Ball Python Care

Caresheet for Royal Python

Scientific Name: Python Regius

Ball Python. Image Credit: Emma Lawlor
Ball Python. Image Credit: Emma Lawlor

The Ball python (Python regius) is a species of small bodied python that is found throughout Africa. Their popularity as an exotic pet can be attributed to their generally calm disposition and their manageable adult size. This has also led to the common misconception that this species serves as a good introduction to snake keeping. While it is true that this species rarely bites and stays small, there are other issues associated with it’s husbandry that can cause a novice keeper (and some more experienced keepers) a great deal of stress. The major issue with Balls is that of feeding. They have a notorious reputation for being fussy eaters. They have a tendency to refuse food completely for extended periods. This problem is particularly true of wild caught specimens. This behavior can be very difficult for a novice keeper to handle and it is for this reason that Ball pythons should not be considered an ideal first snake.
For a keeper with a little more experience, keeping a ball python can prove to be thoroughly rewarding experience. They are available in a range of colour morphs, and due to their willingness to breed in captivity, a healthy and inexpensive , captive-bred animal is generally not that difficult to come by

Sexing and Characteristics:
There are several ways of sexing a snake but the main ones are popping & probing, both of these ways are reliable with probing being the most accurate. Please note that popping should only be done on young animals.
If you need your snake sexed, make sure this gets done by a professional.

Hatchlings are typically about 10 inches in length. Adults reach an average length of 3.5 to 4.5 feet. Animals in excess of this size are not unheard of, but it is certainly rare. Ball pythons have quite a stocky body, with a relatively narrow neck and head.

Substrate and Water Needs:
Deciding which substrate to use is a matter of weighing up aesthetics and functionality. Pine and Cedar should never be used as these are toxic to reptiles. Newspaper and paper towel are cheap and easy to clean. However they may not maintain humidity as well as other substrates and are not very aesthetically pleasing. Paper is also an option, it is cheap, clean and very hygienic. Substrates such as Aspen, Fir bark and Orchid bark, are more aesthetically pleasing and hold humidity well, though if soiled they are more time consuming to clean. If using a particulate substrate it is very important to monitor your animal during feeding or feed it in a separate tub to prevent accidental ingestion of substrate.
Clean potable water should be available at all times. Water bowls should be large enough to allow the snake to soak its entire body if it chooses to (It should be noted that excessive soaking may be an indication that your snake has contracted external parasites such as mites). Always keep water bowls in the cooler end of a vivarium, as warm water will provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Water bowls should ideally be heavy, as royals are quite strong and are likely to overturn a lightweight bowl.

Lighting and UVB:
Royal pythons have no special lighting requirements but ideally they should be maintained on a light cycle of 12 hours on/ 12 hours off. If you wish to use a basking bulb then ensure it is encased, as direct contact with the bulb could easily burn your animal.

Temperatures & Humidity:
Ambient temperatures for royal pythons should be 25-28 °C. Daytime highs should be 27-29 °C and nighttime lows should be
26-28 degrees celcius. A hotspot of 30 °C should be provided during daytime hours. It is important to provide a thermal gradient within the enclosure to allow the animal to thermoregulate effectively.
To achieve these temperatures several heating devices can be used such as:

    • Heatmats
    • Basking/Infrared Bulbs (Always use a mesh cover so snake cannot touch the bulb)
    • Ceramic bulbs (Always use a mesh cover so snake cannot touch the bulb)

The choice of heating system used is a matter of personal choice, however in ALL cases, a thermostat should be used in conjunction with the heater, in order to avoid burns to the animal, and danger of fire

Humidity for Royal pythons should be around 50-60% and the introduction of a moist hiding area is a good idea, especially during the shedding cycle.

If help is needed choosing heating/thermostat options, please do not hesitate to contact the Herpetological Society of Ireland & we will guide you in the right direction.

Adult Royal pythons will be comfortable in a 4ft x 2ft x 2ft vivarium or a large Rubbermaid tub for the duration of their life. Appropriately sized hides are particularly important for this species as they stress easily when they feel exposed. Ensure there are hides in both the cool and warm end of the enclosure.
Young ball pythons should be housed in smaller setups as their agoraphobic tendencies will cause them to become stressed in too large of a setup.

As a general rule, the enclosure should be as long as the snake and deep enough to accommodate the snake when curled up in a resting position. While height is not an essential parameter for royals, they will climb given the opportunity. Providing the snake with climbable tank decorations may help tone muscle, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
Carnivorous- Snakes should be fed appropriately sized DEFROSTED rodent prey (mice/rats). Snakes should be fed food items no greater in diameter than the widest part of the snakes body itself. Live food should be avoided.
Young Royals should be able to take fuzzy or pinkie rats from their first feed. While mice are also perfectly acceptable food items, there is a risk that the snake will refuse to eat anything but mice which will lead to problems in converting them to rats when they get larger.
Feed young snakes every 7 days or so. As the snake grows it will need larger prey items. Feed prey items equal in diameter to the widest part of the snake.
Older snakes should be fed on an appropriately sized meal every 2-3 weeks to avoid becoming overweight.
Royals have heat piths in their upper jaw which they use to detect a prey items body heat. Superheating a prey item often helps to encourage a fussy eater to eat again.

Royal pythons may stop feeding over the winter months. While this is not unusual, and normally does not do the snake any harm, it is important to monitor the snakes health and weight to make sure there is not too great a loss in condition.
Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:
Generally supplements are not needed because in consuming entire prey animals, snakes obtain a balanced diet containing all necessary nutrients. However some keepers recommend occasional supplementation to counteract any possible loss of nutrients etc. during the freezing process.

This species is known for its calm disposition and generally tolerates handling very well.
It is recommended that the water supply be changed every 1-2 days, spot clean every few days, and clean them out thoroughly every 1-2 months, using an appropriate disinfectant (savlon/ dettol/ trigene etc.) When using disinfectants, ensure the enclosure has been thoroughly aired out before returning the snake.
Regular handling should help keep your snake calm & easy to handle, however avoid handling in the days immediately after feeding your snake. Don’t handle a new snake for at least a week. Allow it to settle in to its new surroundings.
Always support the snake’s entire body when handling. Holding a snake by the tail alone can cause spinal injuries.

Care sheet Courtesy of The Herpetological Society of Ireland 2009

Featured image courtesy of Squamata55