Ball Pythons Aka. Royal Pythons
Ball Pythons are native to Africa, where they are an endangered species. In spite of being endangered they are still imported into the pet trade, as well as to China for food! In the pet trade the gravid (pregnant) adult females are collected, lay eggs, the eggs are incubated, then hatched. The babies are then imported, being labeled as "farm raisedbred, or the such." So make sure you check out the "breeder" to find out if they were actually captive bred versus farm raised. A wild caught snake will always prove more difficult to tame, feed, and almost always come with a full supply of parasites.
Ball pythons are nocturnal (active in the evening), using their heat pits, as well as sense of smell for hunting. It is typical for these snakes to find a rodent burrow, invite themselves in, eat the family, then spend the day time hours in the burrow.
Ball pythons are extremely gentle, shy snakes. They have sweet personalities once you get to know them, and them you. Even for a first time snake owner they are easy to handle, easy to get to know, and easy to love.
Balls are terresterial, meaning they are groung dwellers. My balls do climb if I provide them with logs, but they are quite clumsy. Ball pythons have "heat pits," which look like small holes/pits in their lips. Their heat pits allow them to read the heat signals around them, making their warm blooded prey much easier to locate.
Cage size is always a debatable topic, so I'll start with minimum requirements. Many feel that a 30 gallon fish tank is large enough for a single adult ball python. Personally that seems way too small, and I provide my adults with 55 gallon tanks, as well as custom built cages. I use 30 gallon tanks for medium sized snakes, and 10 gallons for very young/small snakes. The general rule is that the cage should be at least as long and wide as half the snakes length. For example, a 5 foot snake would have a minimum cage length of 2 1/2 feet with the short and long sides added together. I prefer to give my snakes more space, and provide cages large enough for each snake to stretch out. For me, a 5 foot snake should have a cage at least 4 feet long on one side.
Since balls are terrestrial, their cage needs more horizontal space as opposed to vertical space. For an adult I try to provide 1 1/2 to 2 feet of height, that way I can provide some logs for climbing and exercising. Make sure the logs are sturdy, secured, free of parasits, and have no sharp projections.
Balls are strong snakes, and will actively search every square inch of their enclosure for an escape route, so a strong and secure lid/door is a must to keep your snake safely inside.
Another very important item to consider when deciding on a cage is how well it holds humidity. Even though balls are very hardy they need a higher level of humidity than the air in our homes would normally provide. Because of this need, screen cages are not reccomended! Even an aquarium with a screen lid is not quite good enough. Don't be discouraged, I use 55 gallon tanks, remember? I simply cover up 1/2 to 3/4 of the screen lid, or make my own lid. I use plexi glass to cover the screen top, and melamine shelving boards to custom build lids. For some ideas check out my General reptile care link to see some of my custom built enclosures.
Once you have decided on a cage you will need to pick out a substrate. Never use any cedar products, the oils are toxic to herps, and will kill them! When deciding on a substrate you should look for something that is easy to keep clean, visually acceptable, inexpensive, and most importantly pleasing to your snake. Options include reptile sand, (not sandbox sand, it can carry parasites and cause impaction), reptile carpeting, bark chips, shredded coconut shells, pellets, aspen shavings, and even butcher paper. Each has certain pros & cons.
My old personal favorite is shredded coconut. It is cheap to replace, a renewable resource, looks good, provides snakes the option to burrow, holds humidity, and very rarely molds! It is even safe to mist this substrate to add humidity to the enclosure. For a single snake I would recommend a total replacement every few months, with spot cleaning daily.
My new personal favorite is bath towels. Yes, you read it right, bath towels! First, bath towels are "green," as in environmentally friendly, you can continue to reuse them for a long time. They have benefits similar to butcher paper, it is quite easy to keep an eye on feces, and semen from breeding. Since they come in many colors, there is bound to be a color to your liking, and you can change the theme every time you clean the cage. They are soft on the snakes skin, the snake doesn't sink to the bottom of the tank, and cleaning involves taking the soiled towel out, and replacing it with a clean one. Obviously I reccomend at least wiping the cage down with a mild cleanser each time. I usually have to either soak the towels prior to washing, or run them through the washer twice to be sure everything is thoroughly cleaned. They will take misting with out molding, as long as it is not too heavy. I have solved the humidity problem by providing each cage with a "moist hide." (See Humidity section below)
Butcher paper is not very pretty, nor does it do anything special for the snake, however it can be very useful. When you first acquire a snake it can be a great tool for examining the feces to make sure they are normal. It can also be used when breeding snakes. With a successful mating there will be some leakage, and it is much easier to spot on plain paper than other mediums.
Aspen shavings are a very cheap option, however they are very dry. Misting is also not an option here as the aspen will begin to mold quickly. Because it is so cheap to replace, it makes it more desirable to some. A note of caution, do not feed your snakes in a cage with this substrate, stray pieces can stick to the rodent, causing harm to your snake if it swallows it.
Reptile carpeting is a popular choice among many people. The carpeting is like extra thick, durable felt, and it can usually be found in green or grey. It is washable and will last for a very long time if it is properly cared for. You will need to have at least two pieces that fit the cage. The down side is that it will need to be cleaned every time the snake soils it. Putting the carpeting in the washer will cause it to get wrinkled and misshapen, never going back to its original state. Cleaning involves soaking the soiled piece in bleach water (usually for a few hours to ensure all the waste is completely gone), then allowing it to dry completely. That is why you will need the second piece, to use while the other is being cleaned.
Shredded/chunked/chipped bark is a very pretty substrate. However the snake, because of its weight will usually “sink” to the bottom of its enclosure. Some mulches, such as cypress are made from whole trees, which are not very readily renewed. Bark is also hard to spot clean, occasionally it comes infested with parasites, and can get pretty pricey since it needs to be replaced much more often than other substrates. I have mixed bark chunks with shredded coconut for a more appealing look, and it works better for the snake. Just be careful so the bark does not begin to mold.
A minimum necessity is having two “hides,” one on the cool side of the cage and one on the warm side. A hide is basically a dark cave that the snake can retreat into. Hides can be as simple as a cardboard box, flower pot or plastic tub set upside-down, or something more cosmetically pleasing, such as realistic caves and wooden dugouts. There are endless options available in the pet market today. They like their hides to be as small and tight as possible, allowing them just enough space to squeeze in. Believe me, as unbelievable as it may sound the size of the hide makes a HUGE difference, so keep it tight! Hides provide a safe and secure place for your snake to rest in, without hides you will have a very stressed snake who will not eat well, and be more susceptible to illness. For examples of hide options see my General care page.
One very nice thing about balls, since they are terrestrial, they do not need any special lighting!