There are a lot of simple errors people make with their ball pythons. I hope this can help ball python owners to prevent injury and sickness in their snakes.
- Heating with a bulb. what’s so bad about this? Well, these snakes need belly heat, for one, and secondly, bulbs dry out the enclosure too much. Ball Pythons require 60% humidity, and up to 80% while in shed. Too high humidity can cause respiratory infection. Heat mats or heat tape should be the only heat sources used for these snakes. If you use any sort of bulb at all, it should be the secondary heat source only, and if you do, be sure to watch your humidity, and sheds extra carefully.
- Not using a thermostat. This is a common, serious mistake which can lead to serious burns. Ball Pythons require warm-side temps of 90-95 deg F.
- Using a Screen Lid or Screen Cage. While BP’s do need ventilation, a screen cage or screen aquarium top can cause too much humidity to escape. Never use a screen cage to house a Ball Python. If you have a tank with a screen top, cover part of the screen and monitor humidity, changing the percent of the area covered until the desired percent is reached. (Lid can be modified with a number of things, such as bristol board, cardboard, damp towel, etc.)
Underfeeding/Overfeeding. Remember this rule of thumb: feed a prey item that, at its widest part, is the same width as the widest part of the snake’s body. Do not go over 1.5X the width of your BP’s body, up to about 1000 grams of the ball python. At that point do not continue to increase the rats size at the same rate as that of the snake.
Never should a BP need to be fed mouse pinkies, unless force or assist feeding a hatchling.
If you have alternatives, don’t feed with mice at all. You do not want your ball python to imprint on them, and refuse anything else. However, hopper mouse moves around a lot more than a pinky rat, and can better entice a hatchling snake.
If you feed mice you will have to switch them to rats one day, and balls aren’t big fans of making changes. They will likely resist, it will likely be a huge headache. You will try scenting and braining,(don’t do this AT ALL) you will try priming and disguising, and if you’re really unlucky your snake may not reliably eat for years after that. If all you have in your area is Petco/PetSmart to buy feeders from, you can try getting rodents at expos or by going on Craigslist to the pet section and looking for someone advertising feeder rats/advertise looking for someone selling feeder rats/ advertise looking for someone to split the cost of an online order. Depending on the level of rodent love in your area you may get flagged and removed.
Unless a snake has refused it’s last meal(s), you should be offering no less often than every two weeks. Starving your snake can make it very aggravated, and nippy.
- Improper use of glass terrarium. While the ideal enclosure would be a plastic tub, it is possible to keep them successfully in a glass tank. Ball Pythons in the wild live in holes. Whether you notice it or not, a completely open, glass tank can be very stressful to them. This can be rectified by making a couple simple modifications: provide plenty of hiding places, and blank out the back and sides of the tank to ensure the snake feels less exposed.
- Feeding live prey unsupervised. This can lead to serious injury or death. Rats can easily kill an adult Ball Python.
- Not providing a “cool area”. All reptiles require a “cool side” to their enclosure. They cannot regulate their temperature, if there is no place to cool down. This “cool side” should be 80-85F.
- Housing non-breeding pairs together. This can lead to cannibalism, health issues, etc.
- Using “Heat Rocks” – pet stores still sell and promote these dangerous pieces of equipment. Because they heat unevenly and can have spikes in temperature, they can cause serious burns and injury. If the ambient temp is too low, a snake will, huddle tightly on a source too hot even if they are getting burned.
- Not properly securing the cage. Leading to the eventual escape of the animal. A pile of books or rocks or bricks will work until the day it doesn’t. Ball pythons are amazing little escape artists and what may work for years will one day fail and you’ll be left snakeless and amazed. If your animal does escape don’t give up looking for it too easy. They turn up sometimes months later, so don’t go out later that day and buy the replacement, give yourself some time. Remember, with missing snakes start by looking everywhere that you think the snake could possibly be, then look everywhere that you know it can’t possibly be. If it’s not the heat of summer, check for warm places.
- Using hides that are too big/too small. In order for a snake to feel secure, hides are a must. Ideally, you should have two hides, each large enough that your snake can fit its whole body inside, but small enough that the snake will feel safe and protected. Place one hide on the cool end and one on the warm end, over the under-tank-heater. A hide that takes up most of the enclosure is too big.
- Not knowing exactly what your temps are. You should know what the temperature is down to the degree. You should know whether it changes at night or when the door opens. You should know what it is on the warm side and the cool side, don’t put your thermometer in the upper corner of the cage. The snake doesn’t spend any time there, your thermometers should be measuring the temperature at ground level. Or better yet, invest in a heat gun. I like wireless thermometers. I can place one in a ziplock bag, and put it anywhere I want, then see the temp from several feet away, or even my desk.
- Too much handling. Snakes are not social animals, and don’t like to be picked up and played with, for hours at a time, or in a single day. If you’re gentle, you can get them used to a lot, but take it easy! Start small and work up, always being careful not to overdo it and develop negative associations.
Keeping these things in mind, will help your ball python, have a long and happy life.