Snakes are not regular pets by all means. I mean, we did evolve to be scared of them. They were one of our worst enemies in nature. But these days are long gone. You can raise a snake nowadays as your companion.
So, if you do decide to get a pet snake, and it happens to be a ball python, you must be wondering, are ball pythons good pets? How do you care for ball pythons? How do they behave? And much more…
Well, let me answer all of your questions.
Ball pythons are generally calm creatures. When handled properly, they’re quite friendly with humans and aren’t likely to bite.
However, they might become less friendly if they’re left without human contact for extended periods of time, so be sure to play with your ball python regularly.
Some have been known to cuddle or even play hide and seek! (Or at least they’ll pop their heads in and out of hiding spaces). Still, others are less playful while still being personable.
Most ball pythons are quite curious creatures. In nature, they love to hunt, climb, and explore. You might be able to watch them scan your house for prey or, when in their tank, you’ll see them snuggling up in their bedding or warming up on a rock.
Like any animal, ball pythons have unique personalities and individual expressions. By intentionally getting to know your new pet, you can learn more about its likes, dislikes, and specific behavioral traits.
Appearance & Size
Your snake’s length will depend on its sex. Female ball pythons generally grow to be about four feet long, while their male counterparts are shorter at about three feet long.
This isn’t a guarantee, though. Some ball pythons have grown to be six feet long!
With very muscular bodies, these snakes are often four to six inches in diameter. But like other snakes, ball pythons will balloon when digesting prey since they swallow it whole.
Ball pythons are scaly creatures, usually featuring brown, gray, and black markings. However, some ball pythons hold genetic mutations that result in striking and unique color patterns. These are known as “morphs.”
A few popular morphs include:
- Albino (pale yellow scales and bright red eyes resulting from a lack of melanin).
- Spider (larger yellow patches with some white speckling and thin black lines – watch this before getting a spider).
- Mojave (contrasting black and gold markings across the snake’s back).
You might think adopting a dog is a long-term commitment, but adopting a ball python is a very, very long-term commitment. If properly cared for, these snakes can live for 30 years or more!
Amazingly, one ball python at the Saint Louis Zoo in Missouri pushed well-past the 30-year average to reach the ripe old age of 62! Before that, another ball python lived for 47 years before dying at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Generally, though, ball pythons live between 20 and 30 years when in captivity. But lifespan depends on sex, living conditions, and genetic factors.
Diet & Feeding Schedule
If you don’t like rodents, a ball python might not be the pet for you. Ball pythons love eating mice, hamsters, rats, and gerbils. But they also enjoy small birds and other small, warm-blooded animals.
(If you instead want to get a pet rodent, check out chinchillas and guinea pigs)
You shouldn’t offer your new friend things like frogs or crickets, though. As carnivores, these snakes need meals packed with protein. They’ll even swallow a mouse’s bones and hair!
So how often should you feed your ball python? Generally, juveniles should be fed once per week while adults should be fed every one to two weeks. However, ball pythons will often go for several weeks without eating in the winter months.
What About Water
Fresh, chlorine-free water should always be available. Even during a winter’s fast, your snake will still probably drink.
Make sure your snake’s water container is big enough for them to soak in but not so deep that it could risk getting stuck or drowning. It’s also vital to avoid using distilled water.
Snakes need the minerals naturally found in water to thrive, and distilled water has non of those minerals.
Habitat & Enclosure Setup
Ball pythons are big animals, and they need a lot of space. Your adult snake’s home should have at least eight square feet of floor space and two feet of vertical space. This ensures they can slither and climb to their heart’s content.
Small spaces can hurt your snake’s body and mind. In the wild, snakes are predatory animals that hunt small creatures such as woodland mice. Giving your ball python room to explore and move around helps them stay active and healthy.
Since snakes like to play and explore, your tank should include structures to hide under and climb over.
Things like rocks, tunnels, branches, and sticks are perfect additions to your ball python’s habitat, giving them the chance to enjoy their instincts to hide under rocks and climb up trees.
You should also make sure your snake’s house has a secure covering. Snakes are surprisingly good climbers, and leaving your ball python’s tank open at the top could allow them to escape and get lost or potentially hurt themselves.
Plus, if you have other pets in your home, such as hamsters or gerbils, you risk an untimely death for your little furry friends, should your snake slither free.
It’s also important to use a lid that allows smooth airflow. A metal mesh setup is perfect for allowing healthy air exchange while keeping your ball python securely in place.
Lighting & Temperature
Snakes are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they rely on outside heat sources to regulate their body temperature, so you’ll need a heat lamp.
Position your lamp to create a basking area reaching about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This gives your python space to stay warm while avoiding overheating the entire habitat.
If your snake’s entire tank reaches 90 degrees, it could suffer from a heat stroke (in which case it should be moved to a cooler space immediately and allowed to cool down gradually).
Outside your snake’s basking area, the tank should range from 75 to 85 degrees. This mimics the ball python’s natural, wild environment and keeps them healthy.
Keep an eye out for the warning signs of a cold snake! If your ball python is too cold, it can be very damaging to its health. Here’s what you should watch out for:
- Vomiting or regurgitating food. If your snake is vomiting or regurgitating its food, you should quickly measure its habitat’s temperature.
- Slowed movements. Lethargic movement can be a sign of coldness and health problems.
- Strange new burrowing behaviors. Ball pythons love to burrow, but odd or new burrowing behaviors could be an effort to stay warm when the environment is too cold.
Besides a heat lamp, you can also heat your tank with a heating pad. These mimic the hot rocks a snake might lay on in the wild. When the sun heats up an exposed rock, ball pythons often stretch over the surface and enjoy its warmth.
Heating pads are generally taped to the underside of your tank, sending heat up through the glass. Never place your heating pad directly in the tank if its instructions require taping to the underside!
This can be dangerous for your snake, potentially burning them or putting them at risk of electrical shock should water spill on the pad or a malfunction occurs.
Shedding (also known as molting) is an important part of the ball python’s life cycle. As snakes grow, they shed their old skin to replace it with a fresh new layer.
Younger ball pythons usually shed more frequently than older ones, molting every three weeks to a month. This process, scientifically called ecdysis, will slow down as your snake gets older.
Eventually, your ball python will probably wait to shed for several months at a time.
What Does This Have To Do With Humidity?
A lot, actually.
Humidity is an essential factor in the ball python’s molting process. With humidity levels of 50-60%, your ball python will be able to shed its old skin properly. Any lower or higher and they might struggle, potentially resulting in health problems.
Don’t get intimated, though. Maintaining consistent humidity levels is easier than you might think.
Keeping a dish of clean water in your tank is one of the best approaches to humidity control, with the warmth of your heating system creating vapor.
But you can also mist your tank with a spray bottle if necessary. You should also keep your snake’s home away from heating vents and dehumidifiers, as these can reduce moisture.
If all else fails, buying a humidifier for the room your tank sits in might be your best bet.
You should also regularly check humidity levels so you can catch too-damp or too-dry environments before it’s too late. This can be done with a simple hygrometer.
Substrate & Furniture
Out in the wild, ball pythons enjoy the Savana and complex grasslands. These snakes use grass, branches, and rocks for protection from predators like wild dogs and large birds, but they also rely on the habitat for cover from the sun.
Yes, while the hot sun can be useful for maintaining healthy body temperatures, too much exposure can cause dehydration, burns, and other serious health problems.
So your ball python might not have to worry about those predators or a scorching sun, but they still need a similar substrate and furnishings to hide and play in.
You should pass on bedding that can be drying to your snake’s skin and tank; things like sand, pine shavings, and paper shreds should be avoided. Instead, use bedding that mimics the moisture of dirt and root systems.
Cypress mulch and ground coconut husks are two great options! They both maintain healthy amounts of moisture and let your snake enjoy its natural burrowing behaviors.
Remember! Substrate goes hand-in-hand with furnishings. Your snake could have the best bedding in the world, but if it doesn’t have varied and interesting structures to explore, it might become bored. Yes, snakes get bored too.
Health Complications & Diseases
If properly cared for, ball pythons can be happy and healthy creatures that live for a long time. But that doesn’t mean they’re invincible. To help your snake avoid early death and general discomfort, you need to catch health problems early.
Here are some common symptoms and what they might mean:
- Your ball python has red and/or inflamed skin.
This could be dermatitis, which is often caused by improper humidity levels. You should visit a vet to get this addressed right away.
- Your snake is paralyzed and/or your snake is stuck on its back.
This could be a sign of Inclusion Body Disease, a deadly viral illness that can infect other snakes. Snakes with IBD generally need to be put down to avoid spreading the disease.
- Your snake has a lack of appetite.
This could be a sign of multiple health problems including Septicemia. Contact a vet if your ball python’s eating habits are concerning you.
Other common signs of illnesses in ball pythons include discharge from the snake’s mouth and general lethargy. If you suspect your ball python is sick, watch for more symptoms and consult professional guidance.
Some snake illnesses can be treated using medications that are administered orally or injected. Other health problems, like dermatitis, can be treated by ensuring proper habitat conditions and good hygiene.
How To Handle Your Ball Python
Ball pythons are friendly when held regularly, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with them. Respecting your snake’s boundaries is a serious matter, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Careful handling is important, so keep these things in mind:
Wash Your Hands
Cleaning your hands before taking your snake out of its tank prevents potentially harmful bacteria and other substances from hurting your new friend. Plus, if your hands smell like food, your snake might mistake you for a snack (yes, really).
This one may seem obvious, but you really should be gentle with your snake. Ball pythons are resilient, durable creatures, but they still need to be respected.
When picking up your snake for the first time, avoid touching its head. Grabbing your ball python’s head can cause stress and confusion. Instead, hold it by the mid-section.
Support Its Weight
When holding your snake, be sure to give its body proper support using your hands and arms. Letting your snake loosely hang from your arm or shoulder may seem fun, but it can be stressful or even damaging for the creature.
Instead, give your their entire body plenty of support.
Let It Move
While you should redirect your ball python if it starts to move towards something dangerous, it’s essential to allow your snake to move freely.
Don’t try to control the snake’s movements by steering its body or head. Instead, let it move where it wants while carefully supporting it with your hands and arms.
Give It Time
If you just recently adopted your snake, it will need time to adjust to its new home. Give your ball python time to explore its environment; let it examine its tank and give it a chance to acclimate.
Snakes naturally love to tuck themselves away under rocks and branches, so your new ball python will probably want some time to find a few hiding spots before it starts getting held.
Ultimately, holding your new snake is exciting, but you should give it time to get settled first.
So what does a ball python actually cost?
The price tag of these snakes can vary pretty significantly. There are several options ranging from about $30 to $100, but you can also drop more than $1,500 on one of these creatures.
The actual cost depends on several factors, but a big contributor is morph status. Rare morphs raise the price, while more common variants lower it.
Overall, you should buy a snake that you can properly care for and genuinely love, even if that means getting a less rare variant.
But what about after you buy a ball python? How much will it cost to care for, maintain, and feed your new friend? Here are a few things to consider:
High-end tanks for ball pythons can easily cost $200. While that’s a pretty steep price, the tank is a hugely important part of your snake’s life, so it’s worth investing in one that’s welcoming and practical.
Still, you don’t have to empty your wallet completely; good substrate and interesting furniture can make up for a less exciting tank.
Bedding will be a recurring cost since it needs to be changed every one to two months. Generally, you can expect to spend between $20 and $30 for your snake’s substrate, with better options like coconut husk often costing more.
But remember, cheaper isn’t really better in this case, as it will likely lead to more health complications and a less happy snake.
Snakes like to hide and climb, so furnishings are essential. There is a wide variety of snake hides, structures, and toys available on the market, but you can generally expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $25 for each furnishing.
Another recurring cost, food, is obviously quite important for your snake. Live mice cost between $2 and $10 depending on size, but frozen mice can be purchased in bulk with price tags running between about $80 and $150.
Frozen mice are definitely the easier option, removing the need for complicated pre-meal storage and ending the risk of runaway dinners. However, some snakes might be picky and refuse frozen food.
While some tap water is safe for ball pythons, it’s better and safer to give your slithery friend bottled spring water. This is a pretty cheap investment, ranging from about $3 to $10 for a 24 pack.
Other costs to consider are vet visits and medication. While these prices vary significantly depending on the situation, it’s important to be ready for the unexpected cost of a late-night hospital visit. Better safe than sorry!
8 Common Questions
Are Ball Pythons Venomous?
Ball pythons may bite, but they hold no venom and generally aren’t dangerous to humans.
Are Ball Pythons Nocturnal?
Ball pythons are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night rather than throughout the day. These snakes rely on a day/night cycles to regulate their sleeping habits, so keeping them near a natural light source like a window is important.
Are Ball Pythons Arboreal?
Ball pythons are semi-arboreal, meaning some enjoy living and climbing in trees while others enjoy the ground. Generally, female ball pythons explore the ground while males hunt in trees.
Are Ball Pythons Affectionate?
Ball pythons aren’t affectionate creatures, but they also aren’t generally aggressive. However, they are naturally curious and somewhat playful creatures.
Do Ball Pythons Bite?
While ball pythons can bite, they don’t usually attack humans. Like many animals, these snakes generally only bite when they feel threatened. But don’t worry if you do get a little snap from your snake; ball pythons aren’t venomous.
If you do get bit, remain calm and wait for your snake to release its mouth. Do not pull on it! Pulling can damage the snake’s teeth as well as your skin. You should clean the bite and seek medical attention in severe cases (which are rare).
Do Ball Pythons Have Teeth?
Ball pythons don’t have fangs, but they do have about 30 teeth curving inward. These teeth are sharp, barb-like, and mostly line the top of the mouth. The amount of teeth your snake has depends on its age and size.
Do Ball Pythons Hibernate?
Ball pythons do not hibernate, but they may go extended periods of time without food in the winter months. Long periods of sleeping and slow movement can be a sign of typical environmental reactions.
Still, they can also be a sign of illness, so you should keep an eye out for the previously mentioned signs of sickness.
Do Ball pythons And Cats/Dogs Get Along?
While ball pythons don’t necessarily pose a significant threat to large dogs and most cats, letting cats, dogs, and pythons mingle isn’t a good idea. Cats will likely attack the snake, while dogs might accidentally or intentionally injury it.
Plus, ball pythons could pose a threat to kittens and puppies. As predatory animals, they might see them as prey and try to eat them.