Ball Python Care Sheet: Enclosure, Lighting, Feeding & More

Ball pythons are excellent pet snakes for any kind of reptile owner.

They have a simple routine, are docile, easy to feed and come in many beautiful colors. For this reason they are sought after by many reptile enthusiasts.

Their care is also simple and easy to learn which allows for even beginners to enjoy keeping them.

Are you new to keeping snakes and thinking about this species?

Keep reading to learn more about ball python care. Our care sheet covers their diet, husbandry, tank setup, handling, and more!

All About Ball Python Snakes

Ball python care
This species is also known as a royal python because of their use as jewelry by African royalty.

The Ball python (Python regius) is a species of nonvenomous snake that belongs to the same family as Burmese and African rock pythons. These snakes come from Western Africa where they typically live in open grasslands and forests.

In Nigeria, the Igbo people are well-known for their deep respect for ball pythons. These snakes are never harmed and if one is found dead, they are buried in a coffin. This species has coexisted with people throughout history due to their adaptable and friendly nature.

A deep respect for this snake is present in many different regions of western Africa.

In fact, this species is also known as a royal python because of its use as jewelry by African royalty. Historically African royalty are known to have worn live ball Pythons as they are docile and have a high tolerance to handling.

Females typically grow anywhere between 4 to 5 feet in length, while males are smaller at 3 to 3.5 feet on average. Even though females are larger than males, they both have a manageable size and can be easily carried by one person.

Their small size, along with their docile nature, makes them great pet snakes for beginners.

Ball pythons were popular pets throughout the twentieth century. However, it was not until the 1990s when their popularity skyrocketed because of a unique morph. This morph was an albino ball python that was bred and raised by famous reptile breeder Bob Clark.

There are now thousands of unique ball python color and pattern morphs that have been produced through private breeding. These snakes are oviparous, which means they lay eggs and are easy to breed and care for in captivity.

Ball Python Care Sheet

Ball python in a tank
This snake is from western Africa where they are highly respected by locals.

Enclosure

Ball pythons are a tropical species of snake. They live in Africa’s open forests and savannahs near the equator. When they are not hunting for food, they can be found in burrows and under rock crevices trying to avoid the hot savannah sun.

Pet snakes need tank conditions that mimic the tropical ecosystems of western Africa. This includes the temperature, humidity, substrate, and surroundings.

It may seem like a lot to worry about, but with proper knowledge, anyone can care for a ball python. That is what makes this snake great for beginners.

Tank Size For A Ball Python

The recommended tank size for a ball python enclosure is between 30 to 40-gallons. A 40-gallon tank has enough space for exploring, roaming and a large basking spot. Juveniles can live in smaller 20-30 gallon tanks.

Juveniles should not be housed in larger tanks. They can become stressed and go on hunger strikes as a result of being unfamiliar with large spaces.

If given the opportunity, these snakes are known to escape from their enclosure and are difficult to find. That is why it is important to always have a lid on your tank.

Most glass tanks come with a screened lid that serves two purposes. These lids ensure your python stays within their home and also provide a spot where you can shine heat lamps through.

Temperature & Lighting

Like all snakes, Ball pythons are cold-blooded. The temperature of their habitat controls their body temperature. Because of this, it is important that the temperature in their enclosure is controlled using heating lamps.

Ball pythons should have a basking spot with a temperature between 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

The temperature of your snake’s basking spot can be accomplished with either a ceramic heat emitter or an under tank heater (i.e. heat matt). Beginners often use an under tank heating pad under the basking spot connected to a thermostat.

The air temperature on the warm side of their enclosure should reach 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, the cooler side of their enclosure should be between 75 and 80 degrees. The enclosure’s air temperature should not go below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humidity For Ball Pythons

The humidity in their tank should be consistent throughout the entire enclosure.

Humidity levels should stay in the range of 50-75% and can be measured with a hygrometer. Typical humidity around 50% is fine, and 75% may only be needed during a shed.

A good humidity level can be accomplished by spraying down the substrate with water. Only mist lightly whenever humidity levels begin to drop below 40%. Do not mist frequently; this may flood the substrate and cause humidity spikes.

Hides

Hides are important for ball pythons because they tend to spend a lot of their time in crevices where they feel comfortable and safe. This is great for reducing stress levels for your snake.

It is recommended that you provide at least two different hides in a tank, one at each end.

They have been known to prefer more natural-looking hides such as hollowed logs or miniature caves.

Substrate

Another important aspect of a ball python’s enclosure is the substrate.

Substrate plays an important role in regulating humidity and providing a suitable ball python habitat.

It is recommended that you use a substrate made out of aspen shaving, coconut husk, and even sphagnum moss. About ¼-½ an inch of substrate works great. If you are using an under-the-tank heat source, then you should aim closer to ¼ inch depth.

Do not use sand and pine or cedar. It can become irritable to your snake or even cause damage.

Feeding

Ball pythons are carnivorous and mostly eat small rodents.

In their native range in Western Africa, they mostly eat shrews, juvenile rats, marsh rats, and grass mice. However, males are able to climb trees, so they will also eat chicks from nests and small songbirds.

They are ambush predators and typically strike rapidly when prey comes close. They rarely ever chase down prey because of their less agile body shape. Instead, they constrict their prey to immobilize it and swallow their prey whole.

These pythons are very infrequent eaters and can go many days without eating.

This can be very helpful to beginners who are looking for a pet snake with a simple diet that does not cost a lot to feed. It can also help beginners who are not used to a feeding schedule and miss a day. However, it is important to get into a routine when feeding a snake.

Their diet as a pet should be similar to that of wild individuals.

In captivity, royal pythons usually eat small or medium-sized rats and mice. They can also be fed chicks or quails, but some are very picky and may choose not to eat chicks.

Ball pythons should be fed according to their age and size. Younger snakes should be given smaller prey more often. When the snake is older, they can be given larger prey less often.

Age Quantity Prey Frequency
Up to 12 months 1 Subadult to adult mouse Every 5 days
12-24 months 1 Subadult rat Once a week
2-4 years 1 Small adult rat Every 7 to 10 days
4+ years 1 Medium adult rat Every 10 to 14 days

Young ball pythons around 12-14 months can be transitioned from mice every five days to subadult rats once a week.

At around two years old you should be feeding your snake small adult rats every seven to ten days.

Once your snake reaches four years old, you can begin to feed them medium-sized rats every 10 to 14 days.

Handling

Juvenile ball python

One of the best things about having a pet ball python is that they are very docile and are rarely aggressive. Even wild species are typically docile and easy to handle. Wild species are often caught by different groups in Africa to be hung around their necks as jewelry.

Ball pythons will become very comfortable being handled.

They can recognize people by their scent and heat signature. They will become comfortable around people who they are frequently exposed to.

When you first bring home your royal python, it is important that you wait about two weeks before handling them. Once they are accustomed to their feeding schedule and habitat, then you can begin handling.

One of the first things you should do before handling is to wash your hands. This ensures that your snake does not smell food on them and decide to bite a finger by accident. It also helps to stop spreading any illness or disease.

Begin by presenting your hand=. This lets your snake know that it is time to be handled.

Then, support their head with the hand you presented and their body with your free hand. After slowly removing them from the tank holding them in this way, allow them to adjust until they get in a comfortable position.

Typically, your snake will begin to grip onto your arm for stability. At this point, they can be held with one hand. Your other hand can be used to guide the snake’s head in case they are moving in the wrong direction.

Even though these snakes are generally docile, there are a few times that a ball python can become defensive. Their defensive behavior of baling up is where they get their name from.

Some of the main reasons for defensive behaviors include new environments, feeling ill or stressed, unclean or improper enclosure set up.

It is important not to handle your snake within 24 hours of feeding them. Pythons that have recently eaten and are stressed can regurgitate their meal as a defensive behavior. This is very traumatic and can lead to injury.

Lifespan and Health

Adult ball python
This snake can live anywhere between 15 to 30 years.

Ball pythons typically live for between 15 and 30 years. In the wild, they live for only about 10 years on average. Their longer lifespan as pets is largely due to the availability of regular food and a lack of predators. They normally do not live beyond 10 years old in the wild.

There have been reported cases of pet ball pythons living into their 60s. The oldest is currently 62 years old and lives at the St. Louis Zoo.

Obesity caused by overfeeding is one of the most common health concerns in this species.

Make sure that you are monitoring your snake’s health and keeping it within the average weight range for its size.

The best way to check if your ball python is obese is through simple observation. Typically, you cannot see the spinal indentation on an obese python. Instead of the body going from the spine down, it goes outwards or even up. Secondly, you will be able to see noticeable fat folds when it balls up.

A healthy snake should not have fat rolls.

By using a consistent feeding schedule, you can avoid your snake developing obesity.

Besides obesity, another common health issue for ball pythons is shedding.

When ball pythons have stuck shed, they may develop lethargy, a loss of appetite, and become defensive. Typically, this is caused by a lack of proper humidity. During a shed it is okay for tank humidity to reach 75%. You can also offer a warm shallow bath to help with shedding.

Other signs that you snake is sick can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty shedding
  • Uncharacteristically defensive
  • Lethargy
  • Opaque, blue eyes
  • Nasal Discharge
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Agitated appearance (pacing)
  • Blisters
  • Scale loss
  • Dull coloration
Ball python stuck shed
Ball python stuck shed

Ball Python Colors and Morphs

Ball python snake
There are approximately 5,000 different morphs of ball python snakes.

In the wild ball pythons are typically black or dark brown with tan or beige spots. However, there are also naturally occurring genetic mutations that give them unique colors and patterns.

Some morphs that appear in the wild (e.g. spider and pastel morphs) are actually beneficial. The patterns help them hunt prey and camouflage from predators.

There have also been morphs that have been bred by private breeders.

Typically, morphs can be combined to create even more unique colors and patterns.

There are approximately 4,000 different ball python morphs. Through selective breeding, different genes are combined, added, or removed in order to produce offspring that have unique colors and patterns.

Many reputable breeders can identify morphs by simply looking at the snake’s colors and patterns. However, since there are thousands of different morphs, it is difficult to be able to identify each one of them. Either way, there are some common ones that are easily identifiable for beginners.

Some of the most popular morphs include the fire, spider, and pastel morph. These morphs typically do not cost as much as some of the more rare morphs, but can still go for well over $100.

There are rare morphs that can cost thousands of dollars when they are at their peak demand. An example of this is the sunset morph which can cost as much as $16,000.

Besides their color and pattern, they have very smooth scales that go down the length of their body.

Ball Python Size

Hatchling ball python
Their small size makes it even easier for them to curl up into a compact ball, hence their name.

Ball Pythons only grow to a maximum of five feet. Usually they average around three to four feet in length.

Females are normally always larger than males. Sexual dimorphism is obvious in this species as females can grow to almost two feet longer than males. A large female can reach six feet in length while a male will top out at 4 feet.

Below is a chart that shows the ball python’s average size as it matures through different stages in its life cycle.

Age Male Female
Hatchling 10 to 17 inches
Juvenile 20 to 25 inches 25 to 30 inches
One year 1.5 to 2 ft 2 ft
Two Years 2 to 3 ft 2.5 to 3 ft
Three Years 2.5 to 3.5 ft 3 to 5 ft
Four Years+ 3 to 3.5 ft 4 to 6 ft

Royal pythons have heads that are relatively small in size compared to the width of their body. Their bodies are stocky and triangular in shape.

One of the best things about caring for a ball python is their manageable size compared to other python and boa species.

Buying Advice

Full grown female Ball Python

Ball pythons are one of the most common pet snakes. They can be bought from breeders, pet stores, or online.

The best place to buy a ball python from is a breeder, whether online or not.

Breeders typically know a lot about their bloodlines and morphs. They can also provide plenty of information and advice to new owners. However, breeders tend to be expensive.

Most chain stores like Petco and Pet Supermarket have ball pythons for sale. However, these stores usually have employees that are not as experienced with ball python care. They also will not know about a specific individual’s bloodline or morph. Most sold will be a wild-type or fancy morph.

Regardless of if you buy from a pet store or breeder, make sure to inspect the snake.

Signs that a hatchling may not be healthy include:

  • Anxiousness in their tank.
  • Aggression.
  • Difficulty when handling.

Ball pythons range from $50 to $15,000. The price of a snake will always vary. This large price range is due to the number of rare morphs. For example, a banana morph can cost as much as $4,000.

A typical ball python should not be more than $150. At pet stores, they typically sell for $50 to $100.

Why We Love Ball Pythons!

Ball pythons are one of the best beginner snakes for owners who have no experience! They are very low maintenance, their diet is simple, and their care is not complicated.

These snakes are all-around great pets for any household that welcomes reptiles.

Their hardy nature and simple care needs make them one of the best beginner snakes. They need very little husbandry compared to other pet species. They are also very docile can tolerate handling.

Are you interested in adopting a ball python? Let us know in the comments below.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

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