The Ball Python (Python regius)
By the editorial staff of Reptile & Amphibian Magazine

The Ball Python is one of the most popular "pet shop" snakes, and frequently can be found even in stores which only sell a handful of herps. In the past, most "Royal" Pythons found in such pet shops were imported adults, and these did not always make the best pets. Imported specimens are frequently infested with parasites (one tell-tale sign of an imported python is small, brown, ticks embedded in the snake's scales), and often do not feed well in captivity. However, over the past few years a number of herpetoculturists have started to seriously work with this species, and captive-born and captive-bred juveniles are easy to find. These acclimate to captivity within a short period of time, and are highly recommended snakes for beginners.

NATIVE RANGE: western Africa, especially in the rain forests from Ghana to Cameroon

HABITAT: savannahs and forests

ADULT LENGTH: four to six feet, this is a stout, full-bodied snake

CAGE & ACCESSORIES: Ball Pythons are very shy, secretive creatures, and they do not need large cages because they prefer to curl up in a tight hide box most of the time (this makes them feel safe and secure). For a juvenile, use a 10-gallon aquarium; breeders with a number of animals use small plastic shoe-boxes (with holes drilled in the side for ventilation) for housing their snakes. We have several Ball Pythons here at the magazine and at home. For adults, we prefer 15-gallon aquariums, or cages roughly 12" x 24" x 12". Some reptile cage manufactuers market "Ball Python Cages", and these are fine as well. We use newspaper substrate, cage carpeting, or special paper liners that can be cut to fit the bottom of the cage. A hide box is a MUST with this species, and your snake will spend most of its time curled up inside the container. Since they burrow in the wild, our favorite hid box is made from a terra cotta flower pot (wide and low kind), turned upside down, and with the drain hole chiseled out (file down any rough edges). They like to hunt from this, and the snake will poke its head out the top, spot its prey, and strike...while still keeping the bulk of its body inside the pot. Add a water bowl, and that's all you need.

TEMPERATURE: Ball Pythons need an undertank heater or basking spot near the hide box (but not right over it), and the cage temperature should stay at 77-90F during the day. You can turn off the basking light and drop the temperature to 68-75F at night. These animals are active at night, so no special lighting is required.

DIET: Juveniles start out on small mice, and progress to larger mice and even small rats as they get larger. Feed them in the evening, and for nervous or newly acquired animals cover the cage with a dark cloth to give them peace and quiet while feeding. This species is notorious for going off-feed in the winter, and ours regularly do not eat from December through March, in preparation for breeding season. One specimen we had here at the office refused to eat for 18 months, and did not lose weight! He finally decided to eat, and now goes off-feed every winter like the other Ball Pythons.

These snakes really are great pets. They are relatively small snakes, and are quite docile, especially if you purchase captive-bred specimens.

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