Ball Python Care Sheet


This Ball Python care sheet reflects the way that I have raised Ball Pythons, and it has worked very well for me.  There is no way that I can create a full care sheet of everything I have learned from speaking with other experts and through personal experiences. If you are new to raising Ball Pythons I would recommend consulting directly with an expert.


Produced by: Zach Harper

Mystique Reptiles - Aurora, Colorado

970-250-4447 (call or text)

mystiquereptiles@gmail.com




Ball Pythons as Pets


Ball Pythons or Python regius are one of the most popular snake species in the pet trade.  They make such great pets due to their relatively small size and docile temperament.  Ball Pythons are nonvenomous and considered a constrictor.  Their name comes from the fact that they tend to roll into a ball and protect their head when frightened.

Myth: Ball Pythons are a very “easy” pet to take care of and require little care or attention.


Things to Consider Before Buying a Ball Python


  • Do I want a pet that can live for 30+ years?
  • Will I be able to source and feed rats to my Ball Python?
  • Will I be able to create and maintain a habitat similar to West Africa?
  • Can I afford to keep an exotic animal with the potential for vet bills?


If you answered "Yes" to these questions, then a Ball Python will make a great pet!


Housing

In this section I will discuss two types of enclosures.  A glass aquarium or terrarium and a plastic Sterilite container.  If you are interested in a rack system for multiple snakes, I am going to assume this care sheet is too basic for you.

The height of your enclosure is not very important, an adult female doesn’t need more than 6”.  For the length, I would recommend 18” for subadults and 36” for adults.  Anything in this ballpark will work well.  I personally use four different sizes and move snakes between them as they grow.

An Aquarium or Terrarium - These are probably the most popular enclosures for a pet Ball Python, but they are honestly not that ideal.  With a little work, you can make them pretty suitable.  Make sure you have the proper size lid with good ventilation.  Screen lids work well for this.  Snakes are escape artists, so make sure the top is secured.  Latching or locking lids are the best.

Temperature is very important and glass is not the best insulator.  You can buy insulation that is made from 100% cotton (recycled blue jeans) at the hardware store.  The cotton insulation is not harmful to pets or humans like fiberglass insulation can be.  I would recommend wrapping the back and both sides on the outside of your aquarium with this insulation.  I also covered about 40% of the screen lid with insulation.

Sterilite Tubs - Plastic tubs make excellent enclosures and are used by the largest breeders.  They are very lightweight, easy to clean and hold humidity, but they are not as showy as a glass enclosure.  I would recommend a Sterilite bin with the latching lid.  If you are using a longer tub, the lid usually has some flex in the middle.  Make sure the snake cannot push it up and slither out.

Cut out a large portion of the lid and rivet (or wire tie) ¼” wire mesh into the lid.  This allows for ventilation and will not melt by a heat lamp.

Heating Sources


The correct temperature is critical for Ball Pythons.  Many illnesses, regurgitation, feeding issues, and breeding problems can be resolved by having the right temperature.  Reptiles are cold blooded and have no control over their body temperature.  They rely exclusively on their external environment to control their temp.

With this in mind, you need to have a range of temperatures within your enclosure.  The cool side should be between 80-82 F and the hot spot should be 90 F.  It is critical that your Ball Python has space and options to thermoregulate.

I would recommend a ceramic heat emitter to achieve your base temp of 80-82 F.  A 60 or 75 watt heat emitter should work unless your home is really cold or your enclosure is excessively large.  The only way to obtain a consistent and accurate temp is by using a thermostat.  I know a thermostat will be one of your largest investments, but don’t skimp on this part.  I love Vivarium Electronics by Reptile Basics and use them exclusively.  A VE-100 for $84.99 will work to control your heat emitter (not for use with heat tape).

You can then use an under tank heater to achieve your 90 F hot spot.  Most of the under tank heaters are designed not to get too hot.  Heat tape; however, will get too hot and would require a thermostat to control the temperature.

Warning! Ball Pythons love heat - Your ball python should never have direct access to a heating source.  They will coil around heat lamps or hot rocks until they burn their scales off.  Heat rocks should never be used for Ball Pythons.

Warning! Fire Risk -  Just search the news and you will see many reptile related fires.  Heating devices can fail and overheat causing fire.  Make sure you buy quality products and that your home’s electrical can handle your heaters.  Do not place high heat devices near flammable material.  A quality thermostat, like the VE-100, will significantly reduce your risk of overheating.

Bedding or Substrate


You have many options for bedding/substrate.  When picking out a substrate consider factors like ease of cleanup, humidity control, dust, and cost.


Paper Products - Paper products like newspaper, butcher paper or paper towels are inexpensive and easy to replace.  The only downfall is that these products are typically not very absorbent, which makes spot cleaning difficult.  They also do not hold moisture for very long.


Wood Products - Aspen or Cypress Mulch make great bedding options.  Wood products are more absorbent, which makes spot cleaning easier and will hold moisture better than paper.


Other Options and Hybrids -  Shredded paper, paper pellets, Carefresh, and Astroturf all make suitable bedding options.  I like paper pellets because they are highly absorbent, which makes cleaning and humidity control as easy as possible.


DO NOT USE - Never use cedar or pine shavings for bedding.  The oil in these woods is toxic to Ball Pythons.


Feeding


Ball Pythons have a reputation for being picky eaters.  There is much debate online about the best way to feed Ball Pythons, and I would recommend researching all of it.  These feeding guidelines are my personal opinions and experiences.  I currently feed between 100-150 rodents per month, and this is what works for me.

Type of Rodent - I recommend feeding rats to your Ball Pythons.  With that said, I feed some mice to the younger snakes to help get them started.  Adult snakes do best on the larger sizes found in rats.

Live vs Fresh Killed vs Frozen Thawed - I personally feed all of my snakes live rodents, and I feel comfortable doing this. There is a risk associated with feeding live rodents in that they can harm the snake.  There are many stories of rodents chewing on a snake when they are left in the cage for too long.  I would not recommend leaving a live rodent with a snake for longer than 30 minutes. The rodent may also claw or bite your snake as it is being constricted.

Fresh Killed or Pre-Killed is the process of euthanizing the rodent immediately before offering it to the snake.  By feeding a pre-killed rodent, there is no risk of the rodent harming your snake.  Euthanization should be done humanely by CO2 or cervical dislocation. Once the rodent is dead, you can use tongs to offer it to the snake.

Frozen thawed is a very popular and affordable method for feeding your snake.  Large quantities of already frozen rodents may be purchased and easily stored in a freezer.  Frozen rodents must be thawed properly in order to avoid risk of bacteria.  There are a few effective thawing methods used.  I prefer to place the frozen rodent in a plastic bag and submerge it in warm water.  The rodent should be thawed completely and brought to a temperature similar to their normal body heat (98-99.5 F).  I recommend squeezing the thawed rodent with your fingers to ensure no part remains frozen.  If your snake does not consume the frozen thawed rodent, I do not recommend refreezing.

If you are feeding pre-killed rodents, and your snake does not eat the fresh rodent, you may freeze it.  This allows you to use the same rodent a second time as a frozen thawed option.

Separate Feeding Tub - There is a myth circulating around that feeding your snake in a separate tub makes them more friendly. This is not true, and being picky eaters, Ball Pythons would prefer to hunt from their hide.  Hint: In general, if your hand smells like a rat, you might get bit!

Fasting -  Many subadult and adult Ball Pythons will fast during the breeding season.  Fasting can last anywhere from a couple of months to over a year.  You should still offer your snake food once every week or two during their fasting period.  Never leave a live rodent with your snake for longer than 30 minutes.

Fasting is not a big concern, but if you notice other health problems or significant weight loss you should see a vet.


Water


You should provide clean, fresh water for your Ball Python.  Use a dish that is large enough for at least half of their body to soak in if needed.  Your dish should be heavy enough so the snake can not tip it over.


Hides


Ball Pythons spend most of their life underground in tight spaces.  They are a very timid snake and need to feel secure.  Provide a dark place for your Ball Python to hide.  The larger your enclosure is, the more hides you need to provide.  Don’t make your snake choose between hiding and temperature control from the hot to cool side.


Cleaning


You need to keep your enclosure clean and bacteria free.  Make sure to clean up urine, urates (the white mass), and feces as quickly as possible.  Feces contain bacteria that can cause internal parasites in your snake.  This is most common when the snake defecates in their water dish.


I only use and recommend F10-SC for disinfecting my enclosures.  F10-SC is a veterinary grade disinfectant that is not harmful to pets or humans, and has many uses.  I dilute 4ml of F10 into one liter of water in a spray bottle, and spray onto caging, tools, and water bowls.  A 200ml bottle of F10 has lasted me over two years.  Use as directed.


*F10-SC can also be used as a skin sanitizer, wound treatment, mouth rinse, and respiratory nebulizer.  Let’s just say it’s a great product to have on hand!


Humidity and Stuck Sheds


Ball Pythons live in a climate that maintains a 50-60% humidity, and this can be challenging to achieve in many areas.  Being in Colorado, I am often faced with humidities less than 20%.  I use a recycled paper pelleted substrate that holds moisture very well.  I also mist my enclosures frequently to keep humidity as high as possible.


Low humidity can lead to several problems but most commonly it causes stuck sheds.  A stuck shed is when your Ball Python sheds its skin but part of it remains on its scales.  Stuck shed is one of the most common health issues in Ball Pythons, and if left unattended, can lead to severe problems and even death.


If your snake has a stuck shed, all you need to do is soak them in a lukewarm bath for 30-45 minutes.  I use a sterilite container with breather holes and a locking lid.  When you take them out of the bath, immediately begin to slide their shed off starting at the head and working towards the tail.  Make sure it all comes off including the eye caps, anal scale, and the tip of the tail.


Online Resources


  • World of Ball Pythons - see tab Python Regius --> Care Sheet

  • iherp - This site allows you to create an account and track your animal's eating schedule, shed cycle, and health issues among other things.  This site also has a great knowledge base.

  • Free Reptile Care SheetsFree care sheets for a variety of reptiles.