If you have ever known anyone with a snake or been to PetSmart, you have probably seen a ball python. Most of the time all you see is a small brown, tan, and black patterned knot with a white belly – and if you're lucky, a little peanut-shaped head. While that is the "wild type" or normal color, ball pythons are truly a designer snake. They have been selectively bred for their color and pattern variations or morphs as we call them in the reptile community, for decades. You can get anything from a completely white snake called a blue-eyed leucistic (BEL), to one that has smiley faces on its back, lovingly referred to as the emoji piebald. You can get all black snakes, neon-coral snakes in multiple shades with or without freckles, orange, striped, spotted, even ones without scales! The world of ball pythons is practically limitless, and there are hundreds of reputable breeders around the country to choose from.
My boyfriend and I have a ball python named Octavia who is coming up on her first hatch-day.
She is a morph known as cinnamon, which, if bred with another cinnamon, would make a dark graphite-colored snake called super cinnamon. She is infinitely curious and comes out of her false rock hide around ten o'clock every night to check out her view of the living room. She yawns after she eats, loves to wallow in her water dish until it is void of any liquid, and refuses to adhere to the stereotype that gives her kind their name. You see, ball pythons got that name from consistently going into a tight ball when nervous. To be honest, most ball pythons are almost always nervous or shy, so you can usually expect them to cram into a knot when you scoop them up. Another name that ball pythons are known by is royal pythons, which is derived from how African royalty wore them around their necks as living jewelry since they almost always have a friendly disposition. Some countries, like England for instance, still refer to them as royal pythons to this day.
In terms of finding a ball python, you won't ever have to worry about them being in low supply.
Every single reptile show and expo in Kentucky is guaranteed to have ball pythons for sale and in a wide range of sizes, ages, colors, and personalities. You can find ball pythons being sold online or at expos anywhere from $35 all the way up to $10,000 for rare colors/patterns. A particular morph known as the stormtrooper was sold for well upwards of ten grand and the morph has never been replicated since, making every existing snake rarer by the year. Some of the most important things that you should ask your breeder when buying a snake is who (as in what morph) its parents were, what size rat or mouse it is eating and how often, how old it is, and when it last ate. If it is a recently hatched ball python, make sure to ask how many meals it has eaten, and especially if you are ordering from an online hatchery, ensure your new friend will have a health guarantee. Please do not buy any young ball python unless it has eaten at least two meals, as being rehoused when they are too young can cause fatal stress.
Most ball pythons are raised and/or bred in enclosures called rack systems. While there is not an enclosure I would ever recommend, they are certainly not inhumane either and are most commonly used by larger-scale breeders with a dozen or more snakes.
Rack systems are temperature and humidity controlled bins that are typically narrow in height and fairly long, but they tend to be completely dark and you don't see your snake unless you get them out. That being said, as one of Africa's smallest snakes, ball pythons are known to live in small burrows or crevices in sub-Saharan termite mounds because they prefer darkness and the humidity produced by the termite colony. When you get your snake, keep in mind that they need a size appropriate home as they can be easily stressed by an enclosure that is too open or large and will refuse to come out of their hide. For example, a recently hatched python would prefer a 10 to 20-gallon enclosure, and since ball pythons are almost entirely terrestrial, they would prefer a "low" enclosure with more floor space than upward climbing space. When your snake is little, crowd the enclosure up with lots of fake or living plants, as long as they are safe for your snake. Make sure they have a water dish that they can fit themselves into, and a hide that they can also fit into that has a small entrance so they can feel secure. If you go the route of a fake plant terrarium, I would choose a chunky cypress mulch free from dyes or chemicals (check your local pet shop or Amazon) and if you can find any, some sphagnum moss to mix in and help with humidity. Amazon also has digital hygrometers/thermometers you can use in the terrarium to monitor your little friend's environment. I also can suggest getting your fake plants from your local Michael's craft store, which will save money and offer you more variety. If you want an entirely living enclosure or bioactive as its called in the keeper community, check out The Bio Dude online. He sells full kits and individual components based on breed and tank size. As your snake grows, you will need to upgrade their enclosure size and change their decorations accordingly, and I have found that Craig's List, reptile expos, and Facebook Marketplace can have nice, secondhand tanks at considerably lower prices than pet stores. Just give them a good cleaning and you will be all set! Also, don't be afraid to change out and rearrange decorations to add some enrichment! Be careful of moving or changing out their hides, however, as that should remain a reliably constant safe space.
As for lighting, temperatures, and humidity, I would personally have to suggest putting your snake near a window for a good day/night cycle.
Ball pythons hate having a direct overhead light and most bulbs designed for cages (especially red-light bulbs) really hurt their eyes. They obviously don't have any eyelids, so they can't shield their eyes from any direct lighting. The best option that we've found with all of our snakes is to use a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) over one half of their tank, usually over their hide. They can self-regulate their temperatures by moving from the warm side to the cool side, and from going into their hide to cool off or on top of it to bask. Your snake will let you know if it is too hot or too cold for them, either by gluing themselves to the cool side of the terrarium or by always being as close to their heater as possible. CHE wattages will vary based on your tank size and how high it is off of the substrate (there's a chart on the box), but your ball python's tank should have a warm and cool side. Opinions in the community will vary from person to person, but a warm side of 89º F to 94º F, and a cool side of 75º F to 84º F should do nicely. Overall, the humidity in the tank should range from 50 to 60%, regardless of temperature. A spray bottle and once-daily spray down should suffice to keep humidity levels in check and if your enclosure can't keep a constant moisture level, use duct tape on the cool half of the tank's mesh lid to limit evaporation. Be careful of over-watering your enclosure, as that can cause a skin condition called scale rot and even respiratory infections. Place any thermometers and hygrometers nearest to the substrate and on either end of the enclosure so you get the most accurate reading of what your snake is feeling.
Feeding your snake is simple: one size-appropriate rat or mouse will fill them up for about a week.
Younger snakes may need to eat every five days, while older snakes can eat as frequently as once per week, all the way up to once every other week, and overweight snakes may be fed as little as once per month. Some snakes may be brought up on live rodents, and some on frozen/thawed (f/t) rodents. Be sure to ask your breeder what they've been eating. Depending on your snake's appetite, the switch from live to f/t rodents can be either as easy as dangling a thawed rat and the snake taking it the first try, or it can take aa long as a few weeks. Rodents can be bought singularly from breeders who specialize in "feeder rodents" if your snake prefers live food, and also frozen in bulk. Both varieties and all sizes can be found at local reptile shows, pet stores, and online. I would strongly advise you to try to exclusively feed f/t rodents, as live rodents can severely injure your snake via bite or scratch, and can carry diseases or bacteria that can make your snake sick. Frozen rodents are cleaner and obviously not going to pose any physical threat to your snake. Feed your friend in their enclosure using feeding tongs to hold the rat by its tail or rear end, as you do not want your hand to be mistaken for dinner and turned into a pincushion. Also, refrain from handling your snake for 24-36 hours after they eat, as stress can cause them to regurgitate their food. Do not be alarmed if your snake decides it doesn't want to eat, ball pythons are famous for going on "hunger strikes" and some adult snakes can go over a year without eating and be entirely fine. Sometimes if they are in shed they may not be able to 'see' their food or may just not be that hungry. If your snake does start to look emaciated, however, seek advice from your local vet. Keep in mind, snakes can be overfed and become overweight and even obese! (And it really isn't that cute looking, either.)
Lastly, snakes can be escape artists as they tend to be quite strong and 'nosy' with their snouts.
If the mesh of the terrarium is strong enough, you can put some decorations on top, like picture frames, figurines or statues. Two out of three of our snakes have enclosures without locking lids/doors, so we placed a few used-up glass candles on the lids to keep them from escaping. Certainly not the most glamorous option, but you can definitely choose other décor or invest in "lid locks" designed to keep snakes in. Although, I have found that most ball pythons with an itch to explore can outsmart those quite well and very quickly.
At the end of the day, ball pythons make for beautiful, loyal, and peaceful companions.
They are astoundingly easy to care for, extremely friendly, and mostly get along with other friendly pets of the mammalian variety, like my two dogs, for example. You can get them in hundreds of colors and patterns, and they are cheaper to feed than almost any other reptile. They hardly ever surpass 5 feet in length and require no expensive lighting or outrageous housing. You can just as easily leave them alone in their enclosure as something to admire as you can bring them out to hold and adore. They have varying and distinct personalities, and with proper care can live anywhere from 15 to 30 years! The world record age of the oldest ball python is 40 years old! They are readily available as well, so you won't be hard-pressed to find a good, reputable breeder and you can also look into adopting from rescues or homes that can no longer keep them. So, what are you waiting for? If this friendly little non-venomous constrictor sounds right for you, check out the dates for your local reptile expos, or check out online breeders through Instagram, Facebook, MorphMarket, and Google!