Ball Python Care

Ball pythons make wonderful pets, especially for the beginner snake keeper! Ball pythons tend to be quite docile, and don’t require as much specialty care as some other species, like emerald tree boas. Keep reading to find out more about how to keep your ball python happy and healthy!

Terrarium

Terrarium choices are numerous these days, but they’re not all created equal! If you have a hatchling or juvenile ball python, it may be tempting to purchase a larger terrarium now for him or her to grow into, but this actually isn’t the best choice for your pet since juveniles tend to feel more secure in a smaller space. So make sure to get the right size terrarium for your ball python’s age and size:

  • Hatchling or Juvenile: 10-20 gallon terrarium
  • Adult: 40 gallon terrarium

For hatchling and juvenile ball pythons, we recommend using a reptile carpet substrate; for adults, we recommend using bark, mulch, or coconut husk substrates. All of these substrates are relatively easy to clean. Reptile carpet can be hand washed in the sink or in a washing machine, and the bark, mulch, or husks can be spot-cleaned whenever necessary to remove debris. DO NOT use cedar bedding – it’s toxic to most snakes.

Make sure to supply your ball python with an adequately sized hiding space (so they can enter and exit easily and are able to turn around). This is easily done by using a “reptile hut,” of which there are many variations available.

Heat

Heat should be a main focus when caring for your reptile. Ball pythons are native to African savannas and grassland habitats with warm temperatures and some direct sun exposure. Even though your ball python isn’t living in an African habitat, that’s what his or her body is adapted for. And we mean their entire body. Even how well they’re able to digest their food is affected by their heat exposure! Therefore, it’s important to replicate this environment to the best of our ability. Here’s how to do this at home:

  • Provide an appropriate size heat bulb for your ball python. In very general terms, you will need a smaller size (lower wattage) heat bulb for tropical species and smaller terrariums, and a larger size (higher wattage) heat bulb for desert species and larger terrariums. However, what is considered a “small” or “large” terrarium can be relevant, so check in with The Repstylist if you have questions about providing the right heat bulb!
  • Provide the appropriate type of heat bulb for your ball python and their habitat; we recommend starting with a daylight bulb or basking spot lamp. Heat bulbs can be light-emitting or non light-emitting, infrared, halogen, basking, and more (read more about the different type of heat bulbs here).
  • Provide a temperature gradient along your ball python’s terrarium to cool off or warm up (they know when they need to do either). You can create a temperature gradient by placing the heat bulb (lamp) on one end of the terrarium. As tempting as it may be, avoid placing the heat bulb in the middle of the terrarium.
  • Provide a basking (hot) spot that is significantly warmer than the warm side of the terrarium. Create the basking spot on the warm side of the terrarium by placing an item, such as a branch, so that it’s elevated toward the heat bulb. Since the elevated end of the branch will be closer to the heat bulb than the floor of the terrarium, it will be significantly warmer. This, again, allows the ball python to bask under imitated direct sun exposure with the option to cool off in other areas of the terrarium.
  • Measure temperature at the elevated basking spot and the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure temperature here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the heat bulb in order to obtain the right temperatures. You can do this by using a lamp stand.
Illustration of proper heat and UVB source placement to create a gradient. Colors illustrate decreasing heat and UVI as you move away from the sources. Illustration courtesy of The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

UVB

UVA, UVB, and UVI are also very important, particularly from a safety standpoint. And, they each refer to something different. Ultraviolet-A (UVA) refers to light wavelengths that allow reptiles (and us) to use our vision and see things. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) refers to light wavelengths that penetrate the skin of reptiles and activate vitamin D within the body. And the ultraviolet index (UVI) is a measurement of UVB wavelengths that contribute to vitamin D synthesis (note that not all UVB wavelengths are involved with vitamin D synthesis!). With this being said, snakes don’t often require a UVB source since they tend to be fed whole prey. The whole prey (mice, rats, etc.) have activated vitamin D and calcium that must be supplemented (in the form of powder food supplements and UVB light) for other reptiles that don’t eat whole prey. So what exactly do you need to supply for your ball python?

  • Research demonstrates that snakes still benefit from UVB exposure because it’s something they would naturally be exposed to in the wild.
  • Provide a UVB bulb of appropriate strength for your ball python’s terrarium size. UVB bulbs typically come in “5.0” and “10.0” strengths. These numbers refer to the amount of UVB output that will contribute to vitamin D synthesis for reptiles (either 5% or 10% of the UVB wavelength output). The 5.0 bulbs tend to work best for ball pythons that don’t require full sun exposure.
  • Provide a UVB gradient along your ball python’s terrarium. Much like a temperature gradient, this means having one side of the terrarium with little-to-no UVB exposure and the other side with high UVB exposure. To do this, place the UVB bulb on the SAME side of the terrarium as the main heat source. In nature, UVB and heat both come from the sun, which means when setting up your ball python’s terrarium, these sources should be together (imitating sun exposure).
  • Measure UVI of the bulb you’ve chosen. UVI is a much more useful measurement of UVB, as too much can be very harmful to your ball python. Each reptile species has a UVI value (or tight range of values) that is ideal. Measuring UVI will make sure your ball python is getting a healthy amount of UVB exposure. Be aware that you can measure UVB separate from UVI (and there are separate meters for these), but a strict UVB measurement will NOT tell you how much vitamin D-synthesizing UVB your pet is receiving. Make sure to measure at the elevated basking spot and at the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure UVB here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the UVB bulb in order to obtain the right UVI and temperature. You can do this by using a lamp stand.

Light Cycle

The light cycle isn’t often talked about, but it can have a huge impact on your ball python’s behavior. Just like you and I follow the sun’s direction (we’re awake when the sun is up and asleep when the sun is down), so does your ball python. All animals have a circadian rhythm and 24-hour cycle (even nocturnal animals, but it’s reversed for them), helping them know when they should be awake, sleeping, foraging, hunting, eating, basking, and more. Here’s how to set up a light cycle:

  • Only use white or yellow-light heat bulbs and UVB bulbs during the day.
  • Create a light cycle by turning the above lights on at the same time each morning and off at the same time each evening.
  • If you need to provide heat during the night, consider non-light emitting options such as ceramic heat emitters and heat pads, or red-light heat bulbs. Contrary to popular belief, reptiles can see red light but it doesn’t affect their light cycle. Red-light heat bulbs can create an enjoyable nighttime viewing ability for you.
  • Follow the time changes that we experience and adjust your ball python’s light cycle accordingly. This means you should create a shortened “day” during the fall/winter months and a longer “day” during the spring/summer months.
  • Timers are an excellent way to easily create a regularly scheduled light cycle
Photo courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels.

Humidity

Low ambient humidity is required for ball pythons, along with a “humid hide.” Periodically mist your ball python’s substrate to keep it from becoming excessively dry and dusty. Hand misting is completely adequate to maintain low humidity for your ball python. In addition, provide a hiding area filled with a slightly softer substrate than the rest of the terrarium, such as reptile-safe moss. Keep this moss moistened at all times, creating a “humid hide” or humidity chamber. This will help your snake to shed properly!

Diet

As a carnivore, your ball python’s diet will be much less varied than some other reptile species since you’ll only be feeding whole prey. Your ball python will transition through the different sizes of mice and rats as it ages.

  • A water dish is a necessity for most reptiles! With the exception of chameleons, reptiles should always have a dish of fresh water available. Some will drink it, some will bathe in it, and some will lay along the rim. All of these are natural behaviors that should be encouraged.
  • Feed whole prey (mice or rats) that are no wider than your snake’s girth.
  • Many snakes require live prey, but some will accept frozen thawed prey. *If using frozen prey, place in refrigerator overnight to thaw, then place in warm water for a few minutes before feeding to bring to room temperature.
  • Hatchling ball pythons will do best with pinkie mice and may transition to hoppers; they typically need to be fed once per week.
  • Juvenile ball pythons will do best with hopper mice and may transition to adult mice; they typically need to be fed once per week.
  • Adult ball pythons will do best with adult mice and rats; they typically need to be fed every other week and may even only feed once per month as they age.

Want to know the ideal temperatures, UVI, humidity, and more for ball pythons? Check out the “Ball Python Care” magnet on our online store. Taking care of any living creature is a huge responsibility, but it’s also very fun and rewarding! Take the guess work out of caring for your scaly friend by having our handy magnet nearby!

The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

As always, if you have any questions about this topic, contact us here or at therepstylist@gmail.com!

©Copyright 2020 The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

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