snake-care

Ball Python Care Sheet

January 18, 2021

ball python care sheet

Ball pythons (Python regius) are a 3-5’ long, crepuscular, semi-arboreal snake native to central and western Africa. They prefer semi-arid grasslands, forests, and fields for habitat. Although they are frequently found in burrows, they are known to hunt in trees.

Ball pythons have thick, muscular bodies and a peanut-shaped head, covered in smooth scales. Wild-type (“normal”) ball pythons have a brown and black pattern outlined by white, with a pale belly. However, thanks to captive breeding efforts, ball pythons are now available in many other colors and patterns.

Ball pythons are one of the most common pet snakes in the US due to their hardiness, manageable size, docile nature, and ease of breeding in captivity. With good care, they are capable of living 30 years or more.

Minimum terrarium size for ball pythons

The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single ball python is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. Of course, larger is always better! Many people (falsely) believe that ball pythons actually do better in smaller enclosures, but the fact is that they need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and climb. As long as they have enough places to hide, a large enclosure will not stress them out.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple ball pythons in one enclosure) is not recommended, as ball pythons are not a social species, and keeping them together causes stress.

Do ball pythons need UVB?

Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for ball pythons. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits. 

The best UVB bulbs for ball pythons housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” terrarium are:

For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” above the basking area if not. 

UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

Lights should be on for about 12 hours/day. All lamps should be turned off at night.

Best temperature for ball pythons

Like other reptiles, ball pythons are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.

Specifically speaking, ball pythons should have a basking surface temperature of 95-104°F, and a warm hide temperature of 86-90°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 72-80°F. Surface temperatures can be measured with an infrared thermometer, but air temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.

Provide heat for your snake with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: a piece of flagstone or stone paver) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. 

The warm hide should be placed directly below the basking surface. If the heat lamp is not enough to get the warm hide to an appropriate temperature, use a heat mat connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide temperature.

Best humidity levels for ball pythons

Ball pythons need a range of humidity in their enclosure from about 45-75%. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss.  Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.

Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity.

Best substrate for ball pythons

Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your ball python’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for crested geckos:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.

Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

How to decorate a ball python terrarium

An empty terrarium makes for a bored ball python, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!

Since ball pythons are semi-arboreal, at bare minimum you will need at least two hiding places on the ground and a branch for it to climb on. However, it’s best to include other items such as:

What to feed to a ball python

Ball pythons are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake weight:

  • Hatchlings (up to 5 weeks old) — every 5 days
  • Juveniles <200g — every 7 days
  • Juveniles 200-350g — every 7-10 days
  • Juveniles 350-500g — every 10-14 days
  • Subadults and adults 500-1500g — every 14-21 days
  • Adults >1500g — every 28-56 days

Prey items should be around 10% of the snake’s weight and no more than 1.5x its width at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.

One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so aside from offering mice and rats, quail and chicks can also be used to add diversity to your snake’s diet.

Supplements

Ball pythons can survive without supplementation, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.

Water

Of course, don’t forget a large water bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

How to handle your ball python

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, ball pythons generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! When picking up your ball python, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!



*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! Here are some great sources we recommend checking out:

  • The ReptiFiles Ball Python Care Guide
  • Dispelling Python Regius Myths by Francis Cosquieri
  • Not Just a Pet Rock (Python Regius)

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