If you are considering purchasing a ball python, or have just purchased one, you might have a few questions. Here's a list of what most people who are unfamiliar with snakes ask me:
Q: What size enclosure do I need, and what heating options are suggested?
A: The size of the enclosure needed is determined by the size of the ball python. Here are my enclosure-size recommendations: Hatchling: 10 gallon aquarium, yearling: 10-20 gallon aquarium, 2-year-old: 30-gallon aquarium, mature adult: 40-gallon aquarium. I would not recommend anything larger than a 40-gallon aquarium for a ball python unless they are exceptionally large for this species. Too much wide open space can make them feel insecure and can play a role in whether or not they will feed. As for heating options, there are many; there are also things that should be avoided. I would recommend heat lamps above the enclosure (separated from the snake by a screen), heat cable or heat tape placed under the tank (but always with a thermostat), a human's heat pad wrapped in a towel and placed under the tank, or a combination of any of these. Things to avoid: hot rocks and heat pads made specifically for reptiles. I know that may sound strange, but these two items often malfunction and overheat, causing burns to your snake. The recommended items I have listed are certainly sufficient to acheive the desired temperature without use of items that can potentially cause lots of problems.
Q: Do ball pythons need UV light like iguanas do?
A: No, they do not. UV light helps lizards absorb calcium, but this is uneccessary in ball pythons. They are able to absorb calcium from their food without this.
Q: Do ball pythons need nutritional supplements?
A: No, ball pythons get all of the nutrients they need from their regular diet of mice or rats.
Q: Is it necessary to move my ball python to a separate container for feeding?
A: No, in fact, it can do more harm than good. The idea behind this is so that the snake will not go into "feed mode" when the cage door opens. However, if the cage door is opened regularly for all types of reasons, the snake will figure this out on their own. If the only time the cage opens is for feeding (whether to be moved or left in their cage), then the snake is definitely going to think that. But if they cage opens for feeding, cleaning, handling, etc. the snake is going to realize that the door opening does not signal food. If the snake is moved to another container, you actually risk being bit even more so than if you leave them in their cage because once the snake eats, they must be moved back to their original tank while they really are in "feed mode" and the smell of rats/mice is strong. Plus, handling the snake right after a meal will stress it out unnecessarily.
Q: Is it safe to feed my ball python a live prey item?
A: No, it is not. A rat or mouse can kill an adult ball python. Even if it doesn't go to that extreme, the snake can be scratched or bitten by the prey, resulting in costly vet visits to keep the wound from being infected. The only time I will condone live feeding is if the snake is still young and a mouse/rat pinky/fuzzy is being offered. The young mice/rats cannot harm the snake. Sometimes live feeders will also be used to coax a reluctant ball python out of hibernation, but this should be done only when absolutely necessary.
Q: Why won't my snake eat?
A: Ball pythons are notorious for being finicky eaters; it's the only drawback to this species. For peace of mind, remember that snakes can survive on 3-4 meals per year, so missing a meal or two isn't going to hurt them. With that being said, I do not recommend only feeding your pet snake 3-4 times per year; if you do, all you are going to have is one grumpy python. In order to determine the cause of your snake's refusal of food, ask yourself a few questions:
Q: Can two or more ball pythons be housed in the same enclosure, even if it's a large enclosure?
A: No, ball pythons are not social creatures and should be housed separately. Often, one feels dominated by another cagemate and will refuse food. Often they will be observed "cuddling" together; they are not in fact cuddling, they are competing for the "best" spot in the cage. Another drawback is feeding time: you must separate them for feeding, thus moving one to another enclosure. (Please see above reasons why feeding outside of the cage is not recommended.) Yet another drawback is if you have one snake get sick; it will quickly spread to all of the snakes in the enclosure, and often it is almost impossible to determine which one is the sick snake. In extremely rare instances, ball pythons can be cannibalistic and eat their cagemate for dinner. If the two snakes are similar in size, this will effectively kill both animals.
Q: Is there good money in breeding ball pythons?
A: In short, no. Maintenance of your breeder animals will cost a lot, caging for both your breeders and babies will cost a lot, breeding itself will cost a lot, and feeding the babies if you don't sell them will cost a lot. Enter into ball python breeding as a hobby unless you are already financially well-off and can afford to invest in many very high-quality morphs. If you are trying to get into breeding ball pythons because you want to make a lot of money, you will be sorely disappointed. If, however, you want to get into breeding ball pythons because you love the animal, you will most likely be quite content with your efforts.
Q: Do female ball pythons have spurs?
A: Yes, they do. All ball pythons have spurs, both males and females, so do not rely on the spurs to tell you whether the snake is a male or a female. Sexing is best done by a vet via a method referred to as "probing." Probing can injure the snake if done incorrectly, so always use an experienced vet if you are not sure of what you are doing.
Q: Should I feed my young ball python adult mice or baby rats?
A: I've noticed both locally and among the internet reptile communities that there is some disagreement as to whether adult mice or young rats are "better" for baby ball pythons, and since I've used both in the past years, I've compiled a list of the average baby snakes' weights when fed on mice or young rats. And of course, even aside from which is "better" or more available in your area, you also have the problem of switching some ball pythons to small rats once they reach the appropriate size, and many would like to use young rats as feeders for their young snakes, as this makes that transition easier and less stressful for both the snake and the keeper. Below is a chart I've made from previous years' growth rates in the baby ball pythons I've produced; some were fed mice as youngsters, and some were fed young rats:
Initially, you should find out what the previous owner was feeding your snake and try to duplicate that. Once your snake is well acclimated, you may try to switch them to a different food type if you like and if they are willing to accept it. In my own experience, I've found that young rats tend to give the young snake a higher growth rate, and I've noticed a difference in the attitudes of the babies I fed mice to as opposed to rats. Those fed on mice typically tended to wait posed at the opening to the tub on feeding day, as if they were so hungry they just couldn't wait, while those fed on young rats readily accepted their meals when offered, but did not pose at the opening ready to spring out and grab their meals. This tells me that the young rats either give the snakes more nutrients, or that the the young rats seem to be more filling to them, and they don't burn off those feeders as fast. However, either choice is fine to use, and if mice are all that is available in your area, the baby snakes will still grow and thrive.
Q: Is my pet ball python a morph?
A: Unless it was sold to you as a morph, then chances are, it is not. Locally, I have seen a pet shop mark a pastel ball python as a "fancy ball python" and sell it along side normals, but this is extremely rare. If you purchased it as a normal, then 99.99% of the time, it is a normal.
If you have a question you don't see listed here, please contact us and we will try to answer your question. We may also add more questions and answers here from time to time as we are asked more.