Each week, I receive dozens of snake-care questions through the Reptile Knowledge website. Many of these people ask the same questions. So I thought it would be helpful to compile some of these FAQs into a series of articles, and then publish them all across the Internet. This is the first article in that series, and it’s all about ball pythons.
After sifting through hundreds of emails dating back to 2007, I’ve identified these top-ten questions about ball python care:
1. What do they eat?
These snakes come from several countries in eastern Africa, where they eat a wide variety of rodents — mice, shrews, soft-furred rats, etc. In captivity, ball pythons will do well on a diet of mice and rats. I recommend offering frozen / thawed prey, because live rodents can be dangerous. A live rat, for example, can injure or kill a snake that’s not interested in eating.
2. How often should I feed it?
You can feed babies every 5 – 7 days, and adults every 7 – 15 days. This will also depend on the size of the meal. It’s best to offer one rodent per meal, with the rodent being slightly wider than the widest part of the snake.
3. How big do they get?
This is one of the main reasons ball pythons are so popular as pets — they do not get very big. These snakes are short and thick-bodied. They rarely grow beyond five feet in length.
4. How much do they cost?
If you buy a “normal” ball python (which is the kind that occur in nature), you can expect to pay $50 – $90 for it. If you buy an albino specimen, you’ll probably pay a few hundred dollars. Some of the most rare morphs can cost thousands of dollars, but only breeders pay this kind of money. Generally speaking, females cost more than males because of their reproductive ability.
5. Are they dangerous?
Not unless you’re a rodent. Ball pythons are non-venomous. And even though they are constrictors, they are not large enough to constrict a human (not even an infant human). They are relatively easy-going, when compared to other snake species. This is another reason they are so popular as pets. They can bite their owners in certain situations — such as when the owner’s hand is mistaken for food — but these bites are not serious.
6. How long do they live?
A long time! Bear this in mind if you’re thinking about getting a ball python. They can easily live beyond 20 years in captivity, and some will even pass the 40-year mark.
7. What size of cage do I need?
You can keep a baby or juvenile in a 20-gallon terrarium, or a two-foot-long plastic cage. Adult snakes should be given more space to move around. For adults, I recommend either a 50-gallon glass cage or the equivalent plastic model (three to four feet long is ideal).
8. What temperatures should I aim for?
You want to achieve a thermal gradient in the cage, so that one side is warmer than the other. This allows the snake to thermoregulate, moving to different temperatures as needed. I recommend 80 – 82 degrees (Fahrenheit) on the cooler side, and 92 – 96 degrees on the warmer side. You can achieve this by using a heat lamp or an under-the-tank heating pad.
9. How much maintenance is required?
You should do a complete cage cleaning about once a month. This shouldn’t take any more than an hour. Once you get good at it, you can clean the cage in a half hour or less. You also need to clean water bowls once a week, or immediately if the snake defecates on it. Aside from feeding and monitoring temps, that’s about all there is to it.
10. Where can I learn more?
You can find plenty of information online, but you should always consider the source. There is no editorial-review process on the Internet, so anybody can publish anything regardless of the accuracy. I have seen some frightfully inaccurate care sheets online, but I’ve also seen some really good ones. You might also want to review my e-book on this subject (see below).
* Copyright 2009, Brandon Cornett. You may republish this article on your website as long as you keep the citation hyperlinks below.