Ball pythons, also known as royal pythons, are the perfect snake for someone who has never owned a snake before. They are typically docile, easy to handle, and do not grow as large as other constrictors.
They also make GREAT pets for experienced snake owners, as they come in an impressive range of unusual morphs (opens in a new tab) which can make breeding an exciting challenge!
Whether you’re looking for your very first snake, or want to breed the newest ball python morph, you’ve come to the right place for an all-inclusive ball python care sheet!
What You’ll Learn In This Ball Python Care Sheet:
- Background information on ball pythons
- Where to buy a healthy ball python (plus what to look for!)
- Relative cost of a ball python (including rare morphs)
- Proper diet for all ages
- How to properly set up a ball python enclosure
- Health concerns to be aware of (plus how to prevent them!)
- Handling & bonding tips
- & So much more!
Packed full with tips on the ideal enclosure, habitat, and diet, this ball python care guide will help you learn the best ways to provide five-star care for your ball python PLUS how to avoid common health issues.
After reading through this ball python care sheet, you’ll walk away as an expert in ball python care, ready to tackle the adventure of owning your first snake or discovering a new morph.
So, with all of this being said, let’s get right to the good stuff and dive into this ball python care sheet!
Table of Contents
Ball Python Background Information
Named ball pythons because of their nature to curl up in a ball around their head when frightened, these snakes can form bonds with their owners and resolve their shyness with regular, proper handling.
Beginning setups with a standard ball python aren’t terribly expensive, with the enclosure and habitat setup taking a large chunk of the initial cost.
In fact, you can expect to spend roughly $500 to $600 at the beginning to purchase your snake, the enclosure, and the essential items for proper husbandry, such as heat lamps and hides.
To feed your snake, costs typically run about $150 per year, with an additional $50 or so for quality substrate.
Ball pythons are native to western and central Africa, and typically inhabit Savannah and forest areas, spending much of their time burrowing and hiding. They prefer being active at night and will spend much of their day hidden in burrows.
In the wild, ball pythons generally only live about 10 years, while well-cared for captive snakes can live 20 to 30 years, and much longer in rare cases.
As your snake ages, it will typically grow a foot in length per year as a young snake, often reaching maximum growth of three to four feet in three years.
Ball pythons make EXCELLENT pets for a wide range of experience levels, and they offer something for everyone…
From their gentle nature and easy care for beginners, to rare and unique morphs for more advanced hobbyists, a ball python makes a wonderful pet snake all around!
🔑 Ball Python Background Key Takeaways: Ball Pythons make fabulous pets for both beginner and expert snake owners alike. Generally docile, these easy-to-care for snakes can even form bonds with their owners and can live to be between 20 and 30 years in captivity. Costs tend to be affordable, with the bulk of the investment being upfront to purchase the snake and its husbandry.
To further expand your ball python knowledge, check out our collection of ball python facts.
Where to Buy a Ball Python
Next in our ball python care guide, let’s discuss where exactly you should purchase your new pet…
Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes, largely due to their friendliness, unique morphs, and care taking ease.
A typical ball python may only cost around $50, while a morph often starts out at $75 to $100.
Ball python pricing depends on the rarity of the morph, so if you’re looking for a truly unique snake, expect to shell out some serious cash. While most of the more popular common morphs generally fetch between 0 and 0, newly discovered and extremely rare morphs can set you back thousands of dollars.
Depending on what color or pattern you’re looking for in a ball python, you may be able to pick up your new pet at a local pet store.
For rare morphs, you may have to hunt down a breeder online or at a reptile expo if you’re looking to add a uniquely colored ball python to your household or even want eggs.
⭐️ Fun Fact: Did you know, the most expensive ball python ever sold fetched a whopping $40,000?! The price went towards a gorgeous lavender albino ball python, which has striking yellow spots which are beautifully juxtaposed against soft lavender scales. It’s a real beauty!
Most snake experts recommend searching for a reputable breeder, rather than purchasing a snake at a pet store. Many pet store employees lack the specialized knowledge to care for these fascinating creatures appropriately, which could lead to hidden health issues.
Before purchasing a ball python, carefully check it over for indications of poor health.
Ideally, your new snake should…
- Be neither too fat nor too thin
- Have clean and bright eyes
- Have a shiny appearance rather than dull
- Should not have breaks in the skin
Avoid snakes with signs of respiratory issues, such as wheezing or bubbles around the nostrils.
🔑 Ball Python Purchasing Key Takeaways: When it comes to purchasing a ball python, you’ll have your choice of going to a pet store of locating a reputable breeder (recommended). Rare morphs will always be more expensive than typical pythons, costing anywhere from $200 to $800 on average. When picking out a snake, make sure to examine its eyes, scales, and weight to ensure it’s healthy.
Ball Python Diet and Feeding Guidelines
Since ball pythons are nocturnal snakes, they prefer to eat at night. And, like all snakes, they are carnivores and subsist only on meat to gain necessary nutrition.
Most snake owners feed their pets mice or rats. You can make a personal choice as to whether to feed live prey or fresh-frozen food, but feeding pre-killed food is preferable. If your snake does not eat immediately, live prey can inflict serious bites and scratches, in addition to transmitting intestinal parasites.
Prey items can be freshly killed or purchased fresh-frozen and completely thawed. You definitely have a couple of options when it comes to purchasing feeder mice, rats, and other protein sources.
Warm the rodent to body temperature, feeding the thawed rodent immediately.
Do NOT microwave or thaw prey with heat or hot water, as this can alter nutritional value and accelerate bacterial growth, causing the food to rapidly spoil.
Never refreeze food, and do not keep prey frozen for more than 4 to 6 months. After this time, nutritional value begins to decrease.
You can also have a separate enclosure handy that is solely used for feeding. This minimizes confusion on your snake’s part as to whether your hand is a prey animal or not, plus it helps with taming.
What Does a Ball Python Eat? Components of a Ball Python Diet
The ONLY item a ball python needs in its diet is whole-prey food, such as mice or rats. In fact, having such a straightforward diet is actually one of the reasons why they make great pets.
NO fruits, vegetables, or grains are needed for these carnivorous creatures, as they get all the nutrition they need from prey animals.
Although some snakes can overeat and become overweight, other snakes may be picky eaters, especially in winter months.
To help encourage your snake to eat if necessary, try the following tips:
- Feed a smaller prey. This allows easier digestion and better absorption of nutrients, plus your snake may be unwilling to tackle a large rat.
- Offer a brown, gray, or black rodent instead of a white mouse or rat.
- Offer an item that more closely resembles wild prey like a gerbil.
- Offer freshly killed prey.
- Using tongs, dangle the prey item in front of the snake and try to encourage the snake to strike at its meal.
- After feeding your snake, give your pet privacy by covering the glass with towels or newspaper for 24 hours.
- Try confining the snake with its prey in a small “feeding box” or cloth bag overnight.
Vitamin and mineral supplementation are not necessary when feeding your snake whole-prey meals. Because mice and rats contain all the necessary nutrients for your ball python to thrive, you can skip this step.
How Often to Feed Your Ball Python Based on Age
As a carnivore, your ball python only needs to eat meat to survive.
When choosing the appropriate food for your pet based on age, the main factor you need to consider is the size of the prey. If it’s too large, your snake will not be able to eat it, and if it’s too small, your snake will fail to thrive due to lack of proper nutrition.
Baby Ball Python Diet
Juvenile ball pythons need to eat about once per week (every 5 to 7 days) to aid in healthy growth.
Feed your snake prey that is no bigger than the largest part of its body to ensure it can properly digest its meal.
Most young snakes absolutely thrive on baby mice or rats, known as pinkies, fuzzies, or hoppers, which are relatively inexpensive for your snake’s diet.
Adult Ball Python Diet
Adult ball pythons typically can eat once every 10 to 14 days and can handle adult mice and rats.
Be sure your snake’s prey is not too large by checking the circumference of the prey animal to the circumference of your snake at the widest point.
Also, you should know that adult snakes also tend to go off feed during winter weather, despite being in a climate-controlled enclosure.
They may also be reluctant to eat during a shedding period, but continue to offer your ball python food once every couple of weeks.
🔑 Ball Python Diet Key Takeaways: Ball Pythons of all ages have a very straight forward diet, as they solely require whole prey food, like mice or rats, for all of their nutrients. While you will need to feed juveniles weekly, adult ball pythons only require feeding every 10 to 14 days. No additional supplements are required. Just be sure to measure the food to ensure your snake can handle it.
Ball Python Enclosure and Tank Setup
As with all reptiles, your ball python’s habitat and enclosure setup is a CRUCIAL element of your pet’s overall health and well-being. In fact, it’s 1 of the 4 key factors that affect lifespan.
Without the proper temperature gradient, humidity level, and hygiene, your snake can fall ill or fail to thrive.
Also, be sure you have a separate enclosure for each snake, since ball pythons are solitary creatures and prefer to be housed alone.
Before bringing home a ball python, ensure you have all the essentials for a happy, healthy snake.
Size of the Enclosure
Juvenile ball pythons under 20 inches do well in small enclosures that make them feel secure, such as a 15 to 20 gallon aquarium. However, as your snake grows, so should its enclosure.
Since ball pythons don’t become very large, they will be content in enclosures that are not exceptionally spacious or elaborate. At a minimum, a 3 foot long adult ball python should be housed in a 120-gallon habitat.
You can always go bigger, but be careful not to overdo it since ball pythons like to curl up and feel secure, too much open space can stress your snake out.
Type of Enclosures
There are several options available for ideal ball python enclosures, such as glass, plastic, wood, or homemade…
Glass aquariums are the MOST popular choice, as they provide the greatest visibility and are easy to clean. But, glass can become cold, so ensure your aquarium is heated properly for your snake.
Plastic enclosures have become popular in recent years, especially with breeders. They tend to be much more economical, and are lighter and easier to move around than glass tanks.
You MUST choose a plastic enclosure carefully, though—it’s important that it won’t melt when exposed to a heating element and can have a properly ventilated lid.
Wooden enclosures provide a level of security and privacy not seen with the other materials. Most wooden enclosures have glass or plastic doors for viewing or accessing the habitat in the front, allowing your snake to hide away by a wooden wall.
Whatever material you choose for your snake’s habitat, ensure it:
- Provides adequate ventilation
- has a secure opening
- Can withstand a heating element
- Won’t be too difficult to keep clean
Ideal Temperature Gradient
As a cold-blooded reptile, your ball python needs a proper thermal gradient to stay healthy.
Designate one side of the enclosure as the basking spot, and ensure the heat stays between 90 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit and should NOT exceed 96 degrees. The ambient heat of the enclosure should stay at a balmy 78 to 80 degrees and should never fall below 75.
Ideally, you should place a thermometer at BOTH ends of the enclosure to monitor the temperatures of the hot spot and the cool zone to ensure they fall within the proper gradient.
In your ball python’s basking area, avoid using a hot rock since these have been known to cause severe burns in reptiles. Instead, use a basking light or under-tank heating mat.
Also, be sure to keep a close eye on the humidity level with a basking lamp or heat emitter, as these can dry out the environment quickly, especially when paired with a screen top.
Supplemental lighting is not necessary for ball pythons, and continuous, bright light is stressful to snakes, particularly the nocturnal ball python. If you do use lighting in your snake’s enclosure, ensure it runs on a 12 hours on, 12 hours off cycle.
Ideal Humidity Levels
The ideal humidity level for a ball python is between 50 and 60%, which can usually be maintained by keeping a dish of water in the enclosure.
If the humidity falls too low, you can remedy the situation by misting the enclosure with a water bottle or by adding a larger water dish or moss to the habitat.
A large water dish will also allow your ball python plenty of room to soak. Without a proper humidity level, your ball python can fail to shed properly, which can create serious issues.
Our comprehensive guide on how to monitor, adjust, and maintain ideal tank humidity and temperature settings will help prevent these problems.
Fortunately, there are many options for the flooring or liner of your ball python’s enclosure…
Suitable substrate options include:
- Paper towel
- Reptile carpet
- Cypress mulch
- Aspen bark
Avoid sand, cedar, and pine as substrates in your pet’s habitat. Sand does NOT absorb moisture well and can host numerous bacterial pathogens, while cedar and pine contain harmful oils.
Decor and Accessories
The key to keeping your ball python happy in its new enclosure, is offering two high-quality hide boxes.
Place a hide at each end of the habitat to allow a cool and hot area to rest and relax. You can use flower pots, hollow logs, or other household items that will safely cover your pet. There are also a large variety of unique hides available for purchase.
When your ball python needs to exercise, climbing areas created out of branches and rocks are great ways to keep your snake fit.
You can even create a cozy basking spot with a strategically placed branch or rock, but ensure the climbing furniture is stable.
🔑 Ball Python Enclosure Key Takeaways: Ball Pythons don’t need large habitats and can do just fine in a 30 gallon tank as adults. When it comes to temperature and humidity, you’ll want to ensure they have a hot side for basking around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with ambient temps around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity between 50-60%. Lastly, always include a hide, but ideally 2 with one on each side of the enclosure.
After successfully setting up your enclosure, make sure you maintain it well! Check out our tips for doing so here.
Ball Python General Health Information
As with all reptiles, ball pythons are susceptible to improper diet and habitat setup.
An incorrect temperature gradient or humidity level, lack of appropriate cage furniture, dirty enclosure, and a poor diet will stress out your ball python and reduce their immune system resiliency.
With a decreased immune system function, snakes are more apt to develop a variety of illnesses, some of which are listed below…
Inclusion body disease (IBD)
A fatal viral infection, inclusion body disease primarily affects boids, but it can also infect pythons.
Signs of infection include:
- Central nervous system disorders such as paralysis
- Being unable to right itself when turned over
- An inability to strike or constrict
- Chronic regurgitation
- Extreme weight loss
- Respiratory infections
At this time, there is no treatment for the disease and, as it is always fatal and highly contagious, humane euthanasia is recommended.
To keep your current ball python collection safe, always quarantine a new snake for at least three to six months and take precautions when visiting breeders, pet stores, and snake expos or swaps.
As snakes shed their skin, they can run into incomplete shedding issues, also known as dysecdysis.
Since snakes do not have eyelids and instead have a clear, fused scale protecting their eyes, they shed this scale, or spectacle, along with the rest of their skin. When the spectacle fails to shed along with the rest of the skin, it can pose a problem.
Conservative treatment is best to avoid damaging the new layer of skin or ocular structures.
Frequent application of sterile ophthalmic lubricant can be used to moisten the spectacle, along with warm water soaks and humidity boxes.
Before the next shed cycle, husbandry issues, such as humidity, temperature, and cage furniture, MUST be corrected to prevent retained spectacles from becoming a recurring problem.
Most ball python pneumonia cases are caused by bacteria, but this respiratory infection can also be caused by viruses, fungal infections, or parasites.
Typical signs of pneumonia include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Open-mouth breathing
- Wheezes and crackles while breathing
- Discharge from the nose or mouth
- Decreased appetite
A dirty environment, improper temperature gradient, or incorrect humidity level are the most common causes for pneumonia, but it can also be caused by a poor diet or parasites.
Keeping your snake’s habitat clean and at the correct temperature and humidity will reduce their stress level and avoid negative impacts on their immune system.
Stomatitis, also known as mouth rot, is a common condition among snakes and lizards.
The most noticeable sign of stomatitis is a reddened, inflamed mouth with swollen gingiva.
Caused by food or wounds in the mouth, this bacterial condition is easily treated with antiseptic rinses and antibiotics. It is also easily preventable by keeping your snake’s enclosure clean and ensuring no bits of food are left in the gum tissue.
🔑 Ball Python General Health Key Takeaways: Like all species of reptile, ball pythons are susceptible to a variety of health concerns. Fortunately, by ensuring their humidity levels, diet, and enclosure is on point, you can help prevent them from suffering from a weakened immune system and becoming sick.
Ball Python Handling and Bonding Tips
As a young snake, ball pythons tend to be shy, but older snakes will become more outgoing and curious.
With plenty of love and respectful attention, you and your snake will form a lifelong bond that will last decades.
To ensure your snake is handled appropriately and safely, follow these tips:
- When handling a snake, take care not to smell like snake food, such as mice or rats. Wash your hands thoroughly beforehand, and consider using hand sanitizer to ensure you remove all traces of mouse odor with the harsh alcohol agent.
- Support the head, neck, and body of your snake. Make sure the body weight is not borne by the snake’s head and cervical spine.
- Move slowly and avoid sudden movements. Refrain from panicking when your snake wraps around your arm to support itself, as this behavior is completely normal.
- Give your snake time to digest after feeding before handling it again to prevent regurgitation. If you want to handle your ball python, interact before feeding, or wait a couple days after feeding to ensure your pet is comfortable.
- Avoid handling your ball python while it is shedding. Eyesight will be even more limited during this time and can make your snake fearful.
With time, patience, and attention, you will have an outgoing, curious snake that is a perfect companion.
🔑 Ball Python Handling & Bonding Key Takeaways: Don’t be surprised if initially your new ball python acts shy and aloof. With a little time and patience, not to mention the right techniques (see above) you and your pet will surely form a close bond that will last decades!
Is a Ball Python Right for YOU?
After reading through this ball python care sheet and learning all about them, it’s only natural that you may be eager to rush out and bring home a new pet…
However, before running out to buy the first ball python you see, take the time to research the various morphs and to create the ideal habitat.
It’s a GREAT idea to have your new snake’s enclosure set up for a couple of days prior to purchasing one to ensure the humidity and temperature are appropriate.
Once your snake’s habitat is fully set up, you’re ready to pick out your ball python! If you want a snake that is certainly suited for advanced keepers only, see our False Water Cobra care sheet.
Always choose a healthy snake from a reputable breeder, since they will be a fantastic source of knowledge as you learn and grow with your new pet. With the proper habitat, love, and care, your ball python will make a wonderful companion for years to come.