BALL PYTHON - PYTHON REGIUS
Ball python is a non-venomous constrictor, located in dry savannas, grasslands and open forests of western and central Africa. They spend most of their time under the burrows and are the most active at night.
Ball pythons are one of the smallest pythons of Africa. Adult length is reaching somewhere between 1-1,4 meters, females tend to be slightly bigger than males. Weight is normally around 1-3 kg, but even 4kg isn’t that uncommon.
Ball python’s common name comes from it’s defense strategy called ”balling”. When threatened, they are coiling into a small, tight ball with their head being safe at the center. Still when they have this very special way to defend themselves, they might still bite, although their bite isn’t dangerous to human. Usually they are pretty calm snakes and easy to handle.
Ball python is a great choice for a first snake, as far as you’re finding out all the requirements of the species before getting one. You should have the enclosure ready at first, so you’ll have those right requirements and temperatures checked before getting the snake.
Ball pythons have long potential lifespans, reaching easily 20, 30, even 40 years in captivity, so you should carefully consider before getting one as a pet. Snakes aren’t pets which you can snuggle with or take them out to the park or shop with you. If that’s what you want to do with your pet, a snake isn’t the right choice.
Because of their huge popularity as pets, breeders have created thousands of different morphs to choose from, and variation of prices is changing from a few tens to few tens of thousands of euros.
This species is listed on CITES Appendix II/B, which means that selling them without proper documents (Certificate of Origin) is forbidden.
My recommendation for the minimum size of their enclosure is 100cm x 60cm x 40cm (width, depth, height), but especially for bigger females the minimum width should be more than that. The bottom surface is much more important to ball pythons. Also rack-systems have been working really well, if the enclosures are big enough. For younger snakes I prefer for example 40cm x 30cm x 19cm Smartstore box as their first enclosure. The size of their enclosure gets bigger as they grow.
The enclosure should be located in a calm place or even in it’s own room, which isn’t in the heaviest traffic area in your house. Ball pythons are hiding during the day, so too much traffic around them might easily stress the snake. Make sure that the enclosure isn’t exposed to straight sunlight or cold airflow.
For example paper towel, natural peat, wood chips, hemp bedding or Aspen/Lignocel/Chipsi. Watching and feeding young snakes is easier with paper towel substrate. Also during quarantine it’s recommended to use paper towels, as possible snake mites are almost impossible to notice against the dark substrate.
Enclosure should be well decorated, because too wide and empty terrarium can stress the snake and lead to feeding problems. Water bowl and multiple hides are necessary, also different plants, roots, branches and barks are excellent for decoration.
TEMPERATURE & HUMIDITY
Overall temperature should be around 26-29°C, warm side 32-35°C. The best heat for ball pythons is belly heat, so the best heating source is either heat mat or heat cable. Always keep a small space between the enclosure and heating source!
I highly recommend to use thermostat with your heating sources, as with it you can control the temperature for the warm side and also prevent the risk of overheating. I have measured a surface temperature of a heat mat (without a thermostat) being over 45°C, which would cause some serious burns for a snake.
Humidity should be kept between 50-60%. Depending of the room humidity, a bigger water bowl should be enough to keep the humidity right. During the shed you can lightly spray the enclosure to slightly raise the humidity if necessary. Good ventilation is really important, as too humid, dry or ”stuffy” air might cause shedding and respiratory problems.
Natural light is enough for nocturnal ball pythons, as they don’t require any bright lighting to their enclosure. Although it’s good to make sure that during the day it’s sligthly brighter than night-time.
Frozen chicks and rodents like mice, gerbils, rats and ASF rats are a good example of ball pythons diet in captivity. Food needs to be unfrozen and warmed up in warm water before giving it to your snake.
With rodents you should change from mice to rats as soon as possible, as mice are way too small food for adult pythons. The right size of the meal is around 15% of the snakes own weight, maximum size being slightly bigger than the thickest part of your snake’s body.
How often you should feed your snake then? It depends of your snake’s age, weight/size and also the size of the food animals you give her/him. Babies are fed every 5-7 days, adults around once every 3 to 4 weeks.
Ball pythons have a reputation for refusing food, which may sometimes stress out the owners. During fasting it’s important to keep following your snakes condition and weight. A huge weight drop might be a sign for sickness. Most ball pythons will not eat during the breeding cycle or when they are in shed.
Even though fasting is pretty normal for ball pythons, mostly the reason has been wrong conditions, too much handling and/or stress. The first thing to do is to check out, that the enclosure and temperatures are okay, and avoid handling as much as possible. If you just got the snake, it’s good to let it adjust to it's new enclosure for a week before any handling or feeding.
Snakes do not enjoy of being handled, even though some of them might learn to tolerate it. That’s why unnecessary handling should be avoided. During necessary handling like cleaning, regular health check-ups and weighing it’s important to handle the snake slowly and carefully.
After feeding it’s good to wait for a couple of days as handling a snake too soon can make it regurgitate its meal. Avoid handling during the shed to prevent any shedding problems.