Ball Pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes in the world, and for good reason. Their shy and docile temperament, combined with their small size and simple care needs, make them a great choice for any beginner reptile keeper.
|30 years or more||2.5 to 3.5 feet (male)
4 to 6 feet (female)
|3 – 5 pounds (male)
5+ pounds (female)
Tank Setup ★★★★★
Activity Level ★★★★★
Ball Pythons are one of the most gentle snakes, and because of this gentle nature, they can make very good first snakes. Dr. Melissa Giese (DVM) – Chicago Exotic Animal Hospital
More About This Snake
Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ball Python (python regius) is one of the smallest pythons found in Africa. They are generally shy and spend most of their day hiding in leaf litter or taking shelter in rodent burrows and termite mounds.
True to their name, these snakes have a tendency to ball themselves up when exposed to a threat or dangerous situation.
Ball Pythons are a short, stocky, and slow-moving species that can be found in various colors, patterns, and sizes. Generally, they will have lighter underbellies, in white or cream, with contrasting light brown base colors and tan or beige spots.
Their small size and shy temperament works in their favor and is part of what makes them incredible pets for first-time snake keepers.
Ball Pythons have an incredibly rich history on the African continent. For example, in Egypt, they are commonly known as “royal” Pythons. This name comes from a rumor that Queen Cleopatra would often “wear” them as jewelry and considered them prized possessions.
Similarly, the Igbo tribe of Nigeria worships Ball Pythons and considers them sacred. This species has coexisted with people throughout history due to their adaptable and friendly nature.
Ball Pythons have a comparable level of respect in the exotic pet world as well. They make wonderful pets that can live for decades with proper care, habitat setup and diet.
|Living Thing||Ball Python|
Ball Pythons are cold-blooded, egg-laying vertebrates. Female Ball Pythons lay their eggs on land. They hide their eggs beneath logs or leaves and have even been known to build burrows for them.
As snakes, they fall under the order Squamata and belong to the genus Python. They belong to the same family as Burmese and African rock pythons.
- Ball Pythons are the smallest Python species in the world.
- These snakes are generally found in countries like Chad, Cameroon, Egypt, and Uganda. A good rule to remember their range is to consider the Nile River as a natural boundary that keeps them in the western basin.
- They are nocturnal, ambush predators and generally lie in wait for prey to wander by and then lunge and strike at them. In fact, they’re able to lie in wait for weeks in the wild.
- Ball Pythons are a type of constrictor snake and are not venomous. They tightly coil around their prey and squeeze them to reduce their blood flow.
- These reptiles are incredibly hardy animals that can easily survive in a variety of climates and temperatures. They can live for up to 30 years.
- Ball Pythons make great pets because they are relatively low maintenance, quite docile and can be kept in smaller enclosures. They also enjoy handling and are well known for curling around their keeper’s hands or arms.
- As Ball Pythons age, their skin colors begin to fade into darker colors like brown and black.
- Ball Pythons are also known as Royal Pythons because of their association to royalty. Queen Cleopatra would often “wear” them as jewelry.
Wild Ball Pythons can be found in grasslands, shrublands and open forests of western Sub-Saharan Africa. Their distribution extends from Senegal to Uganda. However, the countries exporting this species are primarily Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Alan Garcia-Elfring – PhD candidate at McGill University
Ball Pythons can be found across most of Central and Western Africa. They are common in countries that form the western boundary of the Nile basin such as Chad, Cameroon, Egypt, and Uganda.
Python regius occupy a variety of habitats in Sub-Saharan Africa, from densely covered rainforests to grasslands to rocky hillsides and open savanna. Of all their habitats, they have a preference for the floors of open Savanna.
During the day, these snakes hide under leaves or broken bark. They are also well-known for digging into and occupying rodent burrows and termite hills as well.
Ball Pythons are incredibly important predators in their native range. As top predators, they help to maintain the balance of the food chain. Without them, smaller mammals such as rats or mice would overpopulate habitats such as the savanna.
Currently, this species faces quite a few threats in the wild.
Their biggest threat comes from habitat destruction. Causes ranging from deforestation to expansion of farming, pastoral, and agricultural lands are threatening their natural range. Apart from habitat loss, habitat degradation is also a major concern.
Extensive use of pesticides and insecticides in agricultural land is affecting these snakes. Ball Pythons have less prey to hunt in regions where insecticidal or pesticidal use runs rampant. Additionally, it also affects their reproductive patterns and can have a negative effect on the mortality of a clutch of eggs.
They also face quite a bit of trouble evading poachers who hunt them for their skin and meat. For example, hunters in rural Togo have a tendency to collect egg bearing (gravid) females and sell them to snake ranches.
|CITES||May become threatened with extinction unless trade is closely controlled.|
Caring For A Ball Python
Ball pythons are excellent pet snakes for any kind of reptile owner.
They have a simple routine, are docile and 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 even beginners to enjoy keeping them.
According to Carlery-Martin MacFarlene, a Ball Python Expert who has over 11 years’ experience of keeping, rescuing and breeding these snakes, Ball Pythons owe their popularity to their perfect temperaments.
I rescued my Ball Python Ivy over 10 years ago. Ivy is so easy to care for and has the perfect temperament. This species is my number one recommendation for anyone looking for a scaly friend! Carlery-Martin MacFarlene
Although they are easy to care for, keep in mind that they’ll stick with you for a long time! Pet snakes can live for as long as 30 years. In fact, a few individuals have even been reported to live for as long as 50 years.
When it comes to tank setup, Ball Pythons are relatively easy to house. They require a secure enclosure, with adequate ventilation, a substrate that will maintain humidity, and a heat source.
An ideal tank size could be anywhere between 20 to 75 gallons depending on the size and age of your snake. Hatchlings and juveniles (2ft or less) will do fine in 20 gallon terrariums, but should be moved into larger terrariums as they grow. For large adults above 4ft, you can use 55-75 gallon tanks.
Ball Pythons are famous for their evasive nature and are notoriously good at escaping from their enclosures. Make sure to invest in a good, close-fitting lid. Most glass tanks come with a screened lid that serves this purpose.
Make sure you set up the tank with a temperature gradient. Designate one side of the tank as the “cool ambient side” and the other side as the “warm side”. For the “cool side”, maintain a temperature within a range of 75-80°F.
The enclosure’s air temperature should never go below 70°F.
The air temperature on the warm side of their enclosure should stay between 80-85°F.
Ball pythons should also have a daytime basking spot with a temperature between 88-95°F. The basking spot can be heated with either a ceramic heat emitter or an under tank heater (i.e. heat mat). Beginners often use an under tank heating pad connected to a thermostat.
Author Tip: Take special care and make sure not to use heat rocks inside your tank as these can injure your snake. Instead, try using heat sources that are outside the tank and connected to thermostats.
For the night, maintain tank temperatures between 70 and 75°F.
If you’re using overhead bulbs like ceramic heat emitters to maintain temperatures during the day, you’ll need to make sure they are switched off at night.
Your Ball Python should receive 12 hours of light each day, despite being nocturnal. You should not use “night time” bulbs that will interfere with their day-night cycle.
Choose a lighting fixture that is not overly bright or harsh like the T5 UV-B ShadeDweller by Arcadia.
Overhead UV-B tube lights placed over the basking spot are the best. Do not use overpowered mercury vapor bulbs or any lighting fixtures that are overly harsh.
It is important to make sure that the tank mimics wild conditions as much as possible. Substrate plays an important role in regulating humidity and providing a suitable habitat.
It is recommended that you use a substrate made out of aspen shaving, coconut husk, or even sphagnum moss. About ¼-½ an inch of substrate works great. If you are using an under-tank heat source, then you should aim for closer to ¼ inch of depth.
Do not use sand, pine or cedar, as it can become irritable to your snake or even cause damage.
Simple options like newspaper can also be used, but they’re better suited for hatchlings. Adults do best with a substrate that they can burrow themselves into.
Hides (like burrows or a stack of rocks or logs) are important for ball pythons because they tend to spend a lot of time in crevices where they feel comfortable and safe. This is great for reducing their stress levels.
It is recommended that you provide at least two different hides, one at each end of the enclosure.
Ball Pythons have been known to prefer more natural-looking hides such as hollowed logs or miniature caves. It is also important that they have access to things they can climb on like large pieces of bark.
Tank humidity should be consistent in the range of 60-75% and can be measured with a hygrometer. It is best to use two hygrometers in your tank. Place one on each side of the tank to better monitor how humidity changes within the heat gradient.
A good humidity level of around 60% can be accomplished by spraying down the substrate with water. Only mist lightly whenever humidity levels begin to drop below 50%. Do not mist frequently; this may flood the substrate, cause humidity spikes or result in a respiratory infection for the snake.
There are many ways to maintain the humidity level in your tank.
You can place your water bowl in the ‘warmer side’ of the enclosure. You can also add moistening fixtures to your tank like natural pieces of wood, live plants or live mosses. If you live in an especially arid region, you might want to also consider adding a humidifier to the room where you keep the tank.
During a shed it is okay for tank humidity to reach 75%.
Ball Pythons are usually healthy snakes but are susceptible to a few diseases. It is always important to monitor them for any health problems such as:
- Respiratory infections
- Mouth or scale rot
- Shedding problems
- Thermal burns
- Inclusion Body Disease
Respiratory infections are common health issues that affect pet snakes. Classic symptoms include wheezing, nasal or oral drainage, and open mouth breathing. Lethargy and loss of appetite are also common signs of a respiratory infection in Ball Pythons. Respiratory infections are often caused and can be exacerbated by poor enclosure setups and husbandry.
Mouth rot is a type of bacterial infection of the mouth. In a few cases, mouth rot can also act as a precursor that leads to respiratory infections.
Scale rot is associated with poor enclosure maintenance practices such as infrequent cleaning or a high humidity level. Symptoms of scale rot include poor shedding, discoloration of scales, and lethargy.
It is incredibly important to contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms.
Another thing to be on the lookout for is shedding problems. Sometimes, snakes have problems fully shedding their old skin. This is known as Dysecdysis and is usually caused by low humidity levels in the enclosure and hides.
Other signs that you snake is sick can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty shedding
- Uncharacteristically defensive
- Opaque, blue eyes
- Nasal Discharge
- Open-mouth breathing
- Agitated appearance (pacing)
- Scale loss
- Dull coloration
In general, it is also good practice to take your Ball Python in for routine annual check-ups.
Oftentimes, they do not show signs of disease until it is too late. Monitoring your snake for changes in behavior is incredibly vital. If you wait for symptoms to manifest, it can make it more difficult for your snake to recover.
Although Python regius in the wild generally have a short lifespan of around 10 to 15 years, pet Ball Pythons can live for up to 30 years. Their longer lifespan is largely due to the availability of regular food, stable conditions and a lack of predators.
Ball Pythons have quite an interesting life cycle.
Usually, a female will lay a small clutch of 5 to 10 eggs. She will then coil around her eggs and incubate and protect them until they hatch.
The eggs will take around 2 months to hatch and within minutes of breaking out of their eggs, hatchlings can move around by themselves. During the first two to six months of their lives, Ball Pythons are referred to as Juveniles.
As they grow older, juveniles will wean themselves off small insects and lizards until they become large enough to feed on mice and rats.
Generally, male Ball Pythons mature faster than females. Males become adults as early as 8 months old, while females only begin to mature when they’re over two years old. Females also grow to be much bigger than males.
Ball pythons are carnivorous and mostly eat small rodents. In their native range in Western Africa, they 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.
In the wild, they are an important natural population control for smaller prey such as rodents.
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 it 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 feeding routine.
Their diet as a pet should be similar to that of wild species.
In captivity, Ball Pythons usually eat small or medium-sized rats and mice. You can enrich your Ball Python’s diet by including other prey items like gerbils, chicks, hamsters, and quail. However, some are very picky and may choose not to eat chicks or rats.
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.
|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 to large adult rat||Every 14 days|
For hatchlings and juveniles, make sure you only feed them smaller prey like pink mice and fuzzy rats. For adults, you can feed them larger rats. Young ball pythons around 12 months old 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.
It is okay to feed your Python prey smaller than the size of their midsection, but ensure not to feed them any prey that is larger than the thickest part of their midsection. It is best to feed pre-killed prey as live prey can often bite in an effort to defend themselves.
Obesity caused by overfeeding is one of the most common health issues. 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. You will also be able to see noticeable fat folds when it balls up.
A healthy snake should not have fat rolls.
Author Tip: By using a consistent feeding schedule, you can avoid obesity.
As a general rule, it is best to feed Ball Pythons no more than once a week. Take special care not to power feed your Ball Python. Power feeding is centered around providing more than one meal per week. It is a controversial practice that can lead to obesity and can reduce their lifespan.
Ball Pythons are solitary and shy snakes who prefer to live alone. During the day, they seek out shelters like rodent burrows and termite hills to sleep in. Like other nocturnal animals, at night they emerge to hunt for food.
Due to their general distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa, most Ball Pythons will not brumate if winter temperatures don’t dip below 80°F. However, in a few regions, temperatures do fall to around 60°F, so some wild individuals will go into brumation.
Brumation generally doesn’t happen when Ball Pythons are raised as pets.
When raised as pets, you can pick up on subtle cues or behaviors that will help you better understand these snakes.
For example, when threatened, true to their name, they may roll and coil into a tight ball to protect themselves. Additionally, they are evasive and will try to retreat if needed.
They have also been known to notice their keeper’s presence, emerging from their hide and flicking their tongue repeatedly. They often do this to communicate they are hungry. They have also been known to stare at you while flicking their tongue as another way to communicate their hunger.
If your snake does stop emerging from their hide at night, or shows an increased tendency to try and escape, this might be a sign of stress.
It is important to be able to recognize signs of stress in Ball Pythons. When stressed, they usually lose their appetite and won’t eat. Additionally, they may start rubbing their snout against decor in their enclosure and exhibit excessive burrowing and hiding behaviors.
If your Python is stressed, you should scale back on handling and make sure to check your tank setup and monitor humidity and temperature levels closely. Also, try to minimize the amount of disturbance in the tank and increase the number of hides. Ball Pythons are very sensitive to change and can be easily spooked.
Ball Pythons have heads that are relatively small in size compared to the width of their body. Their bodies are stocky and triangular in shape. They are a medium snake, but when compared to other Pythons, Ball Pythons are the smallest Python species in the world.
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 are a manageable size and can be easily carried by one person.
Ball Pythons also have thin necks that support their flattened, pear-shaped heads. They also have heat-sensing pits on their upper lip. These pits can detect infrared light and allow them to hunt in the dark.
They are typically black or dark brown with tan or beige spots. This spotted coloration helps them better camouflage in grass or scrub habitats. 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.
There are approximately 7,500 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.
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 rarer morphs, but can still go for well over $100.
One of the best things about caring for a ball python is their manageable size compared to other Python and Boa species. Ball Pythons only grow to a maximum of six feet, and usually they average around three to four feet in length.
Females are always larger than males. A large female can reach six feet in length, while a male will top out at four feet.
Below is a chart that shows a ball python’s average size.
|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|
Rescue and Adoption
Ball pythons are one of the most common pet snakes. They can be bought from breeders, pet stores, or rescued. Breeders typically know a lot about their bloodlines and will provide plenty of information and advice to new owners. However, there are many abandoned Ball Pythons in rescues who would make wonderful pets.
If you want to get a Ball Python as a pet, please strongly consider adopting from a local rescue.
Many times these snakes get abandoned and end up at rescue centers like the Reptilia Zoo in Ontario, Canada. Kyle Hewlett, the lead zookeeper at Reptilia Zoo, had the following to say on factors to consider before adopting a Ball Python:
Ball Pythons are a LONG-TERM commitment, potentially 30+ years! The time and effort we put towards their care, and the environment we provide them, directly correlate to their quality of life.Kyle Hewlett – Zookeeper at Reptilia Zoo
Make sure you are fully invested in the idea of owning a snake before committing to taking care of one.
Ball Pythons can mate at any time throughout the year, but females are most receptive to mating from September to November. Generally, this mating period coincides with seasonal rain patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Although they are generally a docile species, males will fight each other in displays of dominance to win over a female for breeding rights.
Usually Ball Pythons have smaller clutches and typically lay between 4 and 6 eggs. The eggs are soft-shelled and leathery, with a gestation period anywhere between 52 and 60 days.
Gravid females will often find hiding spots to incubate their eggs. Generally, they hide their eggs under logs or deep in burrows and will not move too far from their nest until the eggs hatch.
Hatchlings have a specialized tooth that they use to cut through the leathery eggs and break out of the shell. They are born fully independent, but remain in the same vicinity as their nest for months after.