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Ball (Royal) Python


Python regius



General Information


The ball python is one of the most common pythons found in the pet trade due to importation from the wild. Found throughout the central and western regions of the African continent, their population is considered to be large though reduction in numbers are happening due to habitat destruction, pet trade and the market for their skins. Increased use of the land for agricultural use may produce enough increase in the rodent population to sustain this snake in its natural habitat.

The ball python is often sold as an excellent beginner snake but this is only partially true. Captive born ball pythons can be excellent starter snakes provided that they have already shed and eaten on their own for the first time or two. However, wild caught and imported ball pythons are often encountered in pet stores and these can present difficulties that should only be handled by an experienced snake owner of at least an intermediate experience level.

Another option that is often available from April into June each year is Captive Hatched babies. These are babies that are from eggs collected in Africa from females after they lay them. Often these females are simply collected and held until they lay their eggs and then released back into the wild in hopes of collecting them the following year in the same condition. The eggs are then hatched in captivity and exported around the world. Many breeders consider this less than ideal and they may be right. There are no health controls in place for these babies and you have no idea what the genetic background is with these. Still, many of the newest morphs/mutations on the market were first acquired as CH imported babies, raised in captivity and then bred for a specific genetic trait.

Size and Life span


Ball Pythons emerge from the egg approximately 8 to 11 inches long. Once they shed for the first time, they are capable of eating hopper mice or even newborn/pinky rats. They are a snake of medium build and eventually grow to be 4 to 5 feet long. Reports of 6-foot ball pythons can be found though they rare considering how many are actually available in captivity.
Pythons are generally considered to be a longer lived snake and the ball python is no exception. This is something that should be considered when purchasing a ball python because they can be expected to live for 25 years or more in captivity. In fact, there is a record of one living for more than 46 years! Imagine purchasing this snake as a baby when you are only 20 years old and still have it when you retire at 65. Ball pythons could be true-life long pets if cared for properly.

Requirements


Like all snakes, a ball python needs an escape-proof enclosure, as they will look for ways to get out and explore. This creates stress for you, the keeper, because finding them can be discouraging at best. Plastic sweater boxes with ventilation holes or aquariums with secure lids are adequate, as are custom built designs and those by some of the large reptile housing companies. The key is to get a cage large enough for your ball python to grow into adulthood and be comfortable. A cage 3 feet wide by 1 ˝ feet deep and 18 inches high should be a good size for all but the largest of ball pythons. It is recommended that you house them separately but if you decide to house a pair together then make certain that the cage is approximately twice this size to give each of them adequate room to move about freely.

Ball pythons require temperatures warmer than most colubrids. The recommended temperature range is 76 to 82 degrees on the unheated end and a basking spot with temperatures ranging from 88 to 92 degrees. A thermometer is a requirement to monitor each end of the cage and good ones for reptile enclosures can be purchased from a number of suppliers online as well as at most pet shops that sell reptiles. Many pet shops and even online suppliers try to sell “hot rocks” of one variety or another that they claim are recommended for snakes. DO NOT USE THESE as they can endanger your snake by becoming too hot and causing burns and even death if taken to the extreme. It is better to use under tank heaters and/or overhead lighting. Be cautious when using overhead lighting as some higher wattage bulbs can actually produce too much heat. Watch the thermometer and keep your snake safe.

Hide boxes are a definite requirement for ball pythons. They are a somewhat secretive species that moves about most in the early morning and evening hours. They will often stay hidden in their hide box for days, especially after eating a meal. Use one on each end of the cage so that your snake can feel safe and secure while thermoregulating it’s body temperature.

Feeding


Ball python hatchlings should be started on hopper mice or pinky rats. A common mistake is feeding pinky mice to a newly hatched and shed ball python. This is too small of a meal for such a large snake and will not provide enough nutrition. We suggest switching your ball python to rats as soon as possible because as the snake grows larger, rats should become the primary food source. A yearling should be taking crawler to jumper rats or adult mice. By the time the snake is 2 years old, we recommend small rats, or multiple mice, every 10 to 14 days. As an adult of 3 feet or larger, your ball python can easily eat medium to large rats. Be careful not to overfeed your ball python. Remember that they are not as active as some snakes and can be fed so much that fat deposits develop. This can be as harmful to your snake’s health as it is to yours if it happens to you.

We recommend getting your ball python feeding on pre-killed or thawed food items as quickly as possible. Because of the eventual size of the rodents they will be eating, a bite from an adult rat could easily injure, maim or even kill your ball python.

Ball pythons, even those that are captive born or hatched, are often considered one of the most irritating of snake species when it comes to mealtime. They have been known to imprint on one particular type or color of food (this is one of the common problems with imported adult specimens.) They have been known to go on hunger strikes for months at a time with the longest on record being approximately 1-˝ years with no real loss of body mass. 4 to 6 months are not uncommon, especially in adults through the winter/breeding seasons. Another problem is that many ball pythons come off of their hunger strikes refusing pre-killed or thawed foods, even when they were eating these before they stopped eating. Watch the live feeding very closely to ensure the safety of your snake and work quickly to get them switched back.

Breeding


Sexual maturity can be reached in 2 years but it is recommended that the snake be nearing 3 years of age before breeding is attempted. Also, a weight of 1500 to 2500 grams is suggested to ensure the overall health of the snake. In captivity, most will breed between November and April though the seasons can be artificially simulated under carefully maintained conditions. The key is to simulate a rainy season, which is the signal nature uses to signal their breeding season in the wild. The female will lay between 3 and 9 eggs and maternally incubate them. If you choose to incubate artificially the eggs should be taken within the first 36 hours of laying and the female cleaned up to eliminate the odor of her eggs and fed within a couple of days. The temperature range for incubation is 88 to 90 degrees and the eggs will hatch in 70 to 85 days. These are not bred in captivity as much as many would like. This combined with the small number of eggs laid contributes to the higher prices of the more expensive and desirable mutations.

Mutations


There are a number of morphs, or color/pattern mutations available. Some of these have proven genetic and many are still unproven at this time. Some of the proven morphs are: normal, albino, anytheristic, caramel, piebald, clown, ghost, xanthic, axanthic, jungle, platinum and genetic striped. In 2000, the first leucistic ball python was hatched to prove this as a genetic trait. An example of traits that is unproven at the time of this writing in late April 2001 is the Granite phase. While many feel this will be proven later this year or next year at the latest, no known breeder has reproduced this trait in captivity to prove its genetic base. When inquiring about other mutations/morphs offered, please check with large, respected breeders/dealers in ball pythons before you spend a great deal of money.