One of the reasons the Ball Python is so popular today is that this hardy little snake thrives in captivity with proper care. Here's what you need to know to keep your Ball Python needs to be healthy and happy!
Before bringing your Ball Python home, have his enclosure ready, so he can acclimate quickly to his new surroundings. This will reduce the amount of stress he is exposed to during relocation to his new home. (For my purposes here, I will assume you are not starting a breeding colony, which would necessitate a rack system. If you would like to start a breeding colony, please contact me. I’ll be happy to help!)
There are commercially produced Ball Python habitats available, which are ideal, but relatively expensive. Because these are costly, you may prefer an inexpensive terrarium with a securely fastened top. (Ball Pythons are escape artists! They are quite strong and can push off a top that is merely weighted down.)
Terrariums can be easily adapted to mimic the Ball Python’s natural habitat. The length of the terrarium should be not be less than one and a half times the length of your snake and the width should not be less than two-thirds the length of your snake. You can start with a small terrarium, and replace it as he grows, or buy a larger one to begin with, to accommodate him as he matures.
Ball Pythons are secretive snakes by nature and prefer to live underground in such things as termite mounds. To make your terrarium a suitable habitat, you need to take steps to reduce your snake’s feeling of exposure and be sure to maintain proper temperature and humidity.
So, how do you adapt your terrarium? Start by covering the back and two sides by simply draping it with a towel, or create a more permanent solution by applying contact paper directly to the outside of the glass, so your snake only has a view out of the front. Line the bottom with a substrate to absorb waste between cleanings. Newspaper, paper towels, mulch or wood shavings can be used. Wood shavings should be pine or aspen, never cedar, as cedar contains natural insect killing oils that are toxic to snakes. Whichever substrate you choose, it should be spot cleaned at least once a week and changed completely on a monthly basis. Your monthly cleaning should also include disinfecting the terrarium.
Next, provide him with a place to hide. A “hide box” can purchased at a pet shop or can be made by simply cutting a hole in the side of a small cardboard box. Foliage, real or artificial, can also be used to provide cover for your snake.
As Ball Pythons are cold-blooded animals, they require an external heat source. Comfortable temperatures range from about 85° during the day, down to 78° or so at night. The best way to keep your snake warm is with an under-tank heater, placed at one end, with a thermostat. With the heater placed at one end, the snake can regulate his body temperature by moving to a cooler area if needed. A thermometer should be placed inside the terrarium to monitor the temperature. It is also acceptable to place a clamp-lamp fitted with a 15 or 25 watt bulb on top of the terrarium at one end. If you use a lamp, cover the rest of the top of the tank to help trap the heat the lamp generates. Again, place a thermometer inside the tank to ensure it’s not too warm or too cool for your snake.
Ball Pythons need an environment with higher humidity than would normally be found in the average home. They are most comfortable between 60% and 70% humidity. These levels are easily attained through evaporation from your snake’s water bowl. If you haven’t kept Ball Pythons before, you can purchase a hygrometer to measure humidity levels. A larger water bowl will allow for more evaporation and higher humidity than a smaller water bowl. Ventilation can also be adjusted to help control humidity levels.
Clean water should be made available at all times. Your Ball Python should be fed one appropriately sized meal per week, although a strict schedule is not necessary. Choose a mouse or rat that is approximately the same size as the largest part of your snake’s body. You may find that your young snake prefers mice. From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to switch to rats as your snake matures and requires more food. Rats have more nutritional value than mice, and it’s easier and more cost effective to feed one medium rat than three or more mice each time. Rodents can be purchased frozen and should be thawed and warmed to above room temperature before feeding them to your snake. If you purchase live rodents, you might consider killing them before feeding them to your snake. If they are larger than a fuzzy (a rodent that’s still nursing) they have teeth and can easily bite and seriously injure your snake. Never leave your snake unattended with a live rodent!
Don’t be alarmed if you look at your snake one day and find he is very dull, with opaque blue eyes. This is a condition called pre-shed. After a couple of days with proper humidity, he will shed his skin in one complete piece and look like a brand new snake!
Some snakes like to soak prior to shedding, so try to provide a water bowl that is large enough for your snake to curl up in. As your snake matures, it may become impractical to provide him with a large enough bowl for soaking, and not all snakes prefer to soak. If you do notice a problem with shedding, the skin not coming off in one piece for example, it’s a sign that his environment is too dry. Simply mist him with a spray bottle of water a couple of times a day to help the skin slough off. As the water evaporates off the snake, his environment will also become more humid.
Generally speaking Ball Pythons are docile snakes and are comfortable being handled. There are those individuals that may be more aggressive than others. On the rare occasion that these snakes feel threatened, they may strike. With gentle handling over time, they will lose this tendency to strike. There are a few times when you should not handle your Ball Python: prior to and for a couple of days after feeding, and when he is in pre-shed. Handling prior to feeding may cause the snake to become too nervous to take food. Handling after feeding may cause the snake to regurgitate his meal. When he is in pre-shed, his eyesight is diminished, so he may be more nervous than usual and prone to strike. These rules are generalities and vary from snake to snake. As you get to know your snake you can adjust your interactions with him accordingly.