Python regius, commonly known as the Ball Python or Royal Python, is a medium sized python endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. They are a nocturnal species that spends their lives in abandoned termite mounds and other dark hiding places waiting to ambush prey. Ball pythons are extremely popular due to their ease of care, docile temperament and the wide variety of stunning color and pattern mutations available.
First, a word on cohabitation. Ball Pythons are solitary animals. Each individual snake must have its own enclosure. Cohabitation puts undue stress on the snake which can lead to feeding problems and illness.
Tank or tub? Many ball python keepers find that the easiest way to maintain the heat and humidity that ball pythons require is to keep your pet in a “tub”. A plastic storage container with a locking lid and a few holes drilled for ventilation makes a secure home for a ball python. Rack systems are used to keep multiple ball pythons. Tradition glass terrariums with screen lids can be used as well but are less ideal and will require a little modification to maintain humidity and heat properly. Another excellent option is a vision style or modular cage. The size of the enclosure is important. You don’t want to provide too much space as this will stress your snake. Hatchlings should be started in a 6qt tub/5-10 gallon tank. Sub adults will be comfortable in a 15qt tub/10-20 gallon tank and adults will be comfortable in a 32qt tub/20 gallon tank. The largest females may need a 41qt tub/40 gallon tank.
Hides: Ball pythons are shy, and find comfort in small, dark spaces. The most important thing to provide in your enclosure aside from heat is an adequate hiding place. It should be large enough that your snake can fit its whole body inside, but small enough that the snake’s sides touch the edges. With ball pythons, the darker and tighter the hide, the better. Two identical hiding spots should be provided, one on the hot side of the enclosure and one on the cool side.
Decor: decorations are not necessary but can help your python feel more secure by providing additional cover and hiding places. Ball pythons are largely terrestrial and do not need anything to climb on, but if climbing structures are provided they should be short and low to the ground and securely anchored.
Substrate: There are a wide variety of substrates available that are suitable for ball pythons, such as aspen, coconut husk, cypress, newsprint and paper towels. You can even set your snake up with a bioactive substrate. We prefer to use ReptiChip, which is made from coconut husks. Substrates that should be avoided are Reptile carpet, sand, pine and cedar.
The best way to provide heat for a ball python is with an under tank heating pad controlled by a thermostat. Without a thermostat a heating pad can reach temperatures over 105 F, which can burn your snake. The thermostat probe should be taped to the heating pad OUTSIDE the tank, never inside. A probe inside an enclosure can be moved or damage by the snake which will cause the thermostat to malfunction. The hot side of your snake’s enclosure should be around 87, with the hot spot up to 90F and the cool side should be 77-80F. A ceramic heat emitter or light bulb can be used to supplement heat if absolutely necessary but will decrease the humidity in your enclosure. A analogue or digital thermometer can be placed inside the tank to measure temperatures. A heat gun is a handy tool to have as well and makes checking the temperature of the hot spot much easier.
Ball pythons require moderate humidity. Around 60% is ideal. A digital hydrometer is the best way to measure the humidity. There are two components to maintaining humidity in a captive environment: evaporation and ventilation. Humidity is a measure of the moisture in the air, and is achieved by evaporation of water. Getting the right humidity is a matter to keeping that evaporated water in the environment. If you are using a glass tank with a screen lid, covering 50-90% of the lid is usually necessary to prevent the moisture in the air from escaping the enclosure. Other enclosures such as tubs with a few holes or vision style cages with a couple ventilation ports do not usually need any modifications. Once you get a baseline reading on your humidity, you can adjust it as needed by modifying ventilation and evaporation surface area. If your humidity is too low (under 55%) you need to decrease ventilation and/or increase the size of your water bowl. If you humidity is high (over 65%) you need to increase ventilation and/or decrease the size of your water bowl. You should not need to mist your enclosure to maintain humidity if you are set up correctly. Aside from measuring humidity with a hygrometer, you can generally tell whether your humidity is high enough if your python is shedding properly. Healthy snakes shed their skin in one solid piece. If the shed is coming off in pieces, or doesn’t come off at all, your humidity is too low.
Food and water
Water: Ball pythons do not need to soak or bathe, but will do so on occasion if provided with a large enough bowl. Clean, room temperature water should always be provided and changed regularly.
Food: Ball pythons can be fed mice or rats. Your prey item should be slightly larger than the widest part of the snake. A appropriately sized rodent will leave a slightly visible bulge in the snake. Hatchling ball pythons usually begin feeding on fuzzy rats or hopper mice and can be fed every 5-7 days. An adult ball python will likely take small to medium rats or a couple large adult mice and can be fed every 7-14 days. If feeding live, your python should never be left unattended with a live rodent. A hungry rodent can seriously harm your snake.
You should feed your snake in its enclosure. Moving to a separate container to feed is unnecessarily stressful, increases the risk of regurgitation and may diminish your snake’s feeding response. The idea that feeding your snake in its enclosure leads to cage aggression is a myth.
Thank you for reading our care sheet. There is never just one way to keep a reptile and your research should never stop after one source. Other great resources for ball python care are:
Vida Preciosa International’s ball python care sheet
World of Ball Pythons’ ball python care sheet
Reptiles Magazine’s ball python care sheet
Morph Market’s ball python care sheet
And if you’re interested in setting up a bioactive vivarium for your pet, the Bio Dude is an excellent source for premade kits.