Ball Pythons for Sale
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Ball Pythons, Python regius (also know as Royal
Python) are a relatively small and docile specie of snake, which are native to
Western and West-Central
Africa. If you have purchased a Ball Python from a pet store, chances are
it was born in either
Togo, Benin, or Ghana. They are called 'Ball Pythons' because, when frightened,
they coil around their head and into a ball.
Ball pythons are in the
same scientific family as other Boas and Pythons, as such they are constrictors.
The term constrictor refers to their method of subduing food by coiling around
the intended item, a small mammal, and suffocating it. Ball Pythons prefer to
live in areas of mixed grassland and trees (savanna), and are active at night
(nocturnal). They hunt at night with the help of their labial heat pits×,
and their Jacobson's Organ×. During the day, they
spend their time hiding in underground rodent burrows or termite mounds.
The average hatchling is about 16-18 inches long, and adults can pretty easily
reach 36-48 inches. In captivity they can live up to about 50 years, but 20-30
years is probably more likely. Unfortunately due to the pressures of habitat fragmentation
and destruction, as well as commercial collecting for the pet trade, skin trade,
and the killing for food, Ball Pythons in the wild do not live as long. "It (Python
regius) is considered a threatened species and permits are required for its legal
export, living or dead." (J. Mehrtens, ca.1987)
Do Ball Pythons, Python regius, make good pets?
I'd have to say yes, but like most other animals, they can be challenging at times.
Before you consider getting a pet snake, you might be interested in reading "Keeping
a Snake as a Pet." This excellent article was written by Dana Payne, a keeper
at the Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Washington.
Ball Pythons can be good
'beginner' snakes, if you follow a few caveats and know what you are buying. One
thing that you should know, is that getting the snake setup in a secure cage will
probably cost as much, if not more, than the snake itself. You will need a cage
(typically an aquarium), a secure lid, at least one heat source (either a heat
mat, or an aluminum type clip lamp), a thermometer, a water bowl, and at least
one hide box. I would suggest you also get a lamp timer, an extra hide box or
two, a hygrometer (humidity gauge), a second heat source, a snake hook, and a
pair of hemostats×. You will also need to know
where to get food for your snake (or be able to raise your own), and know of a
qualified reptile veterinarian in your area.
So you've done the research
and decided that you are ready to care for a snake. Now the question is, where
to get it? The easiest place to get a pet snake, would most likely be a pet store.
As typical with life, sometimes the things that come easy aren't necessarily the
best. Unfortunately Ball Pythons are not commonly bred in captivity, which means
that most of them seen in pet stores originate from the wilds of Africa. If you
do some research and find a herpetological (or herpetocultural×)
society in your area, you may be able to find someone who breeds them. If you
do get your snake from a pet store, hatchlings (16-18 inches) usually adjust to
captivity. Wild caught adults (36-48 inches) however, typically do not fare very
well in captivity, due to a host of health problems.
Once you have your
snake and got him/her set up at home, the best thing to do is leave it alone for
at least a week or two. This will give your snake time to get comfortable in it's
new home. A snake that is not stressed and acclimated will eat, and generally
be a better pet. After you've patiently waited a few weeks, I would try and feed
it it's first meal See Feeding Strategies. Once
it eats a few times for you, it's OK to start handling your snake for short periods
of time. I feel it's better to get them out of the cage with a snake hook×.
Ball Pythons do not usually bite, but if a bite is going to happen, reaching your
hand into the tank is typically when it does. The snake may not know your intentions
and see you as a predator or confuse you with a food item. Bites very rarely happen,
and fortunately do not hurt any worse than getting a shot from the doctor. Once
you've had your snake for awhile you will be able to "read" it based on it's body
posture and activity cycles. For the most part, hatchlings may tend to be a little
more defensive and/or hungry, and adults are typically very docile.
For Your Snake
Housing is basically something in which you can
keep your snake secure and safe. Good caging means you can provide correct heat/light
cycles and NOT provide a means of escape for your snake. It can be simple like
a Rubbermaid or Tupperware brand sweater or shoe box with air holes in it. More
popular cages are usually modified aquariums. These do not have to be expensive.
Since most people only see the value of an aquarium if it holds water, you can
sometimes pick them up at garage sales. Small Ball Pythons (16-28 inches) will
do pretty good in a ten gallon size enclosure (20x10x12 inches). An absolute minimal
cage for an adult Ball Python (30-48 inches) would be a long twenty gallon (30x12x12
inches). A long thirty gallon (36x12x18 inches) would of course be preferred.
Securing your snake in an aquarium does not have to be a challenge or
too expensive. Pet stores will sell you screen lids which work fine, but I like
to make my own. You will need 3/4 x 3/4 inch wood molding (for 10 gallon tanks)
or 1 x 2 inch boards (for bigger tanks), some 1/4 inch hardware cloth, some screws,
some wood staples, and maybe some angle brackets. Most hardware stores sell the
heavy duty screen material, known as hardware cloth. An hour or so of cutting,
screwing, and stapling and you can construct a strong screen top like the one
in this picture.
To hold it down on the tank you can either use some weight (For SMALL snakes only,
I like ceramic floor tiles), or better yet you can strap it down. Straps are as
easy as getting some belt material and buckles, from the fabric section of your
local Wal-Mart/K-Mart type store. You will end up with something which looks similar
Other options to providing safe housing for your snake would be to purchase
a commercially made reptile enclosure. More and more pet stores are selling "Lizard
Lounges," which are aquariums with sliding screen lids. Neodesha cages (a product
of Bush Herpetological Supply - off site) and Vision Herpetolgical (off
site) are two well known and respected caging products.
be safely provided in a few different ways, either a heat mat,×
and/or a clip type lamp with an aluminum reflector. AVOID "Hot Rocks!!!" Hot Rocks
provide a centralized heat that will not adequately heat the enclosure, and they
will burn your snake if it lays against it. It's not advisable to allow your snakes
to come into direct contact with any heat source. I like to use clip lamps on
a timer, to provide both a warm basking spot (~90F), and give the snake(s) a photo
period (Since Ball Pythons are nocturnal, Ultra Violet light is not needed). I
addition to the lamp, I use heat mats all day every day to provide belly heat
of about 82-85 degrees F on the warm side of the tank. Heat pads and lamps usually
don't have a way of adjusting heat output. With lamps you can use different wattages
of bulb (40-60 watt is usually about right). All my heat pads, and some of my
lamps, have snap on lamp dimmers which cost about $4 at the hardware store. They
are not as good as thermostats, but at least give you a high/low/off adjustment.
Another alternative to a clip lamp would be to use a ceramic heat element, which
is basically a ceramic bulb that gives off heat and no light.
thing which commonly gets over looked is the level of humidity in the tank. Since
Ball Pythons spend a lot of time underground in burrows or in termite nests, they
are more sensitive to relative humidity than one might expect. I would suggest
you stop by your local K-mart or Wal-mart and get a hygrometer×
from the outdoor/garden section. They are accurate enough to provide a close estimate,
and allow you to monitor changes in humidity. I recommend the ambient humidity
be at least 60%, and you may want to provide a hide box which has a higher percent
(70-80%). Low humidity can cause incomplete shedding, dehydration, and sometimes
a lack of appetite. To either add or remove humidity, you can provide bigger or
smaller water bowls. You can restrict, but not stop, air flow from the tank. You
can use porous substrates (i.e. mulch) that will hold some moisture and mist the
cage every so often. I feel that if you provide a big water bowl with a hole cut
in the lid, the snake will use it as another hide and soak/re-hydrate itself as
Fresh water and at least one hide box are critical to your
python's well being. Depending on the size of the snake, small butter tubs or
3 gallon rubbermaid containers can be good water dishes. I like to use a container
with a lid and cut an access hole into the lid. This then allows the water bowl
to act as a 'water hide' where the snake can feel secure and soak. Wild Ball Python's
spend most of their day below ground. Thus when they are in your care they will
need to feel secure in a dark hiding place. A hide 'box' can be anything which
simulates a rodent burrow. I like to use red clay (terra cotta) plant pots and
bases. Sometimes you can buy broken ones very cheap from stores that sell them.
If you have to buy them intact, you can use a small hammer and lightly chip away
at it to make a hole big enough for your snake. Other things that I've used as
hides are cracker/cereal boxes, opaque Rubbermaid containers, dog water bowls
which have hollow bases, and upside down dishpan with holes cut in the side. Whatever
you choose to use, you would be well advised to have a few of them in the cage
at different temperatures, so the snake can decide where it's more comfortable.
OK, What to put on the bottom of the cage, ie substrate? Well, I prefer
to keep things simple, so I just use a few sheets of newspaper. It's cheap and
easy to replace when soiled. Of course there are other materials you can use.
I would caution to stay away, very far away, from cedar mulch. Cedar oils are
toxic and can lead to deadly respiratory infections. Plant/Wood based mulches
that are safe to use include: Aspen, Pine, Long Grain Sphagum Moss, and Cypress.
I personally do not necessarily condone cypress mulch since whole trees are ground
up to make it (Cypress is not "Environmentally Correct"). Another substrate which
I've used in the past is astro-turf. Your local home supply sells it cheap, and
it comes in colors which may be more pleasing to you than newspaper. I would suggest
getting enough so you can switch out clean for dirty pieces. If the idea of newspaper
appeals to you, but you don't like the look of the sports section, some local
newspaper offices sell the ends of the unprinted paper spool.
besides substrate, hide boxes, and water bowls what else can go into the tank?
Well it's always good to have an item which is rough, so the snake can rub against
it to help with shedding. You can add things on which to climb. I have built "jungle
gyms" for my snakes out of small diameter PVC plumbing pipes and elbows. Some
people like to add plants. If you'd like to put in plants, I would suggest getting
plastic ones. Live plants tend to get crushed. I would be a little cautious concerning
some plastics. If it has a strong plastic smell to it, I would not put it into
...A good example of what these preceding paragraphs are
talking about can be seen in this
photograph. What you are seeing is about half of a long twenty gallon tank
that I keep snakes in. You may notice that I've got the tank up on 3/4 x 3/4 inch
wood molding, so the tank is not sitting directly on the heat mat.
Taking care of snake(s) is something that I find
enjoyable, relaxing, and educational. It can be a challenge at times, and does
teach you patience. One lesson I learned pretty early is that caring for reptiles
is very unlike caring for mammals (ie. dogs, cats, hamsters, etc.). About 80-90%
of the calories you and I use up in the course of a day go toward keeping our
bodies at a comfortable 98.6F temperature. Reptiles are fortunate since they don't
have that overhead. Their body temp is dependant upon their immediate environment.
Thus they need a lot less food. Snake can easily go a few weeks, and in some cases
almost a year without food! Keep this in mind if/when your snake decides to
be finicky about eating. Yes Ball Pythons are a little sensitive and sometimes
won't eat unless they are 100% comfortable and feel safe. See the next section
Feeding strategies for questions about feeding.
Assuming you are providing a good environment for your snake and it's eating,
it will also be expelling waste and shedding. How often your snake sheds and defecates
is dependant upon how often it's eating and it's metabolism. A young snake that's
growing may shed and/or defecate as often as every four to six weeks. Older snakes
which aren't growing as much may only shed a few times a year. If you are worried
that your snake is constipated, usually a luke warm/cool bath in an inch or two
of water seems to loosen things up.
The processes of shedding, or
sloughing, usually take about 7-10 days to complete. You'll first notice that
your Ball Python's belly is getting a pink color. Once you notice this, it's best
advised to not handle your snake. Shortly after noticing the belly getting pink,
you should see the eyes begin to look foggy and the snake's colors begin to dull.
After 5-6 days of this, things begin to clear up. A few days after the clearing,
your snake will find something rough and rub against it. Ideally your snake should
be able to shed in one full piece, which comes off inside out, like when you pull
off your sock. If your snake doesn't happen to get it off in one piece, that's
a sign that you are not providing exactly the right environment. It may be too
dry in the tank, or your snake may be a little dehydrated. The two problem areas
you should watch out for, if it didn't slough in a single piece, are around the
eyes, and the tip of the tail. If the eye caps did not shed off, your snakes eye(s)
will have a foggy silver look to them. To help the snake shed off those last few
bits of skin, you can try soaking it in a luke warm/cool bath for a half hour
or so. Then gently dabbing it with a warm damp cloth. Placing the snake in a damp
cloth bag for awhile sometimes helps also. Some people have had luck dabbing the
eye's with a cotton swab that's been moistened with baby oil. If you cannot get
the eye cap(s) off, I wouldn't worry too much, and pay extra attention to the
humidity level and the hydration of the snake through it's next shed cycle. Most
likely the eye caps will come off with the following slough. If after two shed
cycles, the eye caps are still intact, a trip to the vet may be called for.
Parasites, may sometimes factor into a bad shed cycle. Ticks and Mites
are the two most common ectoparasites× you will
find. If you suspect your snake is wild caught, or unhealthy, a veterinarian will
be able to identify internal parasites by looking at a fecal (poop) sample under
a microscope. A tick is about the size of a zero "O", and a mite is about as big
as the period at the end of this sentence. Typically a snake will get parasites
either from the wild, from the pet store, occasionally from being outdoors, or
occasionally from the rodents that you are feeding your snake. Ticks can be pulled
off with tweezers. You may want to dab some antiseptic (neosporin) on the area
to help guard against infection. Mites on the other hand are a little more difficult
to get rid of. I have had luck with a product called Pro Zap. Although I haven't
used it, Provent-a-Mite from Pro Products (off site) is also supposed to
be effective. It's best to talk to your veterinarian about the proper use of these
items and/or suggestions on other products to use.
which commonly affect, mostly imported, Ball Pythons are mouth rot, blister disease,
and respiratory infections. If you suspect your snake is ill, increase the heat
a few degrees and get it to a qualified herptile veterinarian. Your local herpetological
society or pet store should be able to help you find a good doctor. Mouth Rot
is an infection within the snake's mouth. If you are seeing a white cottage cheese
like material in the snake's mouth, chances are your snake needs treatment. Signs
of a respiratory infection are: open mouthed breathing, wheezing or popping when
the snake breaths, and/or clear fluid coming out of the snakes nostrils or mouth.
Blister disease is usually a direct result of the snake being kept in poor conditions.
Lowered, or no heat, combined with a damp dirty cage and possibly ectoparasites
can lead to blister disease. The snake will have red sores or blisters usually
on it's belly or lower sides, but occasionally they appear on the back. Again,
if you suspect that you have an unhealthy snake, a trip to the veterinarian should
be in order. An important part of keeping your snake healthy is keeping it warm
and clean. I like to use baby wipes to spot clean and pick up feces. A few times
a year, I break down the cages and scrub them with soapy water. A solution of
10-15% bleach and 85-90% water can be used to disinfect the cage.
Snake are like potato chips, you can't stop with just one... At least I couldn't.
Once you do get another snake you need to quarantine×
it from your other snake(s) for a couple of months. The new snake may be diseased
or parasitized and you wouldn't want it to infect your healthy animals. Once you
quarantine, it's OK to put snakes in the same cage assuming: they are of the same
species (Ball Python, Python regius), they are similar sized, and the cage
provides ample room and hide boxes. I strongly caution against putting other types
of snake together in the same cage. Other species snakes may have care requirements
and different types of disease/infection that your Ball Python's immune system
cannot handle. You will want to separate them at feeding time. And you may notice
that they will not eat unless housed individually.
One aspect of keeping
snakes which is easy to over look is record keeping. Just keep simple notes on
when they eat or refuse. What type of rodent they ate, and whether they needed
to be in a hide box to feel secure and eat. Was the rodent live, fresh killed,
thawed? When they shed is also worth keeping. Once you get a few months or years
of notes, some patterns may evolve, and you will recognize that your snake may
not eat at certain times (like right before or after a shed cycle). It's also
helpful if/when you go to the veterinarian. For the few minutes it takes, it will
teach you a lot about your snake. Here
is a rough example of a page from my record book. Feel free to print it and use
it for yourself.
ESCAPE! One of the worst feelings I've had is the
realization that the snake in not in it's cage. Most often it's due to the fact
that you've forgot to secure the cage. If this unfortunate event happens to you,
there are a few things you can do to get it back. First off, try and pinpoint
exactly when it got out. If it's been a few hours, it's most likely in the nearest
spot which is small, dark, and warm (like the cushions of a sofa). If it has been
awhile, you Ball Python may be anywhere in the house. Good placed to look are
around or in appliances that give off heat: Refrigerator, Oven, Water Heater,
TV, VCR, etc. It's advisable to look at night, since Ball Pythons are nocturnal.
You may also want to set a scent trap, which may or may not work. Drag a prekilled
rodent (a gerbil would be best) along the base boards of the room(s) that you
think your snake might be in. Then place the rodent into a cardboard box that
you've cut an access hole into, and place the box in a corner. You may want to
put a heat pad under the box. The reasoning is that chances are the snake will
crawl along the wall, hopefully pick up the scent trail and follow it into the
box. Once in the box, it may eat and decide to stay in the dark warm location
and digest. You may also want to restrict other house pets like cats and dogs,
from being in the room(s).
You may, or may not, have heard that Ball Pythons can
be finicky eaters. This is somewhat true. Wild caught adults are generally by
far the more frustrating feeders. Captive hatched and captive bred snakes seem
to adjust better to captivity and are better about eating on a regular basis.
The process of feeding occurs in a few steps. First the snake identifies prey
by the scent, color, size, movement, and temperature. If the Ball Python feels
that it's in a safe location and won't be molested during the eating process,
it will bite and coil around the intended prey item. The coil is intended to kill
the prey by suffocation. After the prey stops moving, the snake then usually finds
the head and begins the process of swallowing. After the food is in it's stomach,
the snake will want to find a small, dark, and warm location to lay around for
four or five days and digest the food. In the wild, this warm and dark location
is usually a rodent burrow, after the snake has eaten the inhabitants.
So how often should you offer food to your snake? Well that depends on a few factors,
notably the age of the snake. Younger snakes (16-30 inches) that are still growing
fast will need more food. Older snakes (30-48 inches) won't need to feed as often.
I feed my young snakes once every 7-10 days. They are capable of eating small
to average size mice as hatchlings. Adults can pretty easily eat a rat that measures
five or six inches from nose to butt. I feed my adult males about every three
weeks, and the adult (breeding) females eat about once every two weeks. Snakes
eat whole animals and do not need vitamin supplements, although you may want to
add a little calcium to a gravid (pregnant) female's diet to help in egg production.
This feeding schedule assumes that the adults will be off feed for a few months
during the winter/breeding season. You may find other information on Ball Pythons
that suggest feeding more often, but I believe that most people over feed their
snakes. Snakes in the wild never have the opportunity to become obese due to less
food availability, and more activity hunting for it.
Should you be
offering live or dead food? It generally depends on the individual snake, but
I offer prekilled food items. Dead food can't fight back, and I can kill the rodent
quicker (less pain for the animal) than a snake does. If the snake has gone awhile
without food, is looking thin, and I've exhausted most other options, live food
is something worth a try. The downside to offering live food is that the rodent
will fight back and can harm your snake. Do NOT leave a live rodent in a cage
with a snake unattended! If the rodent attacks your snake, it will scar it, and
possibly deter the snake from eating. This
photo shows some scarring which is typical of prey items bites/attacks. I
have enough of a need for rodents, that I get them frozen by mail order. After
a few hours of thawing under a heat lamp, most of my snakes readily eat. Most
pet stores will prekill a rodent for you if you ask. If it's left up to you, there
are a few simple and painless ways to get the job done. The easiest would be to
place the rodent into a small paper bag and hit it against a hard stationary object.
The rodent impacts with enough force to instantly kill it. The other option, is
to hold the rodent by the tail. Using a ruler or similar object pin it to a table
top at the base of the skull. With a quick pull of the tail up from the table,
you break it's back and separate the spinal column, thus killing the rodent. In
my opinion, either of these two methods are the best way to accomplish this uncomfortable
What type of prey item should you offer to your Ball Python?
Ideally your snake will eat either lab mice or rats which are cheap and easy to
get. I would strongly caution against feeding your snake wild mice or other animals.
There is no way of telling what diseases, parasites, or poisons that a wild mouse
is carrying. Gerbils and gerboas are a Ball Python's natural food item. If your
snake doesn't happen to like rats or mice, a regular pet store gerbil is pretty
tempting, albeit a little more expensive.
What can I do to get this
snake to eat?! This is a question that most Ball Python owners have asked themselves
at one time or another. The first thing you should do is RELAX. A six or eight
month fasting period is not unheard of, nor in most cases will it harm your snake.
I would suggest getting a postal scale and monitor any weight loss. If your snake
doesn't loose much more than about 15-20% of it's original weight you shouldn't
worry. Stress is usually the reason that Ball Pythons don't eat. Your Ball Python
can be feeling stress: from not being comfortable in it's (new) home, from parasites
(either internal or external), from you handling the snake too much, or from infections
(respiratory, mouth rot, blister disease, etc). Assuming that the snake is otherwise
healthy, free of parasites, and just not eating, try some of the following:
- Double check that your temperature and humidity cycles are correct
and your snake has a few places to hide in the cage (see
- What season is it outdoors? It's pretty common for adult
males (and sometimes females) to go off feed during the winter months, as that
is also the breeding season.
- If your snake is shying away from the food
item, chances are it's stressed about something.
- Are you handling/disturbing
the snake? If so how often? Try leaving the snake alone for a week or so and then
- Is there another snake in the tank? Some of my Ball Pythons
do not eat unless they are the only snake in the cage.
- Is the cage in a
room that gets a lot of foot traffic and noise? Try moving it to a more quite
- Is it within a few days of, or during a shed cycle? Most snakes won't
eat during this period.
- Are you offering live? Try offering dead, or if
you are offering dead, try offering live.
- How large of a meal are you offering?
Even though they might be able to swallow a large meal, some snakes prefer smaller
- Are you offering different types of rodents?..Mice? Rats? Gerbils?
- What color of rodents are you offering? Some snakes don't recognize white lab
mice and rats as food items. Try and get some with some color on them.
you offering male or female rodents? Some snakes show a preference one way or
- What is the temperature of the dead rodent? Sometimes a fresh
kill is the right temperature, and a thawed rodent isn't.
- When you offer
food, how are you doing it? Are you disturbing the snake first? a lot of times,
if you use the hemostats× and dangle a rodent
in front of the snake or, just in front of the hole in the hide box, the Ball
Python will take it.
- What time of day are you offering food? Remember that
Ball Pythons are nocturnal and may not want to eat if it's light out.
the lights on in the room when you offer food? Some snake like it dark when they
- How far away from the snake is the rodent? Somewhere around 2-6 inches
from the snakes face is about right.
- Try putting the Ball Python in a brown
(opaque) paper bag over night with a DEAD rodent. Make sure you put the bag back
into the tank! Sometimes they get out of the bag.
- Talk to the pet store
and see if they will provide you with some soiled gerbil bedding. Place that in
the paper bag with the rodent.
- Try scenting a dead rat or mouse by rubbing
it against a dead gerbil.
- Try thawing a rodent, refreezing it, and thawing
it again. The freezing process breaks down the cell walls and makes the rodent
smell more pungent.
- It isn't very pleasant, but try splitting or cutting
the dead rodent's skull so that some brain matter and blood come out.
Occasionally the snake decides to take a rodent, but it's not the preferred size
of meal. A small mouse is but a snack for an adult Ball Python. Sometimes if you
offer a few items, the snake will eat more than one rodent at a sitting. You can
also strongly encourage a Ball Python to take a second (or third) rodent during
the last stages of swallowing the previous one. As the last of the legs go down,
using the hemostats, you can introduce the head of another rodent into the snake's
Most of the time, the feeding response is strong enough that the snake will just
keep swallowing. I use this technique with my adult pythons which usually take
gerbils or mice. You can get them to swallow a rat after the gerbil/mouse and
end up with a good sized meal for the snake.
Notice in the preceding
section that I did NOT suggest you try and force feed your snake? I don't think
that force feeding is something which should be done. It's stressful on you and
the snake. Force feeding is something which was done by a lot of zoos many years
ago before the keepers knew exactly what the care requirements were for snakes.
They would force food and/or a liquid diet down a snake's gullet by use of a rubber
hose or broom handle in some cases. This does not solve any problems and creates
a lot more. The slight exception that I have to that rule is "Assist Feeding"
of hatchlings. I do NOT suggest trying this on adults! Sometimes hatchlings don't
eat right way. After six weeks of trying or so, I have done what I call assist
feeding. Grab a small dead mouse (aka hopper or fuzzy) with the hemostats just
behind the head. Then grab the hatchling Ball Python just behind the head with
your thumb and forefinger. GENTLY use the nose/face of the rodent to open the
snake's mouth. Usually once the mouse's head is in the snake's mouth, a feeding
response will kick in and the snake will start to swallow the mouse once you set
the snake down. I do NOT force the mouse down the snakes throat! This can cause
injury to the snake, and is not advisable. It's been my experience that given
time, the right conditions, and patience, Ball Pythons will eventually eat.
for Successful Breeding
After some experience caring for Ball Pythons,
I would encourage anyone interested to try and breed them. They are becoming more
and more scarce in the wild, and the fewer Ball Pythons that have to be imported
from the wild the better.
One of the first things you will need to
do is identify what gender your snake is and make sure you have a mate. Alan Zulich,
has a great page on determining the sex (off site) of snakes. Ball Pythons
are a somewhat difficult species to correctly determine sex. Generally males will
have thicker tails, and the anal spurs will be more curved. Probe depths are about
2-4 subcaudal scales for female Ball Pythons, and 6-10 for males. It is better
to have a group of three or more snakes with at least two males. The males will
combat a little, and to the victor go the spoils.
The breeding process
is a year long cycle. During the spring, summer, and early fall, my snakes are
housed separately, kept at optimal temperatures, and fed every two or three weeks.
In about October or November, I stop feeding the snakes and leave them at regular
temperatures. After a few weeks without food, I move my two males and three female
adults together into a 60
Gallon aquarium (30x18x18 inches). The tank has three hide boxes, one of which
acts as the water bowl. I provide regular temps in the high 80's during the day
and until about 2:00am. At 2:00am, I turn off the lights and let the temperature
drop into the low 70's or even high 60's. The light comes back on at 11:00am and
warms things back up. Some breeders have had success offering 12 hours of light
and 12 of dark, but mine seem to do OK. I continue to offer food to the females
every three or four weeks, but I expect that they will choose not to eat. Some
breeders have also suggested providing more humidity during the mating season,
but again mine seem to do fine without worrying about that factor.
Around March or April, I separate the snakes back out to their respective individual
tanks and resume regular temperature and light cycles. During the spring I try
and feed the females pretty heavily. If they happen to become gravid (pregnant)
they will begin to refuse food. You may notice the females having some swelling
and basking with their bellies turned up. They usually go into a shed cycle and
lay six to seven eggs a week or two after the shed. I provide a warm lay box with
a damp mixture of sphagnum based peat moss and vermiculite. Laying usually happens
at night, and the females stay coiled
around the clutch
of eggs. Separating the female from the eggs and incubating them is usually a
better way to ensure the eggs hatch. I separate the eggs from each other as much
as I can and place them in a tupperware
with the peat/vermiculite mixture. Being in the midwest has it's advantages in
that our local farm supply (Farm & Fleet) sells Hovabator brand incubators
for about $30. After about sixty days of incubating at 88-90F, you should see
heads pip from the eggs. Usually the whole clutch will pop heads out within about
24 hours of each other. At this point, I remove the tupperware from the incubator
and place it into a warm ten gallon tank. Typically within 24-48 hour of pipping
the baby snakes have absorbed the egg yolk, and decide to fully emerge from the
egg. A week or ten days later the babies will have their first slough. A week
or so after the shed you should start trying to get them to eat.
Questions and Problems In no particular order
warm/what temperature should I keep my snake at?
A: I suggest heating one
end of the tank to about 85-90F, and let the other side be at 75F. Provide
a hide box on either end. (Housing)
much humidity does my python need?
A: It should have an area (hide box) which
is around 70-80%. Don't let the cage get much below 60%. (Housing)
Q: What should I feed my snake?
A: An appropriate sized rodent. Rats
are nutritionally a little better than mice, and gerbils are almost always a winner
for a finicky eater. (Feeding)
Q: Why is
my snake's belly getting pink?
A: It's just beginning a 7-10 day shed cycle.
You will soon notice the eyes beginning to get hazy. (Husbandry)
Q: How often should it poop/defecate?
A: It depends on how much you
are feeding your snake and it's metabolism. You should expect it to "go"
at least every 4-6 weeks. If you are worried, a luke warm/cool bath in shallow
water should help. (Husbandry)
Q: How often
should it shed?
A: Young growing snakes shed about once every 4-6 weeks.
Adults may only shed a few times a year. (Husbandry)
Q: How often should I feed my Ball Python?
A: For the first two-three
years (18-36 inches), I would suggest an appropriate size meal every 7-10 days.
My adult males eat good sized meals about every 3 weeks, adult (breeding) females
every 2-3 weeks. (Feeding)
Q: What's the
best substrate for my Ball Python.
A: AVOID cedar at all costs! I prefer
newspaper...Aspen, Pine, Cypress, AstroTurf, and Paper towels are also pretty
Q: How do I get rid
A: There are a few good commercial products on the market. I have
had luck using Pro-Zap. Provent-a-Mite from Pro Products is also supposed to be
Q: What's the best way to heat my snakes cage?
AVOID "hot rocks" at all costs! I use either under tank heating pads or
clip lamps with aluminum reflectors to heat one end of the cage. (Housing)
Q: Is a hide box necessary?
A: Absolutely! Ball Pythons need
a hide box to feel secure. A stressed snake won't eat. (Housing)
Q: How long do Ball Pythons live?
A: Depends on a lot of factors, but
you can reasonably expect somewhere between 20 and 40 years. (Natural
Q: What does 1.2.1 mean?
A: It's simply an abbreviation
for gender ratio of snakes (Male.Female.Unknown). 1.2.1 means one male and two
females, and one of which the gender is in question.
Q: Why won't my snake
A: Stress is typically to blame... Don't get too worried as long as your
snake isn't loosing a lot of weight. A 6-8 month fasting period is not unheard
of. I hear the record is something like 22 months without food!... A gerbil is
typically pretty tempting to a finicky eater. (Feeding)
Q: How big will my snake get?
A: Adult Ball Pythons are usually a little
over one meter long, that's 36 - 48 inches in American measurement. A really large
python can get up to 60 inches. (Natural History)
Q: Are Ball Pythons good "beginner" snakes?
A: Generally yes,
They are usually pretty docile, stay small, and are somewhat hardy. Though
they can be a challenge at times. Other good beginner snakes are North American
Kings (Florida and California) Lampropeltis getula and corn snakes Elaphe guttata
ssp. (General Information)
Q: How big
of a cage does my Ball Python need?
A: A ten gallon tank (20x10x12 inches)
is fine for a snake smaller than 24 inches. An absolute minimum tank for
an adult would be a long twenty gallon tank (30x12x12 inches), though a thirty
gallon (36x12x18 inches) would be preferred. (Housing)
Q: Does my Ball Python need ultra violet light?
A: No, Ball Pythons
are nocturnal× and won't significantly benefit
from UV light. (Housing)
Q: Why did my snake
A: It could be that you are keeping it too cold, handling
it too soon after a meal, or it could be an infection and/or internal parasites.
If you think it's the latter, take it to a qualified reptile veterinarian. (Husbandry)
Q: Is it Ok to keep more than one snake in a cage?
A: Yes and No.
I don't advise keeping different types/species and/or sizes of snakes in one cage.
After a 2-3 month quarantine, two or more Ball Pythons of similar size can be
house together in a big cage. If they happen to stop feeding, I would suggest
separating them to individual cages, and you'll want to separate them at feeding
Q: Why is one of my snake's
A: It's most likely a retained eye cap from a previous bad shed,
sometimes a damp cloth will help loosen and remove eye caps. Some people have
had luck using a little baby oil to soften and remove eye caps. (Husbandry)
Q: Can I safely refreeze rodents?
A: Yes as long as they are not too
'gamey' or rotten. Snakes in the wild are opportunistic and will eat carrion.
One of my Ball Pythons actually shows a preference for rodents that have been
frozen/thawed twice. (Feeding)
the difference between Captive Hatched [CH] and Captive Bred [CB]?
Hatched means the eggs were taken from a wild female and incubated. Captive
bred means that someone took the time to induce a male and female snake to get
together, in captivity, and make eggs. CB is much more preferable. (General
Q: How do I help my snake with shedding problems?
A: Typically increasing the humidity of the cage and/or hydration of the snake
helps a lot. (Husbandry)
Q: How large of
a meal/rodent can my snake eat?
A: I try and feed my snakes meals which are
no larger than twice the diameter of the snake's head. A hatchling python can
safely eat a small to average sized mouse. An adult can eat a rat which is five
or six inches from nose to butt. (Feeding)
How much should I pay for a Ball Python?
A: Cost depends on where you get
it. I would not pay any more than $50 or $75 to buy one from a pet store.
Q: Oops, my snake escaped!
A: Search at night, look in sofa cushions, closets, and also look
on/around appliances which give off heat... refrigerator, oven, water heater,
VCR, TV, etc. (Husbandry)
Q: Should I be
feeding live or dead rodents to my snake.
A: Dead food items are preferred
since a dead rodent can't harm or scar your snake. (Feeding)
Q: I left a live mouse/rat in the cage over night and it chewed on my snake?!
A: Call it a learned lesson and don't do it again. To help the snake
during the healing process you may want to increase the heat a little, and apply
a topical antiseptic ointment (like neosporin). (Feeding)
Q: My snake ate the mouse backward?!
A: Don't worry, sometimes with
smaller food items, snakes will eat from the tail end of the rodent.
What are the signs of a respiratory infection?
A: Clear fluid coming out of
the nostrils and/or mouth, wheezing or popping as it breathes, and/or open mouth
breathing. Increase the heat and get it to a qualified vet as soon as you
Q: Will my Ball Python
A: Ball Python's typically don't bite, but it can happen. It doesn't
hurt much. (My playful 72 lbs. boxer has accidentally hurt me a lot worse
:) Snakes either bite in defense or as part of the feeding process.
Assuming it's not on your face, just wash the bite and use an antiseptic ointment
(like neosporin). (General Information)
My snake yawned! Is it all right?
A: Yes, snakes usually yawn to re-align
their jaws after a meal. Ball Pythons sometimes do it for no particular
Q: Is force feeding a good idea?
A: No!...NO! It's stressful
for you and the snake. There are better ways to entice a snake that doesn't
want to eat. (Feeding)
Q: Should I be worried
A: Well, Most eggs laying animals can/do carry salmonella.
There are a few guidelines to follow that should help. 1) Keep your snake out
of the kitchen and away from anything that goes into your mouth (ex. your fingers,
a drinking glass, etc.). 2) Wash your hands after you've handled your snake.
3) Keep your snake away from anyone who may have a depressed immune system (babies,
Steve Grenard has a good page on salmonella (off site).
Q: Can snakes swim?
A: Yes, snakes are very agile swimmers, as well
as being skilled climbers. (Housing)
I give my snake a vitamin supplements?
A: No, snakes eat whole animals that
are pretty adequate as nutritional packages. You may consider supplementing a
little calcium into a gravid (pregnant) female's diet, to help with egg production.
Q: My snake has been soaking in
it's water dish for a day or two, is this normal?
A: Well it can just be that
the snake wants to be there. It can also be a sign of mites. Check for small specks
moving around on the snakes body and near it's eyes. (Husbandry)
Q: Why is my Ball Python hissing?
A: When some snakes feel the need
to defend themselves they will puff up and expel air with force, which causes
a hissing sound. This is a snake's way of warning you to leave it alone. With
time, your snake will settle in and learn that you are not a threat to it.
Q: Do Snakes drink?
A: Yes, most of the water a snake needs it gets
from the prey item. Though snakes will on occasion drink. If you are lucky enough
to see it happen, it'll usually be right after it eats.
that white "chalky" material?
A: Most snakes have evolved to be very efficient
with body fluids. They don't urinate (or pee) like you and I, their kidneys pass
Q: Is there a certain time of the day that it's better
to handle my snake?
A: Once you've had the snake for a while, it doesn't matter
much. For a new snake, it's probably better to interact with it during the late
evening. Ball Pythons are nocturnal and some might be a little more accepting
of disturbance at night, during their normal waking hours.
Q: Help, My
snakes eye has a dent in it!
A: Don't panic. This occasionally happens and
can be attributed to the snake being a little dehydrated. Make sure it's got fresh
water and a bowl that it can soak in. The dent should be gone with the next shed
Blister Disease: is an infection, usually
seen as red/puss filled blisters on the belly. It is typically caused by unclean
conditions. If you suspect your snake has blister disease, seek the help of a
qualified reptile veterinarian.
Captive Bred: snakes are ones
that come from parents who have been in captivity and the care giver has taken
the time to induce the male and female to breed. These are typically more desirable
in that they acclimate better to captive conditions, and that it has less of an
impact on wild populations.
Captive Hatched: snakes are babies
which come from eggs that were taken from wild mothers and incubated.
Crepuscular: refers to animals which rest during the extremes of the day
(ie. noon and midnight) but are active in the morning and evening.
Diurnal: refers to animals which are active during the daylight hours and
rest when it's dark.
Ectoparasite: are external parasites that
you will see crawling over, or on, the snake's body. Mites which are about as
big as a period [ . ] and Ticks which are about as big as a zero [ O ], are the
two most common you will see.
Endoparasites: are internal parasites.
If you have a wild caught Ball Python, a veterinarian will be able to find eggs
or the parasites themselves in your snakes feces (poop), by looking at it under
Heat Mat: can either be human type heating pads set
on low, or plastic ones specially made for animal applications. The plastic ones
typically don't have any way of adjusting the heat output. What I like to do is
add lamp dimmers
which snap onto the cord. This at least gives you a high/low/off setting.
pits: are part of the Ball Pythons group of senses. They are located on
the upper 'lip', and a few are on the back of the lower 'lip.' Scientists believe
they can see heat with these pits in the form of infra-red light. It's like having
a pair of night vision goggles. You will also notice the snake in the picture
is partially blind and has cataracts as a result of previous trauma to it's eye.
are about 6-10 inch long 'tongs' that can be used to offer food items to snakes
without getting your hands too close. You can find them in some hardware stores,
medical supply retailers, and hobby stores.
is the hobby of keeping and breeding reptiles and/or amphibians.
is the scientific study herptiles.
Herptile: Refers to either
a reptile or amphibian.
Hide Box: a retreat for your snake
to feel secure. I use either Terra Cotta pots, or Rubbermaid tubs with holes in
them. I suggest having at least two per cage. One on the warm end(~88F), and one
on the cooler end (~75-78F).
Husbandry: The business or occupation
of a husbandman or farmer; tillage or cultivation of the soil (including also
the rearing of live stock and poultry, and sometimes extended to that of bees,
silkworms, etc.); agriculture, farming.
Hygrometer: is a humidity
gauge. Most Wal-Mart/K-Mart type stores sell them for about $5 in the outdoor/garden
Jacobson's Organ: is the sensor located in the roof
of a snake's mouth. They take particles out of the air with their forked tongue,
and the Jacobson's Organ interprets these particles and tells the snake a little
about it's environment.
Mouth Rot: is an infection in the oral
cavity. Typically caused by unclean conditions and/or trauma to the mouth. Usually
appears as a white cottage cheese like material, or dry scabs in/or around the
mouth. Seek the help of a qualified veterinarian.
refers to a propensity to rest during the day and be active at night.
Savanna: habitat composed of flat ground with a mixture of trees and tall
Snake Hook: is a device used to control and/or lift
a snake without handling it. You can make one for a few dollars. Most hardware
stores sell metal bar/rod stock in three foot lengths. For smaller snakes 1/4
or so works good, for larger you can use 3/8 diameter. Using a bench vise and
a hammer, bend one end over onto itself at about the four inches from the end,
this end becomes the handle. At about the four inches from the other end, put
about a 90 degree bend in it. You now have a snake hook for about $4-5.
Quarantine: A period during which persons or animals who might serve to
spread a contagious disease are kept isolated from the rest of the community.
Also, a period of seclusion or isolation after exposure to infection from a contagious