Ball Python Care Sheet

by Sandy Allen  (President Toledo Herpetological Society)
Originally Published in The Cold Blooded News, V24: 5, May, 1997

Basic Facts

  • Common Name Royal Python (ball python)
  • Scientific Name Python regius
  • Origin Africa
  • Size Length: 3-5 feet (record >6 feet)
  • Lifespan (Captive) 20 – 30 years (record – 47 years)
  • Range West and Central Africa from Senegal to Uganda
  • Habitat Dry brushland, cleared forest, open grassland, even cultivated areas.

Temperament

Adult wild-caught specimens are a poor choice for a first snake as these animals are extremely difficult to acclimate to captivity. Wild-caught individuals have been known to starve themselves to death. Common problems include mites and ticks as well as internal parasites and injuries suffered during capture and shipping. Some of these problems can be solved only with vet care. Captive-bred and/or hatched individuals usually feed more readily and are not irritable or shy.

Captive Care

Caging

Either a 20 gallon long or 29-gallon high aquarium is a good choice for this animal. Substrates commonly include dry cypress mulch, Astroturf, and newspaper (use older newspapers so that the ink is dry). Driftwood and decorative stones should be added to aid the snake during its shed. A hide box is essential (especially with wild-caught specimens) since Royal Pythons are extremely private animals. In fact, some individuals will feed more readily from, or only from the hide box.

Temperature

80 to 90°F — the temperature can be allowed to fluctuate to 70-80°F at night. There are a variety of heat sources available, but under-tank heat sources are probably a better choice. Hot rocks commonly develop hot spots that can cause thermal burns and have been known to short out and electrocute animals. If an under-tank heater is used (these are adhesive and stick to the bottom of the tank), cover the heated area with slate. The slate will radiate heat, preventing thermal burns and can be covered with the substrate.

Lighting

A fluorescent tube over the tank may prevent the seemingly annual hunger strike (this corresponds to the breeding cycle). The light should be on for 14 hours and off for 10 during the summer months; 10 hours on 14 hours off during the winter. Spring and fall can be adjusted to 12 hours on, 12 hours off. The light cycle can be set on a timer for better control. Another option is a 100-watt incandescent bulb in a reflector over the tank. This not only provides the needed light but additional heat as well. Monitor temperature to be sure not to overheat the cage.

Food

Pre-killed rodents — even wild-caught individuals can be conditioned to eat dead, an option much safer for the snake. Rats of appropriate size have been more readily accepted than mice, but some animals do prefer mice.

Recent imports may even prefer hamsters or gerbils at first. If these animals are used, be extremely careful — feed dead if possible. Hamsters and gerbils are extremely aggressive and can easily kill the snake.

Some ball pythons prefer birds. Chicks may be used to scent dead rodents in an attempt to switch them over.

One technique suggested to get wild-caught animals to begin eating is to place the snake and a fuzzy mouse or rat in a brown grocery bag. Fold the bag closed and secure it with a pinch type clothespin. Place the bag in the snakes aquarium and leave it overnight.

Another technique suggested is to use an inverted clay flower pot as a hide box. Enlarge the hole in the bottom of the pot with a hammer and then smooth out the rough edges to prevent injury. This way a live feeder animal can be introduced without fear of injury to the snake. One source reports that the snakes have been observed with their heads over the edge of the pot watching the feeder animal – a sign that the snake may soon start feeding.

If it is still impossible to get your pet to eat, a trip to a good reptile vet is in order. You may also call on one of the individuals listed in “Herp Helpers” for more information. The key is patience — allow your pet to settle in and don’t over-handle the animal.

Water requirements

A water bowl large enough for soaking and heavy enough to keep the snake from tipping it over should be kept filled with fresh, clean water.

Social Structure

Solitary except at breeding time.

Activity period

Nocturnal. This snake will remain secluded in its hide box, coming out to explore the cage after dark.

Miscellaneous information

Snakes occasionally have problems with their shed. Make sure that both the eye caps and the tip of the tail are shed. Retained eye caps can cause infections and, eventually, blindness. Do not attempt to remove retained eye caps unassisted as permanent damage can be done — see a vet or call one of the individuals listed in “Herp Helpers” for help. Shed left on a snake’s tail can, over time, cause death of the tail — in effect amputating the tail.

References / Suggested Reading
de Vosjoli, P. (1990) General Care and Maintenance of Ball Pythons. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc. Lakeside, CA 92040.
de Vosjoli, P., Klingenberg, R., Barker, D., and Barker, T. (1994) The Ball Python Manual. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc. Lakeside, CA 92040
Griehl, Klaus (19) Snakes: Giant Snakes and Non-venomous snakes in the Terrarium.
Ross, Richard, A. MD, MPH and Marzec, Gerold (1990) The Reproductive Husbandry of Pythons and Boas. Institute for Herpetological Research, Stanford, CA.
Stafford, Peter J. (19) Pythons and Boas. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune, NJ 07753.

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