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Captive Care of the Ball or Royal Python, Python regius – Part 2

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.

Captive Longevity

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  Another was reported to have survived until age 51, but the record is unpublished.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.


The Rosemond Gifford Zoo ball python information sheet is posted at:


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.


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”).


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.


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