The ball python (Python regius), or royal python, is a small, attractive and gentle snake native to western and west-central Africa. These nocturnal pythons prefer mixed grassland and trees (savannah) as their habitat. During daylight hours they hide underground in rodent burrows. In captivity, this behavior is interpreted as secretive. When they are frightened they coil up into a ball-thus, the name “ball python.”
Snakes generally prefer to be left alone, and ball pythons are exceptionally shy. Because they are small and docile, they may appear to be a good beginner snake; however, the new ball python owner must be prepared to deal with potential feeding problems, parasites and secondary health problems. The beginner should acquire only young captive-bred specimens or imported specimens that are proven eaters. A frightened snake may lash with its tail, hiss, or in rare cases, bite.
Is My Python Male or Female?
Ball pythons are difficult to sex. Usually the males have thicker tails, and the anal spurs are more curved. A reptile specialist can use a probe to determine your snake’s gender.
Housing should be an escape-proof enclosure that is the appropriate size for the snake. The best type of enclosure is one specifically designed for housing snakes, which includes a fixed screen/hinged glass top. A dark, secure hiding box inside the enclosure is mandatory for a sense of security.
- Housing Sizes
- Hatchling: 10 gallon tank (20″x10″)
- Young Adult: 20 gallon tank (24″x12″)
- Large Adult: 30 gallon tank (36″x12″)
Proper temperature regulation is even more important than the physical enclosure in maintaining a healthy snake. Room temperature is not adequate for the digestive process and health of the snake. Heat may be provided by special reptile heating pads or incandescent light bulbs in reflector hoods, placed to avoid direct contact with the snake.
Proper humidity levels help ensure successful sheds for your snake. Although the ideal humidity of the enclosure should be between 60 and 80%, this is difficult to maintain in a dry climate. An alternative is to provide a shedding box (eg, Tupperware™ container with the two opposite corners cut out for entry and exit). Sphagnum moss placed in the box maintains an agreeably moist environment.
Ball pythons typically eat at night. A prey item appropriate for the size of the snake should be fed at each meal. Ball pythons are constrictors-that is, they coil around their prey and suffocate it; however, only stunned or prekilled prey should be offered to avoid injury to the snake.
- Buy from a reputable breeder because a young, captive-bred ball python is less stressed and more willing to eat than a frightened, wild-caught snake.
- Bring your new ball python to South County Animal Hospital for a general health exam and test for parasites.
- Leave a newly purchased snake in its enclosure for 1-2 weeks to acclimate to its new home.
- Provide heat to your snake by special reptile heating pads or incandescent light bulbs in reflector hoods; the use of “hot rocks” in the snake’s enclosure should be avoided.
- Interact with your ball python during the evening hours when it is becoming active.
- Use a pillowcase as a transport container for short trips.
Housing for your ball python should:
- Maintain ambient daytime temperatures of 80-85°
- Provide for a basking area of 90-94°
- Have access to fresh water in a bowl that is large enough for the snake to soak
- Maintain high relative humidity (60-80%); a large plastic container with moist sphagnum moss may help proper shedding
- Include suitable substrates that are easy to clean: paper towels, or indoor-outdoor Astroturf®.
- Provide a climbing branch with greenery for basking
- Be escape-proof
- Live prey that may injure them
- Normal household temperatures (cooler than 75°)
- Unsuitable substrates such as corncob, wood chips/shavings, gravel, dirt or rocks
- “Hot rocks,” which are considered a potential hazard
- Direct contact with heating elements
- Soiled water bowls
- Cats, dogs, and other pets
- Unsupervised children
Having your python examined on a regular basis by an exotic animal veterinarian who is familiar with reptiles can prevent many common disorders.