Click: Captive Care of the Ball or Royal Python, Python regius – Part 1, to read the first part of this article. Or, click: The Natural History of the Ball Python, Python regius: Ball Pythons in the Wild to read about the natural history of Ball Pythons.
Most ball pythons take readily to pre-killed mice and small rats, with hatchlings usually being large enough to handle a “fuzzy” mouse. In the wild, ball pythons do not feed when nighttime temperatures become cool (January-February in some areas), during much of the breeding season, and while incubating eggs. They are well adapted to long fasts, and frequently go off-feed in captivity. This can occur even in captive-hatched animals, tuned, perhaps, to an internally-controlled cycle, and is rarely a cause for concern.
Individuals that go off feed regularly should be fed once weekly during those times when they do accept food, as should hatchlings and young animals. Regularly-feeding adults do fine with a meal each 10-14 days.
Leaving a food animal in the terrarium overnight may induce reluctant feeders to eat. Particularly stubborn animals may sometimes be tempted by switching food animal species…Mongolian gerbils are a particular favorite, but sometimes a weaning rat does the trick. Of course, you may then be saddled with the responsibility of always providing that favored food item, so think carefully before offering anything too exotic. “Scenting” a mouse by rubbing it with a with a favored food item is a well-known technique for tricking fussy snakes into eating.
A ball python kept at the Philadelphia zoo died at age 47.6 years, and holds, as far as I know, the longevity record for captive snakes. Another was reported to have survived until age 51, but the record is unpublished. A number of specimens have lived well into their 30’s.
Ball pythons are fairly mellow in disposition, but even long term captives will bite if provoked. Their habit of coiling into a ball, while interesting, is a defense response – please do not harass yours into exhibiting this behavior. As with all snakes, the head should not be placed in the vicinity of one’s face.
Only snakes in good body weight should be used for breeding purposes. Success will be more likely if the male and female are housed separately outside of the breeding season.
Ball pythons should be subjected to a semi-natural temperature and light cycle prior to and during the breeding season. In October or November, nighttime temperatures should be allowed to fall to 68-72 F, and a night (dark) period of 12-14 hours should be established. Daytime temperatures should remain as usual. Feeding should be discontinued 1 month prior to turning down the temperatures, to allow for digestion of the last meal.
One month after the cooling period has begun, the female should be placed in the male’s cage for 1-3 day periods each week. This process should continue for 6 weeks or so, after which temperatures and the day/night cycle should be returned to normal.
Gravid females will usually not feed. Eggs may be expected from 2 weeks to 2 months after the reintroductions have been discontinued, depending upon when copulation had occurred.
Incubation is fairly straightforward…I’ll cover it and related topics in the future. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.
The Rosemond Gifford Zoo ball python information sheet is posted at: