Keeping ball pythons as pets is easier than most people think. Ball pythons make a good choice for first time snake owners because they are a relatively small and docile species of snake. Having one of these snakes can be a very rewarding experience.
Ball pythons, also known as royal pythons or pythons regius, are in the same snake family as boas. All of these snakes are constrictors. Constrictor snakes wrap their body around their prey until the creature suffocates, and then they swallow it whole. Ball pythons are fairly small, and the typically reach only 36 to 48 inches long in adulthood. Pet stores that specialize in snakes will either have ball pythons on hand to purchase, or they may help you find a breeder.
Benefits of Ball Pythons as Pets
Many people enjoy owning a ball python as their first pet snake because it is easy to handle. The more you handle and hold your ball python, the tamer it will become as it grows used to your touch. It is a good idea to bring your snake out once per day to interact. Other benefits of ball pythons as pets are:
- They require very little maintenance as compared to caring for a dog or cat.
- They eat only once per week.
- They only defecate approximately once per week.
- Cage cleanup is fairly easy.
- Ball pythons can live up to 50 years when cared for in captivity, but on average they live 20 to 30 years.
Caring for Your Ball Python
Ball pythons are reasonably easy to care for. Following are some tips for setting up and taking care of ball pythons as pets.
Setting up the Cage
A 30-gallon glass aquarium makes a decent habitat for a snake. Make sure it has a secure lid with ventilation. Pet stores make screen lids specifically for reptile aquariums. Cover the bottom of the cage with a substrate such as newspaper, astro turf for reptiles, orchid bark or moss. Some people like to use aspen or pine shavings for substrate, but these can both make the environment a bit too dry for your pet's comfort.
Supply the cage with:
- A water bowl
- A soaking tub
- A heat lamp or heat mat
- A thermometer
- A light
- A box to hide in
- An object to rub up against to remove skin
Ball pythons eat either mice or small rats. Usually these meals are live, but sometimes you can train your ball python to eat a frozen (thawed out) mouse. Whatever you decide to feed your snake when it is young is what it will continue to want to eat when it is older. If you prefer to feed your snake live rodents, start him out on that while he is young. Otherwise, choose thawed out, frozen mice. Pet supply stores usually stock both types of rodents for snakes to eat.
The feeding process:
- Place the rodent in the cage or in another container you have chosen to use for feeding.
- Place the snake in the same cage.
- Place the lid back on the cage and wait until the snake senses his meal has been served.
- Stay and observe the eating process; if the snake is not hungry, the mouse or snake should be removed because it can scratch or bite the snake.
- If the snake did not eat, try feeding him the next day.
Snakes, including Ball pythons, are relatively disease free. Just to be on the safe side, it is always a good idea to wash your hands after handling your snake. Ball pythons get a few diseases and ailments that you should be on the look out for:
- Mouth rot
- Blister disease
- Respiratory infection
These illnesses can be treated with medication, so always take your pet to a veterinarian that specializes in snakes.
Choosing a Snake
Choosing a healthy snake is very important. Look for these qualities in a healthy snake:
- Well-rounded body
- Clean and clear eyes
- Breathes without wheezing
- No bubbles or liquid around nostrils
- Alert behavior
- Gently grips your arm or hand when held
Do Your Research
Ball pythons are amazing creatures, but snakes are not the right pets for everyone. Make sure you put in a good deal of time researching this snake and its needs, as well as spending time handling one to make sure this is the pet for you. Keep in mind that you'll be making a commitment to care for this pet throughout its lifetime, so make sure you're prepared to do so.