“Snakes are just very instinctive to me. I’ve been playing with snakes since before I could walk. It doesn’t matter where or what it is, from the biggest to the most venomous.”– Steve Irwin
The snake is a complicated figure in our modern world, for many there is a deep seeded fear that is often encouraged by various factors, including but not excluding too: religion, culture and personal experience.
Psychologists and scientists are doing new research in the fields of phobias, and they found something remarkable. That many humans have evolved with an innate sense of fear. Studies have found that among children and adults they could detect images of snakes among non-threatening objects more quickly than they could point out the non-threatening images; like a flower.
People who haven’t even seen a snake in their lives are also capable of having this deep seeded fear. Many speculate that it’s a genetic trait past down through the generations as a survival mechanism–let’s face it not all snakes are cuddly like our Percilla! And not all snakes are non-venomous either.
The purpose of THIS blog post is for two reasons:
1) To educate people specifically about ball pythons, because we always hear complaints about ball pythons or snakes in general are dangerous.( not true )
2) For those perhaps looking to purchase a ball python, what you’ll need and what you should know.
It’s important to understand that reptiles, as a whole, don’t have the same mentality as a dog, or a cat or even a bird. As the quote starting this blog post suggests is that snakes (and reptiles as a whole) are instinctual creatures.
So what exactly is a ball python?
A ball python, is a type of python found in Africa. It is the smallest of the python species in Africa and by far are the most popular pet snakes around due to their docile natures.
Adults rarely grow longer than four feet, though there are cases where they grow to five to six feet, and on average can live up to twenty years or more, the oldest recorded age of a ball python in captivity was 48 years.
Ball pythons are the most popular snake species because of their mild temperament, easy care and also for their manageable size. Four or five feet might seem big, but wait until you actually see one up close, we often get asked: “Is that really four feet?”
They get the name, “ball python”, for their tendency as a defence mechanism to curl themselves into a tight “ball”. This also enables them to fit into small nooks and crannies and preserve space by curling tightly unto itself.
Typically ball pythons reach sexual maturity at the age of 3-5 years.
Due to their popularity they come in a variety of different morphs and colour patterns. Typically the rarer the morph, the more expensive the snake is.
Though not terribly active, they will often seek out a water source during times of shedding, they enjoy to curl themselves in the dish of water and moist their scales. As such they should be given a decent size water dish for them to do so, you could also gently mist your snake once a day or so.
Adult ball pythons, at a minimum, should be given a terrarium of at least 30 gallons. They are escape artists, so make sure you purchase a terrarium where the lids are securely fitted, can are easily be snapped on, or locked shut.
For substrate (the thing that lines the bottom of your tank) it’s all a matter of debate, you can use a reptile carpet which is easy to maintain and clean, we highly recommend aspen shavings, as they are safe for the animal and they come in a variety of sizes and colours which will help personalize your terrarium and bring out the subtler colours of your snake.
Heating and lighting are important as well. It’s important to have a basking light, we recommend an infrared basking spot light, such as the ones made from Exo Terra, as not only do you provide sufficient heat, you also encourage a normally nocturnal animal out of it’s hide giving you the chance to see the animal when you normally wouldn’t. Many like to add heat pads, and you may wish to do so in larger terrarium set-ups, as long as the temperature is 80-85F (no lower than 75F) there should be no need for a heat pad. We recommend having a thermometer to help keep track of the temperature inside the enclosure.
Mentioned above, ball pythons enjoy small quarters, it’s important that they be given a proper hide and shading (such as appropriate artificial plants and leaves) to sleep, relax and get away from heated areas.
Feeding ball pythons should be done outside of their enclosure, as you risk the animal becoming cage aggressive. They are more opt to strike, and in some cases you won’t be feed the animal all the time.
A good rule of thumb is to have another container to feed the snake in, that way it can’t slip away unnoticed, and that the food should already be presented before the snake arrives.
Whether frozen or live, the choice in yours. If frozen it’s important to thaw them first, it’s not good for an animal to eat a block of ice. You also start to lose nutritional factors with frozen kill as opposed to live. If live feed, we suggest doing fresh kill, as live prey can (and often do) defend themselves, and if your snake makes a wrong calculation, that mice or rat won’t hesitate to take a chunk out of your little friend. This can lead to a traumatic experience for your pet, leaving it hesitant and unwilling to eat.
Before and after feeding your pet it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly as to eliminate the scent trails of a prey animal. This is one of many reasons as to why people are often bit by their snakes.
The other thing you should be aware, and not to panic over, is that many ball pythons enjoy to fast from time to time. Suddenly that snake that was eating two rats a week, will no longer eat. Sometimes it’s for a week or two, and sometimes it’s months. This is common in all snakes, not just ball pythons. This is natural and should be expected. Don’t panic.
During these fasts it’s important to offer water on a daily basis, and to once a week try to feed the snake. If doesn’t eat, it doesn’t it. No harm done. You can always store that rat in the freezer for next week. Ball pythons can fast up to 6 months to a year. So it’s important to have good heating, water and a hide and shaded areas for the snake during these times.
The important thing to look for is a drastic drop in weight, sneezing, vent problems and watery nasal. These are typical signs that your animal is sick and should see a veterinarian. Typically during these fasts the snake will be in consistent fine body condition. After six months of fasting and it continues to deny food, it’s always best to go see your vet and have it a check over to see if the body condition is still in working condition. Other than that, expect the fasts and don’t panic. Continually offer water daily and food once a week, and eventually your little guy (or gall) food strike will be over and will eat once again.
We’ve talked about how to take care of a ball python, let’s talk about why they make such good pets in the first place, and why many hobbyists recommend them as first time snake pets.
Did we mention that their docile? Though a private and secretive species, as pets ball pythons rarely ever bite. Though it’s important to understand that anything that has a mouth can bite. Compared to some of the similar types of snakes that reach to similar lengths, they are by far one of the most manageable and easy to care for snakes.
Due to their lack of biting and even tempered heads, they make good pets for children over the age of 7, like any animal (whether it be hamster, rat, dog or cat) it’s always important to monitor a child’s interactions with the animal, to properly educate and to properly instruct how to handle an animal problem.
Good tips are no quick movements, and no touching the face. Though many ball pythons enjoy their heads been scratch on and under, not all ball pythons are inviting.
Do to their docile natures many people have no fear or aversion to keeping their animals around their necks, and taking them for walks. They are also curious animals, and after the animals gets to know you, they are interesting animals as they often seek your time and affection.
Easy to maintain, care and handle, the ball python is one snake that doesn’t deserve the fear and stigma commonly attached. They are truly one snake that will captivate your heart.