Here at Living Art Ball Pythons our priority is the well-being and care of our animals. We have put together this guidance to help you provide the best possible care for your Ball Python.
Housing your Ball Python
Guidance from Ashlie’s Living Art Ball Python’s
Understanding Ball Python Behaviour
Best enclosures for Ball Pythons
Size guide for RUBs for your Ball Python
Ball Python Substrate
Heating your enclosure
What you need in your enclosure
Understanding Ball Python behaviour…
Ball Pythons are considered to be thigmotactic meaning they keep large areas of their bodies in contact with surfaces of the environment in order to feel safe, limiting how much of it is exposed to open space and therefore predators.
This thigmotactic behaviour drives Ball Pythons to seek out small hide spots to squeeze into, such as under logs and rocks, and move along their enclosure decorations rather than open floor.
Ball Pythons along with all reptiles are poikilothermic, meaning their body temperature varies with the temperature of their surroundings, and therefore require a heat source to enable them to carry out bodily functions such as digestion and immune function.
Best enclosures for Ball Pythons….
Most vivarium’s are made of glass, which although look nice are actually a very poor material for the conduction of heat and insulation which is a huge concern voiced by scientific recommendations (Orlando Diaz-Figueroa, ‘Basic husbandry and nutrition of snakes’ (2008)) and can not only lead to unstable environmental temperatures, but also forces a thigmotactic snake, moving along the boundaries of a glass vivarium, to inevitably come into contact with a cold surface. This is reduced in vivarium’s which are partially made from wood/melamine or other materials, however most still rely on glass for at least one side of the enclosure.
Whereas in contrast, enclosures made from plastic tubs, such as modified storage boxes (e.g. RUBs Really Useful Boxes) provide not only a stable internal temperature but also are an insulating material for thigmotactic snakes to move along. This not only provides a constant ambient temperature for body function, but also prevents the snake cooling quickly whilst exploring the edges of the enclosure. Good well deigned Racks using modified storage boxes give that feeling of security and usually provide better conditions by way of heating and humidity levels therefore enabling your snake to thrive.
Ball Pythons. as mentioned before, prefer smaller spaces and enclosures. If their enclosure is too large, then they will refuse to feed and can become defensive in behaviour. RUB set ups are the most ideal set up which will make keeping your ball python much easier in terms of feeding and humidity levels, enabling your ball python to thrive and feel secure.
Although some Ball Pythons may do well in set ups such as vivariums 80-90% will not. This is due to a number of reasons; Vivariums usually provide too much height for a ball python, the sheer size of the vivarium can be very stressful to the ball python. Vivariums tend to use ceramic heat bulbs which dry the air making the appropriate humidity levels difficult to achieve. A Ball Python should shed in one piece, if a Ball Python has stuck shed this is a humidity issue.
Size guide for RUBs for your Ball Python….
If you are keeping more than a few ball pythons I would recommend using a racking system which adds to the feel of security as they are enclosed, only open at one side.
If you are only keeping a small number of ball pythons and do not want a rack system then I recommend using a RUB set up.
We now have 12 Litre Starter Set Up Kits available on the website.
The set up comes with a Divider making it suitable for Hatchling Ball Pythons, simply use the Divider until the Hatchling reaches the appropriate size (approx 350g) then remove the Divider to double the Ball Pythons floor space!
The Divider also acts as a perfect Hide Box for the young Ball Python.
RUB size guide:
(All are approximates)
Hatchling ball python straight out of the egg up to 150g: 3.5 Litre Braplast tub
Hatchling ball python 150g – 350g: 5 Litre Rub
350g – 550g ball python: 9 Litre RUB
550g – 900g ball python: 12 Litre RUB
1kg – 2.5kg adult ball python: 33 Litre RUB
2.5kg plus ball python: 50 or 70 Litre RUB depending upon length and confidence.
Some Royals are more confident than others, however most are sensitive to change and can stop eating if moved up sizes too quickly or placed in an environment which is too large. If you step the Ball Python up into a larger set up and it stops eating move back down to the previous set up and he/she should start feeding again. Wait 2/3 months of consecutive feeding and then try moving up size again.
Ball Python Substrate…..
I keep my Ball Pythons on newspapers (printed or unprinted) and paper towels, this is the easiest substrate regarding cleaning and hygiene and can also show more easily if there are any issues with the snake. For example when purchasing a new snake, you should always quarantine away from any reptiles you already have and on paper towels as this easily shows any issues such as mites whereas on other types of bedding this could easily be missed and therefore go untreated for some time and also place the rest of your collection at risk if the snake is then moved into, for example a rack with your other snakes.
I recommend placing any new snake into an isolation rack or RUB the 12 Litre Starter Set Up kits are also ideal as a quarantine option for any new Ball Python 1kg or under. This should be set up in a separate room where possible, to any other snakes or reptiles for a 4 month period. This provides adequate time for any signs of ill health to be seen and therefore you are not placing your other snakes at any risk of a possible infection or infestation.
I also use Coconut Husk Substrate with some of my ball pythons. This does hold a lot of humidity though so is not suitable for everyone.
It is important to be very careful in selecting other substrates. Some substrates such as bark, is not only unsafe but can carry mites. Substrate containing Cedar should never be used as it contains oils which can be deadly to reptiles. Substrates such as sand, shavings and other loose substrates are not ideal as your Ball Python can swallow the substrate or get in stuck in their mouth when eating, yawning or shedding their skin. Swallowing substrate over time can lead to blockages which would require veterinary treatment.
Heating your enclosure…..
The most suitable heat source which I would recommend is a heat mat, which MUST be connected to a thermostat, placed underneath the RUB not inside it. A thermostat is essential for controlling temperatures and without the snake could easily burn.
If you are housing in a viv there are many issues with using ceramic bulbs, if using a ceramic bulb, it must have a guard around it which is the correct size to protect your snake. Ceramic bulbs make keeping correct humidity levels a real issue as they dry the air and humidity is very important particularly when your Ball Python is trying to shed his skin.
You will need thermometers or what I recommend using is a handheld laser infrared digital temperature gun. This is a very useful tool to have as it enables monitoring temperatures very quick and easy (These can be found on eBay for as little as £10). It is very important to get accurate temperatures for your ball python. You can not rely on the numbers on your thermostat and assume that will be the temperature in your RUB, it may actually be much hotter or cooler than the number on the dial or screen so should always be checked with a temperature gun and the thermostat adjusted accordingly. Once desired temps are achieved the thermostat will maintain this temperature.
Ball Pythons require a ‘hot spot’ and a ‘cool spot’ to enable them to regulate their temperature. Hot end temperatures need to be between 32/34 degrees. Cool end temperatures ideally need to be around 27 degrees.
Lighting is not necessary for Ball Python’s the natural light in the room is sufficient. Bright overhead continuous lighting is stressful to snakes, especially species such as the Ball Python.
What you need in your enclosure….
Ball Pythons are very secretive snakes and enjoy squeezing into small spaces to feel safe and secure, therefore to ensure a happy ball python a hide is essential. The hide box needs to be only slightly larger than the python. Ideally use two hides providing one at each end of the enclosure so that it doesn’t have to choose between staying in the hot or cool end.
We offer a range of hides on our website.
An appropriately sized water bowl is required and fresh water should always be available. A good size guide for a water bowl is to make sure if your ball python wanted to squeeze into his bowl for example when in shed, could he fit? Ball Pythons seem to enjoy a soak from time to time and will climb into their water bowls. The water bowl should be cleaned and disinfected twice weekly and fresh water provided daily.
Ball Pythons require humidity levels of 50 to 60 percent. When your Ball Python is going into shed it requires higher humidity levels around 90. It is important to increase the humidity levels from the first moment you notice you snake going into shed and maintain this humidity until the Python completely sheds.
To raise the humidity, I recommend moving the water bowl to the back of the RUB where the heat is, ensure the bowl is full and spill a little warm water at the back, so it is damp but not wet. The RUB wants to stay like this throughout the entire shed process. Ensure to change the paper every couple of days and provide fresh water.
Signs your Ball Python is going into shed are; milking or clouding of the eyes; pink belly and dulling of colours. Before a Ball Python actually sheds its skin it will clear and appear ‘normal’ again, it is important to still maintain the increased humidity levels as this is a sign that the Python will shed in the next 1-2 days.
I hope this information is helpful but should you have any further questions please contact us via either our Social Media pages; Facebook and Instagram, Website or email; firstname.lastname@example.org
Feeding Ball Pythons
I use and recommend the steaming method when feeding Ball Python’s particularly if you have a fussy feeder!
Here is what you will need:
Feeding tongs of an appropriate size for the snake you are feeding.
I recommend 18 inch Tongs (Hemostats) for feeding Adult Ball Pythons.
I recommend 12 inch Tweezers for feeding hatchling and growing on Ball Pythons.
The Steaming method
Allow the frozen rodent to defrost at room temperature. Once the rodent has completely thawed I then use an electric kettle which is located closely to where my snakes are kept. The kettle needs to be in the same room as where your snake is housed and as close as possible to the tank/tub/rub.
Begin to boil the kettle and as the kettle begins to heat the water and steam is present, using feeding tongs, hold the rodents skin around the middle of its back and place the head of the rodent into the spout of the kettle.
Hold it in the direct steam for approx. 10 seconds, allowing the steam to heat the rodents head. Offer the rodent as quickly as possible to the snake placing it in front of the snake quietly and steadily so that it can smell the rodent and sense the heat.
For less confident snakes try holding the rodent around the middle of its back as holding the rodent by the base of the tail can intimidate the snake and put them off feeding. For keener feeders it may be better to hold the rodent at the base of the tail to avoid the risk of the snake grabbing the feeding tongs when they strike for the rodent.
If the snake does not grab the rodent but its tongue is flicking and the snake is looking interested if it is possible to leave your tub/tank/rub open slightly without the risk of escape, repeat with the kettle steaming again and as soon as you re-offer the rodent and the snake senses it’s heat they will then usually grab.
Try this up to three times. If the snake has still not taken the rodent after three attempts using the steaming method, try leaving the rodent in the tub/rub/tank overnight, just in case that they eat once left alone. Check them in the morning to see if they have eaten, if not then dispose of the rodent and try again in seven days time.
Problem Feeders tips to try:
Try feeding at night or very early morning this can make a big difference.
Make sure your Royal is kept in a room which is quiet.
Try a different food source; Ball Pythons are notoriously fussy feeders so finding the right food source for them is important.
Here are some ideas to try; Rats, Mice, Multis (ASF), I have a couple which will only eat defrost gerbils, you can also try a chick to set the Ball Python back off with feeding, however chicks do not contain enough goodness to sustain a healthy ball python so try to introduce other options once eating chicks to switch them back onto something packed with goodness for them.
If you are experiencing difficulties in getting your ball python to eat here are somethings to consider;
Is it the environment? Is the rub/tub/tank too big?
Ball Pythons like smaller spaces; this is discussed in more detail in my housing guidance.
Does your snake have a hide?
If not, get one. This needs to be only slightly bigger than what the snake can fit into otherwise it defeats the object. If the snake is in the hide when you are offering food do not remove the hide as this can cause stress and the snake may refuse to feed, instead use the kettle steaming method and place the head of the rodent into the opening of the hide allowing the snake time to sense the heat and pick up the scent of the rodent, and then try to lure the snake from the hide using the rodent and it should grab. I have some Ball Pythons that will only grab their food from inside their hides where the feel secure.
Are your temperatures right?
This is something basic, but it can be the basics we forget to check. I recommend purchasing a digital temperature gun which makes monitoring your temperatures very quick and easy and you can purchase these for under £10 from places such as eBay.
Are you feeding your snake the right size and type of rodent?
If you are offering a rodent too large for your snake this can intimidate the snake and it will refuse the feed. Ball Pythons can be fussy feeders, in my collection I have snakes which will eat Rats some will only take Multi’s (African Furred Rats), some will only eat Mice or even Gerbils.
I do not recommend that you switch the food regularly, however if after around four weeks of refusing meals using the steaming method and you are confident that the housing, temperature and rodent size are correct then try to offer the snake a different type of rodent.
PDF version of this care sheet is available here
Feeding Ball Pythons updated