What Is A Ball Python

Despite its scary-sounding name, the ball python is one of the mildest snakes and reptiles to keep as a pet.

It’s docile and shy nature combined with its hardy health and disease resistance make it one of the best pet snakes for beginners.

Before heading to the store or breeder to get one of these, you need to learn:

What is a ball python?

In this guide, we’ll go into detail on why the ball python is a great pet choice and what it needs to be cared for.

Table of Contents

Description Of The Ball Python

The ball python, also called the royal python, is a reptile and one of the most common pet snakes.

Its full scientific name is Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Serpentes Pythonidae Python Regius.

The ball python hails from West and South Africa, and it’s known for its shy and docile nature.

This snake reaches 2′ – 3′ feet (0.91 m) in length as an adult, but 5′ feet (1.52 m) is also quite common for size.

It lives in grasslands and shrub-like areas where it hides most of the time until it comes out to eat small prey such as mice.

As a member of the python family, it constricts its prey and then eats it. 

This species is nonvenomous and unlikely to bite humans unless it feels extremely threatened.

It gets its name of “ball” python by its protective behavior of curling into a ball when threatened.

Ball pythons are known to live for up to 30 years in captivity when well-cared for.

This is the smallest member of the python family. 

They have small heads and thick bodies.

Ball pythons have several color morphs as a result of selective breeding, but they typically have a darker brown on their bellies and gold or light brown patterns on their sides and tops.

Habitat

This section will discuss what’s needed for a proper ball python habitat. 

We’ll begin by looking at their natural habitat and then discussing how this is met in their captive environments. 

Native Habitat

As mentioned above, the ball python comes from West and South Africa and lives in grassland areas.

This means the bally python is used to high temperatures, mild winters, and a medium humidity environment.

Ball pythons are ground-dwelling snakes and spend most of their time hiding on or under the ground around any shelter they can find.

They are known to climb on low height objects such as rocks, shrubs, and low branches, but they don’t do this often.

Ball pythons are active diggers, though it’s common for many of them to dig under objects for shelter. 

Enclosure Size

With this in mind, we can now begin to plan out their pet habitats based on their native environment.

First, for the enclosure size, we need to consider the snake’s behavior. 

The ball python doesn’t tend to travel far or move a lot.

It spends most of its day hiding. 

This means it won’t need a huge enclosure.

Young ball pythons feel threatened by large spaces.

We recommend a terrarium with the following dimensions at a minimum:

This will handle all adult ball pythons unless they’re one of the larger 5′ feet (1.52 m) long ones. 

The ideal dimensions are:

Don’t go much larger than this, or your pet may end up stressed out.

Enclosure Material

The best material for ball python enclosures is clear glass or plastic.

This allows them to look and enjoy the snake.

The solid sides are good for retaining heat and humidity.

As a warm-weather creature, the ball python needs the temperature to be high, and this is difficult to achieve with mesh or open sides.

This is the same reason we like glass or plastic regarding humidity.

The top of the tank may be made from a mesh or screen. 

This will help give some circulation and ventilation to the air, which reduces the risk of mold and respiratory infections. 

However, this will also increase potential problems with lower temperatures and humidity.

The top does need to be secured. 

Though ball pythons aren’t known for their climbing, they can and will climb at times.

You don’t want 3′ feet (0.91 m) long python on the loose, especially as these pets are good hiders.

Heating

West and South Africa have higher temperature climates. 

In their pet enclosures, ball pythons need this as well.

When tracking temperatures, you’ll have four temperature marks you need to watch for: 

This heating is often done in two ways.

First, a heating light should be placed 5″ – 7″ inches (17.78 cm) above a basking spot on one side of the tank. 

This will get the basking spot up to the needed temperature. If it’s too low, consider a higher wattage heating light.

In smaller tanks, this may be all you need to get all the temps to the right spot.

Second, if you notice the overall and cool spots are too low, you may also need to use an under the tank heating pad or mat.

Don’t use a heating rock! 

This will burn the snake when it comes into contact with it.

Check the temperature with good thermometers. 

Some people install a thermometer at the basking spot, middle of the tank, and at the cool side.

There’s nothing wrong with this and makes checking the temperature simple.

Another way to do it is to install a thermometer in the middle of the tank and use an infrared spot-checking thermometer to check the other spots as needed.

The heating light should be on for 12 hours during the day and then turned off at night. 

This simulates the day-night cycle and allows the ball python to rest.

If you notice the night temp getting too low, keep the heating pad on for a while longer at night. 

Don’t keep the light on longer! 

This will prevent the snake from getting adequate rest and may result in stress and health issues.  

Lighting

Most reptiles need UVB lighting as part of their setup. 

This isn’t the case with ball pythons.

Snakes, in general, don’t need extra vitamin D to absorb calcium.

Experts disagree on whether UVB helps their health at all, but the consensus is it won’t help much and isn’t needed.

These same experts also agree UVB won’t hurt either, so include it if you want to.

If you are including UVB lighting, use a dedicated pet UVB bulb alongside the basking light. 

Keep it on the same 12-on, 12-off cycle.

For those including live plants in the tank (which is a good idea), you will want to use a UVB bulb to keep the plants healthy. 

Humidity

Ball pythons need a mild relative humidity of 50-60%.

Most of the time, you won’t have to do anything to keep this up in this range.

Most rooms are 20-30% relative humidity. 

By keeping the temperature up and placing a water dish (see below) in the tank at all times, this is usually enough to get it where it needs to be.

Good substrate and live plants will help with this as well.

However, just because this range is easy to reach doesn’t mean it isn’t a strict guideline.

Ball pythons don’t have many common health problems, but the biggest one is related to shedding difficulties.

With too low of humidity, it’s almost guaranteed your python will have problems shedding its dead skin.

When these pieces get stuck, it can constrict blood flow and cause injuries to the snake’s skin.

Keeping the humidity up is key.

However, don’t go above this range either. 

Too high humidity increases mold and bacteria growth in the tank and increases the risk of respiratory issues.

In general, avoid placing the tank near the following: 

Substrate

A substrate is important in a ball python’s tank. 

It helps keep the temperature and humidity up as well as providing something for the snake to burrow into.

For owners, a good substrate will reduce odor and help with cleanup.

Common substrates include the following:

If you use a liner or newspaper, you still need to provide a more substantial substrate in the hide box.

All substrate needs to be chemical-free and purchased from a pet supplier either online or in person.

Substrate or mulches bought from a hardware store or greenhouse have often been treated with chemicals to prevent weed growth and insects, which can poison your pet.

Furniture

Ball pythons enjoy having items in the tank to slither over, under, and rest on.

There are two items you need in the tank, and the rest are just extra.

First, you must have a hide box or cool spot for sheltering the animal.

Ball pythons are shy creatures and need to spend most of their time hiding someplace they feel safe. 

This is what the hide box is for.

Either buy a premade hide box or use an object which is covered and dark for the ball python to rest in.

The other main item you need is something for the snake to rest on under the basking lights. 

Flat rocks and low branches or logs are common choices.

This is where the snake will rest or absorb heat, energy, and help digest.

Other items around the tank are just for fun, and the python may enjoy them as well. 

Whatever you use needs to be safe for pets and lower to the ground (remember, they aren’t big climbers).

Get creative and stick to a style. 

Some people have a ball planning out the look of the tank.

Plants

Live plants are a great item to include in your ball python habitat.

They increase oxygen for healthier respiratory systems, clean the air of bacteria and mold, help retain moisture for better humidity, and look nice.

Plants should be toxin-free and safe for ball pythons.

These are a few we recommend:

Water

Keeping a shallow water dish is important for ball pythons.

Having one in the tank helps keep the humidity up, and it provides a way for them to get water to stay hydrated.

Ball pythons use this dish to hydrate by drinking and bathing in it. 

Make sure the sides are low enough the snake can get in and out easily.

The water depth should be no higher than the snake’s body is tall. 

Snakes can swim, but this isn’t what the dish is for.

Take care to check the water at least twice daily, and give it fresh water at least once per day.

Ball pythons (as many reptiles do) tend to defecate in the water. 

If this happens, remove the dish, wash and disinfect, and replace the water right away.

You may find it easier to keep several water bowls on hand in case you don’t have the time to do a deep clean right away.

Behavior

A with most animals, ball pythons tend to have their own personality.

As an owner, it’s part of your job to know what their behaviors mean to adjust for their needs.

Common Behaviors And What They Mean

Tongue Flicking

As you’d expect from a snake, the ball python often flicks its tongue out as it moves around the tank.

This is together scent molecules for better sensing what’s in the area around it.

In the wild, this is a powerful defense mechanism as it helps the snake be on the lookout for predators even when they aren’t visible. 

Head Up And Frozen

If the ball python’s head is held up in the air and still, it may be a sign the snake is ready to attack.

This happens most often when the snake sees prey and is on the hunt.

It watches the prey closely before it bites and then wraps its body around it.

This behavior isn’t as common when threatened, but if pushed, the snake will bite back at large predators.

If you see this behavior and eyes locked on you, you may need to come back another time to interact with your snake as it’s feeling threatened by you.  

Curled Into A Ball

The ball python will often curl up into a ball when in danger. 

This S curve ends with its head protected inside it’s tough and muscular body.

It’s also where the snake gets its name from.

This behavior comes when the snake is startled or afraid.

Don’t prompt this behavior by spooking the critter; this adds to its stress levels and may cause health issues if done too much.

Curling isn’t a sign of resting or anything like this. 

When basking or resting, they tend to spread out to maximize heat absorption. 

Constricting

The ball python naturally wraps itself around objects. 

This is usually done with prey, but it does with almost anything it comes across.

If you handle the pet (see care section below), don’t be surprised if it wraps around you. 

This doesn’t mean it’s attempting to eat you, and it’s normally harmless.

If you feel uncomfortable, unwrap the snake off of you starting by pulling the tail off gently. 

You may also try spraying the snake’s head with vinegar if you have some available.

You’d be surprised by how strong even this, the smallest python is.

Warning! Never let the ball python constrict around your head or neck. 

This may block your airway before you’re able to get it off.

Just use common sense. 

Mouth Open

Sometimes the ball python will hold its mouth open for an extended period. 

This serves two main jobs.

First, it makes the snake look larger and more threatening. 

It also shows it’s willing to bite whatever it feels endangered by.

This reason for seeing a mouth open is rare. 

Ball pythons are among the most docile pets and rarely bite.

Even if you do get bitten, the bites aren’t venomous and usually weak. 

They rarely even draw much blood.

The most common reason for seeing an open mouth is due to body temperature regulation. 

The snake’s body is too hot, and opening its mouth allows it to cool off.

Hissing

Ball pythons do hiss, though not as much as some other snake species.

This is a sign of another animal (usually a snake) coming on the snake’s territory or home.

Instead of viewing this as threatening (since they so rarely bite), simply think of this as more of a “Hey! Get off my lawn!” 

Brumation

Ball pythons may go into a state of brumation. 

Brumation is similar to hibernation but for reptiles.

During this time, when the temperature drops, the snake may slow down and eat much less than normal.

Some owners force their ball pythons into brumation by lowering the overall temperature slightly. 

This is thought to increase the size of egg clutches, but it’s unclear if this is true.

Due to the mild nature of African winters, ball pythons don’t need to brumate at all.

There are some who believe forcing them into brumation is dangerous.

If your ball python slows down and stops eating for a prolonged period, take it to the vet for a checkup. 

Shedding

Ball pythons shed their skin as all reptiles do. 

This is a natural part of their growing process.

Adult pythons shed every 4-6 weeks while younger ones shed more often.

Their skin turns white, and their eyes turn blue and opaque. 

They’ll likely stop eating during this time as well.

When you see this, don’t hurry the process along by rubbing at it or soaking the pet. 

Let it happen naturally.

Double-check the humidity is up, and the water bowl is available.

If, after the skin is shed, you notice some pieces stuck on the snake, remove it with the help of a shed aid spray.

Health

Lifespan

Ball pythons are known to have long life spans. 

If your pet is well-cared for, it lives close to 30 years on average.

Some have been known to live longer.

Common Diseases

Ball pythons are naturally tough creatures and not prone to many health issues.

The most common ones are related to shedding, including injuries or skin infections. 

Keeping the humidity in the right spot will avoid this problem.

Other common diseases include:

Signs Of Illness To Watch For

With these illnesses and others, it’s important to know what to look for as a sign of illness.

In general, any big change in behavior or appearance is a clue to get your pet checked out.

Here are common signs: 

If you see these, take your snake to the vet right away.

Diet

What To Eat

Ball pythons are carnivores, and quite easy to feed and care for.

Ball pythons will do well on a diet of correctly sized rodents such as mice or rats.

The rodents shouldn’t be larger than the circumference of the snake’s body at mid-length.

Live or frozen and thawed rodents are fine.

Don’t leave a live rodent in the cage unattended as they may fight back and injure the ball python.

How Often To Feed

Baby and juvenile ball pythons should be fed weekly.

Adult ball pythons should be offered food every 10-14 days.

Don’t handle the pythons for 24 hours after it eats as the rodent is still digesting. 

This may cause regurgitation.

Don’t feed more than this frequency as your snake will become unhealthy. 

How To Feed

Place live food in the tank with the snake where it can see it. 

Live food will quickly engage the snake’s hunting instincts, and it’ll constrict the prey.

Don’t attempt to feed from your hand.

For frozen food, let it thaw in a container with holes in the top. 

Place the container in the tank as it thaws.

The contained smell will engage the snake’s attention. 

Once you see the ball python is interested, carefully remove the lid and let the snake eat.

Ball pythons won’t eat when in their shed cycle, so don’t attempt a feeding when you see the signs of shedding. 

Care

Handling

Ball pythons seem to enjoy being handled once they learn to trust you.

Move your hand in the tank where the snake can see it. 

Move slowly towards the python while watching for signs of defense.

If you see these, back off and try again another time. 

When you see hiding, it’s still OK to proceed.

Pick the snake up gently and support it with your hands. 

Pet down its back, going with the direction of the scales.

Do this a little every day, and your snake will learn to trust you. 

Cleaning

One big part of caring for the ball python is keeping the tank clean.

Spot clean daily for droppings. 

Deep clean the water dish every time there’s a dropping in it and at least once per week.

Every month, replace the substrate completely and wipe down the furniture.

Reproduction

Ball pythons can breed at any point during the year. 

Put a sexually mature male and female together, and they may eventually mate.

Not long after mating, the female will shake into the substrate and lay 3-11 eggs in a clutch. 

The eggs go through little development inside the mother.

55-60 days later, the eggs will hatch. 

Snake parents have nothing to do with the upbringing of their offspring.

Males become sexually mature around 1-1.5 years. 

Females become sexually mature at 2-3 years (or longer in some cases). 

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