Pet Ball Python

 

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Ball Python Pet Care

One of the most frequently kept pet snakes in the United States today is the Ball Python from West Central Africa. 

Bred in extremely large numbers for various color (morphs) patterns these gentle and easy to maintain snakes can be the perfect pet for the novice or experienced keeper.

 

Pet Ball Pythons

In response to many requests for information concerning the captive care of this popular pet snake, RainForest Adventures is providing the following suggested guidelines for the captive care of the pet Ball Python.

 

So you want to keep a pet Ball python?  Arguably this is one of the best snakes for the average person to keep as a pet is the African Ball Python.    Small size, even temper, and general ease of care make this snake a logical choice for both beginners and experienced keepers alike. 

In this article we will address the basic needs and requirements to successfully keep a pet Ball Python. RainForest Zoo receives many inquiries into the care and breeding of these snakes, the primary areas that will address here are:

A native of West Central Africa, the Ball Python is full grown at approximately four feet in length.  There is some dimorphism between the males and females with females tending to be slightly longer and more heavy bodied than males.

The "Ball" aspect of this snake's name comes from its unique and peculiar aspect of wrapping itself into a ball when startled or confronted with a potential threat.   These snakes are relatively docile and rarely bite. 

 

 Choosing Your New Pet

There are essentially two ways to purchase a baby Ball Python; wild caught animals, and captive born babies.  We will take a look at both options here are provide our opinion on which we feel is best. 

Ball Pythons are still imported into the United States from west Africa in very large numbers.   The eggs, and or gravid adults are collected in the wild and the eggs are incubated by individuals in Africa.  Once the babies hatch they are shipped to the United States as well as other countries.  As a general rule the imports are newly hatched animals from Benin, Togo and Ghana.    The babies all arrive at roughly the same time every year. 

Often priced very inexpensively the baby Ball Pythons are generally available for several weeks per year.    It is our belief that you should not purchase newly imported babies as the pressure placed on the wild stocks of animals is having substantial negative impacts.  

The other Ball Pythons that are available are those that are actually born in captivity.  Typically these pythons are hatched by individual hobbyists, or breeders and then resold to the pet stores or are available for resale by the breeder themselves at pet shows.    This is by far the best way to support not only your local pet store or reptile show, but also is much more "eco-friendly"

Baby ball pythons that are born in captivity are generally much less likely to contain parasites, illnesses etc.  The pythons are generally much healthier and adjusted to feeding than a wild caught animal. 

 

 

Housing

It is always a wise idea to have your home for the python set and ready to go before you bring your new pet home.  While this snake does not required highly specialized environments there are certainly some basic criteria that must be met for the overall health and well being of your new snake.

Each home is different, the ambient air temperature, location of the enclosure and other factors may require a day or two for you to ensure the temperature and humidity factors are stable before brining your pet home.  Always try to determine the temperature of the enclosure both during the day and night to ensure the enclosure is not too hot or too cold. 

The ideal day time temperature range for your snake is 82-95 degrees.  An enclosure should have a basking spot, or warm end that is a higher temperature than the rest of the enclosure.  This will allow your snake to move from a warm area to cooler a one.  Nighttime temperatures should not be allowed to drop below 74 degrees. 

Humidity is not as large a concern for this species as with others, but you should try to maintain the relative humidity higher than the normal humidity found in most homes.  The humidity is a larger factor in allowing the animal to shed it's skin properly than it is any other health issue.   A large water bowl that the snake can soak in will significantly aid in both maintaining the humidity and providing a bathing spot for the snake.

Appropriately sized habitats for captive Ball Pythons would be a 30-gallon-long or a 55 gallon terrarium.  Ball Pythons can be housed together but are generally solitary creatures except when breeding. 

 

Ball Python Diet

Most Ball Pythons eat rodents such as gerbils, mice, and rats, although some prefer birds (chicks).  The vast majority of snakes will gladly consume pre-killed rodents.   All Ball Pythons are different, we have worked with hundreds of snakes over the years and have found some to be aggressive feeders, others very shy, and some very seasonal feeders.  The most critical component of feeding any pet snake is to ensure the environment is correct and free from excessive stress.   This is very true with the Ball Python, some of these snakes are extremely sensitive to their environment.  If your snake refuses to feed review all of the housing and husbandry practices to ensure the snake has adequate temperatures and humidity requirements.  Also make every effort not stress the animal prior to feeding by handling etc.

It is highly recommended that you kill the rodents prior to feeding any snake.  Rodents posses very strong jaws and sharp teeth.  A misplaced strike by a snake can result in the rodent having it's mouth free to bite the snake during constriction.  This will not only result in open wounds that are subject to infection, but can result in serious injury to the skeletal structure of the snake.  Death is not an uncommon result of a snake who is bitten in the spine or other critical area by the rodent.  On occasion a snake may need some encouragement to eat a prey item that is not moving about on it's own.  We typically trick the snake into eating it's first few meals by simulating movement of the rodent by simply dangling the food item in front of the snakes face.  Be careful not to be be too aggressive in dangling the food item as this may intimidate the shy Ball Python. 

One major benefit to purchasing pre-killed mice, or buying live mice and killing them your self is the storage of frozen rodents.   Rodents can be store in zip lock bags and stored for months.  This convenience allows you to purchase many months of feeder rodents at a time.  In many cases your cost of feeding your animal will go down as the quantity of rodents purchased will allow you to take advantage of savings. 

Ball Pythons take four or five days to digest a meal and prefer to do this in a dark, warm place, i.e. "hide-box".   Water should be provided in a large heavy bowl, so that the Ball Python has plenty of room to soak and cannot tip the container over.

Ball Pythons will defecate approximately 5-7 days after eating a meal.  It is equally as important to monitor your snakes defecation as it is to monitor the animals feeding schedule.  Ball Pythons occasionally become constipated and will not pass a bowel movement.  This can lead to serious complications, a warm soaking bowl will generally encourage a snake to defecate.  If your snake does not defecate within 14 days of a meal do not continue to feed the snake until defecation takes place. 

The  Ball Python has an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years in captivity. This species of snake is credited with having the longest recorded life span in captivity, 49 years.

Ball Pythons are timid snakes and may not be a good choice for children, who may stress them with over-handling or improper handling.  

 

Breeding Your Ball Python

Breeding and Propagation:                                                              NEW BABIES BORN AT RAINFOREST!  

The first step when breeding captive Ball Pythons is to identify which is the male and which is the female.  Visual distinction is tricky, but sometimes can be made by examining the following differences. Males will generally have more curved anal spurs and thicker tails than the females. The most reliable way of sexing snakes is to have them probed by an experienced herpetologist or veterinarian. It is recommended to house the snakes separately until breeding is ready to begin.

Prior to breeding, in October or November, most hobbyists recommend stopping feeding for a few weeks and leaving them at normal temperatures. The males and females will then be moved together. Often it is recommended to breed them in groups with at least two males. The males will often combat for breeding rights. The breeding tank should contain three hide boxes. The third will act as a water bowl.

Temperatures and light will need to be carefully regulated at this time. The research seems to differ a little on this area. Some breeders will give equal 12-hour shifts between light and dark, while others will give nine dark and fifteen day. In both cases during the day temperatures should be maintained in the high 80's Fahrenheit, and in the high 60's low 70's range at night.

Some keepers will also raise humidity levels during breeding, this, however, does not always seem to be the preferred method. Females should be offered food every three to four weeks. If they refuse food this is normal and should not be a cause for concern.

By March or April it is time to separate the snakes into their own containers. Females should be well fed. If they are pregnant (gravid), they will often refuse food. Provide a nesting box filled with moist peat moss, vermiculite, or perlite. Typically the gravid female will shed, then within a week or two she will lay six to seven eggs.

Most females will lay their eggs at night. Many hobbyists recommend incubating the eggs, rather than leaving them with the female. The eggs have an incubation period of about 60 days at 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

The Future

The future of Ball Pythons in the wild is uncertain.  But the future of captive animals is all but guaranteed.  Both amateur and professional breeders alike are producing amazing color morphs of the Ball Python.  Some very striking color patterns have already been produced and the future holds many surprises to be sure!

 

 

 

RainForest Adventures zoo, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge TN