There are a lot of simple errors people make with their ball pythons. I hope this can help ball python owners to prevent injury and sickness in their snakes.
1. Heating with a bulb.
What’s so bad about this? First of all, these snakes should be getting belly heat FIRST. A ceramic infrared heater can be used to supplement, as long as your humidity is carefully monitored. Ball Pythons require 60% humidity, and up to 80% while in shed. Too high humidity can cause respiratory infection. The only heat sources used for these snakes, are heat mats, heat tape, or heat cable. If you use any sort of bulb (ceramic heater, not light bulb) at all, it should be the secondary heat source only, and if you do, be sure to watch your humidity, and sheds extra carefully.
There are some newer studies that show that some UV lighting can be helpful, even if the wild ball doesn’t get it in the wild.
2. Not using a thermostat.
This is a common, serious mistake which can lead to serious burns. Ball Pythons require warm-side temps (warm end of habitat) of 90-92 deg F.
3. Using a Screen Lid or Screen Cage.
While BP’s do need ventilation, a screen cage or screen aquarium top can cause too much humidity to escape. Never use a screen cage to house a Ball Python. If you have a tank with a screen top, cover part of the screen and monitor your humidity, changing the percent of the area covered until the desired percent is reached. You can cover your lid in part, a number of ways, such as bristol board, cardboard, towel, etc., to change your humidity level.
Remember this rule of thumb: feed a prey item that, at its widest part, is the same width as the widest part of the snake’s body. Do not go over 1.5X the width of your BP’s body, up to about 1000 grams of the ball python. At that point do not continue to increase the rats size at the same rate as that of the snake.
Never should a BP need to be fed mouse pinkies, unless force or assist feeding a hatchling, because pinkies are too small of a food item, and for early eaters, they don’t move enough to catch their attention. If you have alternatives, don’t feed with mice at all. You do not want your ball python to imprint on them, and refuse anything else. However, hopper mouse moves around a lot more than a pinky rat, and can better entice a hatchling snake.
I personally don’t feed mice to adult balls, unless that ball is very stubborn, and won’t take rats. Mice can actually be more nutritious, but it takes several to feed an adult snake.
If you feed mice you will probably want to switch them to rats one day, and balls aren’t big fans of making changes. They will likely resist, it will likely be a huge headache. If all you have in your area is Petco/PetSmart to buy feeders from, you can try getting rodents at expos or by going on Craigslist to the pet section and looking for someone advertising feeder rats, advertise looking for someone selling feeder rats advertise looking for someone to split the cost of an online order. Depending on the level of rodent love in your area you may get flagged and removed.
Unless a snake has refused it’s last meal(s), you should be offering no less often than every two weeks. (3 weeks for adults not building for breeding season) Starving your snake can make it very aggravated, and nippy. AKA: hangry.
Feeding size and frequency can be a good sized topic on it’s own. Here is a newer article dedicated to the subject of feeding ball pythons.
You might find people suggesting scenting and braining, (don’t do this AT ALL) you will find this disguising, and if you’re really unlucky your snake may not reliably eat for years after that.
5. Improper use of glass terrarium.
While the ideal enclosure would be a plastic tub, it is possible to keep them successfully in a glass tank. Ball Pythons in the wild live in holes. Whether you notice it or not, a completely open, glass tank can be very stressful to them. This can be rectified by making a couple simple modifications: provide plenty of hiding places, and blank out the back and sides of the tank to ensure the snake feels less exposed.
6. Feeding live prey unsupervised.
This can lead to serious injury or death. Rats can easily kill an adult Ball Python. We’re not saying you must watch them eat, because this can also be stressful, but don’t just toss a live rat in, and go to bed.
7. Not providing a “cool area”.
All reptiles require a “cool side” to their enclosure. They cannot regulate their temperature, if there is no place to cool down. This “cool side” should be about 80-83F.
8. Housing non-breeding pairs together.
This can lead to stress, cannibalism, health issues, feeding issues, etc. Breeding pairs should be put together for only 2-3 days at a time.
9. Using “Heat Rocks”.
Pet stores still sell and promote these dangerous pieces of equipment, because they heard it somewhere and are just passing along misinformation. Heat rocks heat unevenly and can have spikes in temperature, they can cause serious burns and injury. A heat rock is way too small, and only heats a small area. Too low of an ambient temp, and a snake will, huddle tightly on a source too hot even if they are getting burned.
10. Not properly securing the cage.
Not securing a lid leads to the eventual escape of the animal. A pile of books or rocks or bricks will work until the day it doesn’t. Ball pythons are amazing little escape artists and what may work for years will one day fail and you’ll be left snakeless and amazed. If your animal does escape don’t give up looking for it too easy. They turn up sometimes weeks later, (if they don’t get sick and die) so don’t go out later that day and buy the replacement, give yourself some time. Remember, with missing snakes start by looking everywhere that you think the snake could possibly be, then look everywhere that you know it can’t possibly be. If it’s not the heat of summer, check for warm places, like under appliances.
11. Using hides that are too big/too small.
In order for a snake to feel secure, hides are a must. Ideally, you should have two hides, each large enough that your snake can fit its whole body inside, but small enough that the snake will feel safe and protected. Place one hide on the cool end and one on the warm end, over the under-tank-heater. A hide that takes up most of the enclosure is too big.
12. Not knowing exactly what your temps are.
You should know what the temperature is down to the degree, whether it changes at night or when the door opens, and know what it is on the warm side and the cool side, don’t put your thermometer in the upper corner of the cage. The snake doesn’t spend any time there, your thermometers should be measuring the temperature at ground level. Or better yet, invest in a heat gun. I like wireless thermometers. I can place one in a zip-lock bag, and put it anywhere I want, then see the temp from several feet away, or even my desk
13. Too much handling.
Snakes are not social animals, and don’t like to be picked up and played with, for hours at a time, or hours in a single day. They do like to explore, but sometimes this just means they are looking for a way to escape.
You can get them used to more handling if you’re gentle, but take it easy! Start small and work up, always being careful not to overdo it and develop negative associations.
Keeping these things in mind, will help your ball python, have a long and happy life.