Ball pythons are ambush hunters as well as opportunistic hunters in the wild which means they spend the majority of their time tucked deep inside termite mounds or rodent burrows waiting for an unsuspecting rodent to cross their path. Knowing this gives us some pretty good clues as to how ball pythons may prefer to take their meals in captivity. First lets go over some basic ball python feeding guidelines.
Prey Item – Ball pythons will feed on a variety of rodents if given the opportunity, but since some rodents are less economical to obtain on a regular basis than others most keepers tend to stick to either mice or rats as their main food source. Both mice and rats are readily available as feeders in most local pet stores at a pretty reasonable rate so they are logically the best option as a primary prey item.
Prey Item Size – Determining what size mice or rat your animal needs isn’t very difficult with just minimal guidance and forethought. Hatchling ball pythons feed quite well on 7-14 day old rats (pups) or 3-4 week old mice hoppers. A big mistake I see with new keepers is that they tend to offer their new baby snake new born (pinkie mice/rats) and the animal doesn’t show it any interest. Reason being is that a new born mouse/rat doesn’t give the ball python enough stimulating activity to kick that baby snake into feeding mode. Rats/Mice with a couple weeks of age on them move around much more and their a little larger which both work to stimulate a great feeding response from hatchling ball pythons. Ball pythons that are weigh around 600-700 grams can comfortable eat 3-4 week old small rats or fully adult mice without issue. For large adults I tend to feed a lot of small and medium size rats. Although adults can handle taking large rats as prey I tend to go with a smaller prey item to lessen the chance of the snake receiving an injury because rats can severely injury and or kill and adult ball python if left unmonitored.
When in doubt, seek a prey item that is just a little larger around in diameter than the largest portion of the snake and you’ll be on the right track.
Live vs Prekilled or Frozen/thawed prey items – For someone that’s not very familiar with keeping snakes as a way of life the question “Live or Frozen/thawed?” may seem a little odd and understandably so, but it’s a common question amongst snake keepers world wide. Back in the 80′s when I was shopping the pet stores for feeder mice there wasn’t an option to buy the mice already dead and packaged up all nice and neat like there is today so naturally I feed my animals live mice/rats pretty much ever since I can remember. Being that ball pythons as a species tend to be more particular to live prey items more than other species of snakes, offering live prey is always going to yield better results. That being said, getting animals to take thawed mice/rats is very convenient, especially, since ordering frozen mice/rats on the internet straight to your door is much cheaper than buying live and doesn’t require you to possibly care for the live mice/rats if the snake decides to not feed. Both options considered, it really comes down to which method works best for you. If you choose to feed live don’t leave the prey item in with the animal more than 2 hours, if the snake hasn’t eaten in 2 hours chances are it’s not going to happen and the longer you leave the prey item in with the snake the higher the chances are that the snake will be injured by the prey item or become stressed as a result.
Undoubtedly, one of the most common questions in the world of ball pythons is ‘My ball python won’t eat?” Reason being ball pythons are naturally on and off feeders throughout different times of the year for various reasons. Most of those reasons all relate back to breeding interests that the animal may be experiencing. That being said, a sexually mature male ball pythons will frequently turn down food during and around the breeding season (December - March) simply because they tend to focus all their interest on breeding and the possibility of breeding, not on eating. Other reasons why ball pythons turn down food is related to stress which can be caused my improper ball python care methods.
If you animal happens to refuse several meals in a row the first thing to consider is whether the animal’s enclosure is setup and operating properly because if the animal experiences a sudden drop or increase in temperature due to a bad heating element or faulty thermostat they almost immediately go into fasting mode. They do this to better handle any harsh conditions that they perceive to be in their future because the last thing ball pythons want to do is worry about digesting a recent meal when there isn’t the necessary warmth to assist in that digestion.
Below is a list of tips and tricks you may find useful to successfully get your ball python back feeding on a regular basis.
- Provide your animal a hide-box inside the enclosure. Something that’s small enough were the animal’s body is nearly touching all sides. This is a great stress reducer and works wonders for getting ball pythons to feed.
- Crumple up newspaper inside the enclosure.
- If feeding frozen/thawed offer a live prey item.
- If feeding rats offer mice for a change or vice versa.
- Try offering the meal as late at night as possible.
- If the snake refuses don’t attempt to feed again until at least 5-7 days. If it refuses again wait another 5-7 days. Never offer meals repeatedly as this only stresses the animal out and will prolong the time that it refuses to feed.
- No handling on the day prey is offered.
- Place the enclosure in a place that receives as little human activity as possible.
Just keep in mind pretty much all ball python adults go off feed from time to time and as long as they are maintaining their body weight and kept well hydrated the animal can go for several weeks or even months without any ill effects from not feeding. If you have questions please visit the Question and Answer page.