Ball pythons are a great pet snake for just about anyone. Even though they’re often looked at as an ideal species for beginners, we know very experienced owners who still consider them their favorite snake!
And here’s why:
These reptiles are low-maintenance, mellow, and quite beautiful. What’s not to like about that?
This guide will teach you the essentials of ball python care, so you’ll be ready for ownership when you get one. You’ll learn about their enclosure and habitat setup, size, lifespan, humidity, diet, and much more!
Table of Contents
As one of the most popular and beginner-friendly pet snakes, the ball python (Python regius) is a common sight in the reptile community.
These snakes are often one of the first snakes reptile enthusiasts come to own. Thanks to the wide variety of color morphs available, it’s not uncommon to see owners with a large collection of ball pythons.
These snakes are naturally found in central and western Africa. While you can still obtain wild-caught specimens, most snakes in the trade these days are captive-bred. Snakes bred in captivity are usually much healthier due to a lack of natural parasites.
The popularity of ball pythons has led to some interesting breeding results over the years. Today, you can find ball pythons with stunning colors and distinct markings.
With their shy nature and undemanding husbandry needs, ball pythons are a great snake species to own.
Average Ball Python Size & Length
The average ball python size varies between males and females.
Females are larger and can reach somewhere between three and five feet when fully grown. However, larger female ball pythons measuring closer to six feet in length have been reported.
Full-grown males are much smaller than females and tend to stay at lengths between two and three feet.
Ball pythons are considered to be small when compared to other species in the Python family. But as you can tell, that doesn’t mean they’re small animals!
On average, the lifespan of a ball python is around 30 years when given proper care. Some have even surpassed 40!
This makes caring for a ball python a long-term commitment that you should take seriously.
Of course, there’s no way to know for sure what the lifespan of your ball python will be. Like any other captive reptile, they can experience health issues. Those kept in poor conditions tend to live much shorter lives.
The goal for any ball python owner should be to provide the best care possible no matter how long you have them.
As we mentioned earlier, these snakes are available in a range of colors and patterns. You can find white ball pythons, true albino ball pythons, Piebald ball pythons, and so much more. Here are just a few morphs available:
- Blue-Eyed Leucistic
- Butter Ball
- Clow Ball
- Ivory Ball
- Mystic Ball
Breeders have gotten quite creative when it comes to morphs. It’s estimated that there are over 6,500 different morphs in existence!
The most common is considered to be a “normal ball python color.” This is what most people picture when they think of this snake. The standard coloration consists of medium browns, dark browns, black, and gray.
The brown colors typically create a splotchy pattern throughout the body. Sometimes, the patches take on a more uniform look, making the snake look striped.
Generally, the belly is devoid of any patterns. It’s usually a lighter shade of beige or brown.
The head of the ball python is triangular. Coloration typically extends to the head, so you may see some stripes or patches of color covering their large black eyes. Like most snakes, they have a long forked tongue.
Expert Tip: Contrary to popular belief, ball pythons do not have large fangs. Instead, they have a series of small teeth. They are sharp and barb-like, so they can still do some damage.
Ball Python Care
Ball python care is actually pretty straightforward. Unlike other reptiles, you don’t have to go crazy when it comes to setting up their enclosure and habitat.
These are solitary creatures who will spend most of their time balled up in one spot.
That said, there are still some basic care guidelines you need to follow. Like any reptile, ball pythons have specific condition requirements that will allow them to thrive.
There are a couple of enclosure types that you can use. The best one for you will depend on your experience level and how many snakes you have.
Larger collectors and breeders can get by with a rack-type enclosure system, which is smaller and focused on keeping many snakes separated.
If you’re like most owners, you’ll use a standard terrarium. Plastic-based enclosures are very common for ball pythons. They’re affordable and do a good job of keeping humidity levels stable. The same goes for glass tanks and aquariums.
Enclosures with a screened top work well, too. They provide ample ventilation and are best if you live in a warmer climate.
Adult ball pythons do well in enclosures that measure 36 inches long, 18 inches deep, and 12 inches tall.
You don’t want to get an enclosure that’s too big. Larger environments tend to make these snakes feel stressed and uneasy.
Ideal Habitat Setup
Ball python habitats should be kept relatively barren. While you can go the extra mile and create a biologically diverse vivarium, a lot of the effort you put in would go to waste with ball pythons.
For substrate, you can use untreated cypress mulch, orchid bark, or aspen shavings. You can even use something as simple as paper towels or newspaper. Just avoid cedar, as it has harmful oils.
Expert Tip: Generally, mulch-based substrates are best when humidity is a concern. The porous texture of the wood will soak in water, keeping humidity levels stable.
The only thing you really need in terms of decorations is a hide. Hide boxes are essential for these secretive creatures. The snakes use them to feel more secure and get shelter from the light.
You can use commercial hide boxes that are available from pet stores. Alternatively, clay pots and plastic boxes work well. Just make sure that it’s big enough for your snake to curl up in.
Utilize two hide boxes in the enclosure. Your snake shouldn’t have to choose between comfort and security. So have hide boxes on both sides of the temperature gradient.
Aside from a hide box, you can include some plants in the habitat as well. Ferns are a favorite with snake owners.
Setting up some plants is more about maintaining humidity levels than providing enrichment for the snake, so there’s no need to go overboard. Keep things simple!
Temperature & Lighting
The key to keeping ball pythons healthy and comfortable is to create a temperature gradient in the enclosure.
These are cold-blooded creatures that regulate their body temperature by moving from one side of the tank to the other.
The cool side of the enclosure should have ambient temperatures of approximately 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some slight fluctuations are permissible. However, if your home regularly dips to 70 degrees or lower, you may want to invest in additional heating sources.
Ceramic heat emitters or under-tank systems work well.
For the other side of the enclosure, create a hotter basking spot. Use light to achieve temperatures between 88 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
A standard 12-hour light cycle is best for ball pythons. They’re more active at night, so you’ll need to make sure that there are no powerful lights after the sun goes down. If you need to see your snake, use a red light.
Humidity is another important factor to consider. Use a hygrometer to check on humidity levels regularly.
The enclosure should have levels between 40 and 60 percent.
If you need to raise humidity levels a bit, mist the enclosure. Make sure that you don’t go above the accepted range. Too much humidity can lead to respiratory issues and other health problems.
A dish of clean water should be readily available for your ball python. There’s no strict requirement about the size of the dish. Just make sure that the dish is stable enough to stay upright when the snake uses it!
Some ball pythons like to get into their water bowls and soak a bit. This is perfectly normal. Unfortunately, they will often defecate in the dish, too.
This means you’ll need to check on the water regularly
Clean out the dish regularly and supply clean water that’s free of chemicals. It’s a good idea to use a water conditioning product if you have chlorinated city water.
Food & Diet
Feeding these animals is one of the more straightforward parts of ball python care. However, you need to be careful during the process.
Ball pythons are fully capable of biting you. Most of the time this occurs because of poor feeding techniques!
Many owners move their snakes to a separate feeding tank. This lets the snake know its time to eat. If you feed them in the same enclosure that they live in, the snake could strike you when you reach in because they think you have food.
Ball pythons require mice or rats. When they are small, pinky mice do well. As they get bigger, you will need to gradually move onto large rats. As a good rule of thumb, the mouse should be about the same size as the thickest part of the snake.
You can provide live mice or previously frozen mice. Just make sure you thaw the frozen mice out and bring them to room temperature.
With live food, you’ll need to watch the snake carefully. This is especially true with larger rats. Large feeder rats tend to already have teeth and claws, so they could harm your snake.
Expert Tip: Juvenile ball pythons need to be fed weekly. Adults can be fed every other week.
Sometimes, ball pythons will not eat during the winter months. This is completely normal and is usually not a cause for concern. Just remove any uneaten food and continue offering meals every 10 to 14 days. Eventually, they will start eating again!
Potential Health Issues
With the right care, ball pythons can stay pretty healthy throughout their entire lives.
However, there are some health issues that you need to watch out for. More often than not, these diseases are directly caused by a poorly maintained habitat.
Two of the most common issues include mouth rot and scale rot. With mouth rot, your snake might experience inflammation on the inner lining of the mouth.
It’s a similar issue with scale rot. Though, this disease manifests itself through visible sores on the skin.
Both conditions can be treated with antibiotics. But, you’ll need to address the cause of the disease, which is too much humidity
Expert Tip: Make it a habit to use your hygrometer to check humidity levels each day. To decrease humidity, create some ventilation in the enclosure.
Ball pythons can have some issues shedding from time to time, too. If parts of the old skin get stuck, soaking your snake in water for about half an hour will usually loosen it right up. After moving around their enclosure for a bit, it should come right off!
It’s important to keep the enclosure clean at all times. Bacterial infections and parasites could occur in a filthy habitat.
Clean up messes soon after they happen. It’s also recommended that you do a thorough cleaning every month. Break down the enclosure and disinfect every surface with an approved sanitizer.
Behavior & Temperament
Overall, ball pythons are shy. When you first bring it home, the snake will likely spend a lot of time in the hide box you provide (they may not even eat at first). Give them all the time they need to get acclimated to their new home.
Over time, you’ll notice that the snake gets more curious and responsive. This is especially true during the nighttime hours.
Oh, and don’t keep multiple ball pythons together.
While some owners swear that these snakes can cohabitate, there are far too many risks involved. Ball pythons are solitary creatures, so it’s best to give them their own space.
Ball pythons can bite. No matter how comfortable you are with your snake, learn to read their body language. If they go off and hide, give them the room they need. Do not force handling or interaction!
The trick to proper handling is to build trust. Ball pythons need to get comfortable with you before they will let you handle them. This can take some time. But, it’s well worth the wait.
When you get to that point, ball pythons don’t mind being handled. Some even show signs that they enjoy it!
To handle a ball python, approach them slowly. Do not make any fast hand movements that could confuse or scare the snake. Lift them up at their widest point and support their weight with your hands.
Give the snake a minute to settle in and get comfortable. They may wrap themselves around your arm. Let them do this before you start walking around and showing them off!
What Are You Waiting For?
Now that you have a full understanding of what good ball python care entails, there’s nothing stopping you from getting one!
These pet snakes are one of our all-time favorite reptiles, and that opinion isn’t going to change anytime soon! Their easygoing nature and unique appearance make them a great choice for just about anyone.
If you have any questions that we didn’t cover in this care sheet you’re more than welcome to ask us directly. We love helping and connecting with our readers!