Ball Python Care Page
Prepared by ReptiFiles
Ball pythons are a crepuscular (most active around dawn/dusk), ground-dwelling, carnivorous species of constricting snake native to regions of western and central Africa. They are usually 3-5’ long, with males tending to be significantly smaller than females. In captivity, ball pythons are known to live long lives: 15-30 years on average.
Ball pythons are known for their incredible genetic diversity; part of their current popularity is due to a fad for producing “morphs,” i.e. variations in color and pattern. At the moment, there are more than 7,000 known BP morphs!
This Care Guide been curated by ReptiFiles.
ReptiFiles is an online database of comprehensive, science-based reptile care guides created by reptile husbandry specialist Mariah Healey. ReptiFiles’ primary goal is to promote a higher standard of animal welfare within the reptile industry.Read Full Care Guide
Ball Pythons at a Glance
Here are some core facts about ball python care:
Semi-Arid Grassland, Forest
Ball pythons are naturally found in western and central Africa.
4 out of 5: Good Handleability
Ball pythons generally tolerate human interaction well, though they’re usually asleep during the day, when humans are most active. Check out the instructions in our Taming & Handling section to learn more about how to properly tame and handle your ball python.
Expected Weekly Dedication: 1 hour minimum
Ball pythons are some of the most popular pet snakes in the United States, as they’re manageably-sized, generally handleable, and are (unfortunately) tolerant of being housed in sub-ideal conditions, but that does not mean you should keep your ball python in a bare-minimum habitat! A proper enclosure and a healthy snake require some upkeep. Regular chores may include preparing food, replacing water, and spot-cleaning. The water bowl should be kept fresh and clean at all times and disinfected at least once a week.
The amount and frequency of spot-cleaning required will depend on whether your enclosure is bioactive or not. We'll cover these respective chores in the Enclosure Enrichment section.
- Readily available
- Manageable size
- Relatively hardy
- Low maintenance
- Tolerant of human interaction
- Lots of color morphs to choose from
Things to be aware of:
- Large enclosure
- Moderate to high humidity
- Can be quite shy
- Require whole rodent prey
Ball pythons need at least a 4’x2’x2’ enclosure, preferably larger.
Reptiles aren’t like dogs and cats that can simply roam around your house. They are very sensitive to their environment, and need their own enclosure set up according to their specific needs. This guide covers everything you will need to care for your pet ball python properly.
Enclosure Size Requirements
Ball pythons should be housed in an enclosure that is no smaller than 4’L x 2’W x 2’H. This is the bare minimum, based on the formula for calculating a snake’s minimum space needs:
Enclosure Width ≥ snake length
Enclosure Length ≥ ½ snake length
Enclosure Height ≥ ½ snake length
If your ball python is any longer than 48”, you will need at minimum a 5’x3’x3’ enclosure.
However, if you can provide an enclosure with more floor space and height, do it! Housing your ball python in a larger enclosure will encourage it to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors. Males in particular are known to be enthusiastic climbers! Contrary to popular belief, ball pythons don't just coil up and hide for 24 hours a day - limiting their space can actually be quite stressful.
Can multiple ball pythons be housed in the same enclosure?
No. Ball pythons are solitary animals, so they don’t get lonely. In fact, they’re far more content living completely alone. ”Roommates” can make them feel threatened, which can cause them to stop eating and get sick. There have even been some documented cases of ball python cannibalism.
Ball Python Enclosure Examples
Photo contributed by Mariah Healey
Substrate is the material that you use to cover the floor of the enclosure. Ball pythons are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a loose soil substrate, at least 2-4” deep. Although ball pythons don’t naturally burrow, a deeper substrate is better able to maintain humidity.
The best substrate for ball pythons is a DIY mix of roughly 40% untreated topsoil + 40% Zoo Med ReptiSoil + 20% play sand. Mix well, soak until muddy, then pack it firmly at the bottom of the enclosure, but allow it to dry out overnight before introducing the snake to the setup. For best results, layer with sphagnum moss and leaf litter to retain moisture.
You can also use a pre-packaged substrate, though this can be more costly. Depending on the brand, you may still need to add some topsoil (if too dusty) or sand (if too muddy) to reach desired consistency. Here are some recommended commercial substrates appropriate for ball pythons:
Another option is a bioactive setup. Bioactive enclosure setups are designed to mimic a reptile’s natural environment and stimulate natural behaviors. The recommended substrates can easily support bioactivity with the addition of a “cleanup crew” of isopods and springtails that clean up uneaten food, fallen leaves, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance.
Unsafe Substrates for Ball Pythons
These substrates are particularly dangerous to ball pythons because they pose major health risks or create an unnatural, uncomfortable, and unsanitary environment. Avoid the following substrates at all costs and stick to the list in the previous section.
- Reptile carpet – harbors bacteria, hard to clean, doesn't hold humidity
- Carefresh - dusty & doesn't hold humidity
- Aspen - doesn't hold humidity & molds quickly in presence of moisture
- Pine/fir/cedar - irritates eyes/lungs & can cause neurological damage
- Shelf liner - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
When you first bring your new snake home, you will need to quarantine for at least 1 month. This means keeping the enclosure as sterile as possible and closely monitoring the animal's health.
Paper towels are the best substrate for temporary quarantine, as they can be frequently replaced and make it easier to observe feces and other potential health issues. Paper towels should be fully replaced at least once a week and any soiled areas must be replaced daily. Once your snake has shown a clean bill of health, you can introduce your long-term substrate to the enclosure.
If you already have other reptiles in your home, you should extend the quarantine period to 3 months, keep the enclosure in a separate room if possible, and make sure not to share any tools or decor between your new snake and other pets, unless fully sanitized between each use.
Reptiles are much more intelligent than we humans tend to give them credit for, and that means they need things to entertain them. Otherwise they exist in a state of perpetual boredom, which makes them dull, inactive, and overall less interesting as pets. When reptiles have objects to interact with in their enclosure, they become less stressed and more engaged with their environment. This practice is called environmental enrichment.
It’s important to choose enrichment items (a.k.a. enclosure décor) that are appropriate to your pet’s natural behaviors. Since ball pythons like to hide, feel free to clutter it up! Here are some other objects that serve a vital function in a ball python terrarium:
Heavy water dish
Ball pythons thrive when they have access to a large water dish full of fresh water. Aside from drinking a lot, they also like to soak on occasion, especially before shedding. The dish should be large enough to accommodate at least most of the snake’s body, and heavy enough that it can’t be tipped over.
As a rule of thumb, ball pythons need at least 2 hides: one on the warm side (under the heat lamps, ideally with a basking platform on top) and one on the cool side. However, it’s better to offer as many as you can possibly cram into the enclosure for these shy pythons to feel secure. For best results, fill 1 or 2 central-to-cool hides with moistened sphagnum moss to facilitate shedding. The ideal shape for a hide is low and wide, and preferably partially buried in the substrate — just like a burrow!
Install at least one or two sturdy branches (or more!) that the snake can safely slither over and climb to varying heights. In addition to mental stimulation, branches are a great way to encourage exercise, which improves muscle tone, fights obesity, and can improve appetite. Hollow logs and cork rounds can serve a dual purpose as both climbing decor and hiding spots!
If you collect wood from outside, give it a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC &/or bake in the oven at 250°F for about an hour.
Both live and artificial foliage can be used to enhance your python's enclosure, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Fake plants are often preferable for ball pythons because they can withstand being “run over” by a relatively heavy-bodied snake on a regular basis, whereas live plants are more fragile and may get trampled to death. However, a bioactive setup will require at least a few live plants for a fully functional ecosystem.
Make sure all live plants are nontoxic to reptiles and any artificial plants are cleaned and sanitized before adding to the enclosure. If you have live plants, consider installing a 6500K daylight lamp to help them grow and flourish.
In addition to holding humidity within the substrate, leaf litter is a great way to provide more sensory experience for your ball python. You can purchase leaf litter or collect some from outside. Just make sure to gather them from a clean, dry area that hasn’t been touched by chemicals, and then boil or bake them in your oven at 200°F/100°C for 1 hour to kill microbes.
This is a mostly aesthetic item, but can be very useful if you are keeping your ball python in a glass terrarium. A background should cover 3 sides of the terrarium, helping your snake feel more secure in its environment.
How do I keep my enclosure clean?
To control the growth of pathogens and keep your ball python’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free, it’s important to clean it regularly.
Spot-cleaning should be performed daily. This is the routine removal of feces, urates, uneaten food, and contaminated substrate. Soiled surfaces and water dishes should be scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and rinsed at least weekly. Due to the nature of snake urine and feces, substrate changes and surface scrubbing may be required quite frequently. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced every 1-3 months, depending on how diligent you are about spot-cleaning. This is also a good time to thoroughly clean the enclosure with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine.
If you have a bioactive enclosure, “cleaning” will be more like periodic maintenance: watering the plants, adding biodegradables, and feeding the CUC as needed. Substrate does not need to be replaced. Some spot-cleaning will still be required for particularly messy feces/urates and soiled surfaces. The water dish should be disinfected weekly.
Ball pythons should have 2 types of lamps in their enclosure: Cluster heat lamps (required) and a UVB lamp (strongly recommended)
UVB is important for healthy metabolism, specifically vitamin D synthesis and calcium metabolism, improving skin health, and strengthening the immune system. UVB can be replaced with an oral vitamin D3 supplement for ball pythons, but this method is less effective and more difficult to regulate, so we strongly recommend using a proper UV lamp instead.
UVA is beneficial to eyesight and is sensed by their pineal gland to regulate a circadian rhythm. UVA is emitted by both UV lamps and halogen bulbs.
Infrared radiation (i.e. heat) is important for reptiles' thermoregulation. As ectotherms, they rely on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and stimulate their metabolism, digest their food, and stay alert and active. The shorter the wavelength, the deeper it can penetrate their muscle tissue. In captivity, we can provide this with specific heat bulbs that emit the most beneficial infrared wavelengths (IR-A and IR-B).
All light and heat should be kept on a regular schedule using outlet timers or done manually. This allows for a predictable day/night cycle which the snake can follow, allowing for natural hormonal rhythms and good mental health. We recommend the following schedule for ball pythons, based on their natural environment:
|Spring||12hrs ON / 12hrs OFF|
|Summer||14hrs ON / 10hrs OFF|
|Fall||12hrs ON / 12hrs OFF|
|Winter||10hrs ON / 14hrs OFF|
Ball pythons benefit greatly from a UV lamp in the enclosure. They have been proven able to survive without UVB if they receive sufficient supplementary vitamin D3 in their diet, but simply surviving is not thriving. The problem with using a supplement is that dosing is extremely imprecise and oral D3 is less efficiently absorbed by the body. Experts don't know much vitamin D3 snakes actually need, but they do know how much UVB is needed for them to self-regulate their own D3 production, so providing a UV lamp is far more beneficial to promote optimum health.
Ball pythons should have anywhere from a 5% to 12% UVB output T5 lamp, depending on the setup. The best output for your enclosure is calculated by the distance between the lamp and the basking surface (see our chart below).
We recommend an Arcadia or Zoo Med brand linear fluorescent tube, as these brands produce the best and most reliable UVB lamps on the market. This lamp should be roughly half the width of the enclosure and placed on the same side as the heat lamp. So if you have a 4’ enclosure, you will need a 22” T5 HO UVB bulb.
Best 5-6% UVB lamps for ball pythons:
Best 10-12% UVB lamps for ball pythons:
Distance and Mesh
The bulb you choose will depend on your enclosure setup. The strength of the UVB lamp’s output varies according to distance from the bulb — stronger when closer, and weaker when further away. If you are using a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure your UVB lamp’s output, the UVI (UV Index) reading should be between 3.0-4.0 at the height of the python’s back when sitting on the basking platform, and down to 0 on the cool side. Mesh will cause a 30-40% reduction in the bulb’s output.
If you don't have a Solarmeter, here is an estimate of how far away your basking platform should be, based on which bulb you are using and whether the lamp is mounted above or below mesh:
|BULB TYPE||ABOVE MESH||BELOW MESH|
|Arcadia ProT5 6%||9-11”||12-14”|
|Zoo Med T5 HO 5.0||9-11”||12-14”|
|Arcadia Desert 12%||15-17”||18-20”|
|Zoo Med T5 HO 10.0||15-17”||18-20”|
To optimize your UVB bulb’s performance, you will need a high-quality reflective T5 HO fixture. Some lamps come in kits that already include a fixture, such as the Arcadia ProT5 kit and Zoo Med T5HO 5.0 kit. Otherwise, Zoo Med and Vivarium Electronics make various fixtures for T5 bulbs.
T5 bulbs last 12 months before requiring replacement, as their UVB output decays over time. Off-brand UVB bulbs are likely to have shorter lifespans and unreliable output. Avoid “compact” and coil UVB bulbs, as these cannot properly distribute a UV gradient across the enclosure.
Ball pythons need access to a variety of temperatures within a certain range in order to properly regulate their metabolism:
- Basking surface: 95-104°F
- Warm side ambient: 86-90°F
- Cool side ambient: 72-80°F
- Nighttime: 72-78°F, but no lower than 65°F
Ambient (air) temperatures in a ball python enclosure should never exceed 95°F!
All heat lamps should be turned off at night and kept on a regular day/night cycle that matches the same schedule as the UVB and daylight lamps, allowing for a natural temperature drop and a healthy circadian rhythm.
Overhead lamps are the most natural and beneficial method of providing heat for your ball python. We recommend a cluster of at least 2 halogen flood heat bulbs, though there are several options for heating your enclosure:
Halogen Heat Lamps (best primary heat source)
Halogen bulbs are particularly excellent because they produce lots of Infrared A and B, which are the same wavelengths of heat produced by the sun. These wavelengths penetrate deep into your snake's body, providing a more efficient form of heating and reducing the amount of time your snake needs to bask.
Deep Heat Projectors (good primary heat source)
DHP's produce lots of Infrared-B and a small amount of Infrared-A, making them the best alternative to a halogen heat bulb. These bulbs do not emit light, so they can be safely used day or night. If you need a lightless heat source, a DHP is a great choice. A mixed cluster of both halogen and DHP bulbs can provide optimal daytime basking heat, while also allowing you the option to leave the DHP on low throughout the night if your enclosure drops below 65℉.
Choosing which bulb to use can be tricky, since wattage and brand determine how much heat it will produce - when in doubt, buy a higher wattage and use a dimmer or dimming thermostat to achieve the perfect basking temperature.
Once you have your heat bulbs, you will need a lamp to put them in. You can use 2 separate dome lamps, a combo dome, or internally mounted fixtures, as long as they have a ceramic socket to ensure the bulb doesn’t get too hot for the lamp (risking electrical fire). A dimmable lamp or plug-in dimmer enables you to dial down the bulb’s heat output if it gets too warm.
All heating should be connected to a thermostat with the probe on the basking surface to make sure that they don’t get too hot for your python. A proportional (dimming) thermostat, like the Herpstat, is more efficient and convenient as it does all the dimming work for you, although they can be pricy. An on/off thermostat is the cheaper option, but is best used with a dimmable lamp or plug-in dimmer switch so you can precisely control the heat output and extend the lifespan of the bulb.
Keep in mind that all heat sources should be regulated by a thermostat, so for a cluster of several bulbs/lamps, you will either need separate thermostats for each fixture or a multi-outlet thermostat like the Herpstat2.
While your primary overhead heat sources will emit plenty of IR-A and IR-B throughout the day, you may find that your ambient (air) temperatures need some backup at night, especially if your house gets particularly cold and you don't have a DHP in your cluster. Here are some options for supplementary, lightless heating if needed:
Ceramic Heat Emitters (good supplementary)
CHE's are best used as a supplementary ambient heat source, as they only produce Infrared-C, the weakest and least efficient wavelength for reptile thermoregulation. However, they are effective at heating the air around them and can be used with a thermostat for gentle, lightless nighttime heating if your enclosure drops below 65℉.
Radiant Heat Panels (OK supplementary)
Like CHE's, radiant panels mainly produce Infrared-C, and are therefore not recommended as a primary heat source. They are generally preferred for extremely large (8-foot+) enclosures because they can create broad areas of ambient warmth. Radiant panels must be regulated by a proportional (dimming) thermostat to be used safely.
Heat Mats (OK supplementary)
While many snake keepers use a heat mat as their primary heat source, we strongly recommend against this, as mats only emit weak IR-C heat from below, which is unnatural and has almost no effect on ambient air temps.
That being said, a supplementary heat mat may still be helpful for controlling the temperature of your warm hide. If your warm hide is too cold, you can add a thermostat-regulated heat mat under the hide, covered with 1” of substrate to lower the risk of direct contact. Place the thermostat probe directly on the substrate over the mat to regulate temperature.
Heat mats aren't as effective with loose substrate and only work properly when they are controlled by a thermostat. Unregulated heat mats can easily burn your ball python!
Unsafe Heat Sources
These heat sources are particularly dangerous to ball pythons because they can pose major health risks and cause stress. Avoid the following heat sources at all costs and stick to the bulbs we recommend above.
❌ Colored bulbs
Red, blue, purple, and other colored light bulbs are inappropriate for almost all reptiles. They can wash out your snake’s vision and make it harder to hunt. In fact, blue lights are known to potentially damage reptiles’ eyes!
❌ “Nighttime” bulbs
The idea that reptiles can't see red, purple, or “black” light is a myth! They may not be able to see the color, but they can still see the light. Using any lights at night can interfere with your snake’s day/night cycle, causing stress and poor health.
❌ “Multipurpose” bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs and other heat+UVB combination bulbs (Zoo Med PowerSun, Exo Terra Solar Glo) are overpowered and inappropriate for crepuscular snakes, who need a higher heat to UVB ratio than diurnal species. These bulbs can't be used with thermostats and can easily burn your snake, so it's much safer to provide and control your heat and UVB separately.
❌ Heat rocks
Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are notoriously unreliable and many reptiles have lost their lives due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.
To track the temperatures in your ball python's enclosure, you will need a good thermometer. Temp gun-style infrared thermometers are useful for measuring surface temperatures anywhere in the enclosure. However, digital probe thermometers are useful for being able to track local air temperatures at a glance. It's best to have at least 2 thermometers to measure temps on each end of the heat gradient. Here are some devices we recommend for measuring temperatures:
Ball pythons need an average humidity of 45-75% in their enclosure, though occasional small dips and spikes are not likely to be harmful. A humid hide in the central or slightly cooler area of the enclosure should always be available and kept moist.
A simple hand mister can be used to bump up humidity when it drops below the required range. Proper loose substrate, adequately sized water bowl, good cross-ventilation, and overhead heating will all help to stabilize the enclosure's humidity levels.
You can measure humidity with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Combo Gauge linked in the Measuring Temperature section. Hygrometers should be placed within 12” above the substrate towards the cooler end of the enclosure to give you an accurate idea of average humidity levels (or one on either side if using a thermo/hygro combo meter).
Ball pythons are obligate carnivores, which means that they require a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need.
Here is a basic feeding schedule for a pet ball python:
|AGE/WEIGHT||FEEDER SIZE||HOW OFTEN|
|First 3-5 meals||Pinky Rat (8-12g) or Hopper Mouse||Every 5 Days|
|<200 grams||Rat Fuzzy (13-19g) or Small Mouse||Every 7 Days|
|200-350 grams||Pup (20-30g) or Adult Mouse||Every 7-10 Days|
|350-500 grams||Weaned Rat (31-45g) or Jumbo Mouse||Every 10-14 Days|
|500-1,500 grams||Small Rat (46-79g) or 2-3 Adult Mice||Every 2-3 Weeks|
|>1,500 grams||Medium Rat (80-150g) or 2 Small Rats or 4-5 Adult Mice||Every 4-8 Weeks|
This chart is intended to give a general understanding of an average feeding schedule for ball pythons - it is not a strict rulebook. Keepers should feed based on their individual snake's metabolism and needs. Understanding healthy body weight and fluctuations in a feeding schedule are vital to the proper keeping of any animal. Do not rely strictly on any one chart, as individual needs may vary.
You should offer an array of different prey items and sizes to your ball python - they need more than just rats to get a full spectrum of nutrition. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is variety. Here are some good feeder options:
Recommended Ball Python Feeders:
- African soft-furred rats
- Quail chicks
For frozen prey, thaw the feeder out in the fridge the night before feeding day. This allows it to thaw slowly in a cold environment, which discourages bacterial growth. About 15-30 minutes before feeding, put the prey in a BPA-free plastic bag like a Ziploc and submerge in warm, almost hot, water until it reaches optimal feeding temperature. Ball pythons rely primarily on their heat pits to hunt, so they respond best to a “live” mammal body temperature. Bring the prey to about 98-100°F before offering it to your snake. You can check the temperature with your temp gun.
We strongly recommend offering frozen-thawed prey, rather than live. This is much safer for the snake, as they can be seriously injured or even killed by live feeders. However, while frozen-thawed is always best, the goal is to make sure your python eats regularly. If live prey is the only way to accomplish that, just closely observe the entire interaction and immediately remove the feeder if it poses a threat to your snake or if it isn’t eaten within 15-30 minutes. NEVER leave your snake alone with live prey and try to avoid live feeding unless absolutely necessary.
All prey should be captive bred. Don’t feed your snake animals from the wild — this can make them sick! Here are some sites we recommend to buy safe, captive-bred, frozen feeders:
Calcium & Vitamin Supplements
While in theory, ball pythons should get all the nutrition they need from whole prey, captive-bred feeder animals can be inferior to their wild counterparts when it comes to nutrition. You should lightly dust prey items occasionally with supplements to help fill in the gaps in your snake’s diet, about every 4th feeding. Since ball pythons do best with a 50/50 mix of calcium and multivitamin, we recommend using an all-in-one supplement for convenience and consistency.
The type of calcium+multivitamin your snake needs will depend on whether or not you provide UVB. Without UVB, reptiles cannot synthesize their own vitamin D3, so it must be provided via supplementation.
Best supplements for ball pythons:
Keeping Your Ball Python Hydrated
Aside from providing hydration and regulating humidity, a large, heavy water bowl also gives your snake a place to soak. Keep the water fresh and clean at all times and scrub the bowl once a week with a reptile-safe disinfectant such as chlorhexidine, F10SC, or Rescue.
Do not use distilled or softened water! Tap, spring, and even filtered water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your ball python’s health. You can dechlorinate tap water with a conditioner like ReptiSafe.
Taming & Handling
Ball pythons are solitary creatures, but it is still important to handle them regularly to keep them tame.
- Wait at least two weeks for the snake to settle in before handling.
- Use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently) first to make sure it is not in feeding mode.
- Pick it up with two hands, supporting the head and body.
- Wash your hands before and after handling.
- Start handling your ball python as soon as you bring it home.
- Pick it up by its tail.
- Let children handle the snake without supervision.
- Handle within 48 hours of a meal.
- Handle when the snake is preparing to shed.
Handle you ball python at least 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily. Snakes do not require social interaction for their mental health, but regular handling helps the snake stay tame and can be a good opportunity for exercise.
Here are the most common health conditions that affect ball pythons:
The most common illnesses and health problems in ball pythons are Inclusion Body Disease (IBD), Mites, Nidovirus, and Respiratory Infection. They can also suffer from husbandry issues such as burns, dehydration, and obesity. If your ball python is displaying potential symptoms of illness, it’s important to take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to treat them at home, as you could make the problem worse!
Signs of a healthy ball python:
- Slender, muscular body
- Eats regularly
- Moves freely and easily
- Regular bowl movements
Signs of a unhealthy ball python:
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal behavior (stargazing, corkscrewing, rolling onto the back, etc.)
- Excessive or rapid weight gain/loss
- Rapid weight loss
- Abnormal shedding