There is a lot that goes into caring for a ball python, especially for a beginner snake owner. Knowing what to buy for your snake and how to give it the best environment to keep it healthy is important for any beginner. So, I decided to do some research on everything you would need to do to care for your ball python.
What does a beginner need to know about caring for a ball python? You need to know that these snakes make wonderful pets, are nonvenomous, can grow up to 2-5 feet long, and can become accustomed to being handled better than most other snakes. You also need to know what kind of habitat you need to create for them as well as the fact that they live on average 20-30 years in captivity.
Taking care of a ball python is a long-term commitment because they can live to be about 40 years old but in general, they will stay around for up to 20 years. Everything you will want to know about caring for a ball python will be in the article below, so read on if you’re considering buying one of these snaky friends.
Choosing the Best Terrarium
There are different kinds of terrariums available for your pet ball python. Each enclosure or terrarium comes in a variety of sizes that can best accommodate the size of your snake. There are also different types of materials that you can find in many enclosures that will best suit your python. A few of those materials are listed below:
- Rubbermaid (plastic containers)
- Glass Tank
- Wooden Vivarium
- Plastic RUB
- Exo Terras
Some say that having a glass terrarium works fine with ball pythons, but the ceiling tops make it difficult for the owner to maintain a level of humidity that works best for their snake.
It is also said that most ball pythons will do well in any environment.
While they can survive in almost an enclosure of any material, it is very important to know the size of your python or the size it will grow to. The size of your python will determine how large it will become and that will lead you to choose a terrarium that will them.
As a hatchling, a ball python is about ten inches long. A standard 10 to 20-gallon enclosure will be suitable until it grows out of it. As they grow into adults, the females grow to about 3 to 5 feet long, while a male grows to about 2 to 3 feet long.
Most adult-sized ball pythons will need a 36-inch long by 18-inch wide by 12-inch tall terrarium or enclosure that will be neither too large or too small for this awesome pet.
There have been many snake owners who have tried out an assortment of enclosures for their many species of snakes, and all together they have voiced a consensus of which brand and material of an enclosure is the best. That is the Exo Terra.
Five of the best terrariums for your ball python can be found listed below:
- Exo Terra Glass Terrarium Mayan (Buy Here)
- Exo Terra Short All Glass Terrarium (Buy Here)
- Exo Terra High Glass Terrarium (Buy Here)
- Exo Terra Short All Glass Terrarium (Buy Here)
- Exo Terra Rain Forest Habitat Kit (Buy Here)
This specific brand called “Exo Terra” is listed because they designed these terrariums to be specifically for reptiles and amphibians, which will make a perfect home for your python.
This brand designs their enclosure to have glass doors that can make accessing your python easier while keeping the enclosure completely secure in order to avoid any unwanted snake escapes in your household.
The bonus is when you are not handling your awesome pet snake, you can peer in for a clear view through the tank’s glass. We wrote an article that’s all about how to choose the best terrarium for your ball python and it’s size. In the article, we recommend terrariums as well as tell you the prize. Find the article here.
Heating and Lighting
With every snake, there are a few guidelines that you will need to follow to make sure the health of your python is at its best. Inside its enclosure, you will need to create a hot spot on one end of the enclosure and a cool spot on the other side. This can help the python communicate with you how it is feeling.
For example, your python will travel between the hot and cool side regularly. If it is sick, your python will likely be spending most of its time on the hotspot to keep itself warm from whatever illness it may be suffering from.
Paying attention to where your pet is staying can give you insights into his or her health.
“Your python will travel between the hot and cool side regularly. If it is sick, your python will likely be spending most of its time on the hotspot.”
Your ball python’s hotspot, also known as a basking spot, will need to be set to a temperature of 88 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit and their cool spot, also known as the ambient temperature, will need to be set to 78 to 80 degrees (your cool spot should never fall below 75 degrees). Here, you can find an article we recently wrote that discusses all about the best temperature for keeping a ball python.
If you are feeling nervous about keeping track of the temperature in your snake’s enclosure manually, you can purchase a digital thermometer that has a probe. This will give you the accurate temperature of your snake’s enclosure. You can purchase a great digital thermometer specifically made for reptiles called Zoo Med Digital Thermometer here.
Using the thermometer is not too difficult. You simply place the thermometer inside your snake’s enclosure, one end on the cool side of the enclosure while the probe faces the basking end. That way you can have both temperatures read to you at once.
You will also need to provide a heat lamp for your snake. Another option is that you can purchase a heating pad that goes underneath the cage (rather than overhead, which is too bright for some snakes), that way the heat passes through the majority of the enclosure will keep your snake toasty.
A few great heating pad options you can purchase are these:
Most of these heating methods will do some good for your snake and will help it feel comfortable. But with basking bulbs and ceramic heat emitters, it is important to keep an eye on the humidity levels in your snake’s enclosure, because those heating methods will often dry out the air in the tank.
The humidity level in your snake’s enclosure will need to be about 50 to 60 percent, more on the 60% end if it is going through the shedding process, as this makes it more comfortable and expedites this event.
You can purchase a thermostat to help with tracking the humidity levels here.
Lighting with ball pythons is not necessary, but if you do choose to use one, make sure to have your lighting run on a 12/12 cycle, which means the light should be on for 12 hours and the next 12 the light should be off. This copies the average natural lighting in the wild and will help your snake have a regular schedule of sleep, keeping it healthy.
If you never turn the light in your snake’s tank off, your snake can become stressed because they are a nocturnal species.
Needed Substrate and Water
Substrates are basically bedding for snake, or kind of like litter for cat boxes. Snakes need this in their tank to be comfortable, especially if they are a burrowing species. Ball pythons like to burrow and need quality substrate as well as water in their enclosure to be happy and healthy.
Along with your snake’s needs for a terrarium and a heated one, they will need a substrate at the bottom of their enclosure. It is advised to provide a substrate in your snake’s tank so that when it is time to clean, it will be easy and not much of a hassle. It also makes your snake comfortable.
The most common form of substrates can be newspapers or paper towels, and those are probably your cheapest options. There are cypress mulches and orchid barks that can be purchased (which can help with controlling the humidity within the tank), though they can also
Be sure to do your research on what particular substrate your subspecies of ball python does the best with. You will want to avoid materials that contain cedar because it is an oil that is deadly to reptiles. You should also avoid sand, shavings, and pet bedding as well. Quality substrates should not be chemically treated or known to cause irritation, even in certain snakes.
Another thing to pay attention to is not using too much of this snake bedding in the tank. You want your pet ball python to be comfortable, not buried all the time. By making sure you have the right brand and amount of substrate for your snake, you are giving them the perfect environment. Find a complete buyer’s guide to bedding and how to pick the right kind for your snake, in this article that we wrote on our website.
Whether or not you will want to keep a bowl of water in your snake’s enclosure is entirely up to you, but there are benefits to your snake having water. Snakes need water less than other animals, so it is an optional or occasional thing to have in the terrarium.
If you do decide to keep water in your snake’s tank, you will need to check the water daily to ensure that they have not knocked substrates into the bowl or spilled it everywhere.
You should use a water dish. That way your snake can crawl in and soak if needed. One inch of water should be enough for them to soak in and not have it be too much of a danger.
Snakes don’t drink like most animals and absorb the water through their skin, so if you don’t see your pet lapping at the water like a dog, you can rest easy knowing that is a good thing.
It is normal and common for snakes to defecate inside the water bowl from time to time. Be prepared to disinfect and clean the water bowl weekly to keep harmful bacteria from growing.
If you would prefer to only have the water bowl in the tank at times, it is recommended to leave the bowl in there for a day or so and then remove it every other day. Also, if you don’t find little doggy-like pee puddles in the environment, that is because ball pythons have a solid form of waste instead. That needs to be cleaned regularly out regularly enough to keep your snake from getting sick and can be spot-cleaned.
Temperament and Handling
If you are wondering what the nature of your ball python might be, it is safe to say that they are quite shy creatures and spend most of their time hiding in the terrarium.
The one goal you will want to accomplish will be establishing a level of trust between you and your ball python. This is important if you want to be able to handle it with ease in the future.
When handling your python, make sure to support its entire body and remember to not to move too fast. If a snake feels like it is not in a stable place, it will squeeze your arm with its coils to give itself some semblance of balance and safety.
Once they have come to the realization that your intentions are not to eat them, they will tolerate being handled more often.
If you see that your python is hiding when you are trying to handle it, the reason is from fear. It is afraid of being handled, which is normal when you have first purchased it and taken it home. Don’t try handling your pet too frequently in the beginning. It needs some space.
One thing to note is to be wary of handling your snake after it has eaten. It may regurgitate its meal if it has not had a chance to digest fully. This can also happen if it feels threatened or scared, so be sure to give your ball python a couple of days after feedings to have a fully digested condition before trying to hold it.
“One thing to note is to be wary of handling your snake after it has eaten. It may regurgitate its meal if it has not had a chance to digest fully.”
You python may become defensive and try to bite you if it feels threatened, but just keep in mind that it is simply fearful of you. Try to relax when you are holding it and
Feeding Your Ball Python
You need to know that is it most common for ball python snakes to eat mice or other rodents, but the real question can be which does it need to eat? Mice or other rodents? There is also other options to choose from which include:
- Should you feed your snake pre-killed or live prey?
- How often should you feed your snake according to its weight and age?
Unfortunately, ball pythons are known for not eating as well as they should. They cannot eat well for periods of time during the year, especially during the winter. This will be normal but you should still keep an eye on your python to make sure it isn’t suffering from any illnesses.
A good rule of thumb to follow when feeding you python would be to feed your younger pythons weekly because they will need to feed in order to grow, whereas your adult pythons will eat every 1 to 2 weeks.
If you are still unsure if this rule is good to follow, there is a chart below referring to how much your python should weigh and how much you should feed it, as well as how often. I hope it helps.
|Snake Weight||Prey Size||How Often?|
|First 3 to 5 meals||Pinky Rat 8 to 12 grams|
|Every 5 days|
|Less than 200 grams||Ray Fuzzy 13 to 19 grams|
|Every 7 days|
|200 to 350 grams||Rat Pup 20 to 30 grams|
|Every 7 to 10 days|
|350 to 500 grams||Weaned Rat 31 to 45 grams |
|Every 10 to 14 days|
|500 to 1500 grams||Small Rat 46 to 79 grams |
2 to 3 Adult Mice
|Every 14 to 21 days|
|Greater than 1500 grams||Medium Rat 80 to 150 grams |
2 Small Rats or 4 to 5 Adult Mice
|Every 28 to 56 days|
When it comes to prey, feed your snake pre-killed prey which is frozen and needs to be thawed before you can serve it to your pet. By having frozen pre-killed prey you will have a supply of food that will last longer.
If you snake becomes a bit picky, try lancing the prey before serving it, which may sound gross but will help your snake think it was just alive.
If you decide to have live prey to feed your snake, keep in mind that it is not recommended and the prey may put up a fight and cause some damage to your snake. Mice can scratch or bite your snake, which can lead to infections you will want to avoid. Also, feeding your pet snake live animals is a good way to make its behavior more aggressive and heightens the likelihood that your snake will bite you more often, even on accident. Find more about how to feed a ball python, like how much it will cost and other tips, in this article that we recently wrote.
Where to Get a Ball Python
If learning more about these awesome pet snakes has convinced you that you need one for yourself, your next step would be finding the right place to buy a ball python from, as well as determining how much it will likely cost you and how much it would cost overall to buy a terrarium, food, etc.
First of all, you can find ball pythons in pet stores only on occasion and usually it is if this pet store specializes in reptiles. While ball pythons are the most popular pet snakes, they’re not as common a pet as goldfish or cats, so looking for one might take a little more time.
To find a ball python, you can ask pet stores in your area for a good breeder they would recommend, or you can do research on breeders yourself. You’ll want to make sure you find a breeder who is reliable and has a lot of good reviews, as some breeders might cut corners and you want a healthy, happy snake with no unhealthy tampering or illegal breeding or smuggling in its past.
Another option is to look up reptile auctions nearby, although this isn’t usually a common thing. Some places have more pet auctions than others, but if you do manage to find one nearby, chances are they’ll have snakes and most commonly ball pythons.
Ball pythons cost anywhere from $30-$300 as a very rough ballpark, and these cost differences are due mainly to age, size, subspecies or morphs, and the reputation of the place selling them. If you want to look at a couple of websites with their prices listed, feel free to click here or here.
When it comes to ball pythons, terrariums, frozen mice, etc, I have done a quick price breakdown below:
|Exo-Terra Terrarium from Amazon||$140.00|
|Frozen Pre-Killed Mice (50) from Amazon||$87.00|
|Ball Python from Snakes at Sunset||$70.00|
|Zoo Med Forest Floor substrate from Amazon||$15.00|
|Terrarium Heat Mat||$14.00|
In the end, these prices can be substantially different, depending on what kind of a ball python you are looking for (be is a fancy morph or not) or if you choose to make your own terrarium or forego the thermostat.
Other things you could include in the rank are bendy tree branches or vines for your snake to climb on or hiding houses for privacy.
Breeding Ball Pythons
If you are considering breeding ball pythons, hopefully you have a decent amount of experience behind you. Snake breeding, in general, is not really a venture for a snake owner newbie.
The basics to know about ball pythons and breeding are the following:
- Ball pythons lay eggs instead of giving live birth.
- They reach sexual maturity anywhere from 18-4 years of age.
- Female ball pythons can be successfully bred after 30 months or once they’ve reached 1500-1600 grams or about 3.5 pounds.
- Some breeders put them through a brumation period before breeding them, but it is not necessary.
- Their prime breeding months are December through early February.
- Female ball pythons carrying eggs might eat less but should eat more.
- They tend to lay one clutch of eggs per year and can lay eggs yearly.
- They lay an average of 6 eggs per clutch, with room for more or less.
- Female pythons are bigger than male pythons. Male pythons are about 2-3 feet long and female pythons are usually 3-5 feet long.
- You can breed about four or five females with one male per mating season.
- It will take 4-5 weeks for a female to lay eggs after mating.
- It takes 60 days for ball python eggs to hatch in the right circumstances.
- Eggs need to be kept at 89 degrees Fahrenheit to be healthy.
- Mother ball pythons will brood her eggs for about two months, which means she circles them and “twitches” to keep them warm.
- Ball python hatchlings are 10 inches long when they first hatch.
- Ball python hatchlings are fully-formed at hatching and can eat small mice right away.
- Hatchlings might be nippier than grown-up ball pythons.
- It is best to keep the baby ball pythons separate.
Those are just some quick facts in the world of breeding ball pythons. For more information, here is a useful website with a lot of information on this topic.
In the end, breeding snakes
Ball pythons are amazing creatures and deserve our awe. If you, like my friends, are looking at buying one of these epic reptiles, I fully support that.
Can a ball python hurt you? A ball python cannot kill you but it can hurt you with its bite. However, it is nonvenomous and the unlikely bites will be more like a cat’s scratch than an actual bite. Usually, ball pythons are not known for biting and are quite calm.
What happens when a ball python bites you? Nothing serious will happen to you if you get bitten by a ball python. You will simply bleed from getting bitten. You will want to wash any punctures and put a band-aid over your bite to prevent it from getting an infection. You can also put some Neosporin or rubbing alcohol on any small wounds to prevent any chance of infection, though it is unlikely to reach that point from a little snake
What is the longest-living ball python on record? One ball python in captivity lived to be 48 years old. This was under the proper care and with a lot of attention, and is not usual for ball pythons, which typically live 20-30 years in captivity and less in the wild, due to natural factors.