Ball Pythons - Python regius
The ball python is one of about 26 python species placed in the subfamily Pythoninae. Pythons are egg layers as opposed to boa constrictors that give birth to live young. Ball pythons are constrictors - they wrap around their prey and suffocate the prey until dead then usually swallow head first. Ball pythons range from Senegal to Togo in west Africa, and eastward to the Nile River in southern Sudan (1).
A ball python's head is flat on top, with no brows above its round eyes. It has a square, boxy snout, and heavy jaw muscles that make the sides of its head, behind the eyes, bulge outwards. It can securely hold prey with the 100-150 sharp teeth that curve towards the back of its mouth. Its neck is narrower than its head, but its thick body can easily have a diameter of more than twice the width of its head. Its tail tapers to a blunt end. It may be 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 m) in length. Females are usually larger.
DO NOT FEED WILD INSECTS OR INSECTS FOUND AROUND THE HOUSE – THEY MAY CARRY DISEASES AND PESTICIDES THAT COULD BE DEADLY TO YOUR PET
Average Size - The average hatchling is about 16-18 inches long, and adults can pretty easily reach 36-48 inches.
Life Span - On average 20 - 30 years, they can live as long as 50 years.
Diet - Primarily rodents such as mice and rats.
Feeding - They only need to be fed every week or two. Young snakes should be fed fuzzy mice every 5-7 days, older snakes should be fed increasingly larger prey and can go a little longer (i.e. 10 - 14 days). Use pre-killed prey as live mice can injure a snake - dangling the prey in front of the snake with forceps usually gets the snake interested. Captive bred ball pythons sometimes refuse to eat, fasting for a couple of months. As long as body weight and condition are maintained, this is not problematic.
Enclosure - Small Ball Pythons (16-28 inches) will do pretty well in a ten gallon size enclosure (20x10x12 inches). An absolute minimal cage for an adult Ball Python (30-48 inches) would be a long twenty gallon (30x12x12 inches). A long thirty gallon (36x12x18 inches) or larger enclosure would be better - remember they can easily reach four feet.
Substrate - The substrate of the enclosure should be either reptile bark or bedding labelled safe for a snake's habitat. A more economical bedding would be untreated, plain brown paper. Sterile soil is also acceptable, but it is dirty and somewhat impractical - think about trying to clean this out weekly. Sand and cedar shavings should never be used as substrate. Sand can get underneath a snakes scales and cause irritation and skin problems. Cedar shavings contain cedar oil and can be fatal to snakes as well as other reptiles.
Habitat - Provide a hiding place. A half-log is available at pet stores. An empty cardboard box or upside-down plastic container with a doorway cut into one end. The plastic is easily cleaned when necessary; the box can be tossed out when soiled and replaced with a new one. The box or log must be big enough for the snake to hide its entire body inside; if you start with a small one, you will need to eventually replace it as your snake grows. Balls prefer dark places for sleeping and, as they are nocturnal, they like the dark place during our daylight hours. Place a nice climbing branch or two in the tank with some fake greenery screening part of it; your Ball will enjoy hanging out in the tree."
Temperature - Ball pythons need hot, moderately humid cages. A basking spot of 90-100 degrees on one end of the cage should be offered, with the other end of the cage being 75-85 degrees. The humidity should be moderate, 40-60%. Many people aid the humidity by use of a humidity box. This is a plastic shoebox with damp moss inside. A hole is cut into it to allow the snake to go in and out as needed.
Lighting - No special lighting is needed. Balls are nocturnal snakes, spending their days in the wild securely hidden away from possible predators. To make it easier to see your snake during the day you can use a full-spectrum light or low wattage incandescent bulb in the enclosure during the day. Make sure the snake cannot get into direct contact with the light bulbs. They can get seriously burned.
Water - Provide a dish large enough for the snake to soak in. Soaking is especially important during sheds. Some owners like to provide a covered dish (e.g. plastic storage container) with a hole in the lid, to provide security for the snake so it will soak longer if necessary. Another alternative is to provide a humidity retreat, which similarly uses a covered container with an access hole lined with damp sphagnum moss to provide the moisture (a water dish is still provided outside the retreat).
- Habitat with secure lid
- Misting bottle
- Humidity gauge
- Book about pythons
- Snake bag
- Hide box or driftwood
- Water dish
- Undertank heat source
- Incandescent light or ceramic heater
Maintenance Thoroughly clean the tank at least once a week. Set snake aside in a secure habitat - a snake bag works well and is inexpensive; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all smell of bleach; dry the tank and furnishings; and add clean substrate
Grooming and Hygiene Will regularly shed their skin; ensure water dish is large enough for the snake to soak its entire body to allow snake to shed properly. Always wash your hands before and after touching your snake or habitat contents to help prevent Salmonella and other infectious diseases
Signs of a Healthy Pet:
Common Health Issues and Red Flags:
- Clear eyes (except when shedding)
- Clear nose and mouth
- Body is rounded and full
- Active and alert
- Eats regularly
- Healthy skin
If you notice any of these signs, please contact your exotic animal veterinarian.
- Wrinkled or rubbed skin
- Discharge in nose or mouth
- Abnormal feces or urine
- Decreased appetite
As with all pets in this category, it is important that you find a veterinarian that practices in EXOTICS – this is critical. The typical small animal practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge in this area. Even this guide is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose your pet.