A beginners guide to ball pythons

Written for novice Ball Python Owner



We mention this first - not because it’s the most common mistake, but because it’s the most dangerous to your snake. Pine shavings can contain naturally occurring chemicals that are toxic to your Ball Python. We won’t go into what these chemicals are or how they are absorbed into your snake here. That's a subject for another forum. Suffice it to say, regardless of what you may hear or have been told by pet stores, Pine/Cedar shavings can kill your snake. There are plenty of other materials you can use as a substrate for you vivarium. Here at SlytherInn, we have used paper towel for all of our Ball Pythons. Other suitable substrates include Aspen shavings, Coconut husk chips, and Cypress. Everyone has their own preference as it suits their needs best. We suggest you talk to other Ball Python owners and find out what works best for them and WHY. Your needs and conditions may be different from ours or others around you.


We use a rack system in our husbandry. We have found that these housing conditions are what Ball Pythons prefer as they normally spend most of their time in burrows in their natural habitats. One of the biggest mistakes most new owners make is putting their snake in large aquarium where they feel threatened and vulnerable. These conditions can also be very dry and unsuitable for Ball Pythons. It’s understandable to want this type of setup, since we purchase our pets with the intention of looking at them and handling them. With a few modifications, however we can make an aquarium work. The key is to make your snake feel safe while maintaining environmental conditions they are comfortable in........

ACCLIMATE SLOWLY If your snake is young or new to your environment, it may not feel comfortable and secure enough to eat. Snakes are at their most vulnerable when eating and will not eat if they feel threatened or vulnerable. If you are purchasing a hatchling, chances are your snake has been kept in a small plastic bin where space is cramped and tight. That’s what they like. Here at SlytherInn, we keep our baby snakes in small plastic boxes that are the size of a shoe box or smaller. With a hide and a water bowl, there isn’t much ‘empty’ space in the box. Again, this is what they want/need to feel secure. If your new snake isn't eating, try keeping it in a plastic shoe box with a hide and water bowl. (Be sure there are ventilation holes in the sides or lid for fresh air) Keep the box covered to help make it feel safe and hidden. Offer live food if possible. It's instinctive to eat live. Once your snake starts eating, you can slowly introduce your Python to it's new home by letting it explore the aquarium a little each night.


First, you’ll want to cover the top of the aquarium to keep as much moisture and humidity inside the aquarium as you can, while still supplying some fresh air. Remember, Ball Pythons normally live underground where it’s humid. You’ll need some air movement so mold and mildew doesn’t set in, yet maintain enough moisture so your snake can shed properly. When you see your snake going into shed, try to increase the humidity. A bowl of wet long fiber sphagnum moss in the enclosure, is often, all it takes. Daily misting of the enclosure or hide will also help.


Temperature is also very important. Ball Pythons come from the plains of Africa where it’s hot. Maintaining temperatures inside the enclosure in the mid to upper 80’s is important. Your snake won’t want to come out and explore if it feels cold to them.

We STRONGLY suggest using a heat source outside your enclosure and one that can be regulated with a thermostat. Under the Tank Heater (UTH) can be quite effective. UTH's are often used at one end of the enclosure to create a gradient of temperatures from one end of the enclosure to the other.

Overhead heat sources such as Ceramic heaters and Lights are extremely drying and will burn your snake if inside the enclosure. We don't reccommend overhead heat sources unless they are outside the enclosure AND you can also control the humidity inside your enclosure.

A word of warning is appropriate here: Never use a plug-in rock made for desert lizards. These can overheat and burn your snake.


Part of making you snake feel secure in his new home is providing him or her with the proper ‘hide’ that makes them feel safe. We use an inverted terracotta flowerpot with a mouse-hole opening notched out of the rim that allows your snake to enter the hide where it can curl up with its body touching all sides of the inside of the flowerpot. We feel this is the ideal hide, as it’s made of earthen material, it’s inexpensive and you can increase its size as your snake grows. Eventually, your snake will outgrow its terracotta homes and you’ll want to move up to something different, but for a young snake, these make perfect hides.

Note: You’ll want to make sure you plug the drainage hole of the flowerpot so your snake doesn’t try to enter or leave through this opening and get stuck. A snake will try to go through any opening, regardless of the opening size! Snakes do NOT realize how big their bodies are and if their head will fit, they think their whole body will fit. Also, make sure all your decorations do not have holes in them - that includes things like skulls, logs, or other such items.


We also suggest blocking light from the back and sides of the aquarium. This decreases the snakes’ world and increases its sense of security. As your snake grows and becomes more comfortable, you can slowly remove any coverings that block the light.


Lastly, clutter the cage! Fill the enclosure up with hides, sterile rocks, branches, plants and other decorations. The more cluttered the enclosure, the more secure your snake will feel. Again, Just be sure there are no ‘holes’ to get stuck in. You'll also be surprised at how much your Ball Python likes to clime - so make sure the top of the enclosure is LOCKED down at all times!!! Weighing it down with a rock may not be enough! These snakes are all muscle!


As tempting as it may be, avoid handling your new pet until after he/she has eaten for the first time. This will reduce the stress on him/her and will go a long way in reducing your own stress. We try to handle our babies regularly so they are socialized and used to being held. However, being in a new home/environment and possibly traveling many miles through the mail, your new baby has been through a lot and is probably very stressed out when you get him/her.

How you go about handling your snake is also very important – Both for you and your snake. Knowing some things about your snake will help you with this. First, we believe many Ball Pythons have very poor eye sight. We haven’t read any studies to prove this, but it’s just something we have noticed and hypothesize. Even snakes that are born blind, can feed and survive, relying solely on their heat sensors and their ability to feel vibrations in their environment. With this in mind, always approach your snake from behind. Any movement from the front can be mistaken for a threat or as food. In response, your snake could strike out of fear or hunger. These actions are called 'defensive' reactions or 'feeding responses'. Tap the enclosure before you handle you pet. If they are asleep, this will give them some time to wake up and know that you're opening up their enclosure to get them. Over time, they will come to learn that this means 'exploring time' or 'feeding time'. When you first pick up your baby, it may ball up as a defense mechanism. This is where they get their name! When they do this, just hold them in a ball until they feel comfortable enough to relax. Forcing them to ‘un-ball’ only stresses them and makes them feel threatened. It may take several minutes for him or her to relax, but eventually they will. Be patient and expect this to be the norm. It’s an instinctual reaction for them and is to be expected with ALL baby Ball Pythons. As they relax and start crawling around, be cognizant of any movement if front of them. You don’t want to be moving your hands quickly in front of them. Move with slow determined motions. Again, fast motion can be mistaken for a predator and they will instinctively ball back up or strike out. Once relaxed, the next instinct will be to flee. This is called the 'flight' response. This is also the time you will enjoy handling your snake because he/she will be the most active. Keep in mind, that this is also a stressful time for your pet and you should limit your time with him/her until they become more accustom to their routine and time with you. It's important to maintain a routine of handling your pet, so they become used to being handled and soon your snake will look forward to its outings with you. We give you a head start with their handling here at SlytherInn. Once our babies start to eat, we try to handle them regularly so they are used to human interaction before you get them.


Training your snake to take frozen/thawed food, doesn't have to be difficult. It can take some time and patience, but most snakes can be trained to take frozen/thawed food. Remember: Your snake instinctively feeds on LIVE food and must be trained that Frozen/Thawed rodents are food too.

Below are some tips we've learned over time.

1) First make sure your snake is eating well on live food. If your snake isn't interested in live, they aren't going to be interested in Frozen/Thawed.

2) Try to feed at the same time every week giving your snake a routine feeding time.

3) Hold back feeding for 2 weeks. The hungrier they are the easier they’ll try something different.

4) Keep the F/T food warm. After only a few minutes the F/T food loses it’s ‘Food temperature’ and should be put back in hot water or under a heat lamp to warm back up. It helps to have two F/T items to offer so you can keep one warm while offering the other.

5) Don’t put the F/T food in front of them. Their live food usually hides behind water dishes, runs along walls etc. Make your snake ‘hunt’ for the food. It’s like you’re teasing them with the peek-a-boo game. The snake will smell the food and know it's time to eat.

6) Don’t wiggle or vibrate the food. Rodents don’t do that in the wild – it only scares the snake or makes them curious and doesn't trigger the eating response.

7) Lightly tap or scratch something near or under the F/T food…. As if the rodent is touching it. The snake will sense the vibration and this will help trigger an eating response. We will often rub the feeding tongs on the edge of their enclosure so as the food moves, so does the vibration.

8) Keeping your snake feeling secure and safe is key. As we stated earlier, your snake won't eat if they feel threatened. Please be sure your read the section under housing.

9) If they don't take the frozen thawed right away, go back to live and try again at another time,... again, after you see they are eating well on Live first.

Below are a couple additional "tricks" we have successfully used:

1) Dangle live food in the enclosure and let the snake come to it and feed. You can move the dangling food around so your snake can sense the movement, but again - don't put it in the snakes face or frighten your snake with it. Let the snake come to the food.

Once it learns that the dangling live rodent is food, it will quickly take dangling frozen-thawed food.

2) Once your snake has coiled frozen-thawed food, wiggle the rodent so the snake thinks it's alive. This will help them maintain their instinctive nature to feed.

We hope this helps getting you started with your new snake. We truly believe that the Ball Python makes the perfect pet!