A care guide for the Royal Python, also known as the Ball Python – python regius including everything you need to know to keep this popular exotic pet species, from housing, lighting and heating, to how to feed and handle them and even how to breed them and information on Royal Python genetics!

The Ball or Royal python (Python regius) is a snake that has fast become a firm favourite in the pet industry and is now one of the most popular exotic pets in the world. Available in hundreds of different colour mutations (morphs), this stunning snake is easy to care for but like any reptile, does require that you do your research and provide the correct environment. In this ball python caresheet I hope to give all the basics that a new keeper will need to know before buying as well as some information that even a more experienced keeper might enjoy learning!

Royal Python Facts

Common NameRoyal Python or Ball Python
Scientific NamePython regius
OriginWest and Central Africa
Size3 – 5 Foot
Lifespan25+ years
DietMice, Rats, Gerbils, Multimammate Mice
Maturity2 years male, 3-4 years female
BreedingOne clutch per year with 3 to 12 eggs

Where does the name come from?

The latin name regius means royal, but Python regius is also frequently referred to as a Ball Python.

Pied Ball Python

Don’t worry if your royal python curls up into a ball like the snake above. These can be very shy snakes and the name “Ball Python” comes from this. In the wild they have a chance at protecting their delicate head, neck and eyes from predators by tucking it away and hoping for the best. Once the snake becomes more confident they will explore their surroundings and become active and far less inclined to ball up, but this can take time.

Royal Python Housing

Royal pythons should be housed in a secure enclosure – like many snakes, they are escape artists, and although a small snake in length, are very strong and can slip through very small gaps! Secure sliding glass doors with a lock at all times.

Some people prefer to keep their Royal Python in smaller enclosures to start off with, finding that the added security may help young snakes to have the confidence to eat. In general I would recommend buying well started youngsters who are feeding well on defrost prey items and can confidently move into a larger enclosure. If buying a young baby you may want to buy a starter setup for the first six months or so whilst they grow in size and confidence, and then upgrade to their final setup. If the snake is already 6 – 12 months old, then you can likely put them straight into a larger setup.

We offer three full setups suitable for Royal pythons, a 36x18x18″ Setup which will need to be upgraded as a final home, then a 48x18x18″ and a 48x24x24″ Setup, both of which can be used for an adult. The more space you give them, the more natural behaviour and activity you’re likely to experience.

Temperature and Heating

A small basking area should be provided of around 33C (90F), whilst the overall ambient of the vivarium should be around 24-26c (75-80F). We recommend using a low wattage light bulb to create a natural photoperiod and providing the majority of your heat through a ceramic heat bulb. This must be controlled with a thermostat and covered with a guard to avoid burns.

We do not recommend heat mats with adult royal pythons but they can be used with babies if a ceramic bulb is not an option (for example, in a starter kit). As a heavy bodied snake, they can put a lot of pressure when lying direct on a heat mat which can cause burns even if a heat mat is controlled with a thermostat. Ceramic heating elements heat the air rather than the ground and this creates a more natural and stable source of heat.

Heat Mat – Heat mats are cheap and simple. They should always be controlled with a thermostat. I personally use heat mats for hatchling royals kept in small enclosures – with the heat mat outside the enclosure. I sometimes use heat mats for medium size snakes inside vivariums but the problem with royal pythons is that although they are a small snake in length, an adult female can potentially weigh up to 3kg. When a heavy snake sits directly on top of a heat mat there can be a lack of air flow between them. This can cause overheating, malfunction and burns. Personally I would not use heat mats with adult royal pythons, but they can be used outside plastic enclosures, or in a wooden enclosure on the back wall as opposed to the bottom of the tank.

Ceramic Bulb – This is the best option for any wooden vivarium where it can be safely mounted and guarded. Ceramic bulbs are high output bulbs (up to 250w usually) that give off no light. They can be left on 24 hours a day and can be used with an on/off or a pulse thermostat. These are great for large tanks, but the bulb must be guarded so as to avoid burns. This is the method I would personally recommend for an adult royal python.

Whatever your method of heating, ensure that it is controlled by a thermostat and that you have a good way of reading it to make sure the tank is at the right temperature – I’d recommend a digital thermometer and hygrometer for the best accuracy.

Humidity

People sometimes say to me – “They come from Africa, don’t they like it dry?” and whilst it is true that the environmental conditions in Africa are generally arid, royal pythons actually spend a great deal of their time in burrows where it is dark and damp. Then they leave the safety of their hiding places, it is night time, when the temperatures are cool and the moisture levels higher, so humidity should be maintained at 50-60%.

They need access to fresh water at all times, and this should be changed daily.

UVB Lighting for Royal Pythons

Whilst royal pythons are nocturnal, they are often described as crepuscular. Like most nocturnal reptile species, they can be seen at dawn and dusk. New studies are constantly improving reptile care, and we are using research from Arcadia Reptile which shows the benefits to health, including appetite, activity and colour when using UVB. You can either use a UVB tube with controller, or an all in one UVB kit. It must be guarded because a snake will wrap itself around the tube, which can both damage the tube and burn the snake. The exact percentage and size will depend on your vivarium but the aim is to get a UV Index (UVI) of 2-3 which is a relatively low output.

We use Arcadia’s research and recommendations for obtaining the correct UVI. To get a UVI of 2-3 you will need to use a T8 6% UVB or T5 7% Shadedweller UVB at a height of 10-15″. If your vivarium is taller, you need to use a T8 12% UVB or a T5 6% UVB at a height of 15-18″. Read our full UVB guide for in depth information on UVB

Substrate

There are a few choices for substrate, many breeders and keepers use different things. There are three things that we have personally used with great success:

Newspaper or Cage Carpet – this option is an easy to clean substrate that will allow you to keep your royal python in a hygienic environment. The downside it is not very natural, but is especially useful for frequent clean outs during a quarantine period.

Aspen – Aspen is a wood-shaving based product which should be dust-free. It allows for burrowing and is easy to spot clean. It is good for dryer environments. The downside of aspen is that it does not adjust to humidity well and can get mouldy quickly if wet. There are several other aspen like products on the market, including aubiouse and lignocel.

Orchid Bark – Orchid Bark is a dark forest-bed and very natural. It allows for burrowing and holds humidity well. The downside may be that if too wet it does soak up the moisture and you may find the vivarium too humid, but this is the substrate that I personally recommend for ticking all my boxes.

Arcadia EarthMix – We have used this with great success for a very natural substrate that holds humidity well, is organic and also suitable for bioactive setups.

Can you keep a Royal Python in a bioactive enclosure?

Yes, you can absolutely keep a Royal Python in a bioactive enclosure and we’d highly encourage it. There are a few things to consider that make it a little more challenging. Due to the size, Royal Pythons are kept in wooden vivariums as there aren’t commercially glass tanks available at the appropriate sizes. Wood is susceptible to warping and becoming damaged when wet. To keep a bioactive wooden setup you will want to line the bottom of your tank with pond liner to keep it watertight and ensure the vivarium lasts a long time without getting damaged.

With a watertight bottom, you can use a bioactive layer just as you would in a glass tank – that is your clay balls on the bottom, your mesh in the middle and your bioactive substrate on top. We sell this in a great kit together.

Your cleanup crew can be the standard springtails and isopods, but be aware that a large bodied snake like a Royal Python will trash most plants by crawling over them and crushing them. So we’d recommend not investing too much money into plants, but a few hardy plants at the sides of the vivarium will increase the air quality and oxygen levels and be a great benefit both to the snake, and potentially even to you too!

Decoration for your Ball Python Tank

You should decorate the vivarium with sturdy branches, plants, and at least two hiding areas, one on the hot side and one on the cool side. Royal pythons like to feel secure and adequate hiding places will ensure that they are comfortable in their environments. Although a thick bodied snake, many enjoy climbing, especially when younger so the more stimulation and different levels you can create in the tank, the more natural it will be, and the happier and healthier your snake will be!

Feeding Royal Pythons

Royal Pythons will feed well on defrost rodents. They are highly attuned to temperature, so defrosting a rat or mouse in warm water has a higher chance for success than defrosting at air temperature. Some are strike feeders whilst others will eat overnight. We try to encourage our snakes to strike and feed immediately, using a long pair of tongs is essential to avoid any feeding mishaps.

A young royal python will feed every 7-10 days on a size appropriate item, ranging from mouse pinkies and rat pups upwards. Adults may only feed every 10-14 days, with males being prone to fasting.

Are Royal Pythons problem feeders?

Royal Pythons have gained a reputation for being “poor feeders”, but this has been exasperated by two serious factors. The first is that a large quantity of normal morph royal pythons are still imported every year from Africa. These are either captured directly in the wild, or farmed on natural expanses of land. They can be stressed, scared, have parasite loads and need time, patience and experience to adjust to captivity and feeding on defrost rodents. At Reptile Cymru we guarantee that any snake we sell will be feeding well on defrost rodents but many snakes across the world have been sold as fresh imports over the years to inexperienced keepers and sadly suffered, adding to the reputation as a poor feeder.

The second is that royal pythons can go on regular fasts, especially during the colder season or in breeding season – especially males. It is not that unusual for a healthy male to stop feeding for 3 months whilst he searches for a mate. Providing him with a mate will not encourage him to eat so there is no solution other than to be patient, to monitor his behaviour, keep a regular check on his weight to ensure that he is not losing body condition and to wait for him to decide he’s ready. This can be quite scary and stressful for some new keepers – but in a healthy adult python has no impact on their health. If at all in doubt about why your snake is not eating we are always available for advice – but if worried then a quick vet check and parasite test is inexpensive and a good way to check that your snake has no underlying problems.

In reality the royal python is not a poor feeder, they are just a snake that requires patience and understanding – they are perfectly suitable for first time snake keepers who are willing to provide the right environment and employ some patience and understanding.

Social Needs and Housing Multiple Snakes Together

Snakes don’t have social needs and adding two snakes to an enclosure means you need a lot more space and hiding places. Although you may think that snakes cuddle up together, this is actually usually because they are competing for the most popular spot. We’d highly recommend housing royal pythons separate unless specifically intending to breed. If you do house them together, two females will have the most success. Two males can cause competition during breeding season (even if no female is present), resulting in stress or refusal to feed. A male and a female can breed even if the female is not big enough or you did not intend to as males are mature at a much younger age and smaller size than females, which can have health complications.

Handling your Ball Python

Royal pythons are easy to handle. They’re a good weight and length to be handleable by all ages, and their timid temperament makes them ideal for all experience levels. You should always wash your hands before and after handling and don’t handle within 24 hours of feeding. When you handle your snake never pick them up by the head or tail and try to avoid approaching them from above, which is how a predator would pick them up. Support the body centrally and let the snake explore.

Breeding Royal Pythons

Before breeding your royal pythons you should be sure that your male and female are in the very best health possible and that you’re well prepared for any possible medical complications.

Around November a female will start to prepare for breeding, usually by becoming more aggressive with feeding and acting like she’s always hungry. Towards January she may start staying at the cool end of the enclosure, lying on her back with her stomach on display or pushed up against objects such as the hide or water bowl. This is her preparing her egg follicles. Around January to February she will naturally start to refuse food, at this point you can introduce the male to the tank. T he male will usually line up his tail to the female and wrap it around hers until they lock. Unlike colubrids they don’t always sit on top of each other – sometimes their tails are the only parts that are touching. Pair multiple times to ensure successful copulation.

Ovulation is visible but sometimes for as little as 24 hours. You will notice a significant mid-body swelling – as if she’s eaten a really large rat, but of course, she’s unlikely to have recently fed. This shows that the fully developed follicles have been fertilized and there’s no need to introduce the male further after this point.

From ovulation it takes about 50 days to egg laying, with a pre-lay shed about 3 weeks into the process. She will be sitting on the warm end rather than cool end now she’s gravid, so if you miss ovulation, seeing a snake that was always on the cool end but is now always on the hot end can be a sign of a snake being gravid.

A typical clutch size is 6-8 eggs, although it can be slightly smaller or larger. The female will coil around the eggs and in the wild will stay with them and incubate them herself. Some people replicate this in captivity, but we personally recommend removing the eggs to an incubator. This allows the female to recover faster and start eating again, whilst giving you a precise incubation temperature. Giving the female a bath after laying will hydrate her and wash away the smell of the eggs, which will encourage her to eat again quickly.

You should incubate at 89F and they will hatch in 55-60 days.

Royal Python Genetics and Morphs

See what Royal Python morphs we have in stock at Reptile Cymru. Remember we can use a licensed reptile courier to have these delivered anywhere in the UK.

The colour of your Royal Python is referred to as the morph. You can see a full list of morphs with photos at MorphMarket. The morph is determined from genetics inherited by the parents, and many morphs consist of multiple combination of different genetic traits. Some genetic traits unfortunately have serious health problems associated with it, for example the Spider trait suffers from serious neurological problems and most breeders no longer deal with these lines. It’s always good to research your morph and make sure it’s an established line that’s free from health problems.

There are thousands of combinations of Royal Python genetics that create different morphs. If you’re considering breeding, I’m going to recommend you use Morph Market’s Genetic Calculator. This will allow you to input two parents genetics and see what offspring you would get.

If you’re not looking to breed, then genetics really just come down to whether there are any health problems in the snake and what you like the look of!

4 thoughts on “Royal / Ball Python Caresheet Care Guide

  1. Dani says:

    I have a male and female living together in a 4ft vivarium, should I separate them. I bought them this way and they always lived together they are 1 year old.

    • Christy Bruckner says:

      Hi Dani,
      We do not recommend keeping males and females together. Your male is now ready for breeding at 1 year old – but your female shouldn’t breed for another few years. If she breeds to early, you could have serious complications such as permanently stunting her growth and egg binding, which can result in a hefty veterinary bill or even death. Royal Pythons do not gain anything from living together, in the wild they would not live in family or social groups. It’s in their best interest if you can separate them into two enclosures. Vivariums stack well on top of each other so you could add another one on top of your existing vivarium without taking up any additional floor space in your home.

      Thanks
      Christy

    • Christy Bruckner says:

      Hi Liam,

      Our website is updated weekly and is currently up to date. If you’re looking for something specific, feel free to drop me a message on support@reptilecymru.co.uk and I can see if there’s any on our lists. We can have animals couriered by licensed reptile courier UK wide with prices ranging from £30-70 depending on courier/distance. We can offer personal delivery within 100 miles as well, but would need a postcode to check if you’re eligible for that. You can also contact us on Facebook with your postcode at https://www.fb.com/reptilecymrucardiff if easier than email.

      Thanks,
      Christy

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