Purchasing a Healthy Ball Python
Once you have decided where to purchase your snake, the next step is to choose a healthy ball python. When buying over the Internet, you must rely upon the integrity and reputation of the seller, which is why doing your research is so important before you purchase from an online source. If you choose to buy from an expo, pet shop, or private party, you'll want to carefully examine the snake of your choice. Bring your own hand sanitizer. Being prepared is always a good thing, and after handling some snakes, you may really want to sanitize your hands! Some snakes may have skin problems or mites that you do not want on your hands.
Regardless of the condition of the snake you are considering, you must handle it. The snake should look alert and flick its tongue while being handled. Handling the snake will allow you to determine its muscle tone and body condition. It should feel firm and muscular. The snake should not feel boney, nor should it feel soft and mushy. Pass on snakes that have poor body condition. Snakes, especially babies, that are not feeding well or that have never fed will feel soft and have poor muscle tone. Babies that have a very hard spot in the middle should also be avoided. This is often a sign of yolk that has not been absorbed properly and has hardened inside the snake's digestive tract. This yolk remnant must be removed from the snake or the snake will die. Removal of the yolk can be accomplished through manual palpation, a process of gently maneuvering the yolk through the snake's system until it comes out of the cloaca. If this process is not done carefully enough, the snake can be fatally injured. The yolk can also be surgically removed. Because of the potential dangers and costs involved with treating this type of problem, it is recommended that you do not purchase a hatchling ball python that has a hard belly.
While holding the snake, take the time to look it over and check the skin carefully. It should be clean, smooth, and free from cuts, scars, and ectoparasites (mites and ticks). In cross-section the body should not be noticeably triangular in shape, with a clearly visible backbone. This is a sign of a malnourished ball python. The body should be free of sores, bumps, spinal deformities, and retained shed skin.
Check for potential respiratory problems. The nostrils should be clear, and there should be no mucus coming out of the snake's mouth or smeared on the sides of whatever container the snake was in. Avoid purchasing a ball python that is wheezing or gurgling, as these are also signs of a respiratory infection. Occasionally, a piece of skin can fail to shed out of one or both nostrils. When this happens, it may produce a slight noise when the snake breathes. Do not confuse this with a respiratory infection. The retained piece of shed is generally visible in the nostril and will most likely come out during the next shed cycle.
Another problem to check for is ectoparasites. An ectoparasite lives on the outside of the host's body. Ectoparasites commonly found on ball pythons are ticks and mites, both of which belong to the arachnid family (which also happens to include lobsters and crabs). Ticks and mites feed by sucking blood from their hosts.
Ticks are tiny, flat, eight-legged creatures that camouflage quite well with the scales of an adult ball python until they fill up with blood and become obvious. Ticks bury their head into the snake's skin between the scales and feed on its blood. Ticks are only found on imported ball pythons or on ball pythons that have been housed with imported ball pythons. If the ball python you are looking at has a tick on it, then it almost certainly is a wild-caught snake brought in from Africa. Several years ago, ticks were fairly common on adult ball pythons. Now, African exporters are required to remove ticks before the snakes are shipped to the United States. (Ticks are easily removed with a pair of tweezers, although care must be taken when removing a tick from the delicate tissue surrounding the area of the eye.)
Snake mites are nasty little creatures that, if left unchecked, can increase in numbers from one to hundreds in a short time. Adult female mites are black, mobile, and about the size of a pin head. These mites are egg-laying machines, and they will not hesitate to spread their progeny throughout your entire snake collection. When purchasing a ball python, carefully check around the eye sockets, the fold of skin that runs down the middle of the lower jaw, and in the labial pits. These are key areas for mite infestations. If a ball python has a serious mite problem, you will see mites crawling across your hand while you are holding the snake or after you have put it down. Avoid snakes that have mites, because they may be a vector for some diseases that are potentially fatal to ball pythons.
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