Ball Python Care: The Basics of Ball Python Husbandry
Ball Python Care: Introduction
As the owner or soon to be owner of a ball python, having the knowledge to carry out great ball python care practices is crucial to providing your new acquisition with a long and happy life. Opening up your box and receiving your reptile is without a doubt very exciting. Prior to your reptile arriving home, you should have already prepared its enclosure with a hide box, established the correct temperature and humidity, and made sure fresh water is available. Although it is tempting to want to spend time with your new ball python, the first week is a critical time for your reptile to familiarize itself with its new habitat. It is not uncommon for reptiles to stop eating until they have had this time to acquaint themselves with their new environment. Once they are comfortable and have established a feeding routine, it is then okay to handle your new pet. If you need more information about how to care for your new pet, feel free to browse the Learning Center.
Common Name: Ball Python (USA)
Other Names: Royal Python
Scientific Name: Python Regius
Ball Python Care – Temperatures
The enclosure should provide a hot and cool side where the ball python can thermo-regulate. The hot end, which is usually heated via an under-tank heater or heat lamp should be 90 degrees F. The cool end will typically be the ambient temperature of the room the enclosure is in. The cool end temperature should be roughly 78 to 85 degrees with the nighttime temps being slightly cooler than the daytime temp.
Maintaining proper temperatures for your ball python is extremely important to their health. Failure to control proper temperatures can lead to illness and eventually the death of your ball python. It is important to establish these temperatures in its enclosure prior to purchasing your new ball python so that you can provide the best ball python care from the start.
Ball Python Care – Humidity
You cannot have the best ball python care without maintaining the required humidity levels; typically between 60% and 75%. If the humidity goes below or above this range for long periods of time, you increase the risk of stress and certain illnesses that come with having too much moisture or too little.
Limiting ventilation, increasing the size of the water bowl, as well as choosing the proper substrate can influence the humidity levels. Lastly, purchasing a hygrometer will allow you to accurately measure the humidity in the tank.
Ball Python Care – Caging
Acquiring a ball python will require prior planning with reference to setting up the habitat it will be living in. If you are acquiring a hatchling, a 10-gallon tank with a screen top will be good enough, however, once full grown it will need a minimum of a 30-gallon sized tank. When it comes to its enclosure, floor space is preferred over tanks with more height. There are many different types of tanks that can be purchased on the market today and it all depends on how lavish and secure you would like the tank to be. It is important to note that ball pythons, like many other snakes, are escape artists. If there is a way to escape from the inside, they will expose it and you can be sure that it will continually escape unless something is corrected. No matter how much money you put into its enclosure the take away from this topic is to make sure the tank is the right size and secure.
A second option is one that most breeders use and that is a rack system. Racks give a breeder the ability to house many snakes in a small area that would otherwise be impossible with a terrarium.
Ball Python Care – Caging Accessories
There are a few accessories that I highly recommend a person should include in their ball python’s setup. Here are a few: the substrate, what it will hide in, a water dish, a way to thermo-regulate, surface temperature reader, and a thermometer/hygrometer device.
With reference to the substrate, there are a plethora of options, but only few I believe work best for ball pythons. The substrate I prefer to use and recommend is compressed coconut, also known as eco earth. The reason I prefer this substrate is due to its ability to retain water, which will help maintain a proper humidity level in the cage. It is digestible and eliminates any possibility of impaction. Is this the best substrate on the market for ball pythons? I believe it is among the best, but there are others out there that are great as well. Aside from the latter, Reptichip, which is also made of coconut, is very good as well. Wood chips made of tree bark is another good option, although I believe the aforementioned substrates outshine it when it comes to water retention. Ball pythons have also done well on aspen shavings and newspaper, but you may find yourself cleaning the cage a lot more often. Newspaper, in particular, has been known to get the ink on ball pythons, which can be rather unattractive. If you do decide to use wood shavings, avoid those made from pine and cedar. These woods contain oils that are not good for snakes. (Side note: If you breed rats to feed them to your snakes, avoid pine and cedar wood shavings for them as well)
When it comes to a hide, you can use anything that a ball python can slither into and feel safe. There are really nice hides that can make the enclosure really nice to look at while others just use a cardboard box. Realistically, the snake doesn’t care as long as it’s clean and he can hide in there. A hide of some sort is an important component to a ball pythons care because its sense of security effects is stress level, which consequently effects its desire to eat.
Water Dish & Thermoregulation
A water dish with clean water should be in the enclosure and should typically be changed every few days. The water is generally kept on the cool end of your enclosure, which brings me to the topic of thermoregulation. The hot end should be heated via an under tank heater or heat lamp. I particularly recommend an under tank heater. There are many products that you can purchase that allow you to paste a heating pad to the bottom of the tank. DO NOT use hot rocks! These have been known to reach extremely high temperatures and unfortunately ball pythons will lie on them despite being slowly burned.
Surface Temperature Reader
A temp reader should also be acquired so that you can accurately measure the surface temperature of the hot end. Keeping an eye on your ball python to see if they are always on the cool end is also a good indicator that the hot end is too hot.
Thermometer / Hygrometer Measurement Device
Lastly, it is a good idea to obtain a thermometer and hygrometer measurement device. As mentioned earlier, ball pythons require an ambient temperature of 78-85 degrees F. Additionally, Ball pythons require humidity levels between 60% and 75%. Being able to accurately control the humidity not only helps with feeding and overall health but also helps the ball python shed properly. There are many products out there that can give you a roundabout measurement. Electronic devices are generally more accurate. Here is an example of the device I use and recommend: “Thermometer/Hygrometer Combo Unit”
Ball Python Care – Feeding
Ball pythons will primarily eat mice and/or rats all of their lives. No matter the age or size of the ball python, a mouse or rat can be fed to them so long as the size is appropriate for the snake. Hatchlings tend to prefer live prey such as rat pinkies or weaned mice. Once they have eaten a couple of live rodents, they can generally be switched to frozen-thawed rodents. Adults can eat a small rat or several mice. Ball pythons generally eat once a week, but it is not unusual for ball pythons to fast during winter months and as sub-adults. If you begin to have any issues feeding your ball python, this article can help guide you towards getting your ball python back on track: “Ball Python Feeding Issues”