Ball Python Care 101 for Beginners

Updated: May 9, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell

Ball Python Care

Ball pythons are one of the most popular snakes to own. This is because ball python care is relatively simple and inexpensive even for beginner reptile hobbyists. Ball pythons are also known to be docile, mostly hassle-free snakes in terms of handling and are not as prone to biting or aggression as most other species are.

Once you understand the basics of care and how to set up an enclosure, owning and maintaining a ball python is a relatively simple task. They are beautiful snakes, they tolerate and often even enjoy being handled, have quirky and curious personalities, and they live long lives.

This all adds up to the perfect pet snake, especially if you are a beginner snake owner or new to reptiles completely. Read on to learn more about ball pythons and how to properly care for them so your scaly friend can live a happy, healthy life with you for years to come.

Ball Python Appearance and Size

Ball pythons may start off relatively small as hatchlings at about 10 inches, but do not be fooled; they grow rapidly and can reach six feet in length and weigh six to seven pounds upon reaching adulthood! As babies, they can thrive in a 20-to-30-gallon tank, but once they reach their full size, they need at least 50 gallons to feel comfortable in captivity.

Below is a handy size chart to give you an idea of what to expect from your ball python’s growth rate and how much they should weigh at each stage of their life.

AgeFemale Ball PythonMale Ball Python
LengthWeightLengthWeight
Hatchling10 to 17 in1.76 to 2.8 oz10 to 17 in1.6 to 2.8 oz
1 month10 to 17 in2.8 to 3.7 oz10 to 17 in2.5 to 3.5 oz
6 months20 to 27 in10 to 12.69 oz20 to 27 in9.7 to 12.69 oz
9 months25 to 35 in15.87 oz to 1 lb25 to 30 in14 to 15.87 oz
12 months2 ft1.4 to 1.76 lbs1.5 to 2 ft1.10 to 1.76 lbs
18 months2 to 3 ft2.2 to 3.08 lbs2 to 2.5 ft1.32 to 1.98 lbs
2 years2.5 to 3.5 ft2.64 to 3.96 lbs2 to 3 ft1.76 to 2.42 lbs
3 years3 to 5 ft2.64 to 4.40 lbs2.5 to 3.5 ft1.98 to 2.64 lbs
4+ years4 to 6 ft4.40 to 6.61 lbs2.5 to 3.5 ft1.98 to 2.64 lbs

Read our guide on how big ball pythons get, for a more in-depth look at their growth rate.

Ball pythons’ heads have the typical A-shape common amongst species in the python family. This, along with their slightly upturned snouts and large eyes, gives them an adorable “puppy dog” look. They have thick, robust bodies that end in blunt tails for males and taper to a point for females.

Their natural coloring is dark brown with black markings. However, there are many stunning morphs that have been created by breeders that give ball pythons unique colorations and patterns. Some of the more popular morphs include traits like a bright yellow coloration, lavender patterning, and even partial albinism known as “pied” or “piebald.”

Ball Python Personality and Temperament

Ball pythons have adorable, puppy-like faces, and they even have the personality to match! They are shy by nature and prefer to go on the defensive instead of attacking their handlers.

Though they aren’t the most outgoing species of snake, ball pythons are very docile and excellent pets for reptile lovers who are new to caring for and handling snakes. They are not prone to biting unless they are hurt or feel very vulnerable.

Curiosity is one of the ball python’s most prominent traits. Despite their mild-mannered temperaments, they are surprisingly intelligent and love to explore their enclosures and especially enjoy having plenty of hides, branches, rocks, and other decorations to interact with for enrichment.

Ball Python Lifespan

Ball Python Lifespan

Ball pythons are very long-lived snakes! They have an average lifespan of 30 to 40 years in captivity with proper care, a nutritious diet, and an adequately-sized enclosure.

This means the baby ball python you get when you finish highschool could potentially live long enough to see your children and even your grandchildren being born!

Check out our in-depth article on how long ball pythons live and what sort of factors can increase or decrease their lifespan.

How to Care for a Ball Python: Enclosure Setup

Enclosure Size

Ball pythons are very large, active, and curious snakes, so they need large and well-decorated enclosures to feel comfortable and happy in captivity.

This table below details the absolute minimum size the enclosure should be for your snake based on its size. If possible, going bigger is always better no matter your snake’s age or size.

Enclosure SizeBall Python Size
10 gallons
12” high x 20” long x 10” wide
10 to 35 inches
20 gallons
18” high x 24” long x 12” wide
2 to 3.5 feet
30 gallons
18” high x 36” long x 12” wide
3.5 to 5 ft
40+ gallons4 to 6 ft

Ball pythons are terrestrial snakes, so they mostly explore the floor of their enclosures and only climb occasionally. Therefore, they should be housed in an enclosure that is long and wide rather than tall. Check out our roundup of great enclosures for ball pythons.

Your snake should be able to stretch out along the length of their enclosure completely. In addition to them having enough space to move around, they need to be able to get from one side of the enclosure to the other without being seen. Remember, ball pythons are very shy, so they greatly enjoy and appreciate having plenty of privacy and clutter in their enclosures.

This is also very important because, in addition to being very shy and private creatures, ball pythons are also nocturnal animals that must feel secure in their environment so they don’t become stressed.

Substrate

Substrate is essentially the material you’ll use to cover the floor of your ball python’s enclosure. The substrate you choose will ideally provide a comfortable surface for your pet to move around on and burrow in if desired.

In addition to being comfortable, the ideal substrates for ball pythons hold humidity well, can deal with the weight of an adult ball python without becoming compacted, and can absorb and contain their messes efficiently.

There are many types of substrate on the market, but some of the best candidates include bioactive substrate, cypress mulch (also known as forest floor substrate), coconut husk/coir/fiber, orchid bark (also known as Repta-Bark), or kraft paper.

For a detailed product review of our suggested substrates, check out our guide on the best bedding for ball pythons.

Temperature

Like many reptiles, ball pythons like it hot! They should have a heat source to create a basking area as well as an under tank heating pad to help create a stable, gradual temperature gradient in their enclosure.

The cool side of the enclosure should not drop below 75°F. The temperature should then increase steadily so the warm side of the enclosure sits at around 85°F.

In addition to the heat mat, your ball python needs a basking spot at the far end of the warm side of their enclosure that constantly sits at around 90°F. The basking spot can be created by a heat lamp or a ceramic heat emitter.

Humidity

Ball pythons require a fairly high humidity level at 50% to 60%. They need this level of humidity to stay properly hydrated and to shed properly.

To maintain the humidity in your snake’s enclosure, you can either manually mist the inside of the tank, its substrate, and other surfaces every day with a simple spray bottle or install an automatic misting system.

The temperature and humidity need to be monitored constantly. You can do this by installing a combined thermometer and hygrometer in the enclosure.

UVB Lighting and Photocycles

Ball pythons do not need special UVB lighting because they are nocturnal snakes.

They do, however, need a proper photocycle each day. This simply means they need to have a period of light and a period of dark, each lasting about 12 hours each day, in order to be healthy. This means if your basking spot or heat source is a light, it must be turned off at night so as to not interrupt their nocturnal behavior.

Ball Python Diet and Nutrition

Ball pythons are notoriously finicky eaters. They can refuse food for many different reasons, from stress to incorrect temperature and/or humidity settings to simply disliking the taste of certain kinds of prey, so it can sometimes be difficult to get them to eat.

Ball Python Diet and Nutrition

For an in-depth look at what finicky eaters ball pythons are, check out our article on how long ball pythons can go without food!

Below, we’ll go over what ball pythons eat and how to feed them as well as how much water they need to stay hydrated.

Diet

When they aren’t being picky and turning their noses up at their food, most ball pythons prefer to eat mice and rats. Depending on how large your snake is and their personal preferences, they may prefer eating mice to rats or vice versa.

You can feed a ball python frozen (mostly thawed before eating) mice or rats. These are readily available from pet shops as well as online retailers in bulk or for individual purchase.

While ball pythons would ideally eat live prey, it’s best to avoid offering live animals to them in captivity, since the process of hunting can be stressful and cause injuries to your snake while their prey struggles to escape. Many reptile owners have cited incidents of their snakes sustaining painful bites and scratches while attempting to take down live prey — some pythons have even lost their eyes to such injuries!

Sizing your ball python’s food correctly is also very important. If the prey item is too large, then they can either choke, become impacted, or refuse the food entirely. If it is too small, then your snake is not going to get a proper meal and may even be bored or disinterested in their food.

Any prey items you offer to your snake should be the roughly size of your ball python’s head.

Hatchling and juvenile snakes should be fed one appropriately sized prey item once every seven days. Adults should be fed one appropriately sized prey item once every 10 to 14 days. However, it is also normal for ball pythons to occasionally refuse food for various reasons for several weeks at a time.

It is essential to monitor your ball python’s eating habits carefully and keep track of their weight. This is because ball pythons are prone to overeating and obesity. Obesity is deadly and can kill your snake through organ failure.

Water

Ball pythons need to stay well hydrated, and they especially love a good soak. They need access to a large water dish in their enclosure. The water dish needs to be large enough that they will be able to fit their entire body into if they choose.

Their water should be refreshed daily, sometimes more than once per day, as they contaminate it every time they put their bodies in the dish. It is common for ball pythons to defecate in their water dishes since the warm water stimulates their bowels.

Dehydration is a big risk with snakes, including ball pythons, so they must have access to plenty of clean, fresh water.

The water dish in your python’s tank must meet the following requirements to satisfy your ball python’s needs and not affect the humidity in the enclosure:

  • Non-porous
  • Large enough for your ball python’s body to fit in at once
  • Heavy-bottomed so that it cannot tip over
  • Shallow enough that your ball python can get out of it and is not at risk of drowning

How to Handle a Ball Python

Ball pythons are excellent snakes for handling and socialization. This is because they are very docile and not prone to biting and are small enough to handle with ease.

Check out our guide on ball python bites to prevent any mishaps while handling your snake and learn what to do if you happen to get bitten.

Always remember to pick up your snake with both hands and support their bodies at all times. Ball pythons have heavy bodies, and dropping them can cause serious injuries.

It is essential to wash your hands and wear clean clothes when you are handling your ball python. Snake skin is very susceptible to bacterial and parasitic infections. Cross-contamination is very common if you have multiple reptiles and do not sanitize your hands between handling them.

Common Health Problems

Ball pythons, like any other reptile, can suffer from several common health problems. These are mostly avoidable issues. However, they do happen, even to the experts. Here are some of the most common issues:

Obesity

Obesity is an especially large problem in ball pythons because they are finicky eaters, but they overeat when they finally do decide they’re hungry. Beginner owners also tend to overfeed their ball pythons when they are in an eating phase because they are worried about their health. In reality, it is normal for ball pythons to occasionally refuse to eat for days or even weeks at a time.

Respiratory Infections

If your ball python has a respiratory infection, you will notice it making gurgling or bubbling sounds when they breathe. They may even blow mucus bubbles from their mouths or noses. The most common culprit is incorrect humidity settings.

Scale and Mouth Rot

Due to their high humidity settings, ball pythons are at an increased risk for scale and mouth rot. These conditions look exactly how they sound. This needs urgent vet attention because your snake will need to be on antibiotics and potentially even additional fluids if they’re having trouble eating and drinking.

Parasites

Parasites are a constant battle for reptile owners in general. The most common issue for snakes as far as external parasites would be mites. Mites often live in dirty or improperly sanitized substrate and burrow under your snake’s scales and into their eyelids and mouths to suck their blood. They carry their own parasites and make snakes very sick very quickly. You’ll need to sanitize the enclosure and soak your snake if they have mites and put them in a quarantine enclosure far away from any other reptiles in your home.

FAQs About Ball Pythons

Why are they called ball pythons?

The name “ball python” comes from the snake’s main defensive behavior. When a ball python feels threatened, they roll themselves into a ball and bury their heads underneath their coils. While most snakes try to make themselves look larger to intimidate predators, the mild-mannered ball python avoids confrontation altogether!

They are also known as royal pythons, as many African rulers are believed to have worn live pythons as part of their jewelry in the past. Knowing how docile these snakes are, it’s actually a pretty believable story!

Where do ball pythons come from?

Ball pythons come from tropical regions in Central and Western African countries such as Mali, Ghana, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone. They are very shy terrestrial snakes and live in very hot and humid habitats where they have plenty of plant cover to hide in.

Slithering Off…

Ball python care is relatively simple once you have an enclosure set up and running. While the initial investment for any reptile is costly, ball pythons are fairly inexpensive to care for long-term. They make excellent pets for both first-time snake owners and the most experienced herp enthusiasts alike.

Always set up your enclosure a week before you bring your ball python home. This will allow you to do a “test run” of your enclosure setup to make sure everything is running properly and that the tank has the correct temperature and humidity settings.

Good luck on your journey with your new scaly baby!

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