So you've decided you want a Ball Python. Congratulations! These animals are in my opinion the best snake you can have as a pet. But before you get one, or many, you must ensure that you know how to care for it adequately. How well your ball will do will be a direct reflection on well you take care of it. Ball Pythons are extremely tolerant of husbandry mistakes but this does not mean that they will survive neglect, so make sure you you take good care of them.
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IMPORTANT! The information provided below are general guidelines to Ball Python care, as a responsible pet owner you must ensure that you educate yourself adequately on how to care for your Ball Python. There is a plethora of information available on this topic, both in books and online, be sure to check out our links page.
In this section we will cover how to care for your Ball Python
Ball Pythons will need an enclosure in which to live. Recommended types are plastic/glass cages, melamine cages or fish tanks, it is not recommended to use an open air enclosure as these will not hold temperature and humidity well enough.
Adult Ball Pythons will need a cage about 1m x 50cm x 50cm
Young Ball Pythons will need a cage about 50cm x 30cm x 30cm
A good rule of thumb is to have an enclosure that is as wide and deep as your Ball is long.
Within the cage you will need a few basic
Substrate - Astro-turf, wood chips, newspaper etc. Avoid any substrate which is cedar based, this has chemicals in it which can irritate your Ball.
Hides - 2 will be required, ideally they should be the same type and reasonably tight fitting for the Ball to get into.
Water Bowl - A heavy ceramic bowl or natural looking water bowl are good as they are heavy and difficult for your Ball to flip over. The bowl should also be big enough for your ball to soak in.
Branches & Plastic Plants - If you will displaying your ball python then be creative and make your cage look attractive, this way both yourself and others will enjoy viewing your ball python.
As your Ball comes from Central Africa you must replicate the environmental conditions as closely as possible. Temperature and humidity will be absolutely crucial to the well-being of your Ball so you must have very good control over these conditions. Your ball will need a warm side and a cool side in its cage, you will place a hide at each end over these warm and cool spots. Also high enough humidity will be required to ensure your ball sheds in one piece.
Temperature - Ball Pythons will need a temperature range of 26 degC to 32 degC. This can be achieved with the use of heating mats used in conjunction with a thermostat. The thermostat controls the power to the mats to maintain a set temperature.
To get your cage ready you must get a heating pad that will cover 1/4 to 1/3 of the cage floor. This pad will then be placed underneath (not in) the cage on one side. This will be the hot spot and will be where the ball will bask. You will need to hook the mat through a thermostat that has a probe on a wire. The probe can be securely fastened inside the cage over where the heating mat is, alternatively it can be placed between the mat and the underneath of the cage to prevent the snake from moving the probe.
Set the thermostat to 32 degC so that the warm side is at the right temperature. As we are in South Africa we are lucky that it does not get too cold so we do not need to worry too much about the cool end of the cage. I would recommend keeping your cage in a warm part of the house to keep temps up. If you find that the cool side of the cage drops below 22 degC then you may need to arrange some form of heating for the cool end.
Humidity - Humidity needs to be kept between 50% - 70%. This level of humidity will help the Ball Python shed in one piece. Too low humidity can irritate your Ball, while too high can lead to health issues.
To increase humidity you can place the water bowl over the heat pad on the warm side of the cage. If your cage has a wire mesh on top then you should cover most of it with tin foil to keep moisture in. if you notice condensation in your cage then there is too much humidity and you should remove some of the foil.
Note that the use of heat lamps are not recommended for Balls. They get their heat from below and lamps can burn your snake if it comes into contact with it, also lamps will dry the air and lower your humidity.
On a final point here. It is extremely important to be able to monitor the temperature and humidity levels within the cage. Invest in some digital thermometers and hygrometers designed for reptile use. These have probes at the end of a wire that you can place anywhere in your cage. One temp probe must go over the warm side another over the cool side, the hygrometer probe can be placed anywhere midway up the cage. Avoid the dial type thermometers and hygrometers, although these are cheaper than the digital ones, they can be quite unreliable and not provide accurate readings.
Naturally your Ball Python will have to eat to stay alive. Ball Pythons will happily live off a diet of rats or mice. Ball pythons are constrictors so they will typically strike and latch on totheir prey, then rapidly wrap their body around the prey and squeeze, this prevent the prey from breathing and they die from asphyxiation.
Dead or Live Prey?
You will need to decide if you will feed your ball python live or dead prey. The benefits of feeding dead prey is that there is no risk of attack to your Ball Python. We have heard many times of snakes being attacked by rats or mice that have been left in the cage. You must remember that Ball Pythons are not an aggressive species and if they are not hungry they will not kill a live rodent, they are more likely to try and get away from the rodent.
If you do wish to feed live prey then you must supervise at all times and intervene if the rodent attacks your snake. Likewise if the snake does not appear interested in the live prey then remove the prey and try again the following week or as per your feeding schedule.
Remember in South Africa it is illegal to feed live prey to snakes so we recommend feeding dead prey to your ball python.
Rats or Mice?
We also try and condition our Balls to eat rats instead of mice. Feeding rats will make things easier as the Ball python grows as even large mice will be too small for an adult Ball Python. As rats will grow much bigger than mice it makes sense to feed a medium rat to a Ball instead of 4 or 5 mice at one sitting.
When And How To Feed?
We recommend feeding your Ball an appropriate sized meal once per week, then once the animal reaches adulthood (1200g or 18 months) you can feed once every 14 days. Try not to feed a prey item that is too big, a good size meal is a rodent that is as wide as the snake at its widest point or about 10% of the weight of the snake.
Try and stick to a set feeding schedule as closely as possible. Ball Pythons can be conditioned to expect food at certain times of the week and if you keep to your routine then feeding times will be made easier.
You will know your Ball is waiting for food because it will have its head outside its hide waiting for prey to come past.
To feed a dead rat you simply leave it to defrost in the same room as the Ball. The scent of the defrosting rat will excite the Ball and get it ready for feeding time. Once the rodent is defrosted you can heat it up in warm (not boiling!) water or under a heat lamp. This raises the body temperature of the prey which makes it easier for the Ball to 'lock-on' to. Using a pair of tongs you grip the mouse behind it's head and dance it in front of the snake. The Ball should then strike and constrict, then swallow.
Do not try to make your Ball strike by bumping the prey into the Ball's face, this will upset the snake and may condition it not to take food when you offer it. Also once your Ball has struck the prey, leave it alone, it takes time to complete the constriction and swallowing process.
Once your Ball has swallowed its meal do not handle it for 24-48hrs. You ball will need this time to start digesting the meal and if it is handled early after eating it may regurgitate the meal.
One of the great things about keeping snakes is how low maintenance they can be. But this does not mean you can skimp when it comes to cleaning. Cages should be cleaned out about once per week when all cage accessories and bowls etc are taken out and sanitised before putting them back into the cage.
You can use a weak bleach solution or reptile sanitiser spray, always follow the instructions on the label. Disinfect the hides, water bowl and cage accessories and while they are drying spray and wipe out the inside of the cage, be sure to clean in the corners as this where pests may hide.
Keep an eye for when your ball poops or pees, this should be cleaned out as soon as you notice it. You can also give your ball a wash in warm (not hot) soapy water, be sure to rinse it well and not to get any soap in its eyes.
As with most reptiles your ball python will occasionally shed its skin. Shedding occurs as the snakes grows larger. New Ball Python owners often get concerned the first time their snake sheds as the look and behaviour of their snake changes.
Some signs to look out for
Belly turns a pink colour
Skin take on a dull tone
Eyes turn milky
Food is refused
Note that if a snake has an injury, illness or infection it may shed more regularly to get rid of the damaged/infected skin.
Generally when your snakes begins its shed cycle it takes on a dull colour and the belly goes a slight pink colour. The eyes will then go milky, this is referred to being in the 'blue '. The eyes then clear up and the snake sheds it's skin within a few days. When you notice the cycle beginning we recommend upping the humidity as this will help a clean shed.
Shedding is a good indicator of your enclosure conditions and health of the snake. Snakes that shed in one piece are well looked after, whilst snakes that have a flaky incomplete shed need to have more attention attention paid to their environment.
In the ‘blue’ - note the milky eyes
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