What Size Rodent Should I feed my Ball Python?

This is a very popular question amongst new keepers of ball pythons. When you go to a pet store to select a feeder rodent for your ball python, the selection and size of available rodents can sometimes be overwhelming to new ball python keepers. What you may consider being a “small rat” might be thought of as a “medium rat” - or visa versa - in the eyes of staff working at your local pet store. That’s why it’s ever so important to understand and be able to visually identify if the rodent offered to you is of appropriate size or not for your ball python.

The technique that you will learn from this blog on how to identify the proper rodent size can be applied throughout the entire lifecycle of your pet ball python as it grows into adulthood. You will be able to select the proper size feeder rodent for your ball python with confidence, up to and including adulthood!

The technique for knowing the proper size feeder rodent to offer your ball python is pretty simple and straightforward. “Choose a feeder rodent that’s slightly larger than the largest part – or girth – of your ball python.” The photo below illustrates the area of your ball python that you should use as a basis of measurement.

Girth area of ball python to determine feeder rodent size
Girth area of ball python to determine feeder rodent size

A keen observation of your snake might lead you to a valid question along the lines of, “The neck and head area of my ball python are a lot smaller than the largest section of its body. Won’t this become a problem?” No, this is not a problem nor will it become one. In fact, ball pythons are physically designed to swallow prey items much larger than their heads. You can read more on this topic in one of my previous blog entries entitled, How are Ball Pythons able to swallow such Large Prey? I must also mention that the size of the circle in the above photo is for illustrative purposes only. You need to base the girth "around the snake" using the circle as a reference point as this section is the largest section of a ball python. The girth "around the rodent" should equal or be slightly larger than the largest section or girth of your ball python.

Hatchling ball pythons can be fed more frequently than adult ball pythons because they are young, active and growing. The frequency of feeding and the type of feeder rodent you decide to offer your ball python is completely up to you. Regardless of the type of feeder rodent you decide to feed your ball python, you can use this technique to identity the appropriate sized feeder rodent throughout the entire life of your pet ball python. I must mention in closing that if you feed mice to your ball python, your ball python will ultimately become much larger in terms of girth than an adult mouse. Feeding more than one mouse either the same day or more frequently will make up for the difference in size.

Feeder mice for hatchling ball pythons
Feeder mice for hatchling ball pythons

1.2.3 normal ball pythons - What does it mean?

You may or may not have heard or read descriptions of ball pythons or other reptiles that had a group of numbers preceding the description of the animal. For instance, you may have seen or heard something along the lines of “1.2.3 normal ball pythons” and had no clue what those numbers meant. You’ll know what those numbers mean by the time you finish reading this blog, guaranteed.

Those cryptic numbers are nothing more than the “quantity” expressed in dot notation, separated into three segments or sections. Each segment or section is separated by a period (.) and each section refers to the quantity of the sex for the particular animal. The first section represents the number of males, the second, the number of females and the last section refers to the number of animals whose sex is “unknown”. Five males and three females for instance would be represented as 5.3.0 or 5.3 – the last section can be omitted and oftentimes is omitted if there are no animals whose sex is unknown. Lets say we have eight ball pythons but we don’t know the sex of these animals. We would represent this as 0.0.8 thus representing eight ball pythons whose sex is unknown.

As mentioned above, the last section that refers to the “unknown sex” can be left out or omitted if the value is zero. However, you should not omit or leave out the zeros in the male/female sections if you have animals whose sex is unknown. You can however omit the first zero for the male column or section if you have, say, just five females as illustrated by “.5 normal ball pythons”. I must note that it’s considered good practice to include the zero as in “0.5 normal ball pythons” when you refer to zero males and five females instead of leaving out the first zero (the male section) because it’s a lot cleaner looking.

That’s pretty much it! No voodoo, witchcraft or rocket science degree is required to understand and know what those supposed “cryptic” numbers mean when you see or hear people talking about ball pythons or other animals.

Want to baffle your friends and family? Tell them how many ball pythons you have but do it using the dot notation. LOL! ball-python-joke

haha-ball-python-joke

Proper Hide Placement for Ball Pythons

Snakes like to hide to feel safe and secure and ball pythons are no exception. Hides or “hide boxes” are necessary because they provide an area of retreat for your ball python. You should provide at least one hide area at minimum but the ideal scenario would be a tank with 2-3 hides distributed evenly throughout the tank. Simply placing a hide in the tank in and of itself just for the sake of having a hide in the tank is not enough. “Wait a minute Ron! I’ve read some of your other blog posts and I’m not sure if you’re going schizophrenic on us again because first you say they need hides and now you say it’s not enough. What gives!?”

I’m going to share with you a few photos sent to me from customers that wanted to make sure they had their tank setup properly. I’ll then show you visually what I mean by “proper hide placement” so you'll have a better and much clearer understanding of what I mean.

Improper hide placement in a ball python tank
Improper hide placement in a ball python tank

Oops, wrong photo (sorry about that folks - bad kitty!) ball python hide placement. Here’s the correct photo:

Improper hide placement in a ball python tank
Improper hide placement in a ball python tank

The problem that I see with this tank is the placement of the hide. It’s positioned so you can easily see the ball python in the hide. It’s called a “hide box” because your ball python should feel like its indeed hiding. How can it feel secure if it can see everyone walking back and forth through the tank while it’s supposed to be hiding? Here’s another photo of good hide placement.

Proper hide placement in a ball python tank
Proper hide placement in a ball python tank

The entrance to the hide is opposite the largest surface of the tank, which more than likely has a lot of human traffic moving to and fro throughout the day. The ball python will feel more safe and secure in this hide arrangement because the entrance to the hide is facing an area with very little traffic.

I know we all want to see our beloved ball python at all times but for the sake of the snake, position the hide so it’s truly hiding. And whenever you tell yourself, “Forget what Ron said, I’m changing the position of the hide so I can see the snake”, just think of how awkward you’d feel if you were “sitting down” reading a newspaper or magazine and out of nowhere the doors and privacy walls surrounding the stall in the public restroom that you were occupying suddenly “vanished!” into thin air and all eyes were instantly focused on you? Not a pretty picture at all, right? Same thing applies to your ball python. Give it some privacy; position the hides so they truly hide your ball python.

A Hatchling Ball Python Cage for Cheapskates

I was enjoying a delicious cup of New England clam chowder soup for lunch today when the following thought popped into my head, “What’s the absolute cheapest way to house a ball python hatchling?” I’m not sure if it was the clams or the chowder that sparked the idea but nevertheless, it was a good cup of soup and a pretty good idea that I explored throughout the rest of the day. One of the requirements for a cheap cage is that it has to work and be "safe".

I decided on a 6.5qt Rubbermaid shoebox because it’s relatively inexpensive (about $2-3 dollars) and comes with a “secure top”, something that’s necessary to make sure a hatchling ball python can’t escape.

Rubbermaid 6.5qt shoebox for a ball python hatchling
Rubbermaid 6.5qt shoebox for a ball python hatchling

I decided to drill holes on the top of the lid so there would be a good flow of oxygen in the cage (will refer to this as a cage moving forward). Since this is a blog about doing things the “cheapskate” way, I guess you could use a basic hammer and nail to create air holes if you don’t have access to a drill.

Lid to Rubbermaid 6.5qt shoebox for a ball python hatchling
Lid to Rubbermaid 6.5qt shoebox for a ball python hatchling

We now have a cheap cage that has a secure lid and is large enough to house a hatchling ball python. Ball pythons like tight spaces so the 6.5qt Rubbermaid shoebox provides more than enough ample space for a hatchling ball python believe it or not. We need substrate, a water dish and a hide box. Again, we’re taking the cheapskate route.

As far as substrate goes, there’s nothing cheaper than newspaper, especially if it was someone else’s newspaper in the first place. :-)

Newspaper substrate for ball python hatchling
Newspaper substrate for ball python hatchling

We have our secure cage and substrate in place, next lets figure out what we can use as a water bowl and a hide – the cheapskate way of course. Ah ha! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Here’s a hint, “Clam Chowder Soup”. Yep, you guessed it, lets use the plastic bowl from the soup as the water bowl! Simply clean it very well so it’s sterile and you've got yourself a nice water bowl.

Water bowl for ball python hatchling
Water bowl for ball python hatchling

Now we need a hide box. I got it again! Lets use the newspaper and create a makeshift hide box. It’s actually a pretty good idea I think because if the hatchling ball python makes a mess in the cage, we can simply throw out all the newspaper (hide included) and lay down more newspaper as the substrate and simply create another hide.

Newspaper hide box for ball python hatchling
Newspaper hide box for ball python hatchling

We now have a ball python cage that’s capable of housing a ball python hatchling and we’ve done it for under $5. Not to mention the fact that we were able to enjoy a scrumptious bowl of soup as part of the deal!

I tried to think of a way to heat the cage “the cheapskate way” but was unable to because when you’re dealing with an electrical appliance, it’s best to play it by the book. A UTH or “under tank heater” works well with this cage and you may be able to purchase one on eBay, Craigslist, the local newspaper or you might get lucky and find one at a yard sale for a cheap price.

UTH or under tank heater for ball python hatchling
UTH or under tank heater for ball python hatchling

A thermostat/rheostat is a MUST for controlling the output of the heat emitted from the UTH. There are commercial products that we can buy but again, we’re going the route of the cheapskate. You can pick up a basic “light dimmer” from your local Wal-Mart for about $10 or so. That’s a lot cheaper than the commercial thermostat/rheostats available and they pretty much perform the same job. You just need to slide the dimmer to a point where it heats the cage just right and once you have it in this position, a piece of duct tape should hold it in place nicely. Don’t forget the humidity/temperature gauge for the cage – they're fairly cheap too.

Dimmer for uth or under tank heater
Dimmer for uth or under tank heater

We now have a cage that cost pennies on the dollar that will comfortably house a ball python hatchling. That's no joke folks, this cage can house a hatchling ball python for many months! Once your ball python reaches a couple hundred grams, it's time to upgrade the size of the cage but in the meantime, this will work just fine for the cheapskates amongst us. :-)

Do you have any thoughts on other ways to create a cheap cage? Share them with us in our ball python forum.

Happy savings!

Happy 4th of July 2008!

Happy 4th of July 2008!
Happy 4th of July 2008!