Ball Python Care Sheet

Ball Pythons are a great choice for anyone interested in keeping snakes, regardless of previous experience. They’re some of the smallest and most readily handled constricting snakes and shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge. A wide range of different color morphs are now available, adding a touch of individual flavor for those who would rather not be restricted to the Ball Python’s natural coloration.

This Ball Python care sheet covers all the basics you need to know to look after your Ball Python, but we still recommended that you buy at least one of the dedicated books on the market. A book will always provide more information than we can provide on a single webpage, and these guides are great to have at hand for reference. The best books to choose from are:

Ball Python Size
Most adult Ball Pythons will be between 4′-5′ long, but there are always exceptions. A few unusual individuals may reach an impressive length of 6′. This may sound pretty big, but it actually puts Ball Pythons at the small end of the scale compared to most other pythons.

Ball Python Lifespan
You can expect a Ball Python to live for a minimum of 20 years if it’s looked after well. Most won’t live longer than 30 years, but records do exist of some individuals living to almost 50. A long term commitment is most definitely required.Ball Python

Ball Python Housing
A long 40 gallon vivarium is a good size for an adult Ball Python, but they can be kept in tanks as small as 30 gallons. This is not recommended due to the size of these snakes.

(Note that Ball Pythons should be kept in a much smaller 10-15 gallon tank until they exceed 2′ in length, as a larger enclosure will make them nervous and stressed and they may not feed.)

Rubbermaid boxes make surprisingly good Ball Python tanks and are available in all shapes and sizes to suit your needs.

When choosing a tank, one of the most important things to look out for is the lid – if it cannot be securely clamped down, buy a different tank! Ball Pythons are expert escape artists, virtually guaranteed to find any escape route you leave open to them. The most common escape route is always a poorly secured lid.

It can be very difficult to find a sufficiently secure tank of the right size. The Ball Python tank we always recommend is the Large Wide Exo Terra All Glass Terrarium. At 50 gallons it’s a fantastic size, it’s a very attractive tank and basically a blank canvas that you can set up to be perfect for your Ball Python.

Ball Python Bedding
Many owners use newspaper and paper towels as a substrate for their Ball Pythons – paper is cheap and easy to replace when soiled, but it’s unattractive and a long way from anything even approaching a natural habitat. A far better option is aspen shavings or Reptichip coconut bedding, which look a lot nicer and are still easily scooped out and replaced when they become soiled. Cypress mulch and orchid bark can also be used, while Carefresh or even Astroturf may be successful.

Make sure you avoid anything based on cedar or pine as these may cause respiratory illnesses. Sand and gravel should also be avoided because of the risk of accidental ingestion. Whatever you choose, the substrate should cover the entire vivarium, but you should put a thinner covering over the warmer end where the heat mat is (more on this below).

Anything in the tank that is soiled should be cleaned and/or replaced as appropriate, and the whole tank needs to be cleaned thoroughly every few weeks to stop mold or anything else unpleasant building up.

Ball Python Hides
You’ll also need to provide a hide or two for your snake to retreat into and curl up inside. Your Ball Python should be able to get in easily and have enough room to curl up inside (so upgrade as your snake grows), but the hide can’t be too roomy or else it’s likely to stress your snake. It needs to feel as secure as possible, so the hide should only be slightly bigger than your curled up snake.

Hides can be anything from cheap and cheerful DIY cardboard contraptions through to commercially available reptile caves – the choice is yours. We quite like the Zoo Med Cork Hideaway. The product varies a lot because it’s natural cork, but that does mean you’ll always get something unique.

A Ball Python will be especially happy if it has two separate hides, one above the heat mat (with substrate between the mat and the hide) and one at the opposite end of the tank. In an ideal world the tank would be big enough for a third hide somewhere in the middle, but it’s not necessary and most owners don’t provide this. Hides in different places allow your python to regulate its temperature effectively even when it doesn’t feel like interacting with the world.

Extra tank accessories like a couple of large branches will help to provide a more natural environment for your Ball Python.

Ball Python Humidity
Ball Pythons need a humidity of 50%-60% most of the time. This can be increased by an extra 10% during molting, as the higher humidity helps snake skin to be shed more cleanly and easily. Lightly misting the enclosure should be enough to bring the humidity to the right level, but how often you’ll need to do it depends completely on which snake tank you chose. For example mesh lids will not hold humidity at all and you may have to spray the tank once or twice per day.

Putting your snake’s water bowl above a heat mat (see below) is a good idea to boost humidity as well. Investing in an accurate digital hygrometer is very much recommended.

Ball Python Temperature
Ideal temperatures for Ball Pythons range from about 80F-85F, with the basking area a few degrees hotter. Overnight the temperature may drop, but only to a minimum of 75F, and at least some of the tank must still be kept at 80F.

This temperatures are normally achieved using a heat mat, which should always be plugged into a thermostat to avoid an overheating disaster that could kill your snake. The heat mat should only cover about a third of the base of the tank (to provide a good temperature gradient across the tank) and you must make sure that there is substrate over the heat mat or else your snake is likely to get burned by it.

The other heating option is to use a heat lamp or ceramic heat emitter inside the cage, again with a thermostat. If you choose this option, it’s essential that the bulb is surrounded by a cage so that your snake doesn’t get burned.

Pet Ball Python

Image by golgarth on Flickr

Ball Python Lighting
As nocturnal creatures, Ball Pythons have no UV light requirements and need nothing more than a clear day-night cycle. For this reason you should avoid using any artificial lighting overnight, and be aware that excess light can cause your snake to become unnecessarily stressed. If you want to be able to see your python during the night, use a red or black light.

Ball Python Diet
An adult Ball Python doesn’t need as much food as its size would suggest. They tend to be quite inactive so they only need to be fed an adult mouse or small rat once a week, or a larger rat about every 10 days. All food should be pre-killed and thoroughly defrosted in warm water (don’t use a microwave!). Never give your snake live food, as a cornered mouse can inflict a surprising amount of damage.

Young Ball Pythons naturally need to be fed smaller prey animals like ‘fuzzy’ mice, and they should be given food about once per week. Increase the size of your snake’s meals as it grows. Just make sure never to feed your python anything wider than the widest part of its body.

Ball Python in defensive ball

Image by GarettTT on Flickr

A lot of owners choose to feed their pythons in a separate tank so that they associate the second tank with food and are less likely to mistake your hand for food when you reach in to move them or handle them. This is an option worth considering if you have the time/space for a second tank.

If your Ball Python isn’t eating, check that all of its environmental needs are taken care of. Cold temperatures and other environmental conditions can put a snake off its food. Another possibility is that the snake is about to shed its skin. If it’s a male snake in the breeding season, it might just have other priorities!

This is all perfectly normal, and you don’t need to worry about your python not eating unless it becomes noticeably thinner, loses weight or appears ill. If any of that happens, you should get your snake checked out by an exotic pet vet as soon as possible.

Ball Python Water
Your python will need a water bowl, which must be heavy enough that it won’t be easily overturned. A larger bowl will help to keep the humidity level up (and putting the bowl above the heat mat will also be effective), but the bowl doesn’t need to be large enough for your snake to fit in completely. Healthy Ball Pythons will rarely soak take the time to soak.

Change the water every three days or sooner if the water is dirty. Note that if your python does soak in the water bowl, it may well defecate in it as well, which of course means you need to clean it more regularly!

Ball Python Shedding
There are very clear signs if your python will shed its skin sometime soon: its underside will turn a pinkish color and the rest of the skin will lose its normal sheen and appear dull. This is followed by the snake’s eyes clouding over, during which time your snake is said to be ‘in blue’. The eyes will soon recover their normal appearance and the skin will be shed within a few days. To help ease the shedding process you can increase the humidity a little. Note that your Ball Python may well not eat any food in the run up to shedding.

Handling a Ball Python

Image by angela n. on Flickr

The skin should come off in one piece, but sometimes a few bits will remain. These should be removed using warm, damp cotton wool, but any leftover skin attached to the eyelids should only be removed by a qualified veterinarian. The old skin can culture bacteria if left in the tank, so you should take it out as soon as possible. Then feed your snake – it’ll be hungry!

Ball Python Handling
This species has a reputation for being docile and easy to handle, and the reputation is well deserved. However, you should never handle your python when it’s shedding, as it is more likely to strike if its eyesight is impaired by cloudy eyes. Handling within 36 hours of feeding is also a poor idea as you could have your snake regurgitate its last meal all over your nice clothes. This is just as unpleasant as it sounds!

At all other times, regular handling shouldn’t cause any problems and your snake will grow more and more comfortable being handled over time. However handling too frequently can cause stress and agitation, so it’s best to leave them alone for a few days if this seems to be happening.

If you’ve got any questions that we haven’t answered in this Ball Python care sheet, be sure to get in touch – we’ll be happy to help! Otherwise the best resources you will find are the books listed at the top of the page. Every Ball Python owner should have at least one of those guides.