While ball pythons can be kept in relatively small enclosures (3″l X 2″w X 2″h is sufficient for most) they need to be provided a temperature gradient and sufficient humidity to assist with shedding. They also need a water bowl large enough to submerge in but shallow enough to enter and exit easily. Provide hiding options in different parts of the enclosure and both smooth and rough surfaces.
- Temperature, Humidity, & Lighting:
- In the wild, ball pythons eat small mammals, birds, and amphibians.
- In captivity, they are fed mice and rats.
- Animals bought from pet stores often have mites. This may affect shedding.
- This species often has problems shedding. Soaks in warm water help aid the shedding process. Be sure to pay attention that the eye caps have shed, or they will build up shed after shed.
Notes on Enrichment & Training
- Frequent handling from a young age will ensure a calm animal which will come out of its ball for presentations.
- Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
- Advancing Herpetological Husbandry July 2018 Quarterly Newsletter- Article Environmental Enrichment for Reptiles By Charlotte James
Colony or Breeding Management
Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.
Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).
- Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler. Wrap bottle with newspaper for lizards or snakes traveling with the bottle loose, to make cleanups easier in the case of defecation while traveling.
- Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a Coleman style coolers that have been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). Small and medium sized snakes travel inside an inside-out, knotted pillowcase. Large snakes travel loose in the cooler that is also bungeed shut. For lizards, the cooler is lined with newspaper.
Tips on Presentation
- If allowing an audience to touch present the backside/tail end to the group, keeping the head away from participants.
Tips on Handling
- This species is usually very docile and easy to handle, although it can become large and heavy. Handlers should be able to tell when the snake is opaque, etc.
- The natural behavior of this species is to curl into a ball. It should not be forced out of the ball. A handler should wait for it to stretch out on its own.
- Appropriate Pets
- Snakes may or may not make good pets (ease of care vs long life span, possible bacteria, specialized food)
- Ball pythons vs larger snakes (reticulated python, boa constrictors)
- Wild caught vs captive born
- Introduced species
- Effects of invasive snakes in the everglades
- Importance of balanced ecosystems
- Snakes control rodent populations
- Can take over an ecosystem if not native (ex: Guam tree snakes)
- Pythons have vestigial traits including a pelvis and spurs which may be leg remnants.
- Exotic animals commonly kept as pets
- In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Save-Wildlife/Images/PetWalletBro2012.aspx http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/pets/index.html
- Snakes are an important link in the food chain. They provide food for many bird and mammal species that prey on them. The main diet of most snakes is rodents. Therefore, snakes provide a very valuable service – pest control. Most snakes are non-venomous and will avoid humans if they can. Venomous snakes want to use their venom to kill small prey animals or to defend themselves; since humans are too big to be considered prey by most snakes, the best way to avoid a bite is not to make the snake feel threatened. Ask guests to avoid any snakes they may see in the wild and appreciate them from a distance. http://www.capesnakeconservation.com/snake-conservation-whats-the-point/http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/rattlesnake_roundups/facts/rattlesnake_roundups.html
- Often available as unwanted or abandoned pets. Check with local reptile rescues.
Comments from the Rating System
- Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: Depends on size – usually super docile, and easy to handle. Handlers should know how to tell when opaque, etc.
- Buffalo Zoo: Prevalent in pet trade
- Downtown Aquarium, Denver: Not a lot of “wow” factor since they are sold in pet stores, but an easy, touchable animal.
- Henry Vilas Zoo: Great to teach people about snakes/reptiles/predators; highly tractable; excellent size
- Lee Richardson Zoo: Love!
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Ball pythons live in western and central Africa. They prefer dry bushland, cleared forests, and open grassland.
These powerful, muscular snakes have a bold pattern of light brown ovoid patches on a dark brown background. They have short tails and their eyes have vertical pupils. The smallest of all African pythons, ball pythons grow to 3 to 6 feet in size.
The breeding season occurs when the temperatures drop below 70 degrees and the snakes have stopped eating, which is generally September or October through February. Mating is usually a communal affair. After breeding, a gravid female will find a warm spot, usually under leaves in a burrow, to lay her eggs. She will then wrap herself around the eggs and keep them warm for the entire 2 month incubation period. She will not eat during this time. Eggs are laid from February through August, with hatching taking place late April through October. Once the eggs hatch, the mother snake will leave the hatchlings to fend for themselves.
The average ball python will live to be 20 to 30 years old, although the current record-holder died at the Philadelphia Zoo in 1991 at the ripe old age of 47.
Ball pythons are private animals, and generally remain solitary except during breeding. These constrictors are mainly nocturnal. When threatened, a ball python will curl up into a ball with the head on the inside, protected – hence the common name. They do not bite as a main defense, as other snakes do.
Threats and Conservation Status
Ball pythons are collected for the pet trade and hunted for their meat and their skin. Consequently, this species is considered threatened.
Did you know…
- Ball pythons possess anal spurs, which are single claws located on either side of the vent opening. One theory to explain these spurs is that they are vestigal remains of hind legs that snakes lost during their evolution. The spurs are slightly longer on males than females.
- Ball pythons are very popular as a pet snake because of their non-aggressive personality and small size. Captive-born ball pythons can easily be switched to feeding on thawed frozen mice rather than live. Many different color morphs are available from the pet trade.
Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
- Ambassador Animal SAG Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 3: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms
- Choice, Control, and Training in Ectotherms, By Carrie Kish
- Stress Management in Reptiles and Frogs
- Reptile Lighting Information
- Check out the Advancing Herpetological Husbandry Facebook group. They have also published several newsletters (see Reptiles page for links).
- See: AAH -January 2018 Quarterly Newsletter Article: Temperature and Heat for Reptiles By Roman Muryn
Contributors and Citations
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- Seneca Park Zoo
- Lee Richardson Zoo
- Notes from comments gathered from completed PARIS rating sheets
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters