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Meeting Monty, the Ball Python

Have you ever heard of a snake? I had not, until I came across what I thought was a large piece of moving string. Well, OK it was rather thick for string, but it was moving which caught my attention so I had to investigate. It turned out to be a snake, his name is Monty. He is a ball python that belongs to one of the Kids 4 Critters volunteer teachers, Miss Dawn.

Monty the Ball Python

Miss Dawn told me that the ball python, also known as the royal python, is a nonvenomous constrictor native to central and western Africa. It is the smallest of the African pythons and is popular as a pet due to its small size and typically docile temperament. They thrive in warm, tropical areas and can grow to between three and seven feet in length. The female of the species is typically larger than the male.

In captivity, the ball python can live up to 40 years, so if you want one plan on taking care of this pet for a long time. Ball pythons can be kept in simple or elaborate enclosures, just keep in mind the more you put into the cage the more you must clean and disinfect on a regular basis. You can use glass terrariums with screen tops commonly found in pet stores or something as simple as a plastic box (such as a Rubbermaid container). Ball pythons do require a high humidity level, between 55% and 60%, so keep that in mind when selecting an enclosure. An adult ball python would do well in an enclosure this is around 36-inches by 18-inches by at least 12-inches high. Choose something that can comfortably fit a small house or hide box, which can be as simple as a cardboard box or more elaborate like a log or other commercial product.

These snakes like it warm, so you should provide a spot that is between 88- and 96-degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the enclosure should maintain an ambient temperature of between 78 and 80 degrees. Miss Dawn recommends you use a thermometer to ensure the cage is maintaining the proper temperature. Also provide a place for the snake to soak, she said a bowl filled with enough water to cover the snake is fine.

Ball pythons are carnivores (they eat meat) and need to eat appropriately sized, meaning no bigger in circumference than the largest part of the snake, prey. Many snakes will eat pre-killed rodents such as thawed frozen mice or rats. If feeding live, Miss Dawn says never leave a rodent with a snake unattended, as the rodent can injure the snake. Do not handle the snake for a few days after feeding as this can cause it to regurgitate its food. Adult ball pythons eat every week or two. Miss Dawn says not to be alarmed if a ball python stops eating during cooler months as this is common in captivity. She also said that that most snakes will not eat when in a shed cycle.

Ball pythons require routine veterinary care. For newly acquired snakes, a vet visit is essential as many of the parasites infesting ball pythons and other reptiles can be transmitted to humans and other reptiles. Left untreated, such infestations can ultimately kill a snake. If you have a new pet python, you should collect the first feces sample in a clean plastic bag. Seal it, label it with the date and the snake's name, then take it with you along with the snake for the first vet visit. Be sure to find a vet who is experienced with reptiles. The vet will test the feces and provide proper medication if worms or parasitic infestations are found. Thereafter, yearly checkups should be scheduled to maintain the proper health of the snake.

Ball Python head shed showing the eye caps

A common problem encountered by ball pythons in captivity involves shedding. A retained eye (spectacles) cap during a shed can be harmful to the snake. When snakes shed their skin, the layer of skin over their eye is also shed and can be clearly seen when looking at a piece of head shed. Always check the python's head shed to ensure it has shed the spectacles. If one or both spectacles have been retained, try soaking the snake in warmish water for about ten minutes. Before returning it to the enclosure, place a dab of mineral oil on the eye with a cotton-tipped swab, be gentle. The spectacle should come off within twenty-four hours. If it does not come off or your uncomfortable doing this, seek veterinary assistance.

Another common problem for snakes is mites. Mites are often a sign of poor environmental conditions. Adult mites are tiny reddish-brown dots barely bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. You might (no pun intended) notice them swarming over your hand and arm after handling the snake (but don't worry--they are harmless to humans) or you may see them moving around the snake's body or even clustered around the eyes. Mites are harmful to snakes, but they are easy and relatively inexpensive to get rid of, although the process is time-consuming. Consult your vet if you notice mites and understand that you may need to make changes to the snake’s enclosure.

Snakes should routinely shed in one piece, from snout (including spectacles) to tail-tip. If a snake does not shed cleanly, it is a sign that something is not right, either with the snake or with its environment. Newly acquired snakes may not shed properly for the first month or two as they get acclimated to their new surroundings. If it continues, or begins to occur in a snake you have had for awhile, the snake should be evaluated by a vet for possible health problems, and the snake's environment should be assessed for humidity problems.

You may be asking, how do you get a snake to the vet? Miss Dawn recommends a small Tupperware container with proper ventilation (a few holes for air). These snakes are docile and shy, so provide them with a place to hide during transport, she uses a a towel that can be washed afterwards.

An orange corn snake on a branch

Did you know that ball pythons are just one type of constrictor? Corn snakes are another. The corn snake is native to North America and can be found in the southeastern and central parts of the United States. While not native to North Carolina, they are also a popular pet because they too are generally docile. Corn snakes tend to be smaller than ball pythons and don't have as long a lifespan. Both of these snakes come in a variety of colors.

Here is a link Miss Dawn found that provides information on caring for corn snakes.


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