Ball Pythons in the wild enjoy a varied diet of small mammals and ground dwelling birds. They can be fed a diet in captivity consisting of live or frozen-thawed mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, chicks and quail and in extreme cases small rabbits. The most common food item in captivity is mice and rats so there is no need to vary their diet for any other reason that preference or availability. In the wild Ball Pythons can on average grow to a medium snake size of four to five feet but extreme cases of six feet and bigger have been captured and reported. Due to their ability to conserve energy and fast during certain times of the year it is important to note that if your snake is getting offered the proper sized meal on a consistent basis it can survive, thrive and grow even if it goes up to a couple of months without eating.
Baby Ball Pythons right out of the egg can eat a regular sized small or hopper mouse. This is a mouse with a 1.5 to 2 inch body length and 7-12.99 grams in weight. Most first time keepers make the mistake of offering baby Ball Pythons pinky or fuzzy mice and will be frustrated by the fact that this is not a food item their snake will want or eat. As a rule, pythons can eat something that has up to three times the girth of the thickest part on their body due to their ability to stretch their skin and stomach.
It is always easiest to start with a live hopper and then gradually switch to a frozen thawed food item but in cases where live prey is not available or tolerated you can always follow some basic steps to get your snake feeding. One basic step is the temperature of the food being offered. Pythons rely on their heat sensing pits and movement of prey to find and grab their food. In the case of frozen thawed since there is no body heat or movement it is important to warm up the food item and then use feeding tongs to gently move it and create the illusion of a live prey item.
As your both your ball python matures it will graduate from mice to rats. Once your snake is on a regular feeding schedule of once a week frequency you can decide what the next feeding time should be. In the wild snakes are opportunistic feeders and will eat as much as possible because there is no telling where or when the next meal will come from. In captivity feeding can be used to maintain or push the growth of the snake. If you want to keep your snake healthy and happy a 7-10 day feeding schedule should be observed. This will keep your snake from being hungry and provide enough calories for standard growth and activity. A feeding schedule of every 3-4 days will push your snake to grow and mature faster.
This should be done only with the proper cage temperature and knowledge that a snake being fed at this pace cannot be handled too often. During the time leading up to breeding season female ball pythons will often become ravenous and should be fed more often or multiple meals at a time. During this same time some male ball pythons will go off of feed and this should not worry keepers.
A snake that is established and feeding will remain that way unless something is not right with its environment or its health. Baby snakes will almost always eat except for times when they are too cold or deeply in shed. If your snake is not eating it is important to step back and look at what you are doing and how the snake is setup. Some things that work when trying to feed a reluctant feeder that has the proper setup and is not in shed is to bag it overnight in a small paper bag with a frozen thawed meal. If this doesn’t work you can leave a meal in the entrance of the hiding spot so that the animal has to smell it and come across it as it enters and leaves its home. Another trick is to change the food item from mice to rats and vice versa.
There are animals that will ignore a rat completely and jump on a mouse immediately. Finally there is the trick of moving the animal from one area to another or from one room to another and in extreme cases taking a snake for a ride in the car or even shipping it back to yourself will trigger a renewed interest in food in animals that have not fed for a long time.