Are you looking for a new snake that is both beautiful and easy to care for? If so, the African Ball Python may be the perfect choice for you!
The African Ball Python, also known as the Royal Python, is a non-venomous snake native to Africa. It’s one of the most popular snakes kept as family pets due to how docile they are and how easy they are to care for.
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 curling themselves into a tight coil, or ball, with their heads hidden inside. African Ball Pythons can grow up to 6 feet long!
They’re considered to be on the smaller side, they’re comfortable with handling. They’re not known to bite and they’re not 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. Because they’re safe for children, they’re also a good choice for a beginner snake owner.
African Ball Pythons are docile and gentle snakes and aren’t afraid of being handled by their owners. They also don’t get very large and do not normally bite anyone when kept in captivity. All these reasons make them a popular pet snake.
They originate from West Africa where they spend most of their time on the grasslands. It’s a good idea to give them a living space that closely resembles their natural habitat. Wood and grass bought from the pet store and used in their enclosure. Wild Royal Pythons can live 10 years, but up to 30 years in captivity.
Ball Pythons have a unique characteristic of curling themselves like a ball when they feel threatened or stressed. They will hide their head inside and coil their body tightly. This is how they derive the name “Ball” Python. These snakes are also commonly known as the Royal Python.
In terms of handling, African Ball Pythons are generally quite docile and can be handled with relative ease. It is important to handle them gently and slowly, as they may become stressed or frightened if handled too roughly. When handling your snake, it’s important to support their body weight so that they don’t feel like they’re falling or slipping.
Overall, African Ball Pythons make excellent family pets due to how docile they are and how easy they are to care for.
African Ball Python Information
- 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
- 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
- Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: Yes
- Weight Gain: Normal
- Health Concerns: Respiratory infections; dermatitis; stomatitis; and ticks, and mites.
- Allergies: None
- Average Life Span: 20 to 30 years
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Physical Appearance of African Ball Pythons
African Ball Pythons are the smallest snakes of the python family. They normally grow between 4 and 5 feet long, but the longest will get to 6 feet.
Ball Pythons have a thick muscular body with an unusually small triangular shaped-head for their body size.
They have multi-colored skin with smooth scales. The most common colors seen on them 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.
Like other captive snakes, genetic mutations have caused Ball Pythons to develop a variety of colors not seen in the wild. The captive bred colors include albino, mojave, and pastel. Over the years, breeders have created several morphs of Ball Pythons. Currently, there are around 26 morphs of the African Ball Python.
A morph is a snake of the same breed that has different colors or patterns than what is found of the same breed in the wild. The morphs are caused by genetic mutation or selective breeding to produce desired colors and patterns.
Temperament of African Ball Pythons
Ball Pythons are friendly and comfortable being handled by people when held in captivity. They don’t mind being gently taken out and handled a few times a day. Regular handling will help them be more comfortable and trusting of you.
Any time they are handled, remember that their full body should be supported and not just the head. Holding them incorrectly can cause them to be uncomfortable or even hurt 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 snakes are about to shed they become more defensive. Their personality may be visibly different with how they react while you are near them. When they are just about to shed their eyes become cloudy and it becomes difficult for them to see. They may become aggressive because they cannot tell who is moving near them.
Young hatchlings aren’t known to attack or bite but may get aggressive if they feel stressed or threatened. They’ll gradually become more comfortable being held with some time and when they grow up a little. Their bites are not harmful, because they are not venomous. The shock of being bitten will usually be worse than the bite.
Adult pythons will sometimes wrap themselves around an arm or wrist while being handled. 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 feel safer when they wrap around things, as long as it’s not uncomfortable it’s best to let them wrap around you.
Their Compatibility with Children
African Ball Pythons are harmless and safe to be handled by children. Children should know how to support the snake’s body with their hands. They should be taught to keep one hand near your snake’s head and to support their body with their other hand.
Adult pythons may wrap them around the wrist or arms. Until you know how your children will react to their wrapping they should have adult supervision while interacting with your python. Adult supervision should keep your children from feeling scared and keep both the child and the snake from being hurt.
Anyone handling your African Ball Python should wash their hands immediately after they are done. Most snakes are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent anyone that touched your snake from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases.
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. For adult snakes you’ll need a tank the size of a 40 to 50 gallon aquarium.
The top of the tank should have a tight fitting lid. A lid that can’t be pushed off will keep your snake from escaping. The lid should have a mesh screen so that the enclosure can have good ventilation.
The tank should be able to hold heat and be easy to clean. There should be enough hiding areas inside the enclosure, usually one on the warm and another on the hot side. These should only be big enough for your snakes to enter and curl up. It should not be much bigger than they are or your snake will not feel as safe.
Ball Pythons like to climb, and branches inside the tank give them something to climb on. It is important that any decorations that are put in the tank be able to support the weight of your python. If natural branches are being used, they should be sterilized before being used inside the tank.
Ball Pythons like to burrow into the substrate. The best substrate items that will let your python burrow are dry leaves and a loose substrate mixture. Newspapers, or paper towels could be used, but they’re not great long term options. Astroturf is good because it’s fairly easy to clean but your snake can’t burrow under it.
Most snake and reptile pets should be kept alone, and African Ball Pythons are no exception. Do not keep more than one snake inside the tank. Even female Ball Pythons should be kept separate unless you intend to breed them.
Best Climate for African Ball Pythons
Ball Pythons are nocturnal snakes, and their tank should be set up to simulate day and night. To provide heat and light, incandescent heat bulbs are a good choice. The bulb should be carefully placed so that it cannot come into contact with your snake or it can cause burns. Timers are available so that the light is only on for 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. Ceramic heating elements are able to provide more than 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 their lighting is not a source of 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 because it can be too cold for your snake. A thermometer on both warm and hot sides will let you monitor the temperature inside the tank.
The humidity level inside the tank should be between 40 to 60%. It should be slightly higher when your 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 need 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.
Giving 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.
Dermatitis is a condition in snakes that is caused by the conditions of their enclosure being not kept right. Either too humid, not humid enough, or too dirty, causing your snake’s skin to blister. Sometimes this is caused because your snake isn’t able to fully shed their skin, and it remains stuck to them for a long time. Eventually the blisters will become too large and burst, creating an open wound.
The best thing to do is to treat the cause immediately so that your snake’s skin does not get any worse.
Symptoms of Dermatitis:
- Discolored scales, usually on their belly
- Blisters, usually on their belly
- Swollen or raised scales
The best way to mitigate the problem is to move your snake into a holding container and then fully clean their enclosure. It’s important that the cleaning is thorough so that none of the bacteria will be in their enclosure once they’re placed back inside. Replace the substrate and clean all the items in their enclosure with disinfectant.
If your snake’s condition does not improve quickly you should call your vet.
Respiratory infections are not that uncommon in snakes and reptiles. Especially ones that are kept in enclosures not kept at the correct conditions. Respiratory infections are very contagious, and even if your pet is kept in the best conditions, the infection can be passed to another reptile through touch. That’s why it’s important to wash up between handling reptiles to prevent cross contamination.
Symptoms of a respiratory infection in snakes:
- Loss of appetite
- Loud breathing
- Open mouth breathing
- Mucus in their mouth
- Nasal discharge
You’ll want to take your snake into your vet if you see any of the problems related to their breathing or their mouth. A respiratory infection can be serious and can take a long time to get over without treatment.
Treatment for a respiratory infection is typically antibiotics for 10-14 days. It’s very important to administer the medication at the same time each day, and for the full length of the treatment. Not completing the full dose means that your pet could relapse with a more severe infection that’s harder to treat.
To prevent future respiratory infections it’s important to make sure that their enclosure is kept at the best conditions for their health. You’ll also want to make sure to wash up after handling one reptile before handling another to prevent cross contamination.
Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is an infection in a snake’s mouth. Mouth rot is very serious and can cause your snake a great deal of pain, and can eventually lead to their death. Mouth rot is typically caused by an injury to your snake’s mouth, or their enclosure not being kept at the correct conditions.
Symptoms of mouth rot in your snake are:
- Decreased appetite
- Blood in your pets mouth or their water bowl
- Swollen areas in their mouth
- Weight loss
The first step to fixing the problem is finding out if they injured their mouth on something, or if their enclosure’s conditions are not right. If their mouth is injured you should get them to a vet to have them look at your pets mouth. If the problem is environmental then fix the problems in their enclosure.
No matter what the cause of your snake’s mouth rot, you’ll still need to take them to your vet because their treatment requires prescription antibiotics. Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the mouth rot. Because this infection kills tissues in your pet’s mouth, areas may need to be removed, including teeth. It’s better to prevent this problem before it happens by keeping your pets’ enclosure at the conditions they need to be happy and healthy.
Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your snake as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your snake. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your snake to die.
Symptoms of ticks in snakes:
- Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
- Long soaks
- Weight loss
- Scale deformities or red spots
Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their scales, people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are, and with a close inspection of your snake you should be able to spot them pretty easily.
The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your snake, rub the tick with a cotton ball that has been soaked in rubbing alcohol, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your snake might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.
Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off your snake’s blood, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times your new snake will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another snake at the pet store.
Symptoms that your snake has mites:
- Long soaks in their water
- Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
- Tiny black specs on your snake or objects in their enclosure
- Tiny black specs on you from handling your snake
We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets so that you don’t spread mites from pet to pet.
Grooming and Care
The tank of your 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 a month.
A bowl of clean water should be kept at the warm side of their tank. It should be large enough for your snake to slide through and soak in. The water in the bowl should be cleaned and refilled daily so your snake always has clean water to drink.
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. Having something rough in their tank will give them something to rub their skin against and help them shed their skin. The whole process of shedding can take up to 2 weeks, but it will usually be done in a few days.
Feeding An African Ball Python
Ball Pythons need to be fed live mice, or pre-killed frozen mice or rats. You can also get them a Natal 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 being fed to your snake. Some Ball Pythons like to catch their prey themselves. If your Ball Python is one that prefers live food you can still feed them thawed mice by holding the tail of a mouse with some feeding tongs. By holding the food with the tongs it can be moved so that your snake thinks the food is alive.
If you feed them live mice do not leave them unattended till they have eaten the mice. Sometimes live mice can injure your snake. You’ll want to be there if there is a problem or if your snake doesn’t want to eat.
Younger snakes should be fed once every 5 to 7 days and adult snakes should be fed every 8 to 14 days. The size of mice for younger snakes should be smaller and gradually increased as the snake gets bigger.
Your snake will eat less often when they are going to shed.
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 and they’ll be able to suggest ways to fix the problem and get them eating again.
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, which are the last traces of legs that they had millions of years ago when their species was considered a reptile and not a snake.
Should I feed my Ball Python inside their Enclosure?
Many experts recommend feeding them outside their living tank in a separate enclosure. Moving them to another enclosure will get them into the habit of eating in the separate enclosure. By feeding them in this second enclosure they should not confuse your hand for food when you put it inside their main tank. It also gives you another opportunity to handle your snake when you move them back and forth.
Most snake owners do not do this for a number of reasons. One 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 harm, just cause some pain. They do not bite very hard, and usually the shock of being bitten 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.
Maryna is an animal expert that has had dozens of animals in her life over the years. She has never found an animal that she didn't love immediately. It seems like every year she finds kittens that have been abandoned by their mom and she nurses them to health and finds homes for them. She contributes her vast knowledge about animals and family pets to our website and we're forever grateful to have her working with us. She's also an amazing graphics designer and has designed all of the social media images that we use across all platforms.