Home | Snakes | Non-venomous Snakes | “Help, My Ball Python Won’t Eat” – The Troublesome Habits of a Popular Pet – Part 2

“Help, My Ball Python Won’t Eat” – The Troublesome Habits of a Popular Pet – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article to read about theories that may explain this species’ (annoying!) habit of fasting for long periods.

Feeding Techniques

If your snake goes on a “hunger strike”, try leaving a (dead) mouse or small rat in the terrarium overnight, hiding it within a cave (“finding” the food seems to stimulate some snakes) or moving it about with a long-handled tongs.
Other techniques include “Scenting” – rubbing a mouse with a favored food item retained for that purpose – and offering rat pups.  Some folks advise cutting into a (dead!) prey item’s cranium, in order to stimulate the snake with additional scent, but I have not found this to be necessary where Ball Pythons are concerned.

Live Food

Live food should be avoided, as the snake will be injured in time…this is almost inevitable with any food other than live pinkies or rat pups.

Also, strange as this might sound, live food presented within the confines of a cage can be intimidating – I’ve even observed a 16-foot-long captive Green Anaconda coil up in an attempt avoid a live duck!  This stresses the snake and keeps it from feeding for an even longer period.

Novel Food Items

Gerbils are great favorites, as are Zebra Mice (which are the Ball Python’s natural prey in some habitats).  However, if the snake does eat such animals, it may then refuse all others.  It is, therefore, best to stay with easily-obtained food animals… I once cared for a Green Anaconda that only took Muskrats, and another that would consume wild-caught but not lab-raised Norway Rats – a real pain (and very disheartening, as Muskrats are among my favorite native rodents – I’ve even raised a few, but that’s a story for another time!).

Further Reading

An interesting article on wild Ball Pythons, along with video clips, is posted Here.




  1. avatar

    Here’s an interesting question that I have as yet to decipher an answer for. I had a few customers who swore that there snake usually a Royal/Ball Python Python regius would not eat certain colors of rodents. Have you ever run into this? Certain prey items makes complete sense to me, but colors that just seems out of the realm for me. I have actually done no research to see if snakes are color blind or not but even so this behavior would be strange to me if the snake was captive bred and hatched etc. I would just like to hear your thoughts on it. Thanks for spending so much of your time speaking with me.

    • avatar

      Hello John, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the interesting note – I and other readers are enjoying immensely.

      Many snakes have some degree of color vision, although we lack info as to details. I have seen what you describe, but cannot say if color was sole factor. It would seen so if mice from same source were involved, but Ball Pythons are a special case as they typically go through such long fasting periods (tied to circadian rhythms, linked to natural weather patterns in home range, most likely). Captive bred is a major factor, but perhaps less so with Ball Pythons as they still seem tied to their “roots” even after so many generations in captivity. So it could be a coincidence with them.

      Scent is a very common factor – wild caught snakes can be very troubling in this regard. I’ve kept adult anacondas that would take wild-caught but not lab raised Norway rats, another that ate only Muskrats; ducks are often preferred over all else, and so on.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Very interesting about being so tied to their roots as it were and the fact that you mention the circadian rhythms. I am interested in researching the circadian rhythms of reptiles and the lights that we currently use in the hobby. I have noticed that barometric pressure changes in my area cause my Ball Pythons to become very active.

    • avatar

      Hello John, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the interesting note. Great idea – I’m convinced that circadian cycles hold the key to many husbandry problems. All sorts of tantalizing observations = I’ve had lizards keep the same wake/sleep pattern in 24 hr light situations, others which became disoriented; 1 frog species became active at normal “lights out” time despite light (same with some rodents); another waited until it was actually dark; gharials 15 years in the USA continue to fast when it is winter in northern Pakistan despite being kept warm…I could ramble on, so much opportunity!

      On barometric pressure – American alligators and Cuban Crocs under my care routinely began bellowing a day or 2 before severe storms hit NYC, some zoos are installing barometers to study a variety of creatures; it would be wonderful if you could follow up on what you have observed in ball pythons. Many animals “predict” storms, earthquakes and so on, from elephants (tsunami) to toads to the weather loach, which was long used in Europe and Japan to predict rain and earthquakes.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Hi there,

    I just got a baby ball python a couple weeks ago (he was about a month old at the time), and although I’m aware that BPs can refuse food for extended periods of time and remain healthy, I was wondering how long it is safe for such a young snake to do so. On a related note, while I would love it if my new friend would show interest in food, I’m mostly concerned about the fact that in the two weeks I’ve had him he hasn’t pooped yet–his last successful feeding was 14 days ago, right before I brought him home. Should I be worried?

    • avatar

      Hello Caro, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. The length of time that a snake can safely go without food depends on a great many factors- temperature, stress levels, past feeding history (long term, not just most recent meal), general health and so on; assuming the animal is in good health, there’s rarely a reason to be concerned about ball python fasts, even in young individuals.

      Two weeks is not an unusually long time without passing wastes; again, many factors come into play; the stress of being moved to a new environment is likely involved. Please let me know what temperatures he is kept at. Be sure water is always available and keep a record of his meals…you may see a pattern in time, but again this will vary. A month or more without a bowel movement (after a meal) can be a red flag, but not necessarily.
      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Wow, thanks for the speedy reply! I try to keep the temps between 90-92°F on the warm side of the cage, and 79-81°F on the cool side–at night, the temps drop naturally between five and ten degrees. There is always water available, as well as a humidity box, and I try to keep the ambient humidity no lower than 40%.

    • avatar

      Hello Caro, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks, my pleasure.

      Sounds fine. Don’t handle the snake for now, let it settle in and all should go well. It will not likely eat before passing its last meal, but no harm in trying each week-10 days.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    I have a ball python, vet says aprox 2 yrs old, she’s about 3 ft. She hasn’t eatin for about 6.5 weeks. Raised on live mice when we got her so that’s what I kept her on. She goes off feed about a week before she sheds then about 1.5 weeks after shedding. This time after shedding she backed off from the mouse. I left it in for awhile came back to check n thought it was gone. It was apparently hiding. Not knowing I put in her second (she usually ate 3). Checked on her about 15 min later and both mice were still there n she wasn’t interested so I removed them. Last SaturdayI ended up taking her to a vet who said she had an upper respiratory infection. She’s had 7 injections of baytral. He said 10 are probably needed n possibly a specialist?? She seems alert etc. Right now I have 2 fuzzys in her tank to see if she will take those. She is coiling away from full grown live ones. Gonna leave the now live fuzzys in til tomorrow night which will make a full day. Any suggestions? I don’t want to put too much $ into a snake I paid $25 bucks for when I can get another for much cheaper

    • avatar

      Hello Vicki

      Thanks for your interest. You’ll need to complete the full course of medication; as with people, partial meds can be worse than none at all – strengthening, in effect, those micro-organisms that are not killed. Unfortunately, the medication and trauma of the injections often stresses snakes and puts them off feed for even longer. If well-fed until this point, a fast will likely do no harm.

      If the snake is unwell, it will instinctively shrink back from live prey. Once it recovers, start it on dead mice. I’ve handled thousands of wild snakes of many species, few were without injuries that were likely inflicted by their prey. Your snake will be bitten in time, and a serious infection or other injury will follow.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    My snake currently seems to be on a hunger strike. It’s winter, so it makes sense, but it’s still quite frustrating!

    • avatar


      It’s not necessarily linked to winter…internal clocks seem affected by captivity, and linked to cycles in natural habitat (no winter there, but protracted dry season) please see article for details. No need to worry if snake is in good health.

  7. avatar

    I hear you on the ‘live food being intimidating’. I have a 3yr old male Irian Jaya carpet python and he’s absolutely terrified of live prey. Before I got him he was severely savaged by a rodent (I suspect a rat due to the bite size) the scars took a year to fully heal as did his mite issue. His trust issues are still present, however, although he and I have an understanding of sorts 🙂 ! He, to this day, refuses rats with a passion. Even if I try the old trick of putting the head in his mouth while he’s finishing up a mouse he’ll still refuse it. Even scented with a chick he refuses. He only eats mice and chicks with chicks being his favourite. I’ll be seeing if he takes quail soon to try and vary his diet a bit more. Is this diet I have him on nutritionally fit for him? If not, have any tips? He seems to really favour birds.

    • avatar

      Hi Kelsie..thanks for this; I’ve usually seen snakes react more out of stress because of the un-natural situation – a live animal being tossed into their living quarters, trather than their seeking it out, as would be done in the wild. But now that you mention it, they certainly do have the ability to recall and learn from past experiences; makes sense; along those lines, you might enjoy this article on toads and bees.

      Mice and chicks, or mice alone, are fine long-term; chicks alone might be as well, but not much is known about that, at least with this species. Variety impt for some (garter snakes, insectivorous species) but whole rodents do the trick for these guys. thanks again, enjoy, Frank

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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