Has your ball python been looking a little different lately? Maybe its colors seem a little duller or darker than they used to be. But what would cause that to happen?
So do ball pythons get darker with age? Ball pythons do tend to get darker in color as they age; they’re at their brightest when they are hatchlings, and their colors usually become more muted throughout the lifespan.
Read on to find out more about whether ball pythons get darker with age. You’ll also find out about other reasons your ball python may change color, including the shedding process, burns, and scale rot.
Can Ball Pythons Change Color?
The simple answer to this question is yes. There are four main reasons why your ball python’s colors may shift throughout its lifespan: aging, shedding, burns, and scale rot.
Color Changes Related to Aging
Although you definitely won’t catch your ball python changing color the way a chameleon does, its overall colors will most likely become more muted or dull with age. Ball pythons display their brightest colors as hatchlings and generally darken or fade as they grow into adulthood.
In addition to your snake’s colors fading, its patterns will also become less symmetrical with age. The older a ball python is, the less aligned its symmetry tends to be. Young adult ball pythons from ages three to 10 usually have bright colors and great symmetry.
From the ages of 11 to 20, you’ll see colors become duller and patterns start to line up with less precision. After reaching 20 years of age, the colors and patterns will become quite faded and symmetry will lose alignment.
What Other Changes Do Ball Pythons Experience as They Age?
There are a few other ways that ball pythons change as they get older. Of course, ball pythons become longer and heavier as they grow and develop from a hatchling to an adult. The growing process is usually complete by the time a ball python is four years old.
You may be surprised to learn that ball pythons’ heads never stop growing! This means that older ball pythons have larger heads relative to the size of their body. Oftentimes this is difficult to pick up on unless you’ve bred ball pythons and can easily compare younger and older snakes to see the difference in head size.
In the wild, there’s another way that you can usually tell how old a ball python is. Snakes that don’t live in captivity are exposed to the elements and may have encounters with predators and other dangerous situations. As a result, most older ball pythons in the wild have quite a collection of scars and scratches.
Color Changes as a Result of Shedding
Another situation in which your ball python is going to look darker is right before it sheds. When your pet prepares to shed its skin, it will typically darken, or its brighter colors may fade or look more muted. Overall, your ball python will appear dull.
You also might notice that your ball python’s stomach appears to be pink or red before shedding, and its eyes may have a milky blue or white tint. These shifts in color are just signs that your ball python is preparing to shed.
After shedding, your ball python’s colors will look much more vivid and bright. But overall, as your pet grows older, its colors will become darker.
Color Changes From Burns
One unfortunate way that your ball python’s color may change is if it’s suffering from a burn.
Causes of Burns in Ball Pythons
Burns in ball pythons are usually a result of a problematic heat source. Either the heat source is located too close to your ball python, or you have a dangerous heat source in your pet’s enclosure, such as hot rocks.
Hot rocks are always to be avoided, even if they’re marketed as being safe for ball pythons. Heating pads placed under the tank can also get too hot and burn your ball python’s belly, especially if there’s no substrate to act as a buffer for the heat.
This is why it’s so essential to have a thermostat and reliable digital thermometers so that you can regularly monitor the temperature in your ball python’s enclosure!
How to Identify and Treat Burns in Ball Pythons
A ball python burn is usually easy to distinguish; light-colored areas of your snake will redden, and your snake may have blisters and open wounds as well.
Minor burns can be treated at home, but if your pet has a particularly large or deep burn, it’s time to take it to the vet. This is also the case if your ball python begins to shed the burned tissue.
For a minor burn, you’ll want to give your ball python daily soaks in a mixture of water and povidone iodine. Let your pet soak for 30 minutes every day until the injury has healed. After soaking, apply ointment such as Betadine and be sure to provide plenty of fresh water so that your ball python can stay hydrated as it heals.
It’s important to remember that burns take a long time to heal, even minor ones. Oftentimes, it will take several shedding cycles for your pet to return to normal. Even then, ball pythons are usually left with permanent scars.
In the case of a more serious burn, the veterinarian has some different treatment options. They may administer antibiotics and fluids, provide pain management, and force feed your pet if the situation is dire. In most cases, ball pythons survive after suffering from burns.
Color Changes Due to Scale Rot
Scale rot, a type of dermatitis that causes infection and blistering of your ball python’s skin, is another health problem that can result in color changes for ball pythons.
Causes of Scale Rot in Ball Pythons
Scale rot usually develops as an indirect result of a dirty, extremely hot, or overly humid enclosure. These conditions create an environment that is perfect for bacteria and fungi to thrive.
As these microorganisms multiply, they can overwhelm your ball python’s immune system and cause infection. Infection is even more likely if your pet has any scratches or open wounds.
Symptoms of Scale Rot in Ball Pythons
Symptoms of scale rot in ball pythons include:
- Discoloration: Your ball python’s scales may turn white or yellow, which indicates that there’s pus under the skin. Your pet’s scales can also turn red, green, or brown. The area that’s usually most affected is the underside of your ball python near the cloaca.
- Blisters: Blisters look like small fluid-filled sacs. They typically appear on the scales that come into contact with the substrate most frequently. Early on, blisters will be clear or yellowish, and infection generally hasn’t developed yet. As the infection worsens, the blisters will swell up, turn a reddish shade, and begin to leak fluid. If left untreated, the blisters will eventually rupture.
- Raised Scales: Scale rot causes blood to pool underneath the scales, which causes them to appear raised. These raised scales are easy to feel if you gently stroke your ball python.
Treatment for Scale Rot in Ball Pythons
As soon as you notice symptoms of scale rot, it’s essential to take action to help your ball python return to health! Mild cases of scale rot can be treated at home, but severe scale rot can be fatal for ball pythons. In severe cases, you’ll want to get professional treatment as soon as possible.
Even a mild infection can take three to six weeks to clear up completely, and more dire cases can take several months to get back to normal. For a mild infection, you’ll first want to quarantine your ball python so that it doesn’t transmit the infection to others. Keep it in a substrate-free tank lined with paper towels.
Then use a chlorhexidine solution to clean the affected area twice a day, following up with an ointment such as Neosporin. Of course, you’ll need to ensure that your ball python’s enclosure is at the right temperature and humidity level.
If your ball python has a severe case of scale rot, the vet will administer antibiotics and may perform surgery to remove diseased tissue and drain abscesses. They’ll also give you advice for continued treatment at home.
If your ball python appears to be getting darker with age, that’s totally normal! Ball pythons are brightest as hatchlings, and they gradually fade and lose their scale pattern symmetry as they age. Ball pythons also appear duller in the days leading up to a shed.
There are two more serious reasons that your ball python’s colors may change: burns and scale rot. Both of these health issues should be taken seriously, so don’t delay in taking your pet to the vet if you’re concerned for its health!