Most people freak out when you tell them you’ve bought a python, but they should settle down when you tell them it’s a ball python, also called Python regius, or Royal python, the kind Cleopatra was said to wear round her wrist (not the snake that killed her which was an Asp). They’re the smallest of the African python group, a good-tempered snake with a tendency to be docile and curious. Instead of attacking, they tend to ball up when stressed or threatened, hence ‘ball python’. They’re easy to care for, and I’m about to share what I know from research and experience. This is what works for me, every ball python owner does it differently and usually thinks their way is the only way.
- Size: Average adult length is between 3 and 4 ft, though females tend to grow bigger, and can get to 5ft or more. It’s hard to judge age purely by size, because every ball python; eats, moves around, and is affected by their environment differently. Also it can depend upon the size of their parents.
- Food: Ball pythons can eat live, killed to frozen-thawed mice and rats,. Some owners mix between the options to keep their python interested in eating. But it’s good to stick to a routine when they’re young, this can affect their adult life. Pinkie mice are too small for my python, even though he is small also, he scoffs down mice of the next size up, the little white ones. The prey should be the same size or fractionally larger than the thickest part of the snake’s body diameter.
- Feeding: Juvenile ball pythons only need one mouse every week, and as they grow up they require even less, a bigger mouse or rat every 2 weeks. At 85p per week, they’re cheap eaters. As an adult they can go a year and a half of fasting, or during winter/shedding/breeding, this is because they are notoriously fussy eaters. One ball python will scoff a mouse every 7-10 days, while another, raised in the same way, can refuse food for months. It’s not always a bad sign, but could indicate an illness, parasite or too much stress from over-handling. Always take your snake to the vet for tests if they continue to refuse food, show dramatic weight loss, their skin becomes saggy, or they’re failing to shed. You’d notice many differences in your snake, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Care: Ball pythons live in Vivarium-type enclosures, or can be housed in plastic tubs. I use a heat mat beneath the floor of the vivarium, as they require warmth and a bit of humidity, and absorb heat through their belly. Never use heat rocks, they can kill snakes, the heat mat isn’t dangerous so long as the temperature is correct (75 – 92 Fahrenheit, that being minimum and maximum), and it’s below the floor and aspen/beech bedding. The heat mat covers one side of the tank, so on the other side it’s the ‘cool area’ where he can slither to have water and cool down. They quite like enclosed spaces, as this makes them feel safe. Although my python has an enclosure that is currently too large for him, he feels safe there because it’s filled with places he can shelter, hide, and crawl around. From day one he’s been eagerly slithering around exploring, he doesn’t stay cooped up in his coconut shell for long, sometimes even hanging out in two shelters at once…
- Gaining their trust: After bringing your baby ball python home he needs at least a couple of days to adapt to his or her new environment, he just needs warmth, clean water (change every other day), food if he wasn’t fed at the shop/breeder’s house. Don’t handle a python at least 24 hours after they’ve eaten, and don’t irritate them whilst they’re shedding, they may scratch a bit using a wood bark enclosure, and can have some lukewarm water in their enclosure to bathe in, though not all the time as this can cause scale-rot. After you know these basic things, you’ll both get on fine. You can familiarise your snake with the idea of being picked up, by gently handling your snake for maybe 5 minutes at a time, then gradually increase the time together, and try not to touch his head or pick him up from a head-on angle. As ball pythons grow older they begin to trust you, and are accustomed to human contact. Always make sure you have clean hands, young pythons in particular are susceptible to germs, parasites, sickness and dust mites (also make sure they have a clean home).
- Tips: You could try putting an item of your clothing in the enclosure so that your scent becomes familiar to the snake. But when feeding your snake, try not to let it associate your scent with food, so use forceps when dangling the mouse/rat into its home or feeding area, and give him/her some privacy and alone time, they need it as much as we do. Don’t spend loads on rip-off reptile vivarium equipment, half a coconut with a hole for an entrance makes a great hide, a clean kitchen roll tube makes a great tunnel to play and hide in, and a desert bowl or sturdy bowl of any kind that won’t spill easily can make a perfect water bowl. Just be careful what wood you use, cedar and pine are definite no no’s, but aspen shavings and beech chips can be fine.