Common Name: Ball Python or Royal Python
Latin name: Python regius
Native to: Central and Western Africa
Size: Adult ball pythons average in size from three to five feet and are known to reach 6 feet in the wild.
Life span: Ball pythons are one of the longest-lived snakes. It is not unusual for these pythons to live 20 – 30 years in captivity. One specimen lived for 47 years at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Selecting Your Ball Python: Choose an animal that has clear firm skin, rounded body shape, clean vent, clear eyes, and who actively flicks its tongue around when handled. Also check for external parasites (mites and ticks) underneath the head and belly. All ball pythons are naturally shy about having their heads touched or handled by strangers. The snake should grip you gently but firmly when moving around. It should be alert to its surroundings.
Captive Bred is Best: Ball pythons are somewhat notorious for refusing to feed, but many believe that is a much larger problem with wild caught specimens. Wild caught snakes tend to be very stressed from capture and transport and often harbor parasites. Captive bred snakes tend to be more expensive, but they are well worth the extra cost in the long run.
Snake Health: If you already have a constricting snake at home, any new python (or boa) should be quarantined due to the risk of inclusion body disease. Experts vary on the length of quarantine, but 3-6 months is not extreme. A vet check should be provided, especially for internal (take a recent stool sample) and external parasites. We normally put incoming animals in quarantine for 60 days.
Temperament: The Ball Python is generally well-mannered, and will seldom bite, instead, if threatened, it rolls itself into a ball (hence the name Ball Python) with the head buried beneath the folds of its body.
Enclosure: Remember that all snakes are escape artists and when designing an enclosure it is of the utmost importance that whatever enclosure is used is made as escape-proof as possible. Generally an adult ball python should be kept is a 30-gallon sized enclosure (12 inches x 36 inches) or equivalent sized tub or cage. It is also a good idea to provide your ball python with a couple of hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool. This will provide them with a feeling of security. Remember they live in burrows underneath the ground.
Substrate: Newspaper makes excellent substrate even though it is not very attractive. It is easy to clean and is excellent to use when acclimating new ball pythons to their enclosure. Wood shavings can also be used, though cedar should never be used and some pine can also cause health problems as well. Aspen shavings are usually an excellent choice if using wood shavings. If keeping the snake on wood shavings, care should be taken when feeding the snake to avoid shavings becoming lodged in the snake’s mouth.
Temperature: Ambient temperatures should be maintained at 80° – 85° F with a basking temperature of 88° – 91° F. Nighttime drops should only be used when breeding and many breeders don’t use them anymore.
Lighting: There is no need for special lighting. Usually whatever natural light enters the room is adequate, unless you are cycling your animals for breeding. Changes in the photoperiod (shorter days) will stimulate breeding more than nighttime drops.
Heating: When providing heat, do not use heat rocks. Heat rocks are notoriously unpredictable and can cause serious burn injuries to your animal. Under the tank heating pads can also be used to help raise the ambient temperature of the enclosure or provide a basking temperature. It is recommended to routinely check the temperatures of the enclosure with thermometers. The heating sources should be controlled by a thermostat, rheostat or dimmer switch. Thermostats are not required, but highly recommended. You do not want to burn your snake!
Humidity: A 50-60% humidity level seems to work well for ball pythons. It is also helpful if you raise the humidity during a shed cycle.
Diet: Hatchlings can be started off feeding on fuzzy mice or pinky rats. Juveniles and adults can gradually take larger prey of adult mice or a variety of rats sizes. Typical feeding schedule is usually every 7 days. The size of the prey is usually equal to the girth of the snake in question.
Maintenance: Fresh water should be maintained. Newspaper is easily replaced when soiled. Wood shavings should be spot cleaned as needed. Periodically, the enclosure should be disinfected. A 5% bleach solution or 2 % chlorhexidine solution makes an excellent disinfectant. When using the bleach solution, the cage should be thoroughly rinsed and allowed to dry. As always, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling your ball python or any cage accessories.