Ball pythons make great pets for reptile keepers of all skill levels. They are generally very docile snakes that are easy to care for and with proper care and husbandry, can be with you for 30 years or more. These beautiful snakes are undoubtedly the most popular pet snakes in the pet trade, and they come in many interesting and beautiful color morphs.
While ball pythons are easy to take care of, you will need plenty of supplies to get started. They have some specific care requirements that must be met for them to thrive and live a happy healthy life. Here’s what you’ll need to get you off on the right foot.
The 10 Essential Ball Python Supplies
You will need to have a proper enclosure ready for your ball python. It is recommended to keep them in an enclosure that is appropriate to their current size to keep them feeling safe and secure within their new habitat. As they grow, you can increase the size of the enclosure.
If your snake is a baby, it is recommended to keep them in a small enclosure approximately 15 to 20 gallons in size. Fully grown adult ball pythons will typically require an enclosure size of 40 to 50 gallons.
Aside from the typical glass terrarium that you will find in pet stores, many reptile keepers utilize PVC enclosures that are not measured in gallons. Depending on the size of your ball python, you can expect to need an enclosure that measures between 36 and 60 inches in length, at least 12 inches in height, and 14 inches in width.
Certain enclosures are made so that they can be stand-alone or stacked for those that keep multiple snakes. This is very convenient for those that are looking for a nice aesthetic that will also serve as a space saver. Some enclosures are even customizable to suit your needs and can include built-in radiant heat panels, locks, and other optional features.
The next necessity you need is the proper substrate. There are a few different types of substrates you can use in a ball python enclosure. The most naturalistic substrates that are ideal for ball pythons are coconut fiber or husk, fir bark, bioactive soil, cypress mulch, and aspen chips. Some keepers even choose to lay down newspapers or paper towels.
Never use any sand, cedar, or pine substrate for ball pythons. Sand can be ingested during feeding and result in serious impaction of the digestive system which is potentially deadly. Cedar and pine are highly toxic to snakes and other reptiles due to the oils and fumes released from the wood, so both of these should be avoided at all costs.
Coconut Husk/Coconut Fiber
Substrates made from coconut fiber and coconut husk hold moisture well to help maintain proper humidity levels, they are also naturally antimicrobial, so they are more resistant to mold and fungus growth.
Another common substrate used in the ball python world is fir bark. It is made from the bark of the fir tree and does well retaining moisture and humidity levels within the enclosure. Not only is it reasonably priced, but it is also washable and reusable.
Bio-active soil is formulated to hold moisture and maintain appropriate humidity levels but it does require occasional misting. It is probably the most naturalistic substrate available, but it does require much more maintenance than other options. It’s not recommended for beginners, but many seasoned reptile keepers do enjoy using this substrate.
Cypress mulch is one of the safest particulate substrates you can use for ball pythons. It is highly absorbent, holds moisture well, and is aesthetically pleasing. As with any particulate substrate, you will need to use caution to prevent your snake from accidentally ingesting any during feeding time. It cannot be cleaned and so has to be removed and replaced with fresh mulch when soiled.
Aspen shavings are another popular choice among keepers, but they can rot more easily if they become wet. These shavings cannot be cleaned and so they must be removed and replaced with fresh shavings when it becomes soiled.
Newspaper or Paper Towels
These two inexpensive substrate choices are typically used by breeders that house many snakes within a rack system but are also great for snakes that have suffered injury or need to be placed in quarantine away from other reptiles when first brought into the home.
You will want to provide two hides for your ball python within the enclosure. One should be placed on the warm side of the enclosure and the other on the cool side. As cold-blooded animals, ball pythons are unable to regulate their body temperature and rely solely on their environment to do so.
One of the main things to look for when selecting a good hide for your ball python is the security it provides. You need to choose a hide that is cave-like with only one entry point. Size is another important factor; it should be slightly bigger than your coiled-up ball python so it can curl up tightly within the hide but have enough room to move around and exit easily.
4. Water Dish
You must always have a water dish filled with fresh clean water available for your ball python. Ball pythons may get most of their needed hydration directly from their prey, but they will also drink water regularly.
The water dish needs to be large enough for the snake to soak in as needed, so the size of the dish should be based on the size of your snake. Having a water dish inside the enclosure also helps control the humidity by adding moisture into the air.
If you are unsure of the quality of your tap water or do not have a proper filter, we highly recommend using bottled spring water for your ball python. This is because typical tap water generally contains small amounts of fluoride and chlorine or chloramine, and it is best avoided.
Here are some examples of some idea water dishes you can place in your ball python enclosure:
5. Heat Source
Ball pythons require a heat source to warm up the enclosure to the proper temperature. Heating mats, built-in heat panels, heat tape, and ceramic heat emitters can all be used. UVB lighting is not required and though you can use a basking light, this is not a necessity like it is for other reptiles.
Most keepers choose to utilize an under-tank heating mat that covers about one-third of the floor space within the enclosure. As mentioned earlier, some PVC enclosures can be customized with built-in heating panels, which is very convenient. Regardless of the heat source you choose, remember to place a hide on each side so your snake has a warm and cool side to choose from.
6. Feeding Tongs
When it comes to feeding your ball python, you will be feeding them rodents. You do not want to use your bare hands to offer their food, as these constrictors strike quickly and efficiently, and you do not want to get bitten in the process. Having a solid pair of feeding tongs is essential.
Ball pythons should be fed a diet consisting of captive-bred, appropriately sized rats, or mice. Ball pythons can be finicky eaters and tend to imprint on a particular food source.
Since rats will be more appropriately sized as they age, it is recommended to offer rats as the primary food source as soon as possible, though may have to start with mice when they are babies.
You must feed your snake appropriately sized prey that is no wider than the widest part of its body. This helps prevent issues with digestion and regurgitation of oversized prey. Offering frozen-thawed rodents is highly recommended not just for ethical reasons but for the safety of your snake.
As we’ve mentioned, you have to have a dedicated hot and cool side in your snake’s enclosure with a hide available on each side. We’ve already gone over the different types of heat sources to help you maintain the proper temperature, but you will need a thermostat so that you can keep track and ensure the temperature within their habitat is in a suitable range.
The hot side should be kept between 85-91°F and should never exceed 93°F. The cool side should be kept at around 80°F and never below 75°F. The average ambient, or overall temperature should remain near 82°F. These temperatures can easily be controlled by the thermostat to allow you to properly maintain your snake’s enclosure.
Ball pythons require about 60% humidity on average within their enclosure. Though baby ball pythons may sometimes require slightly higher humidity levels in the beginning. It’s a good idea to purchase a hygrometer that will allow you to monitor the humidity level.
While the hygrometer cannot maintain the humidity, it will let you know when you need to take steps to adjust it. Since proper humidity is important for successful shedding and your snake’s overall health, a hygrometer is an inexpensive and necessary supply. There are even some products that offer a two-in-one thermometer and hygrometer.
Ball python terrarium decorations are more than just furniture or accessories to make a reptile’s terrarium look prettier. While they can serve an important aesthetic function, they enhance a reptile’s quality of life by mimicking their natural environment and providing mental stimulation
There are many different types of terrarium décor available, including logs and branches( which can help assist with shedding,) plants, and other décor that can add a more personal touch to your enclosure. There are endless options for how you can decorate, follow the links below for some great examples of terrarium décor.
There are a lot of setups that go into a pet ball python, but once you gather all your supplies and get established, it will be well worth all the effort put into shopping. As you can see, there are many different choices within each of these necessities that can help you personalize your snake’s habitat. If you ever have any questions about caring for your ball python, don’t hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian.
Featured Image Credit: Krisda Ponchaipulltawee, Shutterstock