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Ball pythons

Natural History

Ball pythons are indigenous to western and west central Africa, but tens of thousands of these beautiful snakes are brought into the United States each year. In their natural, wild habitat, ball pythons experience a very high level of humidity and both wet and dry seasons. In captivity, some of these conditions should be mimicked to make sure the snake is comfortable, but captive-bred ball pythons are generally fairly easy to take care of. In fact, captive-bred ball pythons tend to have less issues than those that are caught in the wild. They feed better, have more docile personalities, and are much less likely to have any sort of parasite.

While ball pythons can grow to be up to 6 feet long, adults are generally between 3 and 4 feet long. Their relatively small size makes them a great choice for a pet. They are also not difficult to care for, are readily available, and can live for over 40 years. For these reasons, ball pythons are one of the most commonly kept pet snakes.


When first acquiring a ball python, it's a good idea to see if you can find out what his diet has been and maintain it, at least for a while. Many captive-bred ball pythons are already established on a mice or rat diet and will be most comfortable continuing with the same.

Ball pythons should generally be fed once a week. The amount of food they are fed depends on the size of each individual snake. For example, if your snake eats mice and is 2 or 3 feet long, he should be given 2 or 3 mice per feeding. Do not handle your ball python for 24 hours after a feeding, as you will run the risk of causing him to regurgitate food that he has not yet fully digested.

All snakes should be willing to accept live prey, as this is the form of food that is most natural for them. Monitor the feeding situation closely, however, as live prey can injure your ball python. If he does not eat within one hour of the food's introduction, remove the prey from the cage and try again in a few days.

Pre-killed prey is often considered to be the more humane type of food. Pre-killed prey is frozen and must be thawed to room temperature before feeding it to your ball python. Some snakes are unwilling to accept frozen prey, but they may possibly be enticed if you hold the prey with a pair of tongs (never with your hand!) and gently wiggle it in front of them. Once he is interested, a snake will generally strike at frozen prey and go through all the motions of killing it before actually eating it.

Ball pythons vary in their eating habits and tendencies. Every ball python is an individual when it comes to how often he'll be hungry, and what foods he'll eat. Some ball pythons are very picky eaters, while others will eat just about anything you offer them. Get to know your snake and his eating preferences, and you will have a much better chance of raising a healthy snake that will live many years.


Ball PythonBefore you bring home a ball python, you should have his terrarium set up and ready to go. So what kind of home will your new snake need? And how much are you willing to spend on it?

A 30-gallon long terrarium is an appropriate size for the average adult ball python. A long terrarium will have a larger amount of floor space than a regular one, giving your snake more room to move around. Regardless of the size you choose, a terrarium should always be long enough to allow the snake to stretch out with no part of his body touching any side of the glass.

Snakes are escape artists. They can maneuver their bodies through just about any opening and have even been known to open cages. A terrarium must have a sturdy, heavy-duty lock to prevent escape.

The bottom of your ball python's terrarium should be covered with a substrate (bedding). Paper towels (dry and not colored), pine shavings, wood chips, bark mulch, or recycled newspaper are good options. Cedar shavings should not be used, as they can affect the lungs and cause skin blisters. Anything used as a substrate must be absorbent to keep odors to a minimum. It also must be large enough to not stick to food items and be accidentally ingested.

Just like humans, ball pythons sometimes need a little privacy. To make sure your ball python has a place to hide, you will need to supply his with at least one hide box. It should be large enough for your snake to be able to curl up in it, but it shouldn't be too big or it will make him feel insecure. A variety of hide boxes are available, including ceramic boxes and small, hollowed logs.

Every terrarium should also contain a water bowl. In addition to being a source of hydration for your snake, ball pythons like to soak in their water bowls. Make sure that it is heavy enough that it won't flip over if he tries to slither into it or over it. Also, keep an eye on the bowl and change the water as soon as it looks the least bit dirty, even if that means changing it two or three times a day.

How much will you spend on a terrarium for your ball python? There are tanks and accessories available for a wide range of prices. How much you spend will really only be determined by your own budget.

Health Care

While every snake is different, there are some problems commonly seen in ball pythons.

Mites and Ticks

Mites are very tiny creatures that are usually found on and under a snake's scales, on the rims of the eyes, or around the vent. They come out of their hiding places at night and suck the blood of their host, which can cause a snake to become anemic. Mites are also thought to be disease transmitters. They can be difficult to spot, but their silvery droppings give them away, normally appearing on the snake and in other places. Mites multiply very quickly and can do significant damage to your snake's health if left untreated.

If your ball python has mites, place him in a covered container with shallow water for three or four hours. While he is soaking, thoroughly clean and disinfect his cage and everything in it. Remove the snake from the water and dry him before returning him to his cage.

Ticks are not as small as mites and can be found between a snake's scales. They can be removed by swabbing them with a bit of rubbing alcohol and then grabbing them with a pair of tweezers.

By disinfecting branches, rocks, and other natural items before placing them in your snake's cage, you will be able to avoid most mites and ticks. You should also isolate a new ball python before adding him to your collection. The easiest way to prevent a mite or tick infestation is to plan ahead and take precautions.


Dysecdysis is a word used to describe a variety of shedding difficulties. It occurs when a snake attempts to shed but some old skin is retained on some part of the body, quite often the eyes. This skin will harden and cause improper shedding cycles in the future. Eventually, multiple layers of leftover skin will develop and will cause the snake to be virtually blind.

Whenever your snake sheds, you should inspect him closely to make sure all old skin has come off, particularly in the eye area. If a piece has remained, remove it by carefully swabbing the eye with a cotton swab dipped in warm water. Then, use a pair of tweezers to pluck at the edge of the skin until it breaks free.

Unlike dogs or cats, snakes do not need regular check-ups. If you keep your snake healthy, you may never have to visit the veterinarian. However, if your snake is acting strangely or has the symptoms of any ailment, a trip to the veterinarian can be important and should not be delayed.


After you bring your new ball python home, he will need a little while to settle in. Don't attempt to touch him for at least the first week. You may make him feel stressed, and if a snake is uncomfortable in any way, he may refuse food. After he is settled in and feeling at home, you may attempt to hold him. Holding a snake can be a relatively safe and enjoyable experience, but some precautions should be taken.

Always wash your hands before and after handling your snake, particularly if you were recently handling his food. Snakes have a much better sense of smell than sight, so he will probably not be able to tell the difference between an actual rodent and your hand that smells like a rodent— and you certainly don't want to be mistaken for a snack!Ball Python

The more a snake is handled, the more comfortable it will become with being handled. However, be sure to pay close attention to your ball python when you're getting ready to take him out of his cage. If he seems reluctant to be lifted or hisses at you, think twice.

Do not allow your snake to wrap himself around your neck. The muscle movement of a snake's coils can constrict blood vessels in the neck and render a person unconscious in moments. Particularly when handling larger snakes, make sure there is another person around, just in case the unthinkable happens and you need someone to loosen the snake's hold on you.

Getting Started

Keeping your ball python healthy has a lot to do with making sure you supply him with everything he needs. The following is a list of some suggested items every ball python owner should have:

Cage (an aquarium with a secure lid or a wooden terrarium)Healthcare of the Ball Python
Heat Source (an undertank heating pad and a basking light)
Hide box
Water bowl
Food (rodents or other small animals, live or pre-killed)

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