Choosing a Ball Python
If you choose to buy from a pet store, the snake may have been wild-caught, come with health problems or not have been taken care of adequately. The snake should seem alert, have clear-looking eyes and a clear-looking vent (the opening near the tail) as well as a white or yellowish-coloured belly. If the snake curls up in a ball and doesn't move, this is normal. It's just hiding and being shy, and this is how ball pythons received their name.
When you bring a new snake into your home, it is important to give it a few days to settle in. As difficult as it may be, try not to handle or disturb your new ball python during these few days to keep stress levels to a minimum.
If you have other snakes or reptiles, it's important to keep your new addition in a separate room if possible to quarantine it from the others. The quarantine period should last a couple months, and this will give you the opportunity to make sure that the snake is healthy as well as keep your other animals safe. Regardless of where you get your snake from, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
Mutation Creation uses ARS Reptile Caging Systems to house all of our snakes. These are plastic tubs in a shelving unit, but Rubbermaids, and other plastic caging, as well as other types of cages that are perfect for ball pythons can be found in many retail stores and are inexpensive.
Ball pythons should not be kept in glass aquariums. It is very difficult to achieve the proper humidity levels for the optimal health of the snake if they're kept in a glass tank. Ball pythons also need to feel secure, and a glass tank does not provide this.
For a hatchling, an enclosure the size of a 10-gallon tank works best. As the snake grows and becomes larger, an enclosure size of around 30 gallons is suitable. In captivity, ball pythons are relatively sedentary and do not need a lot of room to "roam". In fact, if the enclosure is too large the snake may feel too insecure and stop eating.
If you want to be able to "see" your snake, there are models of plastic tubs that have clearer plastic than others as well as a wide array of plastic cages available that are made especially for snakes. Keep in mind that ball pythons are nocturnal and do like to hide, and they might not be the best choice for a display animal.
The snake should always have access to a water dish that is big enough to soak in, along with a hide that is just large enough for it to fit underneath or inside of.
No matter what the enclosure type, is should have a very secure lid.
The substrate used with ball pythons depends on your own personal preference. Some people prefer clean and simple substrates like paper towel or newspaper, while others prefer more naturalistic substrates like aspen chip and shavings, cypress mulch or peat moss. If you do choose a "loose" substrate like aspen chips and shavings, or cypress mulch, they should be used only with larger ball pythons. If the snake is younger, the risk of ingesting substrate while feeding is greater.
Never use cedar or pine shavings with any reptile, the oils contained within them are toxic and can cause serious respiratory problems.
Heating, Lighting and Humidity
Heat lamps and other lights are not necessary for snakes and can actually do more harm than good. They dry out the air and don't provide belly heat, which is necessary for snakes to digest their food. A heat pad or under tank heater controlled by a thermostat is best to provide heat for your ball python.
Your ball python should have a "hot spot" of around 92˚F and a "cool spot" of around 80˚F to 82˚F on opposite ends of the enclosure. This will allow the snake to "choose" whether it needs to be warmer or cooler and allow it to stay as comfortable as possible.
Proper humidity levels are necessary for your snake to shed properly and keep it healthy. Humidity levels for a ball python should remain between 50% and 60%, but these levels may be raised up to 80% for a short time during shedding.
Another reason snakes make great pets is because they only defecate once a week or so. Once the substrate is soiled it can be replaced (if it is paper towel or newspaper) or spot-cleaned (if it is aspen chip and shavings, or peat moss).
Once per month or so, the entire container should be cleaned and disinfected, either with soap and water, a diluted bleach solution or chlorhexidine (a veterinary-grade disinfectant that is very inexpensive and safe to use). Regardless of the method chosen, ensure that the container has been thoroughly rinsed before putting your ball python back into it.
Ball pythons should eat rats. Some snakes are fed mice, but rats are much larger and more nutritionally complete than mice. In the wild, ball pythons mostly eat African soft-furred rats (ASF's), which are also commercially available and great for problem feeders.
It's important for beginners to feed your snake frozen-thawed or freshly killed prey. If you purchase your ball python from a reputable breeder, the snake should readily eat thawed or freshly killed prey. While snakes do eat live prey items in the wild, it is not recommended to put a live animal in with a snake where they are both trapped in an enclosed space. Because of this, feeding your snake live prey can lead to serious injury.
Prey items should be no larger than the thickest part of the snake, and frozen food can be thawed in the refrigerator (or on the counter) and then dipped in hot water just before being fed. If the prey is freshly killed, this is unnecessary.
If you choose to feed your snake in a different container, be sure to place the snake back in its original container gently. If you disturb the ball python excessively right after it eats, it may regurgitate its food.