Ball Pythons are probably the most commonly kept snake in the United States and are quite popular in Europe as well. This is due to their (relatively) compact size, availability in pet stores, and (again, relatively) simple care. But they do need specific care and I will attempt to cover their basic needs here.
The Ball Python, Python regius, and known in Europs as the Royal Python, has a natural range of most of western Africa. If you are to acquire one as a pet, look specifically for a captive-bred one, as Wild-caught Ball Pythons can be the most difficult creature to get to feed. Ask - if you're not surre, check for a couple things. Wild-caught specimens are usually adults or sub-adults. They also might have a number of ticks on them. A captive-bred Ball Python is generally sold as a hatchling. Ask about their feeding habits. Wild-caught ones will seldom feed on mice, even when it comes to starving. Their natural food is gerbils (which can get pretty expensive). If you are told they don't know when it ate last, it's a good bet the snake is wild-caught and hasn't eaten. When you find a snake you want, also find out what prey it prefers - live or pre-killed. It makes a difference.
Photo courtesy The Snake Keeper
Once you have picked out a snake to take home, you are on your way to a unique experience. The snake's housing should be prepared before you bring him home. A twenty gallon aquarium (or cage of similar size) will comfortably house your Ball Python for all of its life. It is very important you have a tight fitting, secure lid for the enclosure. Snakes are escape artists, an yours will be no different.
An under-tank heateer is required to keep their optimum daytime temperature of 86-88 degrees F. It's not healthy to keep them at a constant temperature, either, so the heater should be placed at one end of the tank. It should also be turned off or turned down at night so the temperature is allowed to drop 8-10 overnight. Have a good stick-on thermometer at both ends of the tank so you can easily moniter the cage temperature.
I do not recommend heat rocks for any reptile and especially not for snakes. The temperature is unregulated and by the time a snake realizes how hot it is, he can be severly burned. Hot rocks have killed more than a few reptiles.
Ease of cleaning is an important factor in cage furnishings. They should all be taken out once a month, or as needed, and washed well in warm, soapy water, rinsed, and disinfected. A piece of indoor-outdoor carpeting cut to fit the bottom of the cage is functional as well as attractive. You will need two of them, so when one becomes soiled, you can hose it off and allow it to dry well. Newspaper serves the same function as a substrate, although it doesn't look as nice. Be sure to avoid the colored-ink sections and used only the sections with black ink. (There is quite a debate over the evils of colored ink being toxic.)
A water dish large enough for the snake to bathe in and sturdy enough to not tip over is essential, as is clean fresh water. It will need changed as often as evey other day, and the dish should be washed and disinfected once a week. Often, you will have to chase your snake out ot the dish, as soaking, especially near to a shedding, is a favorite passtime.
Ball Pythons aren't known to be aboreal, but if you provide a strong branch for them to climb on, they will. They are also quite secretive, so one ot two hiding spots are needed. Hollow branched, rock caves and an assortment of decorative items can be found at the pet store, or you can make your own out of broken terra cotta flower pots.
Feeding a cative-bred Ball Python is as easy as figuring out what his preference is (Live or pre-killed) and what time of day he will take the prey (day or night). Hatchlings will take one fuzzy or hopper mouse a week, the size of the mouse increasing as the size of the snake increaases. You do have to be careful not to over-feed them as they can become obese. Adults will eat two or three adult mice a week.
If you feed live mice to your snake, never leave them unwatched. Be sure the snake has killed the mouse before you go on about your business. Mice can be aggressive when threatened, and can injure or even kill your snake.
When handling your snake, move slow and carefully until he becomes accustomed to you. Never leave him alone, even for a moment. They can disappear into small, inaccesible (for humans) spots in mere seconds. Also, never smell like your snakea' supper to help avoid being bitten.
If you need to transport your snake somewhere, a pillow case tied securely shut at the end works wonderfully. Be sure not to let him crawl off a tabletop or car seat, however. I usually put the in a cardboard box, just to be safe.
In a short time, you will discover just how fascinating reptiles can be as pets. Good luck.