Ball pythons and corn snakes are arguably the most popular pet snakes in the world. They look truly exotic, with the same kinds of color patterns seen on much larger animals like Burmese and Reticulated pythons, but they hardly ever exceed six feet in length. If you’ve found your way here then I assume you already know a thing or two about this species and are looking for more detailed instructions about ball python care.
Captive-bred ball pythons can also be found in many different color morphs, all of which are stunning. They have a gentle temperament and tolerate being handled very well, all of which contributes to their popularity.
Here’s everything you need to know about caring for ball pythons.
Ball Python care sheet
- Common name: Ball Python or Royal Python
- Scientific name: Python regius
- Range: West and Central Africa
- Lifespan: 30 years or more
- Adult size: Up to six feet long
- Temperament: Docile, tolerates handling well
Adults need at least a 30 gallon terrarium, and bigger is always better. Younger, smaller snakes can be housed in smaller terrariums. Hatchlings do fine in 10 gallons and juveniles will be happy in 20 gallons, but you must upgrade the size of your terrarium as the snake grows if you start out with a small one.
You will read from some sources that ball pythons don’t like big enclosures, and that hatchlings especially get nervous and anxious in large terrariums. This idea stems from poor housing practices, though. Ball pythons do indeed get nervous in big habitats, but only when they aren’t provided with proper hiding places and design features.
Add one or two hiding places, some climbing features, plants, a large water bowl, and deep enough substrate for them to burrow in and your snake will have no trouble with a big terrarium, no matter how small the snake may be.
Terrarium– Bigger is always better. A 30-gallon terrarium is the bare minimum for an adult python, but this 50-gallon terrarium is really the best choice. There’s plenty of space in it for a fully grown ball python, the front-opening doors making feeding and cleaning easy, and the raised bottom frame is perfect for a substrate heater.
Hides– Your python needs a place to curl up where they feel safe and secure. Hides like this one are great. There’s plenty of room inside for your python to hide, and the top of it doubles as a perfect basking spot for them.
Water Dish– Ball pythons aren’t aquatic, but they do like to sit in the water to cool off sometimes, and soaking helps them shed their skin too. They also need water to drink. A big water dish like this one provides plenty of water for them to soak in, and it also holds enough water that they can drink from it without you having to refill it too often.
Plants– Hanging plants like these don’t just make the terrarium prettier, they also provide additional hiding spots for your snake, making them feel more comfortable.
Climbing branches– Ball pythons aren’t arboreal, but they do like to climb a bit, and adding climbing branches helps keep their environment interesting. This one is a good choice.
Temperature and lighting
One important thing for beginners to understand is that you don’t want to heat the whole terrarium evenly, you want a temperature gradient. One side of the tank should be warmer than the other. This makes it possible for the snake to warm itself up, AND cool itself off when need be.
To achieve this gradient, both the substrate heater and the basking lamp should be on one side of the tank, and the water dish should be on the other side. The substrate heater is what warms the tank, and the basking lamp only heats up one particular spot.
During the day, the gradient should be 80-85 degrees F, and at night it should drop to 75-80 degrees F. Keeping the water dish on the cool side gives your snake a great way to efficiently cool itself when it gets too warm.
Substrate heater– Substrate heaters are much better at managing the temperature of your terrarium than a heat lamp. They provide gentle, precise heat. This heating pad will do a great job of warming the tank.
Basking lamp– a basking lamp heats one spot up several degrees warmer than the rest of the tank. This is essential for your snake’s health. It’s a quick and efficient way for them to raise their body temperature, and they’ll use it every day. This basking lamp will get the job done for a good price.
Thermometer– You need to be sure you aren’t overheating your tank or letting it get too cool. So, you need a thermometer in the terrarium to tell you what the temperature is. Ideally you should have two, one on each end of the tank so you can verify that there’s a temperature gradient. This one will not only give you the temperature, but will also tell you the humidity levels.
Diet and feeding
Young and juvenile snakes should be fed every 5-7 days, and adults should be fed every 7-10 days. The size of the prey should always correspond to the size of the snake- it should be about the same thickness as the thickest part of the snakes body.
So, depending on the size of your snake, that could be anything from baby mice up to fully grown rats. Always use frozen, thawed animals, as live animals could injure your snake in self defense.
Ball pythons are notorious for refusing food. There are many reasons a ball python might fast; in the wild they often fast for weeks at a time during the winter months when nighttime temperatures drop below 70 degrees, so if the tank has gotten too cold that could be the reason. It could also be that your handling them too often, if you’re dealing with a new snake that’s not used to you yet.
Frozen rodents– Frozen mice and rats are the ideal food for your python. On this diet they won’t need any nutritional supplements at all. This brand is a great choice; the rodents are humanely euthanized and flash frozen to preserve the nutrients, and they’re raised on a diet designed to maximize their nutritional value.
Substrate is the material you use to fill and line the bottom of the tank. It’s the ground your snake will live on. While there are many substrate options that would work well, for snakes what you really want is aspen bedding.
This material is soft and comfortable for them, and it’s also absorbent enough to help keep the tank fairly clean. The real reason it’s the best choice for snakes, though, is that it will hold it’s shape well when they burrow through it.
Almost all snakes like to burrow in their substrate to some extent, and this bedding lets them establish semi permanent tunnels. Lay down at least 2-3 inches of bedding at the bottom of the tank, and if your snake is large you can add more.
Aspen bedding- There are plenty of brands making quality aspen bedding, but we like this one. The three pack they sell is affordable and provides a lot of bedding material for your snake.
The tank should be cleaned one per week. Take the snake out and place them in a secure container. Remove all the furnishing and scrub them clean. Remove and throw out all of the old substrate, scrub the glass clean, let it dry thoroughly and then add fresh, clean substrate.
Cleaning products- It’s best to use products designed for use in terrariums, as these will be safe and non-toxic. This disinfectant spray is perfect for cleaning the glass and furnishings.
Ball pythons tolerate handling very well, which is one reason why they’re the most popular pet snake in the world. However, when you have a new snake, you should really limit how much you handle them. Don’t handle them for more than about 15 minutes a week for the first few weeks, to give them time to settle in to their new habitat and get used to you.
After that, handle as often as you like. Ball pythons are docile, calm animals and they generally don’t mind you picking them. That said, if they’re hiding or burrowed into the substrate, leave them alone, they clearly want to be out of sight at that time.
Other things to know
Ball pythons are grassland animals, and they don’t like a lot of humidity. It shouldn’t be above 50% humidity in their tank most of the time, but when they’re getting ready to shed, adding some wet moss to bump the humidity up to 60% can help that process.
In the wild, ball pythons are a threatened species, hunted for their meat and for the pet trade. Wild captured pythons are cheaper, but it’s definitely best to buy captive-bred animals. This helps preserve the snakes in the wild, and captive-bred snakes are also easier to care for. Wild caught animals are more likely to refuse food and develop major health problems.
Ball Pythons as pets
Ball pythons make great pets. They’re beautiful, gentle, and easy to care for. Most experienced snake owners still love ball pythons, but they’re also an ideal snake for beginners.
As long as you provide proper housing, keep them warm and dry, and feed them regularly, your python is likely to be a part of your family for decades to come.