pet to have.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Pythonidae
  • Scientific Name: Python regius
  • Risk Factor: Nonvenomous, constrictor
  • Average Adult Size: 3-4 feet (0.91-1.22 m)
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Clutch Size: 3 to 11 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 55 to 60 days
  • Food: Frozen rats & mice
  • Average Temperature: 95°H/78°L
  • Humidity: 40 – 60%
  • UVB Lighting: optional
  • Average Price Range: $40 to $400
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Redlist

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Ball Python Facts

Scientifically, this snake is known as Python regius. They belong to the genus Python and the family Pythonidae. They can be found across sub-Saharan west and central Africa including Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.

In central Africa, they can be found in Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Uganda. This python looks a lot like the Burmese python in coloration, although the Burmese python is much bigger.

How long do ball pythons get?

These snakes are short and stocky typically reaching lengths of 3 to 4 feet although some can be as long as 6 feet. The females are bigger than the males.

While males are usually 3 to 3.5 feet long, females are usually 4 to 4.5 feet long. Although morphs of this species are of many colors, the color patterns of this python are typically dark brown on light brown with dorsal blotches.

Ball Python Habitat

In the wild, the ball pythons are normally found in sparsely wooded areas, savannas, and grasslands. While the males are semi-arboreal, the females are terrestrial.

Although they prefer sparsely wooded areas, they can be found in many other types of environments. They usually spend a large portion of their time in underground burrows dug by rodents and other small mammals.

Enclosure

These reptiles can be housed in glass reptile terrariums. The screen tops of glass terrariums make it hard to maintain conducive humidity levels.

Another viable option is a vivarium made primarily of wood, PVC or other types of plastic – these materials are good insulators. You can find vivariums specifically designed for snakes online and at most reptile pet shops. A Rubbermaid can also be used to house the ball python.

How big of a tank does a ball python need?

While most snakes need large living space, the ball python doesn’t. With a vivarium of just 36 x 18 x 12 inches, you can comfortably accommodate these royal pythons.

A large enclosure can actually stress the snake. Stressed snakes may eat less and can easily become malnourished. Therefore, the best enclosure for a ball python is a small one relative to its size.

Enclosure Accessories

It is crucial to provide hiding spots for these snakes. The hiding spot must be large enough to fit the entire snake. A good hiding spot is the Pangea reptile hide box. You can also have a few branches and décor that the snake can climb.

Substrate

These are many different types of substrates you can use for the enclosure. Cheap materials such as old newspapers and paper towels can be used. Since these are easy to replace, they make cleaning and disinfecting easy.

On the flip side, newspaper and paper towels are terrible at regulating humidity, they dry out quickly and this can lead to low humidity. Materials such as aspen snake bedding, cypress mulch, and coco coir can also be used. These are great at regulating humidity and providing an environment the snake is most comfortable in.

Substrates to avoid include abrasive materials such as sand, rocks, and stones. Also, avoid cedar as they can be toxic to snakes.

For more on the what to use, check out our review of the best substrate for ball pythons.

Temperature

In the wild, snakes regulate their body temperature by moving between areas of varying temperatures. Similarly, you need to provide your royal python with areas with different temperatures. Do this by keeping an enclosure with a temperature gradient.

The overall temperature of the enclosure must be around 78 F. The warm part of the enclosure should be 88 to 96 F. This should make up about a third of the enclosure. You can achieve this by taping a warming pad such as Fluker’s Heat Mat underneath a third of the cage.

Alternatively, you can have a heat lamp such as the Fluker’s Ceramic Heat Emitter over the snake’s basking area. To regulate the temperature use a Century Digital Heat Mat Thermostat Controller with the warm pad. Similarly, use a thermometer to check the temperatures of the warm and cool areas of the cage.

Humidity

As already mentioned, having a screen top can lead to low humidity since the moisture in the enclosure easily dissipates. Similarly, substrates such as paper towels and newspaper are poor at trapping moisture since they easily dry up. Beddings made of materials such as coconut fiber, cypress mulch, and aspen shavings are conducive for good humidity levels.

The right humidity levels keep the python healthy while allowing for easy shedding. The ideal humidity of the enclosure has to be 50 to 60 percent. Use a barometer/humidity monitor to continuously track the humidity level of the enclosure.

You can also use a misting system to increase the humidity if it is too low.

Lighting

Pythons don’t require UV lights nor do they require supplemental lighting. The lighting of the room is usually okay. Both the room light and the supplemental light need to be turned off during the night since the lights need to follow a day-night cycle (10-12 hours of lighting followed by 10-12 hours of no light). Remember to turn off the lights during the night. Leaving the lights on night after night can stress out the snake.

Feeding the Ball Python

Albino Pinstripe Ball Python

In the wild, the ball python will feed on birds, mice, gerbils, shrews, and soft-furred rats. Males and juveniles feed almost exclusively on nestlings and immature small birds. Females, on the other hand, feed almost exclusively on small mammals and rodents.

In captivity, they accept thawed mice, rats, and even chicks in some instances. The size of the prey is very important, if the prey is too small, the snakes may not get adequate nutrients. However, a prey that is overly large can harm the snake.

The prey needs to be about as big as the widest part of the snake. Prekilled rats and mice sold in pet shops are best as they are free of pests. Live prey can easily attack the snake especially if the snake decides not to feed.

On that note, all food that isn’t eaten should be removed. Pre Killed prey decomposes and goes bad if not eaten. This is a health hazard.

How often should I feed my ball python?

Royal Python swallowing mouse

It is important to maintain a feeding schedule as it makes it easier to notice any change in feeding habits. Babies and juveniles have to be fed once or twice a week. Adults must be fed less often. Feed adults every 10 to 14 days. These snakes can go several weeks and even months without eating. This is especially true over the colder months.

After the snake has eaten, leave it alone to digest the meal. Don’t handle or touch the snake for at least 24 hours after feeding. Disturbing the snake can cause it to regurgitate its meal.

Ensure water is always available. The water bowl needs to be large enough for the snake to soak in. Also, the bowl needs to be heavy so the snake doesn’t easily tip it over. The water shouldn’t be deep enough for the snake to accidentally drown. You need to change the water regularly, at least every week.

How long can a ball python go without eating?

Ball pythons can survive without food for up to 6 months in the wild. As mentioned above they should be fed every 10 to 14 days.

Why is my ball python not eating?

Not eating can be cause by several things. If your ball python is about to shed, is in a new environment, or otherwise stressed, it may not eat regularly.

Handling the snake too much can also be a stressor and can cause them not to eat.

Make sure to check the temperature in the environment, as well as humidity if they won’t eat. You can also try offering them a fresh meal, rather than a thawed one as an alternative.

Ball Python’s Temperament

This species is shy and spend most of its time hiding or coiled up in a ball. Recently acquired ball pythons will avoid you and try to get away when approached.

However, with regular handling, the snake will come to know you better and not shy away. It is important not to handle them for extended periods or frequently.

Although they are generally docile and bite, the python may bite you if scared. Their bites are non venomous and lead to a superficial wound.

How often should I handle my ball python?

You can handle your ball python a few times a week, but be sure to let them be after they have eaten so that they can digest their food properly.

How Long Do Ball Pythons Live?

This species is long-lived and can live over 40 years. On average, the ball python has a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. Since they are long-lived, you must only acquire them if you are ready to care for them for several decades.

How Often Do Ball Pythons Shed?

Ball Pythons shed around every 4 to 6 weeks depending on their age. Humidity is a key factor in this. If your royal python is shedding in pieces then the humidity is too low and should be adjusted. You can monitor the humidity using a hygrometer.

Breeding Ball Pythons

As one of the more popular reptile species kept as pets, ball pythons are commonly bred in captivity. The ball pythons breeding weight is around 1.5kg once it reaches sexual maturity at an age of around two and a half years.

Through selective breeding, hundreds of different morphs are available. The most common morphs include albino, pastel, lesser, leucistic, and Mojave.

How many eggs does a ball python lay?

Gravid females clutch size for a ball python can vary from 1 to 11 eggs per year.

How Long Do Ball Python Eggs Take To Hatch?

Ball Python eggs usually hatch after 60 day. In order to ensure proper incubation, the temperature should be maintained around 88 – 90 degrees fahrenheit.

Health Issues

It is important to be attentive, as this will allow you to spot health complications early. Watch the actions and behaviors of the snake for changes and indications of illness. The following are common signs of illness.

  • While it is common for snakes to refuse food, if it goes on for long, it may indicate infection. In addition, if the temperature of the enclosure is lower than it must be, the snake will eat less as its metabolism slows down. Ensure the temperature is always right (78 to 90 F).
  • Bloody and/or runny stool is a common sign of digestive problems. Similarly, a snake that hasn’t relieved itself after ten days of eating is likely constipated.
  • Wheezing is a common symptom of respiratory problem.
  • Ball pythons are famous for coiling up. If your snake lays straight often, then it may be ill.

It is important to spot clean whenever you can. This includes removing waste daily. This ensures the vivarium is always clean. The entire vivarium has to be thoroughly cleaned monthly.

This halts the buildup of bacteria. Clear the content of the enclosure and clean it with a 5% bleach solution (5% bleach, and 95% water). Rinse the enclosure with water and allow it to dry.

How Much Does A Ball Python Cost

The prices of these majestic snakes depend on the color patterns. Prices range from $40 to $400. Morphs such as the blue-eyed leucistic ball python can cost as much as $400, while ball pythons with the normal coloration cost under $40.

Where to buy ball pythons online

Reputable sites to acquire ball pythons from include Backwater Reptiles, Snakes at Sunset, and XYZ Reptiles.

Conservation/Threats

The ball python is not a threatened species. According to the IUCN Redlist, these species are of least concern. Although they are one of the most popular reptile species kept as pets, their wild population is stable.

Things To Consider When Buying A Ball Python

Conclusion

The ball pythons are among the best snakes to keep as a beginner. They are also excellent for expert snake pet owners. They are docile and don’t mind being handled. However, they live long.

A ball python at the Philadelphia Zoo lived to be 47 years. Before you acquire a ball python, ensure you are ready to take care of it for over 30 years. If you have any comments, kindly leave them.

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