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Ball Python Care Sheet

Basic Information:

Common Names: Ball Python or Royal Python

Scientific Name: Python Regius

Where are they found in the wild: Africa, although most most ball pythons are currently bred by breeders.

Longevity: Usually ball pythons live 20 - 25 years with good care. Some have lived 30 years or longer.

Location of Wild Ball Pythons
ball_python_location.jpg

Environmental Requirements:

Enclosure: A new born ball python is usually kept in a small Rubbermaid or Sterilite container. I would honestly recommend this for a young snake since they will feel more secure if they have a small place to hide. As they grow larger you can choose to upgrade your plastic containers to larger ones, or buy a glass aquarium. Many people, especially those with a large number of snakes, choose to use these plastic containers because it is cheaper, easier to store, and easier to clean, than aquariums or vision cages. It will be up to you to decide which method you want to use. Many people say the bare minimum for a full grown ball python is a 20 gallon long aquarium, but they recommend using a 30 gallon aquarium.

Temperature: During he summer months the temperature on the hot side of the enclosure should be 85 - 90 degrees. With the temperature on the cool side being 78 - 80 degrees. I've been told that if you go to high over 90 degrees you can cause brain damage to your snake. During the winter you can try to simulate nature by lowering the temperature to around 85 degrees on the hot side and 75 degrees on the cool side. This is not a requirement though, as you can keep the temperature the same year round. You can use the cheap round stick on gauges to monitor temperatures or you can buy a digital gauge with a probe. Note: You can buy a digital Temperature/Hydrometer gauge with two probes. (Continue to "Heating Methods:" for more on how to obtain this heat.)

Humidity: Ball Pythons require a semi-high to high humidity. You should keep humidity around 60+% if possible, with the bare minimum being 50%. Aquariums and other cages with screen tops can make it hard to lock in the humidity generated from misting, since all of it evaporates out of the enclosure. If you are having problems keeping humidity high try misting the cage more often, placing the water dish below a heat lamp or above a heating pad (water in dish evaporates quicker increasing humidity), or (if you have a screen top) covering half to three quarters of your screen top with plastic to trap humidity. You can monitor the humidity with the cheap round stick on gauges or you can buy a digital humidity gauge with a probe. Note: You can buy a digital Temperature/Hydrometer gauge with two probes.

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Heating Methods:

Heat Lamps: There are a few basic ways to achieve the temperature your snake is going to need. The first way is to use a heat lamp with a heating bulb. Usually you can buy a ceramic heat lamp made for use with reptiles online for fairly cheap ($7.99 - $10.99 depending on the size). As for the bulbs, they don't need to produce any certain amount of UVA/UVB, since ball pythons are nocturnal. Usually you'll need a day time bulb and a night time bulb. The night time bulb will help provide heat at night, yet not produce enough noticeable light to bother your snake (they usually come out and search around at night). The wattage size you will need depends on how cool/hot the environment is around the enclosure, and how hot you want to make the inside of the enclosure. If you find a 60 watt bulb creates to much heat downgrade to a 50 watt, or vice versa. Always keep extra bulbs on hand for when older ones blow out. It will save you time and money to just buy 5 or 6 bulbs on the internet. Instead of running to your local pet shop and paying a ridiculous price for one bulb, if they even have any in stock.

Heating Pads/Heat Cables: Heat pads and heat cables are similar because they are usually placed under the bottom of the enclosure. If you house your snake in a plastic Rubbermaid of Sterilite container you have to use one of these methods. Heat pads are placed under the enclosure on one side. Heat cables are looped back and forth under the enclosure, again... on one side only. Heat pads usually are a bit more expensive than heat lamps, but they will last longer than the bulbs. Ditto with heat cables.

Hot Rocks: Do NOT use these! Even the ones with the rheostats can malfunction and burn your snake!

Note: Unless you have time to sit there and monitor temperatures always set up your snakes enclosure before buying it so the temperature has stabilized.

Substrate and Hides

Substrate: There are a few different types of substrates that you can use. One of the most popular substrates is aspen. Aspen is, in my opinion, one of the best wood chip substrates you can use. I don't recommend feeding snakes in their enclosures anyway, but if you decide to use a wood chips based substrate definitely do NOT feed you snake in its enclosure. Fragments from the substrate can become lodged in the snakes mouth or digestive track. If you want a cheaper type of substrate you can use paper towels. I buy a 6 - pack of off brand paper towels at Wal*Mart for $1.25. Usually I can go a whole month with one roll (for my leopard gecko and ball python). And most of the roll is used cleaning out water dishes and such, not as a substrate. Paper towels are absorbent and you can simply remove all of them, or just the areas that have fecal matter on them, and toss them out. There are other forms of substrate like repti-carpet. I've used repti-carpet with my leopard gecko and I can honestly say it is was pain in my rear. As for other substrates like newspaper, I don't have any comment on them, as I have never used them.

Note: Cedar is toxic to all reptiles.

Hides: Your ball python will need at least two hides. Especially if you have them in a glass aquarium. The reason for this is because they can see what is going on outside their cage and may feel "surrounded" and insecure. Providing a hide will give them a place to go when they feel threatened, and lead to a less stressed out snake. You will need one hide on the hot side, and one on he cool side. Also, I noticed with my ball python that he wouldn't use his large hide over his small one. I bought the XL Exo Terra Resin cave for him to grow into and he never used it. I think it was because it was to large for him to feel secure in. So think about that when buying hides. You can also use a shoe box with a hole cut into it. The only problem I see with this is if they go number two in the cave and it gets on the box there is no way to clean it. Also, if he happens to get mites you will have to get rid of the box.

Diet:

Live, Pre-Killed, or Frozen/Thawed: For the most part it is up to you if you want to feed live, pre-killed, or frozen/thawed(f/t). There are a lot of snakes that have good feeding responses and will eat any of the three. Some of them need to be trained to eat f/t and some will not eat anything but live. If you want to get the best chance of having your snake respond to f/t meals you should start them on f/t as soon as they start eating. If you get your snake from a breeder chances are it is already eating f/t, unless they tell you otherwise.

Live: Should your snake only want to eat live that is fine. Many people, including myself, feed live and haven't had any problems with it. The only thing I would recommend is to make sure you have some tongs handy to grab the mouse or rats head so if the snake strikes and does not get a good coil on the prey, leaving its head free, you can hold its head back to prevent it from biting your snake. Never leave live prey alone with your snake. And I would suggest not feeding the snake live in it's cage. Usually when my ball python strikes the mouse urinates instantly followed my defecation. This will leave you snakes cage a mess. I feed in a plastic Sterilite tub with no substrate. That way I can blast it with hot water after feedings, and dry it out so it is ready for next weeks feeding.

Pre-Killed: Sorry I don't have information on this because I've never pre-killed any of my food.

Frozen/Thawed vs. Live: We can argue back and forth all day about what is better, but I am just going to throw some points out there and let you decide what you want to do. If you are getting your first snake chances are you won't want to spend anywhere from $45 - $90 for 50 frozen pinkies, adults, or any size in between. A person with more than one snake would benefit from ordering 50+ frozen prey on the internet. It would be easier for the person to feed each snake, and not worry about watching until the prey is dead so there is no chance of the snake getting bit. So what if you have a moral problem feeding live? Then don't... go online and order your snake's food from one of the many distributors that sell frozen mice/rats. Really unless your snake has a problem with what you feed it you can feed f/t or live. Just be sure to watch with the live.

Size of prey: A good rule of thumb would be to buy rodents that are about as round as the biggest part of your snakes midsection. Aim around that area and you and you snake shouldn't have any problems.

How often: For a young ball python you should try to feed them once every 7 days. My feed day is Sunday. This way I know that every Sunday I need to feed them, and my Sundays are always open. If you wish you can choose to feed twice a week. Your ball python will get bigger a lot faster by feeding them more than once weekly. So far I have found no information that states that feeding more that one food item a week hurts a snake. For an older adult ball python they may only eat once every 10 - 14 days. During breeding season and winter some ball pythons eating schedules will be all over the place. They may even choose not to eat for some time. As long as they don't start thinning out there is really no reason to worry. Just offer food from time to time and eventually they will take it. As your ball python gets older it will eat larger prey, and it won't eat as often as it did when it was younger.

Ball Python on his feeding tub
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Maintenance:

The maintenance of any snake especially ball pythons are extremely easy. A young ball python on average will "go to the rest room" once every week at the most, or maybe once every two weeks. An older ball python will go once a month, or even longer. All you have to do every day is make sure there is fresh water, make sure the substrate is clean, make sure the temperature is correct, and make sure the humidity is correct. You may also have to mist once or twice daily. Honestly that is not to hard. I usually strip down my ball python's entire cage once a month to clean it thoroughly. If you use plastic tubs that is easy. Remove snake, hides, etc., dump substrate in a trash bag rinse tub out good with hot water, spray on a little bit of bleach/water solution, rinse again, add substrate and snake. You can wash the hides in the same way (plastic plants and other decor as well). Same thing with an aquarium. The only difference is it takes a bit more work.

Pros:

Usually never bite, or strike.
Stay fairly small.
Easy to maintain. Cheap, at least normal ones are. (Some morphs cost $10,000)
Respond better to human handling than most snakes.
Readily avaliable.
Most are captive bred.
Great beginner snake.
Don't have to walk them.
Don't have to play catch with them.
Don't have to let them outside.

Cons:

*Some have shedding problems.
*Some have eating problems.
*Can have mites when you buy them.
They are nocturnal.
Good escape artists. Require high humidity.

* - Usually happens in wild caught specimens that are sold in pet shops. Can happen to captive bred snakes as well.

Another Picture of my Ball Python
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More pictures will be added to this care sheet soon!