Ball Pythons Make Great Pets
Where do Ball Pythons come from?
Ball Python Color Morphs
About Ball Pythons
The ball python belongs to the larger classification of snakes know and Pythonidae (Pyhtons) and are closely related to snakes in the Boa Constrictor family. Snakes of this sub-family are known for using constriction when hunting prey. Like other Pythons, Ball Pythons are densely muscled and fairly heavy bodied.
Natural Habitat: Ball pythons are found in the Grasslands and Scrub Forests across western and central Africa. They are commonly found occupying old termite mounds or abandoned mammal burrows. They come from semi-arid areas with varying amounts of seasonal rainfall.
In Captivity: The ball python has been breed in captivity for many years and many of the animals available for purchase now come from private breeding stock. This is a shift from 15 years ago where many were either wild caught or from wild collected eggs. An established captive breeding program has allowed for a large variety of color and specialty variation to be available. Depending on the rarity of the color pattern variation cost can range from $55 up to $10,000 or more.
- Standard: The standard variation will have a banded pattern of olive and black with traces of white where the olive meets the black. Ball pythons have a mostly white or cream underbelly. The head is mostly black with olive V pattern crossing over the eyes. On hatchling the olive appears more golden but as the animal matures this will darken to deeper olive green.
- Albino: Albinism is a genetic trait that caused a lack or reduction of pigments in the skin. In the ball python it creates a striking color combination where the black is replaced by white and the Olive is replaced by creamsicle orange or yellow. Albino ball pythons in the wild were extremely rare with the early wild caught specimens fetching upwards of $20,000. Albino ball pythons are now well established with breeders is often combined with other genetic morphs to create some truly striking colored animals.
- Leucistic: A Leucistic Ball Python is a morph with a complete absence of pattern.The animal will be 100% bright white with either blue or black eyes.
- Axanthic: Where albino is a lack of all pigments, Axanthic is a lack or absence of only red, yellow or both pigments. This produces a snake that appears very grey or faded. In extremes it can appear very much like a black and white photo.
- Pie Bald: Pie Balled is a partial Leucistic mutation. The snake will be predominantly bright white with patches or blotches of normal coloration.
- Pastel: Pastel Ball Pythons will have a normal pattern and coloration, except that it will appear washed out or softer.
- Bumble Bee: These are Ball Pythons that are bred to have high yellow and a drastic reduction in pattern width. The end result can be striking, producing a bright yellow snake with black stripe like patterns. Extreme variations of this morph are known as kille bees and super bees.
- Clown: Clown Ball Pythons take on a high yellow coloration with a diminished side pattern. Often the central ridge patter will connect forming a stripe along the top of the animal. Coloration and pattern is often greatly reduced in the head.
- Explosion of Combinations: Ball Pythons have become an extremely popular snake in breeding communities. This has caused an explosion of pattern and coloration morphs in the designer market. There are now way to many to list in full here. However If you are looking for a stunning and attractive show piece animal it is worth exploring some offerings being worked on by breeders.
Albino Ball Python
Ball Python Size
Ball Pythons are a heavy bodies snake with a nice balanced stocky appearance.
- Male Ball Pythons will reach 2-3 feet in length on average.
- Female Ball Pythons will reach 3-5 feet in length on average.
A Ball Python reaching 5 feet in length is considered large. Although an occasional 6 footer has been recorded it is rare.
The relatively small size of the ball python compared to other larger constrictors makes it an attractive species for beginners. Even at this size one should use caution and respect when handling. There is still a risk of accidental constriction and one should never handle any constrictor alone.
Ball Python Temperment
The Ball Python is a very timid python species, often preferring to retreat and hide as a defensive option vs. an aggressive thread display. This tendency is predominantly where the name Ball Python is derived from. A Ball Python will often coil up into a tight ball with it's head tucked inside for protection. Often with young or wild caught specimens this is the default behavior when picked up and handled. Within a few minutes a typical Ball Python will relax and start exploring it's surroundings. If a threat is perceived many will retreat back into this ball shape rather than aggressively striking out. While this is typical for most Ball Pythons, there are always exceptions. I have have a few very aggressive Bally Pythons in my collection over the years. Some calmed down with frequent interaction and could eventually be handled, others never calmed down and could not be trusted.
When selecting your first Ball Python you should avoid overly aggressive specimens. Ideally you want one that assumes the defensive ball posture, without hissing or other threat display and eventually and calmly starts exploring after a few minutes. A Ball Python who is preparing to strike will often visually focus on it's intended target, elevating the front 1/3 of it's body with a distinct 'S' shaped curve. Like all python species Ball Pythons have re-curved teeth. This means that the teeth have a slight hooked or curved shape to help prevent prey from escaping. If you are bit, try to avoid the reaction of pulling back, you will cause more damage and pain and increase the change of severe laceration due to the shape of the teeth. A defensive strike will not cause the python to latch on, but will rather strike and retreat.
Like other pythons Ball Pythons have a strong instinctive feeding response. If they are fed in their enclosure and never handled they will come to expect that everything that enters the cage is food. Many accidental bitings with Ball Pythons are caused sue to this practice. If you are struck in a feeding response chances are the python will attempt to coil and wrap around the strike area. Try to resist the urge to pull away, as mentioned above they have re-curved teeth and this will cause more damage to you, and your snake. Instead remain calm and gain control right behind the head. Push the head forward into the bite, causing the teeth to dis-lodge and mouth to open. Carefully remove the area away from the snakes head, being mindful not to snag or break any teeth.
If you want a consistently reliable pet snake that can be handled, you should never feed your snake in their enclosure and handle them frequently to get used to it.
Ball Python Supplies
Ball Python Enclosures
Ball Pythons do not require a large amount of space. A 10 Gallon or equivalent enclosure can easily house a hatching or two. For an adult I would not recommend anything smaller than and 20 Gallon or equivalent. Ball Pythons are strong bodied snakes and quite strong for their size, therefore one should be sure to take appropriate measures to secure the enclosure to prevent escape. For example a single set of lid clamps may not be enough to prevent an adult ball python from pushing a lid up enough to prevent escape. If you wish to own an exotic python one should be responsible enough to provide a safe and secure enclosure.
Ball Pythons do not have many special requirements for bedding requirements. In many cases simply using newspaper will suffice. Should you wish your enclosure to be more decorative, than Aspen or Coconut husk shavings will work well. Avoid Cedar chips as they can be toxic. Make sure to remove any waste or shed skid quickly as too avoid odor. Bedding should be changed monthly or as needed depending on how much waste has been produced.
A Bally Python will appreciate a good hide box to retreat into. This will reduce the amount of stress felt by your snake in turn make it easier to handle. You will also want to provide a large water bowl for drinking and soaking. Be sure to change the water and clean the bowl frequently. Any additional decoration you wish is up to you depending on how elaborate you wish you enclosure to be. Be aware the more complex the setup the longer and more difficult it will be to clean.
Temperature and Humidity:
Ball Pythons are very hardy and can withstand a wide range of temperature and humidity ranges. They come from Scrub lands in Africa, which have a wide range of seasons from Hot and Arid to Cool and Rainy.
I like to provide a daytime ambient air temperature in the mid to upper 70's with a basking area or hot spot that reaches 87-90 degrees. At night I do not provide any additional heat source and allow the enclosure to cool to room temperature 67-70 degrees. If you are housing your snake in a room that cools to below 65 degrees you will want to consider an under tank heater to keep the tank warm at night. While the Ball Python can tolerate cooler temperatures for short periods of time, extended exposure may lead to respiratory issues.
For a 10 gallon aquarium I use a 50 watt baking lamp with reflector cover positioned over one side of the enclosure. This provides a warm and cool side for the snake to use to regulate their own body temperature. Your exact set-up may be different and it all depends on average household temperature and the type of enclosure you are using.
By keeping a full water bowl available at all times I do not worry to much about humidity except when it gets very dry here in the winter. I use coconut husk for bedding and I will often moisten it when I clean or change it to add some extra humidity. A healthy shedding is one of the best indicators of humidity levels. If your snake is shedding correctly in mostly 1 piece then your humidity level is correct. If the snake is shedding in many small pieces or has problems getting all the skin off then your humidity level if too low and need to be increased.
Feeding Your Ball Python
Your Ball Python like many other boas and pythons has a relatively slow metabolism. This allows the Ball Python in the wild to survive for many months between meals. You will hear many different recommendations on how often and how much to feed your python. The pace and speed of growth in all python species is directly related to the rate of food intake. This leads some to practice power feeding techniques to cause the snake to grow as fast as possible. The down side to this is that is also caused a strong feeding strike response every time the cage is opened.
I like to feed mine twice a month as hatch-lings for the fist 6 months than back off to once a month as sub-adults and adults. It is enough to courage steady growth and maintain good body weight while simulating periods without food they would encounter in the wild.
Food Size: A hatch-ling Ball Python will start taking 1 pinkie sized mouse. As the snake grows the size of the mouse should be increased. A very large Ball Python can eat 2 large adult mice in a single feeding session.
For the safety of your python I recommend feeding only thawed frozen mice. These are available prepackaged at just about every pet store. I have seen it happen too many times where a Live Mouse left uneaten in an enclosure turns the tables and starts nibbling on the snake, inflicting large horrific injuries. In most cases the snake will not strike out in defense but try to curl up in defense.
I suggest picking up a long pair of feeding tongs for presenting the mouse to your snake, Since they have poor eyesight and hunt mostly on heat sensing and scent, your hand looks just as attractive as the mouse if not more so when the scent is present in the enclosure.
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Choosing the right Ball Python
When investing in a Ball Python as a pet you will want to be sure that you select an animal that is healthy to ensure a positive ownership experience. What may appear as a minor issue in a reptile can quickly turn fatal. Here are some common thinks to look for.
Body Weight: Your Ball Python should have good body weight. They are a moderately heavy bodied snake and should appear full and round in the middle. You should not see any indications of a pronounced spine or ribs. This is a sign that the snake is malnourished either due to parasite infestation or long term feeding issues. Animals that appear skinny should be avoided.
Breeder vs. Wild Caught: Many hatchling Ball Pythons sold today in pet stores are from private breeders. Should you choose to select an sub-adult to adult ball python you want to make sure that it was not wild caught. For a new snake owner or even an experienced keeper a wild caught animal comes with a host of potential issues. The two main concerns here are parasite load and feeding issues. Ask for the source where the store purchased their Ball Python.
Parasites: Even store bought Ball Pythons can have parasite issues. The main concern here is with snake mites. Mites appear as small dark hard flecks attached to the scales of the snake. Mites can be introduced to a collection easily and quickly spread like wild fire across a collection of tanks. Long term mite infestations can lead to emaciation and wasting of your animal. If not treated eventually they can cause death.
Stomatitis (Mouth Rot): Mouth Rot is a potentially dangerous condition and can be difficult to treat if it has become severe. It is usually the side effect or secondary infection that occurs from some sort of tissue damage to the mouth. The lip area will appear puffy and white and in extreme cases the flesh will start rotting away from the teeth and gums. There may be a thick cheesy discharge present in the area. Examine the head and especially the mouth area by pulling back the lips to examine the gums. If they appear inflamed and white then avoid this animal. In a health snake they should appear light pink. Minor cases of Stomatitis can be treated by applying hydrogen-peroxide with a Q-Tip to the infected area 2 times a day until the area is healed.
Respiratory Infections: Like all snakes Ball Pythons are cold blooded and rely on heat sources in their environment to maintain a correct body temperature. If the temperature remains too low for extended periods of time or the snake is exposed to a cold draft then respiratory infection will set in. Signs of a respiratory infections are listlessness, pronounced mouth breathing, wheezing, excessive mucus or blowing bubbles. Normally a minor respiratory infection can be reversed by providing a slightly warmer environment for a few days free of drafts, however severe respiratory infections can require more extensive treatment with antibiotics.
Eating Issues: Ball Pythons can be picky eaters. Make sure you have a feeding history and select an established eater. While many will eventually start eating in time, there are some Ball Pythons that will starve themselves to death. An Established eater will usually continue to eat well when brought home. In all cases I would wait at least 2 weeks after purchase before feeding your first meal at home. This will allow time for the snake to acclimate to it's new home and allow stress levels to return to normal.
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