Ball Python Care Sheet


The Royal Python or Ball Python as it is commonly known is native to sub-Saharan Africa. The ‘Royal’ is an anecdote that comes from the fact that African royalty used to wear the snake around their necks as a form of living jewelry. It’s common name, ‘Ball Python’ comes from the snake’s tendency to curl itself into a ball when under attack, stressed or frightened. Its scientific name is Python Regius.

Just like other Pythons, the Ball Python is a non-venomous constrictor snake, meaning it kills its prey by coiling its muscular body around the prey and constricting it until it suffocates. Ball Pythons are commonly kept as pets as they are relatively small, have a docile temperament and are relatively easy to care for. They are also hugely popular among reptile breeders and hobbyists due to the countless morphs that can be produced.


As with many reptiles, male Royal Pythons are generally smaller than females. Males normally range between 3 – 3.5ft while females normally range between 4 – 4.5ft in length although specimens measuring up to 6ft have reportedly been recorded.

In the wild Ball Pythons tend to have a brown and black patterned body, sometimes with white markings. The snake’s bellies are usually white or cream and can occasionally contain black markings. They are large bodied snakes but have a relatively small head in comparison.

Natural Habitat and Distribution

Ball Pythons are native to sub-Saharan African and can be found in countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Cameroon and Uganda. They are a terrestrial species, meaning they spend most of their time on the ground, although they are well able to climb. They are primarily found in grasslands, savannas and lightly wooded areas but they can adapt and survive in a range of habitats.

Ball Python Distribution

Ball Python Behavior

Ball Pythons are more active at night and spend most of the day hiding away. They will spend most of the day hiding in burrows and other condensed spaces, to avoid the direct heat of the day.

They are opportunistic, ambush hunters and will wait in the same place for long periods for a meal to pass by. Once a suitably sized animal gets close enough, a Royal Python will strike and coil its body around its victim, constricting it until it suffocates. Once a meal is consumed, the snake will return to its hide to digest the meal before repeating the process.

They are famous for their defensive strategy, which involves coiling into a tight ball with their head tucked securely between its body.

Ball Pythons feed primarily on rodents and play an important role in controlling these pests. A typical meal for one of these snakes includes African giant rats, black rats, shaggy rats and grass mice.

Ball Python Care Sheet

Ball Python Lifespan

 The average lifespan of a Ball Python in the wild is reportedly about 10 years. However, in captivity specimens can live for about 20-30 years with the right care and husbandry. The oldest recorded Ball Python was an incredible 47 years.

Royal Pythons as Pets

Royal Pythons are one of the most popular reptiles kept in the pet trade, along with Corn Snakes and Leopard Geckos. They are relatively small in comparison to other Python species and have a very docile temperament.

They are a popular snake for both beginners and experienced keepers due to the endless range of colour morphs available. This species is far more suitable for beginners than larger, more aggressive species such as the Yellow Anaconda.

Feeding a Ball Python

As hatchlings, royal pythons can be fed weekly on defrosted pinky mice. As the snake grows, you should increase the size of the food offered to the snake. A general rule of thumb is to feed the snake food that is slightly smaller in thickness than the largest part of its body. Adult snakes will feed on extra large mice or small rats. Adult royal pythons can be fed once every 7-10 as they can become overweight if fed too frequently.

You should not feed a Ball Python live prey as it can injure your snake. Most prey items fed to snakes have sharp teeth and claws and can injure your snake if he doesn’t eat it straight away. In the wild, the rodent will have the opportunity to run away if the snake doesn’t choose to eat it. However, in a confined space, such as an enclosure, the rodent will be forced to defend itself against attack. This is cruel for both the snake and the rodent.

The most convenient option is to feed your Ball Python frozen thawed mice and rats. These are available from most pet stores or can be bought in bulk from suppliers.

Feeding a Royal Python

Another option used by some breeders is to feed freshly killed rodents. This would require you to breed your own supply of rodents and isn’t an option for most people. Never feed your snake wild rodents as they will likely carry disease and mites that can make your snake sick.

As with all snakes, it is recommended to feed them outside of their enclosure if possible. This is particularly important if you use a loose substrate as the snake could ingest the bedding while eating. This could cause the snake to become ill or regurgitate its meal. If you do not handle the snake regularly and feed them in their enclosure, they may associate you opening their cage with feeding time. This can increase the chance of you getting bitten.

Ball Pythons can be picky eaters so there is nothing to be concerned about if your snake refuses a meal. Do not try and force the snake to feed. Check that the temperature and humidity of the enclosure are adequate and reduce your handling of the snake. Try and feed the snake again in a few days.

Always ensure your snake has a clean supply of water to drink from. This should be changed regularly as your snake will go to the toilet and bath in it. Water should be provided in a heavy, shallow bowl to prevent the snake from tipping it over. Your snake may also bath in the water bowl to help it shed.

Housing a Ball Python

Royal Pythons are not very active so they don’t require large enclosures. A fully grown adult will be more than happy in a 3ft x 2ft x 2ft enclosure. This can be decorated with driftwood and plants. These snakes will thrive in a wooden vivarium. Wood is an excellent insulator of heat so this type of enclosure makes it easier to control their temperature requirements. The enclosure should have good ventilation to allow air flow in and out of the setup.

They can also be housed in glass vivariums but you will need to pay closer attention to temperature fluctuations. If using a glass vivarium, it is important to provide the snake with additional hiding spaces as they will feel more exposed in this type of setup.

Many breeders house their Ball Pythons in reptile racks. While this type of setup isn’t suitable for active or arboreal snakes, a Ball Python will thrive in this setup. It is however important to choose a rack big enough to accompany the snake and allow for a thermal gradient (hot and cool side).

Many people have the misconception of “the bigger the enclosure the better”. This is not true for Ball Pythons, especially hatchlings as they will feel exposed in a large enclosure. This can cause the snake to become stressed and stop eating.

Whatever type of enclosure you choose, it is important to ensure that your snake as adequate hiding places. A Ball Python loves to curl up in a confined space where it feels safe. At a minimum, you should provide your snake with at least one hiding space at either end of the enclosure (hot and cold side).

While a Royal Python will spend much of its time curled away in its hide, they do enjoy exploring their enclosure. Give your snake a couple of climbing branches and plants to explore. They are very intuitive reptiles, so mix it up. Every so often rearrange their enclosure so they can explore “a new surrounding”.

Always ensure your snake has a clean supply of water to drink from. This should be changed regularly as your snake will go to the toilet and bath in it. Water should be provided in a heavy, shallow bowl to prevent the snake from tipping it over. Your snake may also bath in the water bowl to help it shed.

Light and Heat

Like all reptiles, Royal Pythons are cold blooded and therefore depend on their surroundings to get heat. In the wild, a reptile will bask in the sun or sunbath on a heated rock to keep warm. They can then cool down by going into the shade or taking refuge in a burrow. These conditions can be replicated in an enclosure to help your snake with thermal regulation.

A Royal Pythons enclosure should be about 90F at the hot end and 80F at the cool end.

You can provide heat for your snake with a ceramic heat emitter or heat lamp. It should be set up on one of the ends of the enclosure to allow a thermal gradient along the setup. The wattage of the heater depends on the size of the enclosure but it should be connected to and controlled by a good thermostat.

Hot bulbs can burn a reptile so ensure all heat lamps are covered using a bulb guard. A snake does not feel heat in the same way as a person, so it is possible for them to get nasty burns.

An alternative way to heat your Ball Python is belly heat. This can be provided using a heat mat. The mat can be placed under a hide at one end of the enclosure. Just be sure to have another hide at the cool end so your snake can feel secure when it needs to cool down. This is a common method used in racking systems.

Never use a heat rock for heating snakes. They are prone to getting excessively hot and can burn your snake. There is no need to provide a Royal Python with UV light.

Substrate for Royal Pythons

A Royal Python will do well on a wide range of substrates. If you are going for an aesthetic look in your vivarium, Aspen shavings or Beech chippings are a good option. Both these substrates can be easily removed when soiled using a scoop. However, your snake may need to be removed from the enclosure for feeding in case they ingest some of the bedding.

Newspaper or paper towels are an inexpensive option. They work great and can easily be replaced when soiled. The downside is that they do not look nice inside the enclosure. This substrate is more suitable for rack systems rather than display tanks.

Artificial grass is a great option if you are looking for a naturalistic look. It can be found in most hardware stores. It is recommended to have two or three different pieces for each enclosure. This allows you to rotate the pieces for cleaning as they become soiled. A great advantage of artificial grass is that the cheaper versions are often the most suitable for reptiles. Cheaper artificial grass is generally softer and more flexible than expensive realistic looking artificial grass. This makes it less likely to harm the belly of your snake.

Do not use Soft Woods such as Cedar for substrate in a reptile enclosure. While it is a very common substrate for small mammals and birds, it is toxic to reptiles. Several species of Cedar are known to be particularly dangerous, such as White Cedar, Japanese Cedar and Western Red Cedar. Pine and other Eucalyptus trees produce aromatic phenol’s which are reportedly toxic to reptile.


Just like all reptiles, Ball Pythons will shed their skin. This is completely natural and does not harm the snake in any way. Younger snakes will shed more frequently as they are growing, but a snake will shed its skin for the duration of its life.

You will notice that your snake’s eyes turn a very dull blue/grey colour and the snake’s skin will also be noticeably duller. These are the first stages of the shedding process. Most reptiles don’t want to be handled while this process is taking place and they can often refuse to eat. This is completely natural and differs from snake to snake.

You can make the process easier for your snake in a number of ways. You can place a water bowl in the enclosure for the snake to bath in. Other options include a damp hide box or misting the substrate in the tank to increase the humidity of the enclosure.

After your snake has finished shedding, do a quick examination to ensure there is no stuck shed. Common areas for stuck shed include around the eyes and the tail. Stuck shed can be easily removed by giving your snake a warm bath. During the bath the stuck shed can be easily rubbed away.

Handling a Ball Python

 In general, Ball Pythons are docile snakes and would prefer to curl up in a ball as a defensive strategy than bite which makes them easy to handle. This makes them much easier to handle than more defensive species such as the Amazon Tree Boa. Regular handling is important as it allows your snake to get used to human contact. However, handling a Ball Python for extended periods can cause the snake stress so a good rule is to handle your snake for short periods, often.

If it is safe to do so, allow your snake time out of the cage to wander around a room. Ensure there is nothing in the room that can injure your snake and keep an eye on it at all times so it doesn’t escape. A Royal Python will appreciate time out of its cage to explore different surroundings but these interactions should also be kept short.

Banana Ball Python Morph

Breeding Ball Pythons

The first step when breeding snakes is to have a pair of adequate size. It is recommended to wait until females are at least 1,500grams and in their 3rd season before breeding them. Males can be breed earlier, at about 800 grams and going into their second season would be a good time to start breeding a male. It is important that the snake is in good health before starting a breeding cycle as the process can take a lot out of the snake.

While many people have success breeding Ball Pythons without putting them through a cooling period, most breeders prefer to include a cooling period to promote breeding. For most breeders, the cooling period begins in October. The temperature of the tank can be lowered at night to 82F at the warm end and 78F at the cool end. Ball pythons live very close to the equator, where there is little fluctuation in the day/night cycle so there is no need to adjust the hours of daylight as with other species. However, some breeders choose to increase the hours of darkness during this period.

Males are placed into the female’s enclosure a couple of weeks later, around the beginning of November. A male can be rotated between females but should be given at least 3 days off a week so he doesn’t get burnt out. Many breeders offer smaller food items at this time and feed less frequently, about every 10 days. Return the male to his own enclosure before feeding.

In March, temperatures can be restored to normal, about 90F at the hot end and 80F at the cool end. Females that are starting to build follicles will begin to spend more time on the cool side of the enclosure. You may even find them wrapped around their water bowl or lying with their bellies inverted into the air. These are all good signs that the female is gravid.

The appearance of the female may also change. She will get noticeably larger and you can usually see lumps along her body. If you hold the snake and straighten her out, you can often see a large bulge in the middle of her body, as if she has just eaten a large meal.

The female will have her pre-lay shed about 2-3 weeks after ovulation. Ovulation is the process where the sperm and follicles meet and you get fertilized eggs. It is important to note that a female Ball Python retains sperm so if you breed the female to more than one male, you won’t know which one fertilised the eggs until they hatch (if they are a different morph).

The clutch of eggs will be laid about 30 days after the pre-lay shed. Once laid, remove the female from the enclosure and mark the top of each egg so you know which side is facing up. Remove the eggs and place them in an egg box. The egg box can be filled with damp vermiculite and stored in a incubator at about 88F. After about 55-60 days the eggs will hatch.

Super Pastel Pied

When the eggs are removed from the enclosure, it must be thoroughly washed. The female must also be washed. This is an important step as they are programmed to look after the eggs and may not eat if they can still “smell” the pheromones from the breeding season and laying eggs.

The breeding season will have taken a lot out of the female. It is important to get her eating and back up to weight. Once the next breeding season comes around, if the female is not at least at the same weight as last season, she shouldn’t be bred.

It is recommended to do as much research as possible before purchasing your reptile. If you are planning to purchase one of these snakes, read as many Ball Python Care Sheets as you can in advance.