Care sheet: Ball Python
Author: Divan van Dijk
Latin or Scientific name: Python regius. No subspecies are currently recognised.
Distribution: Senegal, Mali, Giunea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Benin, Niger, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria through Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic to Sudan and Uganda. No type locality was given in the original description.
General Info: This small terrestrial python gets its name from the strategy it uses to defend itself. When threatened the ball python coils itself into a tight ball with its head safely tucked away in the middle. Ball pythons also tend to hiss loudly when threatened. They favour underground hiding places like mammal burrows where they also aestivate (a state of dormancy during times of dryness and heat), a similar state to hibernation. They mainly feed on small mammals such as shrews, African soft-furred rats and striped mice. Young individuals are also known to feed on birds. Wild-caught and ranched ball pythons are exported yearly for the pet trade even though they are one of the most popular and easily obtainable pet snakes on the market today. These individuals tend to be very hard to get to eat and might have parasites. Therefore obtaining a well started captive bred ball python is better and much easier to care for.
Caging requirements: Enclosure size of 90cm (L) x 45cm (W) x 30cm (H) will suffice for an adult ball python. I personally believe bigger is better and that enclosure size should not be smaller than the above mentioned. Cages should preferable be water proof. Cages should be cleaned at least monthly. I clean my cages about once a week. Provide many places for the snake to hide; and a clean water bowl large enough for the snake to soak in.
Substrate: There are loads of substrates to choose from, each with there advantages and disadvantages. Newspaper works very nicely but doesn’t look that appealing. Mosses, potting soil and for instance eucalyptus mulch look better and hold humidity well, but is harder to clean. The choice is yours and as long as the enclosure is kept clean, no problems should occur.
Size: Hatchling ball pythons are +/- 25cm in length. Adult females average 90cm – 150cm, while 60cm – 90cm seems to be the norm in adult males. A 150+ cm ball python is considered to be large, although 180+ cm lengths have been reported.
Lifespan: Ball pythons may live up to 40 years or more in captivity. The oldest recorded specimen reached an age of around 48 years.
Temperature and Humidity: A basking spot of 31-33.5 °C and an ambient air temperature of 25 – 28 °C will be sufficient. The ambient temperature should not fall below 23 °C. The humidity should be between 50 – 70%.
Lighting: These snakes do not require supplemental lighting but if used should run on a 12/12 cycle on a timer.
Feeding: Feeding should be done on a weekly basis skipping every fourth meal or when the snake is about to shed. Do not feed your snakes in their enclosure or unforseen problems like swallowed substrate or aggression might occur. Ball Pythons tend to go on “hunger strikes” and stop feeding, this is especially prevalent in males. It is usually no cause for concern, although the snake’s health and weight should be monitored closely. Offer food every 10 -14 days with minimal handling until the snake starts to eat again.
Breeding: Sexual maturity is reached anywhere from 18 months to 4 years of age. Stop all feeding in breeding season. Your snakes should be well established and in excellent condition (about 800grams for males and +/-1500grams for females) before any breeding is attempted. Breeding may be induced by reducing daytime photoperiod to 8 – 10 hours and by dropping the nighttime temperatures into the mid 20’s. Introduce the female into the male’s cage. Misting the animals with water may also help to induce breeding activity. The female will shed 14 – 20+ days after ovulation; and the eggs are usually laid within 30 days of the post-ovulation shed. The clutch size for ball pythons typically ranges from 4 – 12 eggs. Incubate the eggs at a temperature of 31 – 32 degrees Celcius (optimal). Eggs take an average of about 60 days to hatch.
Conclusion: Ball Pythons are easily obtainable and easy to care for if kept in the right conditions. They make great starter snakes and very good pets due to their calm personalities (keep in mind that there are some phsycho snakes that defy the norm and will try to kill you). They come in a huge variety of morphs such as Albinos, Axanthics, Piebalds, Spiders, Bummble Bees, Killer Bees, Blue eyed luecistics and even some locally (South Africa) produced morphs like the Mango just to name a few. Normals are very reasonable priced at about R350.00 whilst some morphs cost more than R20000.00 No matter what your level of experience is; ball pythons are simply a must-have for any collection.