African Ball Python

The African Ball Python, or Royal Python, originates from the West African grasslands. Their natural habitat includes grasslands as well as scrublands, savannas and open forests. They enjoy the shelter and temperature moderation afforded to them by inhabiting the burrows of rodents. The Ball part of their name comes from their habit of curling themselves into a tight coil, or ball, with their heads hidden inside.

This type of snake is both docile and gentle. Considered to be on the smaller side, they are comfortable with handling and are not known to bite. An added attraction is that this snake is not venomous. They prefer a simple enclosure that includes a hide box. Ball Pythons have low grooming needs, high heat tolerance, and an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years. As this snake is safe for children, it is a good choice for the beginner snake owner.

an african ball python moving through the grass

African Ball Python Information

  • Average Length: 3 to 5 feet
  • Average Weight: 4 to 5 pounds
  • Snake Type: Python Snake
  • Skin Appearance: Multi-color with patches of lighter shades
  • Skin Colors: Black or brown 
  • Grooming Needs: Low 
  • Shedding: 2 to 3 times a year
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: Heat yes, cold no
  • Good Pet: They are docile and allow people to hand them, so yes! 
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: Yes
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have respiratory infections; dermatitis; stomatitis; and ticks, and mites.  
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 20 to 30 years

Physical Appearance of African Ball Pythons

Ball Pythons are the smallest snakes in the python species of snakes. They normally grow to a length between 2 and 5 feet, but their maximum length is 6 feet. 

The Ball Pythons have a muscular body with a comparatively small and triangular shaped-head. 

They have multi-colored skin with smooth scales. Commonly found colors are black or brown with patches of light brown or tan on their upper body. The patches are outlined by an even lighter or golden color. The color of their belly can be cream or white with black markings on them.

Like other captive snakes, genetic mutation has resulted in the Ball Pythons developing a variety of colors. This includes albino, mojave, and pastel. Over the years, breeders have created several morphs of the Ball Pythons. Currently, there are around 26 morphs of the African Ball Python. 

A morph is a snake of the same breed that looks different in color or pattern than what is commonly expected in the species. This is caused by genetic mutation or selective breeding of the snakes to produce desired colors and patterns.

an African Ball Python coiled in the grass

Temperament of African Ball Pythons

Ball Pythons are friendly and comfortable being handled by humans when held in captivity. You can gently take them out and handle them a few times each day. This will help them to become more friendly with you. 

When you handle them remember that their full body should be supported and not just the head or they will not be comfortable while you are handling them

It is very important to not handle them immediately after they have been fed or when they are about to shed their skin. After they have been fed it can be uncomfortable for them to be held, so it is best to wait several hours before handling them.

When the snakes are about to shed they become more defensive.  You may notice visible changes in how they react while you are near them.  When they are just about to shed their eyes become cloudy and it becomes difficult to see. They may become aggressive because they cannot tell who is moving near them.

They do not have a tendency to attack or bite but young hatchlings may sometimes bite when they feel stressed or threatened. They gradually become more comfortable being held when they grow up a little. Their bites are not harmful, as they are not venomous. The shock you will experience will usually be worse than the bite.

Adult pythons may sometimes wrap themselves around your wrist or arm while you are handling them. They are pythons after all, and that is what they do. Their grip is soft and you can easily unwrap them if you wanted to. They often feel safer when they do this, so if you don’t mind, let them.

Their Compatibility with Children

African Ball Pythons are harmless and safe to be handled by children. Children should know how to support the body of the snake with their hands. Teach them to keep one hand near the head and to support the body of the snake.  

Adult pythons may wrap them around the wrist or arms. Until you know how your children will react to this adult supervision should be provided. This will prevent your children from feeling scared and prevent the child and the snake from being hurt.

Anyone handling the snakes should wash their hands after handling them. This is because most snakes are carriers of infectious diseases like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. It will reduce the chances of you or your children from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases from the snakes.

Living Space for African Ball Pythons

Ball Pythons need a comfortable and large living space so that they do not feel stressed. Baby Pythons can live in a 20 to 30-gallon tank and for adults, you may need a tank with a capacity of 40 to 50 gallons. This will depend upon the age and size of the snake. 

The top of the tank should have a tightly fitted lid. This will prevent the snake from escaping. It should also allow for proper ventilation.

a close up of an African Ball Pythons head

The tank should be able to hold heat and also be easy to clean. There should be plenty of hiding areas inside the tank. These should only be big enough for the snakes to curl. It should not be much bigger than they are or else the snake will not feel secure. 

Ball Pythons like to climb, and branches inside the tank give them something to climb on.  It is important that anything you put in the tank can support the weight of the python. If you are using natural branches, sterilize them before placing them inside the tank. 

Ball Pythons also like to burrow so the flooring or substrate of the tank should allow for this. You can use various materials for this like dry leaves, newspapers, or paper towels. You can also use Astroturf as these are fairly easy to clean.

It is not recommended to keep your snakes along with other pets. Do not keep more than one snake inside the tank. Even the female Ball Pythons should be kept separate unless you intend to breed them.

an african ball python coiled on itself

Best Climate for African Ball Pythons

Ball Pythons are nocturnal snakes, so they need alternate periods of light and darkness. To provide heat and light you can use an incandescent heat bulb. The bulb should be carefully screened to prevent contact with the snake as it can cause burns. Timers work great so that the light is not on for  more than 10 to 12 hours a day.

If you decide not to use a heat bulb you can use a ceramic heating element under the enclosure.  This will easily provide enough heat on the warmer side.  Keep in mind that it would still be best for the snake to have light for 10 to 12 hours a day, even if it is not providing them any heat.

The temperature inside the tank should be around 88 to 90 on the hot end of the tank and around 75 on the cold end. It should not fall below 75 degrees as it can be too cold for the snake. Use multiple thermometers to regularly monitor the temperature inside the tank. 

The humidity level inside the tank should be 40 to 60 %. It should be slightly higher when the python is shedding. Depending upon the humidity level inside your home, you may need to mist the tank or keep a bowl of evaporating water inside the tank. 

The Attention an African Ball Python Needs

Snakes do not crave a lot of attention. The only attention they need from you is a clean water source and occasional food.  Beyond this all they care about is a good enclosure with a nice place to hide and feel safe.

Providing them a comfortable and secure environment to live in will keep them satisfied. If you are looking for a snake that you can handle, you should interact with them often to get them comfortable with you. 

Grooming and Care

The tank of the Ball Python should always be kept clean. This will minimize the chances of your snake getting sick. The poop of the python should also be cleaned regularly if not immediately. When they have a bowel movement it will almost always be the first thing you smell. Clean the tank using a reptile-safe disinfectant once every month.

A bowl of clean water should be provided at the cool end of the tank. It should be large enough for the snake to take a bath and soak in. The water in the bowl should be replaced daily to provide clean water to the python. 

Ball Pythons shed their skin 2 to 3 times in a year. Younger snakes will shed more frequently. If their eyes turn cloudy, it means that they are going to shed. Keep a branch of wood inside the tank. This will allow them to rub their skin against the branch and help in shedding the skin. The whole process of shedding can take up to 2 weeks.

Health Issues

Dermatitis is a common health condition that some Ball Pythons may get. This results in rapid shedding and blisters. An unclean living environment or cold temperatures could be a reason for this. Consult your reptile vet for necessary treatment.  

They also tend to have respiratory diseases. These may be caused by excessive humidity or poor ventilation inside the tank. If you see them having difficulty breathing or with mucus in the mouth try adjusting the temperature inside the tank.

Some snakes may also develop Stomatitis, a bacterial condition that can result in loss of teeth or appetite or white substance in the mouth. This disease can be harmful if not treated immediately. Immediately consult your vet if you see your snake having any of these symptoms.

They can also have ticks and mite infections. Check your snake’s health regularly to see any visible signs of these diseases. This will allow you to take them to the vet early on if they develop a disease.

a large coiled African Ball Python
snake food

Feeding An African Ball Python

The Ball Pythons need to be fed pre-killed frozen mice or rats. You can also get them multimammate mice, a rodent species found in Africa. Multimammate mice are the natural prey of ball pythons in the wild. 

Frozen mice need to be defrosted before feeding them. Some Ball Pythons like to catch their prey themselves. You may need to present the mouse to them by tying its tail to a stick. This will allow the Ball Python to grab the mice. 

Sometimes live mice can injure your snake. If you serve them live mice do not leave them unattended till they have eaten the mice.

Younger snakes should be fed once every 5 to 7 days and adult snakes should be fed every 7 to 14 days. The snake will eat less often when they are going to shed. The size of mice for younger snakes should be smaller and gradually increased as the snake gets bigger. 

Sometimes the African Ball Python may stop eating for months. This is usually due to stress which can be caused by various reasons like the condition of living space, improper handling, or health conditions. Contact your reptile vet who will be able to suggest ways to deal with this.

Related Questions:

What is the difference between a male and female Ball Python?

Females are longer than males and can sometimes grow up to 6 feet. The males are somewhat thinner and have a smaller head than female Ball Pythons. Males also have larger anal spurs.

Should I feed the Ball Python inside the tank?

Many experts recommend feeding them outside the tank in a separate enclosure. This will get them into the habit of eating in the separate enclosure and not confuse your hand for prey when you put it inside the tank they are living in. It will also make it easier for you to handle the snake by reaching out to them.

Most snake owners do not do this for a number of reasons.  The first reason is that there are methods you can use to let your snake know when it is and isn’t feeding time.  The other is that when you have a number of snakes it can really take a long time if you need to move each one to a new tank.

Are Ball Pythons venomous?

No, they are not venomous. Their bite will not do much, just cause some pain. They do not bite very hard and at most, and usually the shock you will experience will be worse than their bite.  If they bite you, put them back in their enclosure and wash the bite with soap and hot water. 

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