There are many resources online that cover how to care for your ball python and many of them are very good. This care sheet covers what has worked best for us in our collection and discusses a number of other options that can also work. If you have any questions about anything covered here, please feel free to contact us.
Ball pythons can be housed in many different types of enclosures and do not require any special lighting. Here we have listed the pros and cons of each and our recommendations:
Plastic Tubs (Recommended)
These are standard storage bins that you can find at many local retailers such as Walmart, Solutions, and Canadian Tire. They may look basic and are very inexpensive, but they are fantastic options for keeping ball pythons.
These are the quintessential terrariums sold at pet stores and aquariums. They are easy to find and look good as display cases. These are good choices for starting out but we would recommend moving away from these in time to the other options on this list as it is easier to maintain.
We recommend getting a small terrarium for hatchlings and juvenile snakes. If a terrarium is too large, the snake can get stressed out and may not eat as well.
Because they are glass on all sides, it is important to provide a hide for your snake so that they feel secure.
A good balance between tubs and glass terrariums. These are specially made for reptiles and the PVC used in the construction of these cages makes them hold humidity better than the glass terrariums as well. This is a good option if you are keeping only one snake.
You may not need to provide a hide when using a PVC terrarium as the opening is in the front and the sides are opaque. Getting a black PVC tank will help the snake feel even more secure.
Ball pythons originate from Africa and as such, in the wild will live in a much warmer climate. In captivity, you will need to provide a heat source for your ball python so that their tank has a hot side and a cool side.
Several companies make heat tape for reptiles. They come in different widths and can be cut to any length. If you have never worked with heat tape before, do not wire it up yourself! The vendor you purchased it from will be happy to help you with that. Heat tape is more commonly used in rack systems as it can be run through the entire system, but it can certainly be used in individual enclosures as well.
This is a pad that can be adhered to the bottom of an enclosure and emits heat that can be controlled via thermostat. Due to the affordability, if you are keeping only one snake as a pet, this may be a better option than heat tape.
Ball pythons prefer belly heat as it helps them with their digestion. Lamps heat from above and are more ideal for reptiles such as bearded dragons and other lizards. Although heat lamps can be used to supplement heat pads if extra heat is required, a heat controller is required.
Stay away from these as they can get VERY hot and have a high chance of burning your snake.
This is by far the best option for your pet snake. These thermostats are usually proportional (meaning they adjust the output of heat by percentage rather than simply turning the heat source on or off) and have multiple safety features to prevent overheating.
Two companies that are highly recommended in this area are: Spyder Robotics (Herpstats) and Vivarium Electronics. Simply connect the heat source to the thermostat, put the probe on the heat source, and set the temperature. The thermostat will automatically monitor the temperature and keep it at the set temperature. The downside to these devices is that they can be quite pricy (around $100 for entry level models).
This is a MUCH cheaper alternative to running a high-end thermostat that can work if you are keeping only a couple of snakes as pets. A light dimmer will cost roughly $10-15 and can be plugged into an under-tank heat pad to control how much heat is outputted. You will have to play with the settings to get the temperatures just right and it will not automatically correct itself the same way a thermostat would, but it WILL prevent the heat source from outputting more heat than needed. If you choose to use this option, make sure you monitor your temperatures frequently as ambient temperature in the room can fluctuate and you will need to readjust the settings accordingly.
Just point and shoot! These are easy to use and accurate for measuring surface temperature. Very handy to have around. These are relatively inexpensive and go on sale frequently at places like Canadian Tire or Home Depot.
If you are keeping only one snake, you may consider getting a thermometer with a probe on it and keep the probe on the hot side of the enclosure.
These are cheap but very inaccurate. Temperatures can be off by 5 degrees or more.
Ball pythons are fairly easy to maintain humidity-wise. You should have a water bowl in the snake’s enclosure that is an appropriate size (for hatchlings, small ramekins will work and as the snake gets older, you can switch to a larger dog bowl as an example). Once a week, give the snake’s enclosure a gentle misting with a spray bottle or simply dump out the water in the bowl directly on the snake’s substrate. Replace the water in the bowl every 4-7 days or as needed.
If you notice a lot of condensation building up in the enclosure, you may need to decrease the amount of humidity by spraying less frequently or not putting as much water in the bowl. You may also consider purchasing a hygrometer and putting it in the enclosure to measure humidity (it should be kept around 50%)
There are lots of options when it comes to substrate for your ball python’s enclosure. We will recommend just one option which we (and many other breeders) feel is the best choice on the market right now.
This comes in finer coir or thicker chunks. Both options work for ball pythons although we like the chunkier version more. Holds humidity very well and is very resistant to mold and odors. Soak it in a little bit of warm water for about 20 minutes and cover the bottom of the enclosure in an even layer. Spot clean when needed.
Other Suitable Alternatives
• Aspen Shavings
• Cypress Mulch
• Paper towel
When you first get your pet snake, do not immediately try to feed it. The snake will be stressed out by the move and its new environment so give it a bit of time to settle in and get comfortable. It is best to wait a week before trying to feed it its first me.
Ball pythons (like many snakes) do not need to be fed very often. Young snakes can be fed once every 5-7 days and adults can be fed every 1-3 weeks.
Many new owners get worried when their snake turns down a meal. This is perfectly normal and happens frequently with ball pythons especially when they get around 700-1000 grams in size. Monitor the snake’s weight and as long as there is no drastic weight loss (more than 100 grams in a couple of months), continue to offer food and eventually it will go back to eating. There have been cases where ball pythons have gone 12 months or more without eating a meal and have had resumed feeding with no issues afterwards!
• Scandinavian Rats
o These are standard pet store rats and the most common feeder rodent for ball pythons and many other species of snakes.
o They are very easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
o They also come in various sizes ranging from rat pups all the way up to jumbo rats. You should feed your snake a rat that is no larger than the thickest part of the snake’s body. Adult ball pythons should be fed small or medium rats at most.
• African Soft Fur Rats
o This is the ball python’s natural prey in the wild and they absolutely love them. If you have a picky eater, try an ASF and it will likely come around!
o These are less common though, and may require you to go to a specialty store or rat breeder to find. They are also more expensive than standard rats.
o They do not grow as large as standard rats but have a higher protein content and because ball pythons like them so much, your snake will be less likely to refuse a meal.
o Some ball pythons have been known to refuse other prey items when fed solely on ASF rats but this is not always the case.
o A much smaller rodent and one that ball pythons can get hooked on fairly easily. Mice do not have the same nutritional content as rats so if your ball python will have to eat multiple mice to make up for it.
Live or Frozen?
The debate between feeding live or frozen/thawed is hotly discussed. We personally see benefits to both and it really is more of a preference as long as the keeper is responsible.
If choosing to feed live, make sure you do not leave a rodent in the snake’s tank unattended for long periods of time. We recommend you check every 15-20 minutes and leave it in no longer than an hour. If the snake does not eat it within that time, remove the rat and try again next week. Rats can and will injure a snake and ball pythons are very docile animals by nature so they will not kill the rodent if they are not hungry.
If feeding frozen, thaw the animal thoroughly (either by leaving it out to thaw normally or by submerging it in warm water) and offer it to the snake using a pair of feeding tongs. It is not recommended to feed by hand as some snakes have a strong feeding response and may mistake your hand as part of the rat. Warming the feeder up using a hairdryer for a minute or two after it is thawed can help entice the snake into eating as well.
It is generally not difficult to switch a rat from live to frozen/thawed. Some animals may take a couple of weeks, but most will take a frozen/thawed feeder from day one.
Where to Feed?
Some sources recommend feeding your snake outside of its enclosure in a separate feeding bin. The rationale being that snakes may associate anything coming into its enclosure as food and will therefore have a chance of mistakenly striking your hand when you go to handle it.
We have not seen any evidence for this and recommend feeding your snake in its enclosure for two reasons:
1. Snakes feel most secure in their own enclosure and taking it out of that environment may cause the snake to not eat due to stress.
2. Snakes are very sensitive immediately after they eat. If you feed in a separate bin, you will have to handle the snake when putting it back into its regular enclosure and risk it potentially regurgitating its food.
Ball pythons will typically shed every 1-2 months (more frequently when they are younger and less frequently as they get to adulthood). You will notice your snake turning a lighter and duller color and eventually its eyes will turn milky blue. Increase the humidity in the snake’s enclosure by spraying it more frequently (once a day will be sufficient) and a few days later, the snake should shed.
Healthy sheds do not always have to be in one piece but if you notice your snake has not shed completely, do a quick check to make sure there are no large pieces stuck on, especially around the eyes.
If you do happen to have a badly shed snake, put him/her in a small container and soak him/her in a little bit of water for an hour or more while attended. After the soak, much of the stuck skin will be easy to remove so you can take a small towel and very gently rub it off. DO NOT pull on the shed as that can injure your snake. If the skin is not coming off easily, return the snake to the tub for a longer soak.
If the snake has retained skin on the eyes (called eye-caps), it is advised to take the snake to a vet to have them removed as it is very delicate and you can easily injure a snake if you are not experienced.
Ball pythons tolerate handling extremely well. On rare occasions, some hatchlings can be a bit defensive, but will often become more docile with age and regular handling. You can handle your snake as often as you like, but we recommend doing so no more than once or twice a week as some animals become stressed from frequent handling and may refuse more meals.
When to NOT Handle
• After feeding
o Wait about 2 days after feeding to handle your snake. You want your snake to fully digest its food so that it won’t regurgitate it due to stress.
• During shedding
o Snakes are very sensitive while in shed. If you see your ball python exhibiting signs of shedding, leave it alone until after it has shed fully.
Copyright James Kerr T. Dot Exotics, all rights reserved.