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Ball Python (Python regius) Caresheet

Ball Python (Python regius) Caresheet

by Richard Brooks
Ball Python Taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Boidae
Genus: Python
Species: regius

Introduction - Ball Pythons

Ball pythons are often called or referred to as the Royal Python. They are known for their docile demeanor. They do not grow to the great lengths of some of the other snakes found in the python family and this makes them much easier to handle.

Ball pythons are native to Western and Central Africa. In their homeland, they dwell in forests and savannah grasslands. They are nocturnal and prefer to shelter themselves during the day in burrows. Due to the pet trade industry, skin trade, and habitat destruction, ball pythons are declining in the wild.

Housing Ball Pythons

As with most reptiles, aquariums have become the ideal housing unit for viewing and displaying their collections. Though they are not as efficient as alternative housing methods, they are one of the more attractive means of housing. An adult ball python would require an enclosure equivalent to the size of a 40-gallon breeder (has more floor space) fish tank, though a bigger enclosure is always recommended.

As with any reptile, particularly snakes, the lid must be secured. Snakes are opportunists and will see a loose lid as an opportunity for an escape. You do not want to be a victim of a snake lost in your home.

There are many items sold today to help secure your reptiles in their enclosures. Tanks are now being sold that come with built in screen lids with locking mechanisms attached to the units. There are also "locks" that are placed on the outside perimeter of the enclosure that secure the screen tops in place. Other methods of housing include rubbermaid or sterlite sweater box containers. This is an effective way to save space for those that have a larger collection. Many of these boxes are "clear" and still allow viewing. They are cheap and hold humidity better than a conventional aquarium. It is no wonder why enthusiasts have begun using these containers as their primary housing units. The most attractive enclosures are custom made. The combination of wood, glass, and an active imagination has proven to surpass enclosures of the past. Though these enclosures are sometimes expensive, they combine the efficiency of the sweater boxes with the attractiveness of aquariums. A combination like this has the ability to house a ball python in the most attractive and comfortable habitat available.

Ball Python (Python regius)
Normal Ball Python
Ball Python Temperatures

Heating the enclosure of any reptile requires an understanding of the reptiles needs. Ball pythons are no different. In order for your ball python to thrive in captivity, the enclosure must remain at adequate temperatures.
To help raise temperatures, many enthusiasts have turned to using under tank heaters as well as ceramic heat emitters. Both of these items have the potential to become extremely hot and should be placed on a dimmer, rheostat, or thermostats (which is the safest measure that can be taken!). This will allow you to adjust the amount of electricity that is sent to the unit and will allow you to control the amount of heat that is emitted.

Some enthusiasts have also turned to using black, red, or blue nighttime bulbs. Since these bulbs do not emit an extreme amount of light, they can be left on to aid with evening temperatures as well.

The ideal ambient temperature of the tank should be maintained at 80-83 degrees. There should be a basking spot of 90 degrees and a cool spot with a temperature of 80.

Night time temperatures around 75-80 are acceptable.

Maintaining consistent temperatures will prevent or help to stop, the risk of a respiratory infection. Monitor your temperatures closely and make any changes to the enclosure that may be necessary to keep them adequate.

Ball Python Temperature Monitoring

It is crucial that you monitor your snake's enclosure. This can be done with the use of thermometers. There are many different types to choose from and one for every budget. The use of two thermometers is recommended so that each end of the enclosure can be monitored. Most reptile thermometers found at the local pet store are not accurate enough to consistently monitor temperatures. Either they monitor the ambient air or they simply extract the heat found on the enclosure. This does not give an accurate reading as to the "belly" heat that the snake is feeling.

Digital thermometers and infrared heat guns are an ideal way to accurately monitor the enclosure temperatures.

Ball Python (Python regius)
Piebald Ball Python
Ball Python Humidity

Supplying humidity to a ball python is rather simple. Most of the reading you have done in the past will tell you that they require an enclosure with 50-60% humidity. Maintaining these levels are crucial. Exceeding these levels can lead to other problems.

A large water bowl in which it can soak itself as well as a moist retreat are excellent ways to help the ball get the humidity that it requires.. (though some ball pythons, by decision, will not soak themselves.)

The snake is capable of understanding when it requires more humidity. It will climb into the retreat when it is required.

Though maintaining a humidity level that does not exceed 60% is not going to harm the snake, those owners that add too much humidity can cause their snake to be succumbed to various other ailments. It is essential that a proper humidity level be maintained without over or under doing it. Respiratory infections will occur if the snake isn't equipped with a proper humidity level.

Ball Python Lighting

Ball pythons do not require UV lighting. They do however require a photoperiod like all other reptiles. This means that they should have a light cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. Continual light will stress the snake out and could cause further complications. The best method for placing your snake on a light cycle is with the use of timers. Timers will allow you to set which time the lights turn on as well as which time the lights shut down. This will eliminate the possibility of human error by forgetting to shut off the lighting.

The light cycle can be produced with the use of normal household bulbs or basking bulbs.

Ball Python Substrates

Newspaper is by far the easiest and cheapest substrate available. Many snakes are housed on newspaper for its absorbency, inexpensive cost, and ease. Cleaning an enclosure can be time consuming but by using a newspaper substrate, it is simply a removal and replacement procedure.
For a more aesthetically pleasing enclosure, enthusiasts have turned to various wood shaving substrates. Aspen and cypress mulch lead in popularity with aspen shavings as the leading and most suitable wood shaving substrate available.

Avoid using cedar as a substrate. It has been reported to be toxic to snakes in captivity. Pine is currently suspected as having the same problems as cedar and caution should be used when selecting substrates.

Alternative substrates include astroturf and other similar products. These items are best purchased in pairs. While one is being cleaned and sterilized, the other can be used. The substrates are convenient and can be cut to the enclosures needed size. They are not great substrates for maintaining humidity levels.

(When feeding your snake, use caution when you are using loose substrates. Accidental ingestion can lead to an impaction. Removing the snake from the enclosure for feedings when using loose substrates is a good idea. Rubbermaid and sterlite containers make wonderful feeding tubs.)

Ball Python Moist Hides

A moist retreat is designed to aid with shedding and to double as an egg-laying box for gravid females. To create a moist retreat, cut a hole in the side of a plastic container large enough for the snake to fit in. The hole should be closest to the top of the container but should have at least 1 inch of plastic remaining on the bottom.

Place some sphagnum moss or a similar medium in the container and wet slightly. The substrate should not be so wet that water is evident. It also must not be dry. The best way to get a good consistency is too hold the medium in your hand and add water. Now squeeze out the excess moisture. This will leave a safe medium for you to use.

Ball Python (Python regius)
Super Pastel Ball Python
Feeding - Ball Pythons

Young ball pythons should be fed a diet of mice or small rats. Depending upon the ball pythons girth, you will have to select the appropriate size prey.

As with most snakes, it is safest to follow the rule that the prey should be no larger than the 1 1/2 times the thickest part of the snake. This makes the digestion of the prey easier for the snake.

Your ball python should be fed once a week though an adult could safely be fed every 10-14 days. Some ball python owners will feed their adults every 3-4 weeks.

Ball pythons feed primarily on jerboas in the wild and in captivity have been known to be problem feeders. This is a very common occurrence if the ball python you own is wild caught. Mice are not a normal prey item and so they do not associate them as food. This is particularly true with the albino or white mice sold as feeders. In the wild, these mice are not abundant. Most wild snakes will never encounter an albino or white mouse so this can be an obstacle with feeding your ball mice in captivity.

Some ball pythons will also go without food during the winter months. This is not a major concern. Snakes can safely go without food for months without any problems so long as they were healthy when they began to fast, If your ball python is refusing food, then you will need to stimulate a feeding response. Prior to going to any lengths of doing this, you should first check to be sure that the entire ball pythons husbandry is being met accurately. This would include the temperatures, appropriate hides, etc. If your balls' enclosure and environment are not accurate, he may become stressed. This can lead to a snake not eating. It is also a good idea to feed your snake at night. Ball pythons are nocturnal. They may refuse prey if you are feeding during the day.

If you have taken the appropriate measures and have found that the snakes enclosure, habitat and feeding time are correct, then you need to stimulate your snake into feeding.

Getting a problem feeder to eat can be difficult. Here are some tricks that have worked for other ball python owners.

(Never use live prey older than a fuzzy. There is a severe potential for harm to be done to your snake. Always use frozen thawed "f/t", or freshly killed "f/k".)

Move the f/t or f/k prey with a pair of tongs or hemostats. This can trick the snake into believing that the prey is alive. This method works best when it is done while they snake is in his hide. Use this trick at the entrance of the hide. Change the color of the feeder prey. If you are using white mice to entice your snake, try using brown or other darker mice. Color can make a difference.
Dip the prey in chicken broth. This can sometimes entice a snake into "feeding mode".
Take a freshly killed rodent of the appropriate size and leave it in the enclosure for the night. Be sure to cover any areas of the enclosure that the snake can see out. While the snake is out and exploring, since he is undisturbed, he may feed. Do not block the snakes ventilation.

Place the snake and a freshly killed rodent of the appropriate size in a box or bag. Now place the box or bag back in the enclosure and leave them for the night. Paper bags and cardboard boxes work well for this trick. Scent the mouse or rat with a hamster or gerbil. You can either rub soiled bedding against the mouse or rat or you can directly rub the two rodents together. The change in scent will help to induce a feeding response. Go back to the basics and use a live fuzzy. You will have to offer more of these in order for your snake to be satisfied, but so long as he is eating, then it is worth it. Brain the feeder prey. This is truly a last resort and is not for the squeamish. You will need to make an incision into the top of the preys' head exposing some of the brain matter. A scent that is excreted triggers a feeding response in some snakes. Force-feeding a snake can be more harmful than beneficial. I do not promote force-feeding. If your snake is losing weight at an extreme rate, then you need to bring it to a qualified veterinarian. The tricks here are alternative methods to help induce the snake into feeding. If the amount of weight loss is concerning you, skip the tricks and get to the vet!

(When feeding your snake, use caution when you are using loose substrates. Accidental ingestion can lead to an impaction. Removing the snake from the enclosure for feedings when using loose substrates is a good idea. Rubbermaid and sterlite containers make wonderful feeding tubs.)

Water - Ball Pythons

Ball pythons should have fresh water available at all times in a water bowl large enough for them to soak in. This will also add humidity to the enclosure as the water evaporates.

Ball Python (Python regius)
Albino Ball Python
Ball Python Shedding

Ball pythons, like all snakes, will periodically shed their skin. This is a common thing and will become noticeable as you become more in tune with your snakes appearance and behavior.

The most significant sign of a snake getting ready to shed is the dulling of the skin. New owners will notice the eyes clouding and the pinkish hue of the belly before the realize the skin had dulled. The snakes' colors will be less vibrant and the eyes will appear "hazy or clouded". The snake will have a difficult time seeing while its eyes are like this and may become irritable. It is a good idea to leave the snake alone while it is in shed. Once you have determined that the snake is preparing to shed its old skin, it is time for you to increase the humidity within the enclosure. You can do this by misting the enclosure several times a day until the snake has completed the shed. Your ball python may begin to frequent the moist hide more often during pre-shed or may be seen soaking in its water dish. This is a normal thing and is not a need for concern.

The added moisture supplied from misting, soaking, and the moist hide will help to loosen the skin. Once the snake feels that the skin is loose enough to remove, it will often be seen pressing itself against an object in the enclosure. This rubbing action is how the snake will slither out of its old skin.

Snakes will shed their skin in a single piece. If you ball is shedding in pieces, you may need to increase the humidity even more or give the snake a nice warm soak.

Once the shed has completed, check to see if the eye caps have been successfully shed. This is a dangerous area to be cautious of. If the eye caps were not shed, you should give the snake frequent warm baths to help loosen them. Eye caps that have not shed will keep the snake irritated. If multiple sheds build up over the eye caps and are not shed, they can lead to blindness or impaired vision.

If the soaking does not help to remove the eye caps, bring the snake into a qualified veterinarians office and have them show you the safe way to remove the caps. Never attempt to remove the eye caps on your own. You could cause injury to the snake and impair its vision beyond repair.

Ball Python Breeding Intro

The breeding of ball pythons does not have to be a difficult process, but will require some determination and time. It is preferable to have more females but copulation will occur just between the two.

Once you are certain that you own both a male and female ball python, you will have to begin a pre-copulation period. During this time, your ball python's enclosure will have to go through some changes as too will the feeding schedule.

Ball Python Pre-copulation

Captive breeding typically begins in November and carries through into March. Prior to introducing the prospective partners, your pythons should go through a period of cooling. In the wild, breeding normally transpires during December and January. This is when the temperatures in their native habitats are in the low 70's. This is also when they stop feeding. Captive pythons will also need to have these adjustments made to their captive environment.

Beginning in October, slowly begin to lower the temperatures in the enclosure during the evening hours. Turning off the main heat source during the evening hours can do this.

All feeding should be stopped 2 weeks before cool down begins to rid the gut of all food. At this time, your breeders should already be plump and healthy.
You should also decrease the daytime light cycle to 8-10 hours of light a day. The ideal temperatures should be around room temperature. (68-72 degrees). Once your snakes have acclimated to their new schedule for 3 weeks (which will bring you up to the first week of December) and have adjusted to their new temperatures, they should be introduced. The variance of temperatures from day to night as well as the shortening of daylight should induce a breeding response.

Ball Python Breeding

Breeding may occur within minutes after the females' introduction to the male. It is best to leave the two together for 5-7 days. The male will repeatedly breed with the female during this time. They can then be separated for a week and reintroduced for another 5-7 days. This cycle should be repeated 3-5 times. At this point, your female should be gravid.

Ball Python Egg Laying

A gravid female will often lie "belly side up". This is a great sign that she has eggs developing within her.It is crucial that you supply her with an egg-laying box at this time. If you have not provided a moist retreat, this is the time that you will have to create one. Follow the instructions for creating a moist retreat. This will double as an egg-laying box.

Ball Python Egg Incubation

Artificial incubation has become the normal standard for breeders. It allows the breeder the ability to monitor the eggs and make adjustments where they are necessary.

To artificially incubate the eggs, you will first need to remove them from the mother. They may be stuck together. Do not attempt to separate them. Be sure that you remove the eggs in the same way that they are facing. You do not want to turn the eggs upside down.

Place them in the already prepared incubator and set the temperature at 87-90 degrees. At these temperatures, the eggs should pip around 50-65 days.

Ball Python Neonates

Once they have acclimated to breathing fresh air, and their yolk has been absorbed, they will emerge completely from the egg.
You can take the babies out of the incubator and begin housing them. They will shed within a few weeks and then can be offered food.
Live fuzzies are a great way to stimulate a feeding response in small ball pythons. Once they have taken their prey 3 times or more, they should be switched to either f/t or f/k prey.

 

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