Caring for a Ball Python

Perhaps you are looking into buying a Ball Python, or have recently acquired one, but are unsure of their characteristics and needs. This article will serve as a basic care guide for beginner Ball Python owners. All information in this care guide is relevant for a store bought Ball Pythons. The care requirements of wild-caught Ball Pythons vary greatly, and I highly discourage anyone from attempting to domesticate a wild snake.

Selecting your snake

If you have not yet purchased your Ball Python, there are a few things you should check for before choosing one:

What is its activity level in the cage? Is it active, or is it lying around, sluggish, and dull looking? Keep in mind that if it’s not moving, it may be sleeping. Ensure that it is awake before moving on. The snake should be active and alert. If it is not, and no outward signs of illness are visible, than it likely has an internal disease.

What is the physical condition of the snakes’ body? Does it have any scars, missing scales, lumps, open sores, oozing, or bruised spots? If so, it is ill and should not be bought. DO NOT purchase a sick snake out of pity in hopes of nursing it back to health. It can be extremely expensive, and usually the snake is already beyond help.

Carefully examine its body for mites. These will be tiny, almost invisible red specks that will be crawling over the scales. You should not purchase a parasite infested snake.

Ask about the snakes’ diet, and how often it has eaten. Some stores will purposely starve a snake to keep it smaller.

If the snake demonstrates none of these, more than likely it is in good health and safe to purchase.

Housing your snake

There are several kinds of snake cages, and you must understand the requirements of your snake before purchasing one. Ball Pythons are terrestrial snakes, meaning they prefer the ground over tree and high locations. While they may do a little branch climbing, they mostly stay on the ground. Because of this, Ball Pythons will fair better with a long, short cage. The cage should be about 2x the length of your snake, and its height should be about half of your snake. The average adult Ball Python can be housed comfortably in 50 – 55 gallon aquarium.

Ball Pythons are calm, easy-going creatures. They are slow, and reluctant to bite. They will, like all other snakes, actively seek an escape from their cage. Because of this, you need to be sure your cage is secure and has no holes for escape. The lid needs to be secured with at least two latches, one on each corner. Some people wrap duct tape around the lid to be sure it is sealed.

The cage needs to have a vent somewhere, either on the top or side. If you are planning on housing your corn snake in a glass aquarium, then the venting will need to be on top. The venting can be as simple a piece of plastic peg board with locks on it. Whatever you choose, be sure that it is secure and escape proof.

The next step will be substrate, which is a substance put on the bottom to make the cage easy to clean when the snake defecates. Butcher paper, newspaper, Astroturf, or snake bedding available in pet stores are all options. Newspaper is the easiest to clean, but the most unattractive. Astroturf looks best, but has to be removed every time it requires cleaning, and you will have to have a spare piece to put in its place. What you use is simply a matter of how much work you want.

Absolutely necessary to a Ball Pythons cage is a hide away box. Your python will desire privacy just like any other creature, and will become depressed if some is not afforded. A hide away box can be as simple as an upside-down shoebox with a hole cut in the side. If you desire something a little more exotic, you can buy plastic caves, or even stone caves, to place in the tank.

Be sure to have a water dish in the cage that is large enough not to be easily spilled, and that the snake can take a dip in when desired.

Lastly, there is lighting and heating. Heating is essential because snakes are cold-blooded creatures. Avoid heating rocks completely, as they are dangerous to your Ball Python, causing thermo burns and possibly even electric shock. I recommend under-tank heating pads. They are simple and work very well. Place the heating pad under 1/3 of the cage on either the right or left side. You can also get a large flat stone, and shine an incandescent lamp [40 to 60 watt bulb] on it from the top of the cage. The python will bask in the heat when necessary. Note that a heating pad may still be necessary.

Daytime temperatures should remain between 80 – 85 F; Basking/heat zone temperatures should be around 90 F; nighttime temperatures should be between 78 – 82 F. Remember that it is necessary for the python to be able to move away from the basking temperature into another area of the cage that is at normal daytime temperature.

Ball Pythons are nocturnal, and therefore do not require any special lighting. You can, however, use a light to accentuate the cage. Also, if the Ball Python is in a room without windows, a light will be needed. Do not leave the light on continuously, as it will confuse and stress the python. Also, during the night the temperature should drop to its nighttime temperature, or the snake will suffer from heat stress and become ill.

Humidity levels should be kept around 65% in only one part of the cage; the other part should be dry. Monitor humidity levels with a hygrometer. A nice thermometer/hygrometer can be bought at PetsMart for under $10 USD.

Feeding your snake

All snakes are carnivores and eat meat. Ball Pythons eat mice. Adults will eat once every 10 – 14 days, younger ones will eat every 7 – 10 days; also, if your adult python is really active, it may eat twice a week.

You will need to feed your snake mice, either live or dead. I prefer frozen mice, because you do not have the hassle of housing and taking care of them. Most Ball Pythons do not care if it is alive or dead, only that it is not too large or small.

If you choose to use frozen mice, follow the instructions on the package to properly thaw; never thaw in the microwave. If you choose live mice, you need to stun them before putting them in the cage. If you do not, the mouse will go into survival mode and may end up injuring the snake. You can stun a mouse by putting it into a paper or plastic bag and giving it a good whack on a wall, counter, or floor. Don’t hit too hard, though, or you will kill the mouse.

The rodent should be no more that 2 times the width of your pythons head. Anything bigger is too large and your snake will have to unhinge its jaw to swallow, leading to possible health problems.

Do not hold your python for approx. three days after it has eaten so as to allow proper digestion time. If you hold your snake too soon, it will regurgitate its meal, which will neither look nor smell pretty. Your snake may not like you watching it eat, because you are a predator and it is vulnerable during feeding times. After it is finished eating, it will likely go into its hide away box to digest and sleep.

Handling your snake

Have you ever held a snake? It is probably a wise choice to hold a snake at least once before purchasing one. Ball Pythons are calm, easy-going creatures, and after they deduce that you are not a threat, they will readily welcome your warm touch. However, if you do not frequently handle your snake, it may become aggressive when held. It is important for your snake to become familiar and comfortable when held.

When you pick a snake up, ALWAYS make sure it has seen you first. Never sneak up on a snake, you will surprise it and it will bite you! Look at it through the cage first; make sure it has seen you. Then touch it a little before grasping it gently in the center of its body. Wrap your fingers under its belly and rest your thumb gently on its back. The center of the body must be supported, because it is heaviest. Put your other hand between its head and the hand you are grasping the center of the snake with. Be careful not to smack its head when removing it from the cage.

Allow the snake to glide between your fingers if it’s a smaller sized snake; if it is a larger snake, allow if to glide over your arms. Change its direction with a guiding hand, never forcefully.

Snakes seem to have a thing for shirts. Do not panic if your corn goes up your sleeve, and certainly do not run around screaming, as this will panic the snake and it will either bite or constrict in an attempt not to fall. Also, you may step on it if it does fall to the ground. Simply reach in and grasp it gently, or take your shirt off, which ever works best.

After your snake becomes comfortable with you, it will likely wrap itself around your arm or between your fingers and promptly go to sleep, where it can be happy for hours.

Lastly, DO NOT CHASE PEOPLE WITH YOUR SNAKE! Never, ever run with the snake, especially chasing people with it. They will likely scream and even smack at it, which will throw your snake into a panic and possible cause it to bite. It will also put great stress on your snake, which will in turn lead to illness.

There you have it! The basics of Ball Python ownership. You are now equipped with the knowledge to adequately care for your Ball Python. Remember that this is general info. If you seek more specific knowledge in a certain area, contact a vet that specializes in reptiles, or your local herps society.

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