Ball pythons (aka royal pythons) are an exceptionally popular species of snake in both zoos and homes around the world. However, a new snake owner may still feel lacking in the knowledge to take care of their pet, and ask questions like “what do ball pythons eat”. To assist in this phase, let’s take a look at what exactly ball pythons eat, why, and how to properly feed them. After all, everyone has to take the first step at some point.
What Do Ball Pythons Eat in the Wild?
Before examining the diet of ball pythons in the wild, let’s review a couple of basic facts about the nature of this reptile. First, these snakes (as all snakes) are obligate carnivores. This means that they exclusively eat meat and any diet to the contrary would be dangerous for them. Second, the ball python is a constrictor. This means that it has evolved to dispatch food items by squeezing it.
In its native habitat of central and west Africa, the ball python typically seeks out the usual suspects of small rodents, birds, and lizards. When they’re not curling up in a burrow or hanging out in a tree branch, they will most likely be hunting through the bush and tall grass. This makes them an essential part of their local ecosystem as pests controllers.
What Do Ball Pythons Eat in Captivity
The diet of a ball python will be slightly different in captivity. Not many people have access to small animals native to Africa, as you can imagine. However, this should not be an issue. Your snake will be able to thrive living off a diet of frozen/thawed rats and mice. However, you can also feed it frozen/thawed baby chicks, hamsters, and gerbils.
As is the case with most snakes, you will not have to feed your pet every day. Your snake will be perfectly healthy living off of around three meals a month as an adult. If your vet recommends it, you may need to provide your snake with vitamin supplements. To learn more about how big you can expect your ball python to be in adulthood, check out “How big do ball pythons get?“.
Of course, your ball python will need constant access to clean water. This is not only important for general hydration, but for keeping the humidity up in the tank and assisting in shedding. Be sure to clean and wash its water bowl on a daily basis.
The Cost of Feeding
Feeding your ball python will be one of the less expensive aspects of its care. This is due to the fact that it needs relatively infrequent feedings. While the price of frozen mice vary, you can expect one to cost around $1.50 to $3. “Pinkies” and “fuzzies” will cost less. You can even save money by ordering your snake’s food in bulk and freezing their future meals.
How To Feed Your Ball Python
Now, we finally get into the nitty-gritty. You know for a fact that you want a ball python and are aware of what they eat. You even have a general idea on how to budget for its diet. Now, it’s time to closely review how to best feed your snake, and some challenges you may come across when trying to do so.
Dos and Don’t of Giving Your Ball Python Something to Eat
Feeding a ball python isn’t necessarily complicated. However, there are still right and wrong ways to do it. Feeding any snake incorrectly can potentially cause or lead to serious health problems, and generally a less enjoyable life for your pet. With a little bit of practice and guidance, however, you will be properly feeding your snake with confidence.
Don’t overfeed your snake. This can cause it to become overweight or under digest its food. That may cause the food to putrefy in its stomach.
Do feed it an appropriately sized food item. This will usually be the size of the thickest part of your snake.
Don’t feed it as soon as it comes home or after a stressful event.
Do fully defrost the food item before feeding.
Don’t attempt to feed it by hand. Use feeding tongs.
Do set your feeding schedule on a timer or write it in your calendar. This will keep you from forgetting when they need to be fed.
If your snake is exhibiting signs of gastrointestinal distress, take it to a vet as soon as possible. This can include regurgitation, diarrhea, general refusal of food, and excess gas (especially burping). If your snake is not eating, be sure to remove the food from its enclosure after 30 minutes.
Feeding Your Snake Through Its Life
As your ball python ages, it is going to have different feeding and dietary requirements. Here is a handy chart to help you approximate how much to feed your snake at different stages of its life.
- Less than 6 months: Two age-appropriate food items a week.
- 6 to 12 months: Around once a week.
- 1 to 2 years old: Once a week. The size of a food item may change at this time.
- 2 to 4 years old: Every 7 to 10 days.
- 4 years +: Three times a month.
Enticing Your Ball Python To Eat
It’s a commonly shared frustration among the reptile keeping community that ball pythons tend to be picky eaters. You can also expect your snake to not want to eat for weeks or possibly over a month when it is first brought home.
Fortunately, there are a few tried and true techniques that will help you to stimulate your pet’s appetite. One tip is letting your frozen food item defrost and then warm it up so that its heat signature is closer to that of live prey. Another is placing your ball python in a separate container to eat. This will also help to reduce cleanup later.
Some of the environmental and physical reasons your ball python may not want to eat include:
- Its habitat is too large or small.
- It’s too cold.
- Improper UVB lighting.
- It’s breeding season.
- They’re shedding.
- They’re experiencing an illness or injury.
- Internal parasites.
- It’s not humid enough
- Their habitat is dirty.
Unfortunately, our pets can’t always tell us directly what’s wrong, and snakes aren’t the most expressive animals. It is important to investigate any physiological or psychological reasons as to why your snake isn’t eating. Every snake is different, and will demonstrate varying interest in food and feeding from a young age. Be sure to take note of your snake’s natural habits early on.
Also, consider that ball pythons are nocturnal reptiles. If you are attempting to feed it during the day with little success, you may simply not be accommodating its natural circadian rhythm. If your snake is continuing not to eat despite your best efforts, we would recommend seeking out a vet.
How to Tell if Your Ball Python Wants to Eat
Seeing your snake prowl around its tank and flickering its tongue are generally good indicators that it’s hungry. If your ball python seems lethargic, or its body condition is indicating that it’s underweight, you may be underfeeding it. When looking at ball pythons for sale, be sure to always examine its body condition if possible to ensure that it’s being kept in good health.
Here are some frequently asked questions that we get about feeding and caring for ball pythons.
Q: Can ball pythons have a preference of food?
A: Yes, ball pythons may show a preference for a specific type or size of food item.
Q: How long can they go without eating?
A: Snakes generally have a slow metabolism, allowing them to go for long periods of food scarcity. While you should never deprive your pet of food, a healthy ball python can go a few weeks without eating.
Q: How do snakes drink water?
A: As you can imagine, snakes do not typically drink by lapping up water with their tongue. Instead, they will place their mouths in their water bowls and move water into it with their lower jaw.
Q: How long do ball pythons take to eat?
A: Most ball python owners note that their snakes take around 15-20 minutes to eat. Of course, this is dependent on its appetite.
Q: Should you feed more than one ball python in the same space?
A: No. It is generally not advised that you place more than one ball python together during feeding.
Q: Can ball pythons be venomous?
A: No. For more information on if ball pythons can produce venom and why, read “Are ball pythons venomous?“.
Your ball python deserves a high quality, species-appropriate diet that is fed to it on a regular basis. As long as you follow the advice above and avoid seeking out ball pythons for sale from bad breeders, your snake should enjoy a long, healthy life. Remember, it is always advised to reach out to experienced snake handlers and exotic vets if you find that your snake is having a hard time eating or digesting.