Thursday, October 4, 2012

Buying your first Ball Python

One of my first Ball Pythons, aptly named "Strikey"
Ball Pythons have enjoyed a rapid "rise to the top" in popularity as a pet snake.  They are most popular because of their generally passive nature and relatively simple habitat requirements.  Still, if you decided that you wanted a snake and ran to the local pet shop to buy one, the advice you received there may not be completely accurate.  I would like to share a bit of information about Ball Pythons, and their native environment.

Ball Pythons were originally imported to the US as a required purchase.  Exporters would list the awesome reptiles they had for sale, and attach a minimum Ball Python purchase clause to the item.  In short, if you wanted some type of really hot reptile, you had to purchase 50 Ball Pythons at $2.00 each or something of that nature.  As a result, stating that Ball Pythons didn't live a good life in the United States would be an understatement.  At some point, an "odd looking" Ball Python came into the port, and garnered attention from someone.  The industry started with a few of these "odd looking" snakes, and began gaining some popularity.  Of course, those snakes led to the 5,000+ current genetic mutations of Ball Python currently available in the US (read Hot Ball Python Morphs), and suddenly a $2.00 snake could ultimately sell for upwards of $25,000.00.  Yes, there are Ball Pythons for sale at $25,000.00 (or more).

The common Ball Python should be for sale in your local pet store for around $50.00.  I see them go for upwards of $100 in some cases, and for as little as $25.00.  Budget for $75.00 to be safe.

I am going to talk to you like this is your first snake.  There are questions that you need to ask prior to purchasing;

1-Is this snake captive-born?  If the answer is not a "yes" with certainty, tuck tail and run.  Due to the popularity of these snakes, they are still caught in the wild to some degree.  Wild-caught specimens are more prone to carrying ticks and mites, and let me tell you-they can be tough to get rid of.  I also argue that the temperament of wild-caught snakes is not as conducive to a "social" snake as that of a captive-born snake.

2-How often is this snake handled?  If the employees of the shop are scared of the snake, chances are that you will receive an animal that it more prone to bite.

3-How long has this snake been here?  Word it however you like, these snakes are great pets.  I have a tremendous collection, and I still love the regular-old Ball Python.  If the animal is healthy and reasonably-priced, it won't sit for very long.  If the shop personnel seem clueless, bid them adieu.

4-How often is it eating?  The answer should be at least once per week.  If it is within its first 6-8 meals, it should be eating every three to four days.  Don't believe the garbage out there about feeding your Ball Python once a month.  If it only eats that often, there are a several reasons.  Either the temp and humidity are off, the snake is ill, the snake wants to breed or the snake's owner is misinformed.  In the best conditions, eating once per week is ideal.

5-What is it eating?  I feed live, unless I freeze the rodents myself-with few exceptions.  There isn't anything wrong with feeding frozen, with the exception of not knowing the health of the feeder.  There have been some pretty scary issues with zoonotic diseases cropping up in frozen rodents lately.  I will give more direction on proper live feeding later.  The shop personnel should be able to tell you what size and type of feeder is being used.  Make certain that you don't hear the words, "African Soft Fur Rat".  More on this later.

6-May I hold it?  If the answer is no, I don't think I have to tell you how quickly you should leave.

In addition to these questions, here are some observations to make;

1-Is there elimination (poo) in the enclosure?  If so, I would immediately have concern with sanitation.  Obviously, the snake could have eliminated right before you walked in.

2-Is the snake in an aquarium or "tank"?  This is the most unhealthful of enclosures for a Ball Python.  More on that in enclosures.

3-Is water available to the snake?  Ball Pythons need unlimited access to water.

4-Is the Ball Python curled up in the water dish?  Not always, but this could indicate mite infestation.  You do not want to start out with mites.  More on this later.

5-What type of substrate (bedding) is the Ball Python on?  If it is on pine or cedar, run like the dickens, only after you inform the shop personnel that they are hurting their snake, and should remove their heads from their sitting apparatus.  This information is WIDELY available, and we expect reptile and pet shops to set a positive example.

6-The golden observation-I'll bet that you won't see this in 10% of the shops you visit.  Is a heat mat offered for the Ball Python?  Heat rocks are completely unacceptable and would be the worst idea in the world for a Ball Python.  A heat mat affixed to the outside-bottom of the enclosure.  This isn't a deal-breaker, but could explain eating issues.  This more illustrates just how much bad information is out there concerning Ball Python care.  Ball Pythons need belly heat to properly digest their food.

If you are still standing in the shop, buy the snake.  See the entry entitled "Proper Ball Python Enclosures" for what to purchase next.


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