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An In-depth Ball Python Care Sheet

Updated on April 30, 2017

What a Book Worm!

Nalya, a female classic. She must've picked up her love of reading from her parents. ;)
Nalya, a female classic. She must've picked up her love of reading from her parents. ;) | Source

Bringing Your New Pet Home

First, get the equipment. If you already have another reptile at home, the new snake needs to be quarantined due to the risk of mites and I.B.D., inclusion body disease. Three to six months quarantine in a separate room with separate equipment from the other pet is ideal. In addition, an initial checkup with a vet is in order, especially for internal (worms, respiratory infection) and external (snake mites, ticks) parasites. Take a recent stool sample with you to the vet in a bag. Salmonella is very low risk as long as hands are washed between handlings.

Marzipan in Her Tub

A female kingpin sitting on aspen bedding.
A female kingpin sitting on aspen bedding. | Source

Housing, Substrate, and Furnishings

Housing
Ball pythons are not terribly active snakes, so a smaller enclosure is fine (10-20 gallon tank for younger snakes, 30 gallon tank for an adult). However, they are adept escape artists. A ball python will poke and push with their nose, taking advantage of any gap, so a securely fitted top is an absolutely necessary. You can buy metal clips to lock the screen cover.

Substrate: Shredded bark, newspaper, and Astroturf are some examples. Astroturf is easy to clean. Cut a couple pieces to fit the cage, then simply switch out the dirty pieces as necessary. You can disinfect the soiled piece by soaking it in a solution of one gallon of water with 2 tablespoons of bleach. Rinse well, dry and use again. My personal favorite is undyed newspaper. It works very well in my rack systems. I prefer to use aspen bark or kiln-dried pine in an aquarium set up.

Furnishings: Provide a heavy water bowl, such as a ceramic dog bowl, so that the snake won't tip it over and make a mess. A hide is absolutely necessary. One on the warm end and one placed on the cool end of cage will give the snake plenty of options. The hides will provide a humid, private and dark hiding place. Snakes like to feel secure, so it should be just large enough to have the snake touching the sides of the hide when balled up. Hides can be as free and simple as an empty cereal box, or an attractive and sturdy half log. With the log, the snake can use the rough edges to help shed! Tip: You can add slightly damp sphagnum moss to the hide to raise humidity.

The Best Water Bowls! Perfect Size for Soaking and Hard to Tip

Ball Python Rack Systems

Each of these racks hold seven 41 quart tubs, large enough to comfortably house adult ball pythons for life. I built these but you can also buy them.
Each of these racks hold seven 41 quart tubs, large enough to comfortably house adult ball pythons for life. I built these but you can also buy them. | Source

Temperature, Lighting, and Humidity

Temperature: 80 - 85 F (27 - 29 C) during the day, with a basking spot of around 90 F (32 C). Night time temperatures can be kept the same or be lowered to around 75 F (23 -24 C) as long as an area of 80 F is maintained. An under the tank heating pad designed for reptiles works well for providing the cage heat, with an incandescent bulb or ceramic heating element used to provide the basking temperatures. Never use hot rocks, because the snake can get severe skin burns. The bulb or heating element should be placed on top of a screened lid or placed underneath the enclosure. Heating must be screened off to prevent contact with the snake knocking down the equipment or burns may occur. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperatures in the cage. Take the temperature at the cool end and the temperature at the hot end. I like to use a temperature gun. This tool aims a laser at the spot you want to measure and tells you the temperature on the screen.

Lighting: Ball Pythons are nocturnal, which means more active at night. Unlike many lizards, these snakes have no special lighting requirements. However, they do require a regular light/dark cycle. Red bulbs can be used for illumination and heat at night. The color will not disturb the snake like a daylight color bulb would.

Water and Humidity: Ball pythons need humidity around 60% in their enclosure. Providing a large water dish will help keep up the humidity. Ball pythons will use their water bowls to soak in, which will help with shedding. They will also soak to ease irritation from mites or to breathe easier while going through a respiratory infection. Some owners like to provide a cover over the water bowl, so it will feel secure enough to soak longer if needed. An upside down, small kitty litter pan with a hole cut in one side works well for this purpose. Humidity can be precisely measured with a humidity gauge. Another way to tell if the humidity is good if your pet sheds, including eye caps, with no problems. Humidity is probably too high there is a moldy smell in the bedding or if you see water beading down the sides.

Feeding Tongs: Use to Avoid Finger Bites by Rats or Snakes

Mouse Soup Anyone?

Two extra large mice thawing out in warm water.
Two extra large mice thawing out in warm water. | Source

Feeding

Ball pythons can be fed mice or small to medium sized rats for the rest of their lives. The rodent should be as large as the thickest part of your snake, which will ensure a safe size. If a snake eats too large of a prey, it can regurgitate the food. Young snakes should be fed fuzzy mice every 5-7 days, older snakes should be fed increasingly larger prey and can go a little longer (i.e. 10 - 14 days). You can safely feed up to 20% of a snake's body weight in rodents to get your serpent into breeding condition. If not breeding, I recommend feeding 10 - 15% of the snake's weight. You can use live mice or rats if you always supervise. If not, use pre-killed rodents so as to prevent injury from a bite. Dangling the warm prey in front of the snake with forceps usually gets the snake interested.

Ball pythons are notorious for suddenly refusing to eat, even fasting for 2 or 3 months. This can be caused by stress or illness, but as long as the snake keeps up its weight, has shiny skin, and drinks water regularly, there is no need to panic. The males in my collection tend to eat less or go on a feeding strike during breeding season. If the feeding strike keeps going and the snake is starting worsen in condition, examine its environment. Is the cage or tub clean? Is there enough humidity and the right temperature range? Does the snake have mites, a respiratory infection, scale rot, unusual swelling, a stuck shed or worms? The cure to getting your snake to eat again may be as simple as moving its cage to a place with less foot traffic and more privacy. Consult an exotic vet or experienced herper for help if the fast continues. Some tricks to entice the ball python into eating again are moving the dead mouse like it's alive, dipping the prey in chicken broth, trying different colors and sizes, exposing the brain of the prey before feeding it, feeding at night, and covering the cage with towels after offering a mouse. You may even want to try feeding a hamster or gerbil!

Sanitation

Keeping the cage or tub clean is essential to your serpent's health. Changing the bedding once a week or after a defecation should be sufficient. You should also change the bedding after a shed. Wash the cage with dish soap and hot water. You can also disinfect the cage and water bowl with bleach. Use 1 parts bleach to 10 parts water. Make sure to dry the tub afterwards. Scrub and wipe down the feeding tongs and any other equipment that could come into contact with your snake. Wash your hands in between handling of other reptiles.

Ouri - Pewter Het. Orange Ghost Male

The husband petting our newest baby snake.
The husband petting our newest baby snake. | Source

How to Properly Handle Your Ball Python

Once you set up the equipment, the snake will show that it has settled in by eating regularly and not always hiding. Feel free to handle your snake a day or two after it's last meal. Don't it sooner than that. You may upset the snake and cause it to regurgitate it's meal. Support the snake with two hands or a secure flat surface. Don't make sudden movements, especially toward the head. That can startle your pet. Over time, ball pythons become quite tame and trusting. A favorite activity of husband's is to be on his laptop while Marzipan snoozes in his lap. I love to take my snakes to educational shows to be petted by children. On sunny days, I walk barefoot beside a favorite snake while letting them slither and explore in the grass. An adult ball python has strong muscles and can give great neck and shoulder massages. (TIP: Don't' ever put a snake around your snake if you have breathing issues or a pinched nerve.) Ball pythons are beautiful, easy to care for, tame, and a joy to own. What are you waiting for? Bring one into the family!

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