Getting a hatchling Ball Python is fun and exciting, but figuring out what size mouse to feed it can be hard.
For the first 2-3 years, as they get bigger, your Ball Python will eat many different sizes of mice and rats. You should base the size of the mouse you feed on the circumference of your snakes’s thickest part.
If you are feeding multiple mice you should aim for a percentage of your snake’s weight. For juveniles, 8-10% is a good rule and 6-7% for adults. For example, my Ball Python is 1940 grams, so if I were to feed her mice, I would aim for roughly 120-140 grams worth of mice. This will mean feeding her four or five 20-30g adult mice.
I know this may sound confusing, but keep reading for a simplified guide to choosing the right size mouse for your Ball Python.
What Size Mouse To Feed Ball Pythons?
|Ball Python Age
|Type of Mouse
|2-3x Adult Mice
|3-4x Adult Mice
|3-5x Adult Mice
|4-5x Adult Mice
Hopper mice between 8-12 grams are suitable for hatchling Ball Pythons, but within a few months they will quickly graduate to small adult mice. By one year old, most Ball Pythons are eating large adult mice.
Author Tip: Your Ball Python should be fed a mouse that is roughly the same circumference as their widest part. For example, if your new juvenile is as big around as touching your finger to your thumb, then the mouse should be the same size.
As Ball Pythons grow quickly, they are usually transitioned from mice to rats by 12 months old for single-prey meals. In our Ball Python keepers survey, only 27% (7 out of 26) of keepers said that they feed their Ball Python mice. The majority feed small adult rats, see survey results below:
If you would like to feed mice to snakes older than 12 months, you will have to use the weight-percentage method.
Snakes 12 to 18 months old should be fed 8-10% of their body weight. So, for a 700 gram individual, you would need to feed 2-3 mice, equal to 56-70 grams in weight. This would be 2-3 adult mice weighing 20-30 grams each.
For snakes 4 years, or older, on a maintenance diet, you should feed them 6-7% of their body weight. So, for a 1900 gram female, you would need to offer 3-5 adult mice to provide a 110-135 gram meal.
- Ball Pythons can eat mice, but they should not be the only prey item you feed due to their higher fat content and price than rats.
- You should feed mice that are roughly the same girth as the thickest part of your Ball Python.
- If feeding multiple mice to a larger individual, you should use the weight-percentage calculation. For snakes under 18 months old, meals should equal 8-10% of their body weight. Adults should eat meals that are 6-7% of their body weight.
- You can feed live mice, but there are risks associated with this. Live prey can bite, scratch and injure your snake. For this reason, I highly recommend choosing frozen-thawed prey.
Feeding Mice To Ball Pythons
It is safe to feed Ball Pythons mice, but you should be careful offering them too frequently, especially to adults. Mice are perfect for hatchlings and juveniles that need smaller meals and are growing quickly. In fact, for a brand-new juvenile, it is best to feed a few hopper mice for the first meal.
Hatchlings and juveniles grow quickly enough that they can handle fatty mice without storing too much fat.
I recommend feeding mice frequently before 12 months of age. After this age, males start to slow their growth and females outgrow adult mice, so transitioning from mice to rats is important.
Mice have a slightly higher fat content than rats, with both having between 23-30% crude fat content. This higher fat content can lead to an overfeeding of fat when multiple mice are used (instead of a single rat). It also means that your Ball Python may prefer mice, which can cause them to hunger strike if mice aren’t properly alternated with rats.
To avoid a picky eater, alternating between mice and rats at a young age is important.
Mice should not be the main food source for healthy Ball Pythons older than 1.5 years old. They should only be used as an occasional treat. They can also be good supplements for snakes that are underweight due to previous husbandry conditions, parasite recovery, or old age.
When I first rescued Ivy, she was extremely thin and underweight. To help her quickly put on weight, I fed her 2-3 adult mice every 10 days until she reached a lean, but healthy, body condition. I then introduced rats as a staple diet, with occasional mice until she reached 3ft long.
Working at the reptile rescue center, we always feed mice initially to induce a strong feeding response and to bulk up thinner rescues.
Feed your Ball Python a mouse that is the same circumference as their widest point.
Do not feed any prey item that is bigger than 1.25 times their widest part.
Ivy has a ~2 inch diameter at her widest part, with an overall circumference of 6 inches. This means that her maximum prey size would be a rat roughly 6 to 7.5 inches around. In adults, their size normally means that rats are the best source of single-feeders, not mice.
If finding prey based on your snake’s largest circumference is too difficult, you can use the weight-percentage rule. This is much more helpful when determining how many mice to feed adult Ball Pythons.
Ball Pythons under 1.5 years old should be fed prey items that are 8-10% of their body weight. For example, a 600 gram individual should be eating a meal between 48-60 grams in weight.
After 2 years, you should start transitioning males to meals around 8% of their body weight.
Females should be dropped to 8% of their body weight between 2.5-3 years old since most will have reached maturity somewhere in this timeframe.
For males and females over 3 years old, aim for a 6-7% weight percentage for a maintenance diet.
To achieve these meal sizes, you will need to feed multiple mice. For sub-adults, this may be only 2-3 mice. For large adult females, it may require 4-5 to make a full meal. You can do this by calculating your rough percentage and weighing out your mice (as shown in the picture below).
At around 8 months of age, most Ball Pythons will begin to outgrow single-mouse meals and rats should definitely be the staple protein by this age.
Author Tip: If your Ball Python eats a mouse that is too large, their meal bump will have a noticeable amount of stretched skin between the scales. Some may also regurgitate, or spit it out mid-eating. I have had snakes that will just stop trying when they get to the shoulders if they are too wide.
|Ball Python Age
Meal frequency is based on your snake’s age and whether or not you are feeding a growth or maintenance diet.
Hatchlings and juveniles grow quickly and need more frequent meals than adults. Hatchlings under three months should be fed every five days. At this age, every other meal is a good way to alternate between hopper mice and rat pups. Alternating is a good way to avoid hunger strikes in adulthood.
Juveniles between 3-6 months old should be fed every 7 days. A 1:1 ratio of mice to rats is a good idea.
Between 6-8 months of age, I recommend offering mice every 3rd meal instead of every other. By the end of 12 months, mice should be used every 4th meal at most.
Many inexperienced keepers overfeed Ball Pythons because the “thick body” is what this species is known for. A common mistake is to exclusively feed mice until they reach adulthood. To avoid this, using rats early is very important!
Author Tip: Feed mice until they are able to comfortably eat small rats, around one year of age.
For adults, your goal should be to find an appropriate weight maintenance diet to avoid making your snake fat. I recommend feeding mice every 5th or 6th meal at this age (every 3-4 months), since their high fat content means mice are 100% a treat item for an adults.
Frozen or Live Mice?
Frozen-thawed versus live feeding is a hotly contested debate among snake keepers.
Some keepers prefer to feed live mice because they feel that it induces natural ambush behaviors. This type of feeding is also mentally enriching as it encourages the snake to hunt its meals.
The main issue with live rodents is the threat of injury to your Ball Python.
If your Ball Python is not hungry, they may refuse a meal. This leaves them in their tank with a rodent who likes to bite, chew and scratch. Even if your snake strikes and coils around the mouse immediately, there is still a risk of bites or scratches to the eyes in the first 30 seconds. This can be painful and even lead to infection.
For these reasons, I highly recommend feeding frozen thawed mice.
Frozen-thawed rodents are also more convenient. They can be purchased in bulk and stored for 6-8 months at a time before they are at risk for freezer burn. Also, you wouldn’t believe the amount of mice I’ve lost in my car after they chewed through their cardboard carriers!
How To Feed
The hardest part about feeding Ball Pythons is choosing the type and size of prey.
Feeding them is the fun part!
Your first step when feeding mice to Ball Pythons will be thawing the rodent.
Start by slack-thawing a frozen mouse in a refrigerator overnight, or defrost at room temperature for an hour. Then, you will need to heat the mouse to 96-100℉. To accomplish this, place it in a plastic bag and put the bag into water that is between 100-105℉. Replace the water 3-4 times over a 30-minute period.
Use a kitchen thermometer to monitor the water temperature. When your last water bath cools to 98℉, it’s time to feed your Ball Python.
Author Tip: I recommend thawing in a plastic bag to avoid feeding wet prey to your snake. I have had to pull bark and mulch out of several snakes’ mouths from feeding wet prey, which is just as stressful for me as it is for the snake.
I use long, 18-24 inch tongs (pictured below) to offer prey so my hand’s heat signature isn’t close to the prey item. This helps to reduce accidental hand strikes.
Wiggle the mouse around the enclosure where your Ball Python can see it.
Usually, this causes an ambush strike and a quick coiling maneuver. I will continue to wiggle the mouse for 10-15 seconds to simulate a struggle and maintain my snake’s interest in the prey item. This is a great way to emulate ambush situations and live feeding without risking injury.
If you choose to feed live rodents, I recommend offering them in a large enclosure. Close quarters increases the chance of aggression from the rodent. Also, you should supervise your snake for 5-10 minutes after feeding to look for any potential injuries.