Ball Pythons are true carnivores who are sit-and-wait predators.
In the wild their diet is mostly rodents like black rats, rufous-nosed rats, grass mice and shaggy rats. They have also been known to eat birds, shrews, amphibians and even African Giant Rats.
While they aren’t picky in the wild, pet Ball Pythons can be fussy eaters!
Feeding ball pythons can seem daunting for new keepers, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Once you get them eating and stick to a feeding schedule, mealtimes will be a breeze.
This article will walk you through exactly how to feed a ball python from start to finish. We also share tips and tricks from a seasoned keeper and a complete feeding chart.
What Do Ball Pythons Eat?
Wild ball pythons (Python regius) are true carnivores that eat a variety of different animals:
- Black Rats
- Rufous-Nosed Rats
- Grass Mice
- Shaggy Rats
- African Giant Rats
Ball pythons are sit-and-wait predators, meaning that they will find a good hiding spot and wait.
Once an animal passes by, they will strike and constrict their prey by wrapping their powerful bodies around it and squeezing.
Though they will eat almost anything they can fit in their mouth, their diet is mostly rodents.
Younger snakes are much smaller and usually focus on smaller prey like mice, shrews, and rat pups.
Adult females are generally bigger than adult males and are able to consume larger prey like African Giant Rats.
As pets, a ball python diet is a bit different.
Many pet ball pythons spend their entire lives eating a diet consisting entirely of mice or rats.
These rodents are considered a complete diet for ball pythons. You will not need to supplement any calcium or vitamins.
Mice and rats can be found in almost every pet store, are extremely cheap and easy to buy, and can be delivered to your door.
Ball Pythons are also happy to eat mice and rats, and even the pickiest of eaters will usually accept them.
This diet can be supplemented for enrichment, but this isn’t necessary. Some keepers like to feed treats such as:
- Small rabbits
If you want to try more exotic prey like quail, just be sure you can easily buy more. They might quickly develop a taste for them and not eat anything else.
Feeding Ball Pythons
While it may seem daunting at first, ball python feeding is relatively simple and easy.
Many keepers choose to start their hatchlings on pinky rats or hopper mice.
Pinky rats are the smallest available rats usually between 5-12g, while hopper mice (small mice) are the largest juvenile mice between 7-13g.
Rats are the best option for many keepers for multiple reasons.
First of all, as your snake grows, you will be able to increase the size of their prey without having to change their prey.
Also, feeding one large rat is always better than multiple large mice. For example, an adult can eat 1 medium rat which is the equivalent 4 large mice.
A diet of rats also costs less and is generally easier to feed.
Finally, rats also have more kcal/gram meaning that they are packed with more gross energy than mice.
If your hatchling is picky, or has been fed hopper mice by the breeder, this won’t be an issue, you will just need to transition them to eat rats as juveniles.
1. Prey Type
The first thing you need to decide is what type of prey to feed your Ball Python.
Frozen thawed or freshly pre-killed rats are the best choice.
Feeding live prey is usually an unsafe option as they can attack and/or hurt your snake.
You may find that hatchlings are more reluctant to eat frozen/thawed and need freshly killed rat pups to get started.
Establishing them on food is usually done by the breeder and once they are established, they can be fed using the same prey.
For frozen rats or mice, the first step is to defrost (thaw) them.
They will usually need to be air-thawed and left in the refrigerator for 12 hours before feeding.
Never microwave frozen prey as they can explode!
Most ball pythons are fed in the evening, just around when it begins to get dark outside.
You should remove the frozen prey from the freezer first thing in the morning and place it in the fridge.
After thawing out, the rodent will need to be warmed up before feeding.
These reptiles have special heat sensing pits that help them find their prey. Air-thawed prey will not be the right temperature for them.
Place the thawed rat into a Ziploc bag and then into a bowl of warm water (~110°F). After 15 minutes the rodent should be warmed to a standard body temperature of 97-110°F.
Open the bag (be careful of the strong rodent smell!) and check the prey item is completely dry before feeding.
If you choose to feed freshly pre-killed prey, you can skip the entire thawing step above.
Pre-killed rodents will usually be killed by the pet store you buy from. Many keepers prefer not to kill their own rodents, so they choose to have the pet store do it for them.
The downside is that you can only ever buy one rodent at a time and must feed your prey the same day you buy it.
Before feeding the pre-killed prey make sure it is warm (97-110°F).
2. Prey Size
The size of the mouse or rat you feed will depend on how big your ball python is.
Most keepers feed prey that is around the same size as the widest part of their snake.
While ball pythons can’t unhinge their jaws, their jaws are very flexible which means they can eat prey larger than their head.
Below is a good ball python feeding size chart to use if you are in doubt:
|>3 months||Pinky rat (5-12g) or hopper mouse (7-13g)|
|3 months||Fuzzy rat (13-19g) or small to medium adult mouse (7-18g)|
|6 months||Rat pup (20-30g) or adult large mouse (18-30g)|
|1-3 years||Small to medium rat (45-85g)|
|3-5 years||Medium rat (85-175g)|
|5+ years||Large rat (175-275g)|
Sometimes it is better to go by the weight of your snake when choosing prey size, especially for adults.
In this instance, pick something that is around 12% of their body weight.
A good example is that large females that are over 2,300 grams should eat rats around 275 grams.
When in doubt choose a smaller prey item.
Snakes will easily be able to eat a smaller prey item, but attempting to eat something that is too large can be very stressful for them.
There is also a chance they will regurgitate larger prey later. Regurgitation is very stressful and can cause irritation and damage to their throat and mouth.
3. Feeding Chart
There are a few factors that influence a ball python feeding schedule.
The first factor is age. Younger pythons need more energy to grow and will therefore eat more frequently.
Hatchlings and juveniles will eat a similar diet, but with smaller prey items and more frequent meals. For example, where an adult may eat a medium rat every two weeks, a hatchling will need a pinky rat twice per week.
Gravid females will also need more food as they will convert that energy directly into growing their eggs.
Males that are being bred also need a slight increase in food, if they are breeding with several females.
|>3 months||50-100g||Pinky rat or Hopper mouse||2x per week|
|3 months||120-250g||Fuzzy rat or small to medium adult mouse||1x per week|
|6 months||300-400g||Rat pup or adult large mouse||1x per week|
|1-3 years||500-1500g||1 small to medium rat or 2 adult mice||1x per fortnight|
|3-5 years||1300-1800g||1 medium rat, or 4 adult mice||1x every 2-3 weeks|
|5+ years||1800g+||1 medium or large rat, 4-5 adult mice||1-2x per month|
|Gravid Females||1500g+||1 medium or large rat or 4-5 adult mice||1x per week from ovulation until when the eggs are laid.|
|Breeding Males (bred to 2 or more females)||800g+||1 small to medium rat or 2 adult mice||1x every 1.5 weeks|
In the wild ball pythons don’t have a consistent meal schedule, so pet adults can be fed relatively infrequently.
Some larger females will only eat a large rat once every month or so.
Even if they are willing to eat more frequently than this, overfeeding can lead to health complications like obesity.
4. Feeding Guide
The process of feeding ball pythons remains the same regardless of their age.
It is best to feed ball pythons in the evening, right around when it begins to get dark. Since this species is nocturnal, nighttime is when they are most active and likely to eat.
An hour before feeding move the rodent close to their cage.
This is known as pre-scenting and really helps to get them into feeding mode.
After an hour or so, take the rat firmly by the base of its tail with a pair of tongs and then move it close to your snake’s head.
You can gently shake the prey left and right to simulate movement and encourage a strike.
Whatever you do, don’t offer the prey item with your hands.
The snake may accidentally strike and hit your hand, or mistake your hand for food and latch on.
Most will eat within 15 minutes, but if they aren’t interested don’t worry.
You can leave the rodent in the cage for 12 hours overnight. If it still hasn’t been consumed by morning it will need to be thrown away.
Unlike with lizards, you will not need to use any supplements when feeding a ball python. Feeder rodents are considered a complete meal, and it is highly uncommon to see these snakes suffer from conditions like metabolic bone disease.
Common Feeding Problems
Having a ball python that refuses to eat can be discouraging for new keepers, but a refusal to eat is usually easy to fix.
A ball python that won’t eat is normally because:
- Their tank setup is wrong (low temperatures).
- Feeding the wrong prey.
- Moving before feeding.
- Change of rodent type (from mouse to rat).
- Handling after eating.
Using a ball python feeding schedule is one of the best ways to keep one healthy and eating.
A feeding chart also makes sure they are getting the right amount of food.
For example, if you are feeding your juvenile twice a week like you would a hatchling, they can easily become obese. Feeding more than once a week is a technique called power feeding and is highly discouraged as it can lead to a shortened lifespan.
If you are using a feeding schedule, and the tank size and setup is correct, try feeding pre-killed mice to rule out a hunger strike.
They can be picky and will refuse prey that they aren’t used to.
Changing your feeding strategy from frozen-thawed to a tasty pre-killed treat is a good way to make sure there are no underlying health problems causing them to refuse food.
Finally, make sure you are not moving your snake to a feeder enclosure before feeding.
Some refuse to eat in new environments where they may feel unsafe.
In this case, feeding inside their enclosure is best.
Other individuals may be more likely to eat if they are in a smaller container with the prey item close by. If you want to try this out, the best way is to place them in a large tupperware container.
Some keepers prefer to feed their snake in a different enclosure. This can help minimize the chance of accidentally eating loose substrate and decreases the chances of food aggression.
The downside is being moved can cause stress and make them less likely to eat.
How Long After Feeding Can You Handle?
After feeding you should wait 72 hours before handling them.
Three days gives them time to digest their food properly, before being subjected to activity.
If you still see a bulge in their belly then it means they are still digesting their rodent and need more time.
Do not handle or hold your snake before they fully digest their meal, otherwise they may regurgitate it.
How Do You Feed A Hatchling For The First Time?
Feeding a ball python for the first time can be daunting, but with time you will become more confident.
Before feeding you should ask the breeder what type of rodent they were feeding.
Many breeders choose to start their hatchlings on pinky rats or hopper mice.
These reptiles are more likely to continue eating if you feed the same prey they were eating before you got them.
It is normally best to use pre-killed prey for the first few meals and offer via tongs. Move the prey item to entice a strike and hopefully your snake will do the rest!
If they don’t strike within a few minutes, you can leave the prey in their enclosure overnight.
Live Prey vs Pre-Killed
Pre-killed prey will always be safer and poses no danger to your pet.
Live prey is often preferred by ball pythons because their heat sensing pits will put them into “feeding mode”. However, live prey can easily harm and even kill your snake if not properly monitored.
Rodents can bite, scratch and have been known to sever tail tips if left unattended.
Feeding ball pythons is simple and easy if you know the right steps and follow a feeding chart.
Their diet should mainly consist of rats or mice with no need for vitamin supplements.
Pre-killed or frozen/thawed rats are the best to feed.
Frozen/thawed rats are the best option for most keepers. They are cheap, can be found in almost every pet store and can be fed to hatchlings, juveniles and adults.
If your hatchling is picky, you might choose to start them on pre-killed hopper mice.
Feed your snake in the evening, right around when it begins to get dark. Feed them prey using tongs and they should strike within 15 minutes or so.
What is your ball pythons favorite rodent? Let us know by leaving a comment below!