9 things you should know about the ball python
Looking for a pet snake? Wondering which of these elongated, wild beauties makes for the best pet? The classic choice is the ball python for a lot of great reasons – gorgeous, safe, big, and friendly, this snake is many people’s ideal pet.
What are the key characteristics that make ball pythons special?
Ball pythons are one of the best pet snakes for rookies and first-time reptile owners. Safe and easy to take care of, they are often called “a big snake in a small package”. The reason for that nickname is simple – as a smaller member of the python family, ball pythons are easy to manage while still bringing that “big snake” vibe to your home that you’d expect from a python.
Additionally, ball pythons are absolutely gorgeous. They come in multiple different colors with over two dozen variations being accessible on the market. Some are more common and more affordable than others but all look great with the signature ball-shape coloration typical to pythons.
What are the specifics of ball pythons, however, and what do you need to know before getting one or more of these beauties in your home?
The 9 things you should know before getting a ball python
1. Nonvenomous and social, ball pythons are the perfect pet snakes
As far as snakes go, ball pythons are one of the safest options you can pick which is a big reason why they are so popular. Granted, they are still snakes so you’ll still need to work on their character. You’d still need to train yourself too, as the exact way you handle, feed, and take care of your ball python is crucial for avoiding accidents.
All that being said, as long as you know/learn what you’re doing, you should be able to handle and live with your ball python for decades without any incidents.
2. Ball pythons tolerate handling better than most other snakes
Ball pythons can get used to being handled much faster and better than other snakes. They are not as defensive as other snakes and as long as you socialize them properly you should have little trouble with them. If you’re wondering what it means for a snake to be socialized and what the whole process consists of, here’s a good video from Blue Line Morphs.
Of course, you should still learn the basics of tap training and snake hook handling to make sure that both you and your snake are as safe and calm as possible. Videos like this one from Dbcb Exotics are very good examples of what you need to know.
3. This species can live up to 30 or even 40 years with the right care
The average lifespan of ball pythons is around 30 years. If something goes wrong or the snake isn’t well taken care of that can get closer to 20 years. At the same time, with a bit of luck and with great care, a ball python can easily live up to 40+ years too. The official record we know of is 47.6 years for a ball python at the Philadelphia Zoo, however, there are also anecdotal reports of some snakes living up to 50-51 years!
Even if we stick with the more average 30-40 years, however, that’s quite some time for a pet – getting a ball python in your 20s or 30s can mean that the two of you will literally grow old together.
4. There’s a difference in size for female and male pythons, giving you more choice
With ball pythons, females are significantly larger than males. The latter usually only grow up to 2 or 3 feet (less than a meter) while females can grow up to 3 or 5 feet (up to a meter and a half). This is great for you as it gives you the freedom to pick a bigger or smaller snake depending on your preferences.
5. Adult ball pythons can go a long time without eating
A newborn ball python needs to be fed every 5 to 7 days but as the snake gets older it can last longer and longer between meals without suffering any health issues or discomfort. Here’s a quick table to help you figure out when to feed your snake:
|Snake weight||Time between meals||Average meal size|
|Newborn||5 days||8-12 grams|
|<200 grams||7 days||13-19 grams|
|200-350 grams||7-10 days||20-30 grams|
|350-500 grams||10-14 days||31-45 grams|
|500-1500 grams||14-21 days||45-80 grams|
|1500> grams||28-56 days||80-150 grams|
As you can see, an adult ball python can be fed once every month to a month and a half without any issues. It’s still better to lean on the safe side and feed the snake near the lower end of the period, of course.
1. Ball pythons can be picky eaters
One of the drawbacks of a ball python’s diet is that they can be picky eaters. Anorexia is an actual issue for ball pythons so consult with a vet if your snake doesn’t want to eat. Reversely, if your python doesn’t mind snacking you shouldn’t overdo it either as they can also get overweight.
2. Feeding your python with live prey can make it more aggressive
Feeding your python with frozen or freshly killed prey is generally recommended as live prey can both harm your python and train their hunting drive – something you definitely don’t want if you’d like to handle your snake.
People often try feeding their pythons with live prey either because the snake is getting picky with its frozen food or because they enjoy witnessing the live kill. Both of those really aren’t good enough reasons for making your snake more aggressive and risking any unnecessary harm to it.
3. These snakes require very specific conditions to thrive
While ball pythons are easier to take care of than most other snakes, don’t take that to mean that they are just easy in general. Ball pythons are snakes and as such, they require very specific care. We’ll list everything you need to prep for owning a ball python below.
4. Taking care of a large python is a costly and long-term endeavor so make sure that your budget can handle it
Ball pythons don’t eat too much but looking after them requires quite a bit of inventory and accessories, especially if you want to do it well. Snakes like these can survive in small boxes if need be but they really thrive in large, spacious, and well-maintained tanks which can cost quite a bit.
Who are ball pythons “right” for?
Snakes are not for everybody, that much should be clear. They are generally not recommended for families with small children or pets as an accident with them can be both likely and tragic.
Aside from that, anyone who wants can take care of a ball python. Like most snakes, these pythons don’t require too much effort and attention aside from the initial setup and maintenance of their environment. They don’t need to be fed too often either which means that even if you travel a lot you can still easily take care of them. As long as you do your research and look after your snake properly, and as long as you’re a “snake person”, a ball python should be a great pet for you.
How to prepare for getting a ball python?
Ball pythons don’t need more accessories than other snakes but all snakes need lots of stuff anyway so you should prepare for a long shopping list if this is your first time caring for such an animal. Here’s a quick starting list to look at:
A tank for an adult Ball Python that’s as wide as the snake’s length and twice as long
A basking heat source such as a standard mercury vapor bulb – the temperature in the basking area should be around 31-34°C (88-92°F)
A UVA/UVB Source which can also be a mercury vapor bulb or something similar
A thermometer to help you maintain the right temperature of 24-27°C (75-80°F) on the cool side and 27-30°C (80-85°F) on the warm side
A hygrometer to measures humidity – ideally, it should stay between 55% and 60%
A reptile carpet for substrate – this can be anything from butcher paper or artificial carpeting for maintenance or bioactive or living substrate such as potting soil, peat moss, sand, bark, etc. for decorative settings
An auxiliary heat source at night such as a ceramic heat emitter or a heating pad
A water bowl for the snake to hydrate in
A water spray bottle to help the snake stay hydrated
A humidity hide or a humidity box to give your snake an alternative high-humidity environment to go to when needed – here’s a good video by Snake Discovery on how to make the perfect humidity box
And these are pretty much all the basics. Once you’ve got that, the only other thing you need is to do the research and get the know-how on how to properly look after a ball python.