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General Info

Characteristics
Description
Difficulty
Pattern & Color Morphs
Range & Status
General Care
Housing
Furniture
Substrate
Feeding
Heating
Breeding

RECOMMENDED READING: "The Ball Python Manual" by Philippe de Vosjoli, Roger Klingenberg, D.V.M., Dave & Tracy Barker

CHARACTERISTICS: Ball pythons are generally calm and good natured. Ball pythons will bite only when they feel endangered or due to a feeding response. When threatened, they are known for their tendency to roll into a ball in order to hide its head, hence the name. Balls make popular pets due to their low price (at least the normal morphs, anyway), fairly small size, and pleasant temperament. Several cultures in Africa worship ball pythons and consider them sacred.

DESCRIPTION & LIFE SPAN: Normal ball pythons are generally gold/brown, dark green, and black. Their side markings vaguely resemble alien heads. Also, ball pythons generally have a black spine stripe with gold/brown spots down their spine. Ball pythons can reach sizes of 4'-6' in adulthood. Ball pythons longer than 5' are considered large. Females generally reach larger sizes than males. In addition, ball pythons are also fairly thick and heavily-bodied adults. Under optimal conditions, balls can live at least 20 years in captivity.

DIFFICULTY: Fairly easy, but keepers must have a general knowledge of snakes, i.e. balls are constrictors, and all snakes are escape artists.

PATTERN & COLOR MORPHS: Normal, Albino, Piebald, Jungle, Pastel, Hypermelanistic, Striped, Ghost, Axanthic, Caramel, Melanistic (black), Goblin, etc. Normals may range from $25-150 depending on age, size, appearance, and whether they are wild caught, farm raised, or captive bred. Other morphs bring in as much as $10-15,000.

RANGE & STATUS IN THE WILD: Large numbers still exist. However, the number is being reduced due to excessive destruction of habitat, skin trade, and pet trade. With the multitude of balls being bred in the pet trade, importation of balls may cease in the near future. Ball pythons hail from central and western Africa.

Ball pythons, or python regius, are fairly small pythons when compared to their larger counterparts. Ball pythons reach lengths of 4'-6'. Keep this size in consideration when choosing a cage. A cage's width should be 1/2 the length of your ball python and the cage's depth should be 2/3 their length. For example, an adult 6' ball python would require a cage that is 3' wide by 2' deep. Height should not be of great consideration because ball pythons are normally terrestrial.

Ball pythons hatch at lengths of 10"-17" and can be kept in 10 gal. glass aquariums. It is up to you to purchase a larger enclosure every time your ball python outgrows the older one. It would be more economical to buy an enclosure that will suit an adult size ball python for a hatchling and allow them to grow up in such an enclosure. A 30 gal. breeder glass tank is the absolute minimum for a large adult.

Keep in mind when considering the entry of your ball python's enclosure. All-glass tanks work well, but can be particularly stressful to your ball python when they see your hand coming from above reaching in to feed, change water dishes, or to clean the cage. This is stressful because ball pythons are regularly hunted by birds of prey, which obviously come from above. Cages with hinged/sliding doors in the front are less stressful to your ball python because you will be coming in at their level, and not from above. Make sure these "doors" in front or on top close and lock securely.

The purpose of ensuring that the doors close and lock securely is because ball pythons, like all snakes, are escape artists. With no legs to get in the way, and a little determination, it doesn't take much for a snake to take advantage of their owner's carelessness. When using a removable screen cover on all-glass tanks, make sure the cover is securely locked whenever the snake will not be under your supervision. Without these locks, a ball python can easily lift the cover and slip through the cracks. Another type of screened cover you can use is a sliding screen top. Again, be very careful that you lock the top because a determined ball python can also easily slide the cover and slither out. When using hinged doors, use locks for the same reasons. Ball pythons, especially large ones with enough determination can use their strong constrictor muscles to push doors open. Sliding glass doors are generally the best to use because they provide less opportunities for escape. However, make sure these doors are always locked because they can also be easily slid open. The small gap between two sliding glass doors may be small enough for a young hatchilng or juvenile to slip through. For peace of mind, you can put in a piece of wood between the two glass doors to prevent escape. In sum, ball pythons, like all snakes, are escape artists, so it is imperative that you make sure your ball python never has the opportunity to escape unless you enjoy turning your home upside down searching for a loose ball python.

Ball pythons are generally nervous and somewhat secretive snakes. Ball pythons will need a place to hide in order to do better. A ball python needs a hiding place to relieve stress. Without a hiding spot, your ball may seem a little jumpy and skittish. When you put in a hide spot, expect your ball python to use it. Upon moving into a new enclosure, your ball python will probably do a little exploring, then spend quite a while hiding. This usually takes about 3 days to a week. After your ball has become accustomed to the setup of the enclosure and feels confident, he/she will come out more, and hide less often. They will eventually hide only to cool off or to warm up and stay out of the light. As with any reptile, make sure you have at least one hide box on the warm side and cool side so your ball python can choose to hide and warm up on the warm side, or hide and cool off on the cool side. A hide box is essential after a ball python has finished feeding see the Ball Python Feeding Venue.

If you want to add things to climb, you can do so. Ball pythons are terrestrial so they do not climb much. However, they are equally comfortable in trees, so don't be surprised if they climb your branch to bask. I highly recommend at least one elevated spot for basking. Ball pythons are nocturnal snakes, but they will often come out to bask during the day, most often when you're not around. I recommend either one branch large enough to hold your python, or use epoxy to stack rocks to use as a basking spot. If you plan ahead, you can also make this rock basking spot double as a hide spot. the purpose of the epoxy is to prevent the rocks from tumbling down and crushing your snake when he/she is burrowing.

Also, you can never forget a water bowl for your ball python. Make sure the bowl is large enough for your ball python to submerge their entire body in. At the same time, make sure the bowl is easy to get out of so your snake doesn't drown. Obviously, this is usually not a problem since snakes are natural escape artists. Never fill the bowl near the top, otherwise the water displacement from the snake's body will overflow and get the substrate wet. This is something you don't want to happen when using a wood type substrate.

When it comes to shedding, you will want to make sure you do have a water bowl. Ball pythons need the humidity in order to make shedding easier. Also, you may want to put in some kind of rough furniture such as a rock or a branch to aid your ball in rubbing the old skin off. Don't "over-mist" your ball python to aid in shedding because too much humidity can cause the skin to dry and not peel off in a complete shed. When putting in a water bowl, don't worry about this and trust Mother Nature. Your ball will know how much humidity they need to have a good shed.

The debate on the best substrate to use has been a hot issue for all different types of reptiles. The type of substrate you choose depends on your preferences and your concerns for your ball's safety. Breeders often keep their ball pythons on newspaper or paper towels because they have a multitude of reptiles and they don't have the time to deal with the cleaning of all their pythons' enclosures if they were kept on naturalistic substrate. Also, naturalistic substrates, such as wood chips, is much more expensive than newspapers and paper towels.

Another substrate option is wood chips, which includes mulch. Aspen, cypress, and hardwood are acceptable types of wood to use as a substrate. Cedar and pine are a big no-no. Cedar and pine have a strong smell to them and can cause respiratory problems in reptiles and in some humans. However, there is no "digestible wood" and your ball python may accidentally ingest the wood when fed inside their enclosures. Also, wood chips may get wet from a water bowl that has displaced from a ball python submerging their bodies in water. Misting your enclosure also makes the wood chips wet. Wet wood chips cause mold and fungus to grow which causes respiratory problems in your python.

When you obtain a ball python, the first thing you want to do is make sure they are captive bred. Ball pythons are notorious for feeding problems and going off feed. This is why I stress that you GET CAPTIVE BRED! Wild caught are often loaded with parasites, and they often won't eat. Farm raised ball pythons are a little better, but captive bred is always best. Ball pythons will often eat less during the winter months. This is when they usually brumate (hibernate). Some ball pythons will eat less, some will not eat at all during winter months. As long as your ball python doesn't seem to be starving, then it's fine. Some ball pythons have gone for two years without eating with no ill effects.

With all this in mind, you probably wonder what ball pythons eat (if you don't already know). Ball pythons will eat mainly mice and rats. You can also feed chicks, and small rabbits for large specimens. Hatchlings will eat pinkie mice. Juveniles approximately 24" will eat adult mice. As they get larger, gradually increase the rat size for food. Large adults will eat large rats. Rule of Thumb: Feed prey that are equal to or smaller than your ball python's widest girth. They can eat slightly prey that are slightly larger, but do not continue practicing this as it may lead to regurgitation.

When you're feeding your ball python, make sure your hands don't have the smell of food on them. If you handle prey items or any pet rodents before you pick up your ball python, make SURE you wash your hands with soap prior to handling to get the smell off your hand. Otherwise, you will find yourself the newest victim of a stupid feeding error along with a stinging pain, and a bloody hand.

How often do ball pythons eat? Balls should be fed once weekly. Once they've eaten, they'll go and hide for a few days. I urge that you do not handle your ball for the next 3 days. This can also lead to regurgitation or loss of interest in eating later.

When feeding your ball, you will need to put a few things in consideration. One, what kind of substrate do you use? If you use anything other than paper (i.e. newspaper, paper towel) that can be swallowed, then it's advised you take out your ball python for every feeding. This will prevent impaction if your ball should accidentally happen to swallow a wood chip or any other kind of substrate. Also, feeding outside of the enclosure has its advantages. Your ball can be handled between their enclosure and feeding tank. Also, if they are fed somewhere other than their enclosure, they will not associate the opening of their cage door with food every time. Therefore, you have less chance of being bitten in a feeding strike.

All reptiles, including ball pythons, are cold blooded, so you will need to provide heat for your ball python to fare well. The presence of heat is a big importance in the captive husbandry of your ball python. They need heat to be able to digest their food. Without heat, the meal a ball python eats will rot inside the ball python and eventually cause poisoning and kill your snake. On the other hand, a ball python could regurgitate their food to prevent this poisoning, and without heat, your ball won't eat, so they will come to die of starvation.

How much heat is necessary? It is important to imitate your ball python's natural climatic temperature as much as possible because they are already adapted to live in these conditions. Reptiles need to thermoregulate to keep their body temperature in check. This means they need to move to warmer areas to raise their body temperatures or move to cooler spots to lower their temperature. In your ball python enclosure, you should provide a temperature of 80-85F on the cool side, and 90-95F on the warm side. At nighttime, the cool side temperature should be 70-75F, and the warm side should be 75-80F. There should still be a warm basking spot at night because ball pythons are nocturnal. I highly recommend you get a thermometer for the warm side and cool side and a third one for an elevated basking spot (if there is one), so you will know what the temperatures are and to avoid cooking or underheating your snake. Estimates are often way off, sometimes dangerously so.

To provide heat, you can use either a day light or a ceramic heat bulbs. WARNING: Ceramic heat bulbs don't emit light, but they do produce high heat, so they have been known to cause fires. Your ball python cage should also have an under-tank heating pad at all times to provide warmth from the ground up. At night, you have the option to use a night lamp, either purple or red (reptiles cannot see these colors), to provide heat in addition to the heating pad. Ball pythons are nocturnal snakes; therefore, they fare well under low light conditions. Personally, I prefer to provide a bright light in daytime and a night light set on timers to provide a regular photoperiod. REMEMBER: Your heating pad must always be on the same side as the lights to allow your ball python to escape the heat when necessary.

When you attempt to breed your ball pythons, it is best, but not absolutely necessary to provide a heat/light cycle. They should vary from 15 hours of sun in the summer, and drop to 9 hours of sun in the winter. When the amount of heat/light increase after winter, you can begin breeding your snakes. Cycling the photoperiod often produces more fertile eggs. Even if you kept your snakes on a stationary 12 hrs. on/12 hrs. off cycle, they would still mate, but produce less fertile eggs.

Ball pythons often go through a winter fast, and you should provide food weekly in fall to prepare them. During the winter season, temperatures should drop 5-10F on the warm and cool side during day and night hours. To stimulate the breeding instinct, several breeders put two males together to combat over females. This is not necessary as many will often breed readily. If you choose to have males combat, this includes pushing and wrestling, watch your snakes to make sure none resort to biting as this can lead to injuries or even death.

After your ball pythons have bred, you will notice the female lying upside down (besides her head of course). This is often an indicator that this female is gravid. After 20-35 days, the female will lay her eggs and it will be time to put the eggs in an incubator.

You should provide a box of moist vermiculite for the female to lay her eggs in to allow for easy removal of eggs and placement in the incubator. You can also "candle" the eggs to check for fertility. In a darkened room, hold the eggs up to a flashlight, which illuminates the egg. Fertile eggs have a pinkish glow with blood vessels present, infertile eggs have a yellowish glow with no blood vessels apparent. Ball python eggs should be kept on moist, but not damp, vermiculite in the incubator at temperatures of 86-91F. Make sure the vermiculite stays moist at all times to prevent dehydration of the embryos. In dry conditions, the eggs will lose weight. Conversely, in wet, but not overly wet conditions, the eggs will gain weight. About two weeks prior to hatching, the eggs will dimple. One week prior, the eggs will become thin and pliable. During the last few days, the eggs in the clutches will lose their adhesion to each other. The eggs will take 50-60 days to hatch.

If you choose to let the mother ball brood her eggs, you can keep them in the enclosure at temperatures of 86-88F under high humidity conditions. However, it is critical that the eggs remain on a dry surface.

Once the hatchlings emerge from the eggs, a process that takes 24-36 hours, the hatchlings should be transferred to a clean enclosure with adequate heat, shelters, water, and relatively high humidity. The hatchlings will be started on fuzzy or just-weaned mice after their first shed, which is one to two weeks after hatching.

All breeding information is from "The Ball Python Manual" by de Vosjoli, Klingenberg, and Dave & Tracy Barker