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Captive Care of the Ball or Royal Python, Python regius – Part 1

 

Please see The Natural History of the Ball Python: Pythons in the Wild, for information on the natural history of the ball python.

General

Ball pythons are now very well-established in the pet trade, and captive born animals are readily available.  They have much to recommend them as pets, including a mild disposition and manageable adult size.  Particularly unique is that they offer a “big constrictor feel” in a small package – thick bodied and muscular, ball pythons put one in mind of a much larger snake.

I heartily recommend this species for those interested in boas and pythons, but who lack the space required by larger snakes.  The very real safety issues involved in keeping giant constrictors are also not a factor with ball pythons, yet they display all of the behaviors exhibited by their larger relatives.

Ball pythons are available in an amazing array of color morphs and unusual patterns.

Captive Habitat

The Enclosure

Hatchlings may be started off in a 10 gallon aquarium and moved to a 20 long style aquarium as they increase in size.  Such might accommodate a small adult as well, but larger specimens do best in a 30-55 gallon aquarium.  Screen cover clips or metal cover screen locks are absolutely essential.

Heat, Humidity and Light

Ambient temperature should be maintained at 80-85 F, with a basking site of 90 F.  Temperatures can be reduced to 75-80 F at night. A ceramic heat emitter or under tank heat pad can be used to warm the air and create a basking site.  You can also use, in combination with these or solely (depending on terrarium size) an incandescent bulb.  The Coralife Reptile Spot Brightlight provides UVA and heat.  Ball pythons do not require UVB light, but may benefit from the provision of UVA.

The R Zilla Nightlight Red Halogen bulb or other night viewing bulb will provide heat at night without disturbing your pet’s natural day/night cycle.  It will also enable you to view the snake’s nocturnal activities.  The ceramic heat emitters and under tank heaters mentioned earlier also provide heat without visible light.

A water bowl should be provided for drinking and soaking.  Fill it only to a level such that it will not overflow when the snake submerges its head or body.  The terrarium should be kept dry…moist conditions will lead to bacterial skin infections (“blister disease”).

Substrate

R-Zilla Douglas Fir Bedding or Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding are good substrate choices.  Both allow for easy “spot cleaning”.  All substrate should be removed and the terrarium cleaned with R Zilla Terrarium Cleaner on a regular basis (i.e. once monthly).

Physical Environment – Habitat Type and Terrarium Decorations

Your ball python should be provided with a secure retreat….R Zilla Rock Dens and Hagen Hiding Caves are ideal.  A piece of freestanding driftwood will provide a rough surface upon which your snake can rub when in the process of shedding its skin.

If space permits, consider adding a log or piece of driftwood for your snake to climb upon.

 

18 comments

  1. avatar

    Ok, the Musk turtle at the local reptile store turned out to be a diamond back terrapin, so I winded up getting a baby ball python instead. I’m currently housing him in a plastic bin. Would it be ok if I placed an 8 watt reptile heat mat from Zilla under the bin? Would it melt the plastic or something? Most sources have told me that it would be ok. Also, how often should I feed him? Thanks!

    Cheers, Alex

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Hmmm…I’m guessing the store does not specialize in turtles!

      Heat mats are designed for use on glass and should not be attached to plastic. Despite the low wattage, I would not take a chance with one….malfunctions, etc. could create a dangerous situation. You can feed the snake once each 7-10 days. Please see here for more info.

      This article deals with common feeding concerns.

      Please let me know if you need more info, enjoy, Frank.

  2. avatar

    Recently my ball started hiding in his water dish more than in his actual hide. Is there anything I should be worried about? I don’t think he’s near shed and I keep the humidity at a good level. Thanks!

    Cheers, Alex

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Prolonged soaking can be a reaction to snake mites; these would be visible on inspection…let me know if you need more info. However, I’ve seen a good deal of variation among individuals..they may be reacting to something internal which we have no way of accessing, small humidity/temp changes etc., loosening minute areas of remaining sheds, etc.

      Hope all is well, Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Ok, I looked him over and he does have mites. Is Zoo Med’s wipe out good?

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Good that you checked. Wipe Out is not designed to kill mites. Go with a Reptile Parasite Relief, which is an insecticide. Be sure to read and follow the directions, especially as regards any risks to people (I’m assuming the usual precautions apply, but check carefully)

      Good luck, Useful to have feedback on products – pl let me know how all goes, best, Frank

  4. avatar

    They didn’t have any tick and mite spray whatsoever at petsmart, petco or the local independent petstore. I bought a bottle of UltraCare mite spray for birds at petsmart though, would that be alright for reptiles?

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Unfortunately, no way to tell; but dosage/strength differs between birds and snakes, and not all pests respond to the same insecticides. Better to order the product via the link I sent; a few days wait will not be critical; perhaps there is a “rush delivery” service available.

      You can also confine the snake to a dilute betadine bath for 30 minutes (appx 1/2 cup Betadine to 1 gallon water, and swab snake with betadine (and then rinse) upon removal from the bath.

      Clean tank, water bowl etc with hot water and bleach (1 cup/gallon, apx. As a safety measure, place a cat flea collar in tank and seal screen cover with plastic. leave for 3-4 hrs (snake should be kept elsewhere, not in tank with flea collar). Rinse well.

      Mites are tough to kill, esp in egg stage; you may need to repeat treatment.

      Be sure to confine snake and put tank in a lg plastic garbage bag etc if taking outside to rinse, so as not to spread mites about.

      Sorry no easier solution, Best, Frank

      Best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Right now I have him in a plastic bin to ease cleaning. I think I’ll just order the spray, would I need to rinse him after spraying? I’m imagining him going into his water bowl covered in pesticide and then drinking the same water. Last night I sprayed him with the bird spray and this morning I saw some dead ticks in the tank, would I need to rinse him now as well?

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Yes rinse him off, and best not to use the bird spray, even if it kills the mites. Bird and herp systems, metabolisms differ greatly, and that is taken into consideration when formulating medications. Rinsing/effective time and such will be explained on the product (I don’t recall, sorry).

      Best, Frank

  6. avatar

    I just got a 3 month old ball python a few weeks ago and I have a question concerning heating and humidity for him. He is in a 20 gallon tank, the heating mat is on 24/7. I originally did not have a lamp, but as the days became cooler the temperature in his terrarium was not staying warm enough. So I bought a 75 watt infrared incandescent bulb in a reflector dome. The problem that I’m having, though, is keeping the terrarium temperature up without the humidity rapidly decreasing. I mist the terrarium, the humidity quickly rises to around 70 or 80 percent, I turn the light on, and within 15 minutes the humidity is down to 40 percent, and if I leave it on it just continues to decrease. What I have had to do is turn the light on and off multiple times a day, misting each time I turn it on, and so far I have not been able to keep the basking side of the tank any warmer that 80 degrees, and falling to 70-75 when the light is off. I know this isn’t healthy for him, he should have more warmth than this for his health, but when it comes to choosing between the right temperature or proper humidity level, which is more important? Or is there something else I should be doing to keep both at the optimum levels?

    • avatar

      Hi Alexis,

      Ball pythons are native to arid habitats; humidity is not much of a concern. If provided with a water bowl large enough for soaking, the snake will be fine. Temperature is far more important, so do what you can to get the basking temperature up. In overly dry conditions, shedding can be a problem (dry sheds, retained eyecaps) but ball pythons generally do fine if able to soak. You can also try providing a hide box filled with damp sphagnum moss when the animal becomes opaque, but this is not usually necessarily. Enjoy and please let me know if you need further info, best, frank

  7. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Thank you so much for your help. I will start keeping the lamp on most of the day, and that should keep the temperature up. How often do you suggest I mist the tank, if at all? What percentage should the humidity be?
    Another thing I was wondering, because the temperature in my house becomes so cold at night in the winter, should I leave his lamp on all night and not worry about the humidity?

    Thanks,
    Alexis

    • avatar

      Hi Alexis,

      My pleasure. You can mist 1x daily, more when it becomes opaque, but no need to measure humidity. Provide a water dish large enough to soak in, fill to a point where it will not overflow when the snake enters (if the substrate remains damp, they often contract fungal skin infections). Yes, heat at night is impt….keep at least 75F. Regular bulbs left on at night are not ideal, as they disturb the day/night cycle of dark-light. best to use a red or black night bulb (light from these is not visible to snakes) or a ceramic heater. heaters and bulbs are available in a variety of strengths. These (or any bulb) must be used in the proper type of fixture….the fixture should have a ceramic base and must be rated for the bulb’s wattage. If you are unsure, please consult an electrician, so that you do not create a fire hazard. Some examples of fixtures can be found here…let me know if you have any questions.

      Ball pythons frequently go off feed for weeks or months at a time…seems related to “internal clocks” that are responding to what would be going on ion their natural habitat…droughts, etc. Cool temperatures can also cause this. Also, best not to feed the snake until you have the proper temperatures established…if temps drop too low at night, and are not hot enough in the day., food will not be properly digested and serious health problems/infections will arise. please see this article (link to part I is in text) and let me know if you need more info. Best, Frank

  8. avatar

    I have a ball python and the guy that I bought her from said he would always help her shed can that be a problem because now she is having trouble shedding and still haves that milky Gray coler skin on her eyes what can I do to get it off of her eyes and if I can how do i do it

    • avatar

      Hello Travis,

      If the snake has shed and the eye caps remain, it’s best to see a vet or seek the help of someone who has removed them in the past…it’s not something to be attempted w/o experience, very easy to cause severe injury. If the snake is in the process of shedding, please see this article for some tips on assisting. Let me know if you need more info, Frank

  9. avatar

    I got a young ball python about a month ago, and she recently had her first shed. When I noticed she was developing dull scales and a opaque cover over her eyes, I added damp moss under her one of her hideouts, and she’s always had a waterbowl big enough to submerge herself in.
    Her eyecaps came off fine, as did the extra skin on her head, but the rest of her skin didn’t. almost two weeks after her head was clear and her eye caps were off, the only skin that had rubbed off was along her spine and belly =\
    She was fine with being touched after her head was clear of shed, and even ate.
    I ended up getting some warm (I didn’t put a thermometer in it, but it was a little colder than wrist-temperature, like when you test bottle milk) water and waited for her to slither from my hand into the water, to make sure she was fine with the temp.
    After that I kept her from slithering out of the bucket, kept her head out of the water while the rest of her was submerged, and gently rubbed my fingertips over her dry skin until it was wet enough to easily slide or peel off.

    After a long minute of holding still while I rubbed at her body and peeled some off, she started rubbing the sides of her neck against the back of my fingers, and tried to weave in-between my fingers instead of trying to escape the bucket of water.
    I made sure not to force anything to peel – waited until it felt like when my own shoulder was peeling in the shower after a bad sunburn, and after about 10 minutes, I had cleared all the extra skin except for a ring around her upper neck. She’s very calm being touched and handled, but doesnt like it near her head.

    So now she’s clear of shed except for a ring of dead skin around her neck, and I think she got the hang of the whole soak-to-shed thing, because I watched her climb right into her water bowl and sink her neck under the water while peering back at me through the aquarium glass.

    I dont know if this whole process is advisable with any snake that isn’t super chill with being handled and touched for long periods. She didn’t try curling into a ball, and didn’t snap at me, or coil her neck like she was threatening to strike. The only time she recoiled from my touch was when I got too far up her neck, near her head.
    Maybe I got lucky with an unusually docile ball python.

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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