Ball pythons are the perfect size for many snake keepers. They are large enough to handle but small enough to keep in modestly sized containers. Your baby ball python can sleep comfortably in a shoebox-sized home.
But how long before that baby ball python’s shoebox starts getting cramped? What size home best suits a young ball python? When can you start feeding your ball python bigger prey? All these questions will arise as your ball python gets bigger – and they will get bigger.
Like humans, ball pythons go through life stages: like us, each stage has different needs and requirements. This article describes the various stages of a ball python’s growth and development and tells you how you can give your baby ball the care it needs to grow into a healthy adult.
Your ball python can provide you with decades of scaly companionship. In July 2020 a 62-year- old female ball python at the St. Louis Zoo laid a clutch of eggs. That baby ball you purchased to celebrate getting your first job might still be with you when you retire! If you want to know what you can expect as your snake grows with you, keep reading.
How Big are Ball Python Hatchlings?
10”-17” | 65-103 grams (Average: 86 grams)
Between 55 and 65 days after they are laid, ball python eggs hatch. The hatchlings tear open the shells with their egg teeth and slither out into the wide new world. In the wild they venture out in search of anything they can eat. In captivity breeders generally move their new clutch to labeled containers in hatchling racks.
At 3.5″ × 18″ × 5″, these tubs may seem cruelly small. But hatchling ball pythons in the wild spend most of their time squeezed into tight spaces which protect them from their many natural predators. These small spaces provide little snakes with a sense of security.
Most ball python breeders will not sell their hatchlings until they have eaten at least four times and shed cleanly twice. Like most babies, hatchling ball pythons eat frequently. Most breeders offer hopper rats or fuzzy mice every 4-5 days.
Male and female hatchling balls look identical. To sex baby ball pythons breeders pop them by gently placing pressure above and below the snake’s cloaca. The pressure will cause the males hemipenes, dual penises, to pop out. They may also probe the cloaca with a thin metal instrument which will penetrate deeper in males than females.
(Both these techniques should only be practiced by experienced breeders. Too much pressure or rough probing can injure your snake badly. If you want to learn how to probe or pop your babies, have a professional breeder or veterinarian show you firsthand).
Hatchling ball pythons grow fast. Within four months most hatchling balls have doubled or even tripled their weight. At this point breeders know their hatchlings are healthy, eating, and ready to go on the market.
How Big are Ball Python Juveniles?
1.5 – 2.5 feet | 150-500 grams
Ball pythons grow at different rates. So long as their bodies are rounded rather than triangular and their spines are not showing, your juvenile ball pythons are fine at any length. A healthy 6-month old ball python may weigh as little as 100 grams or as much as 300.
At this life stage you will begin to notice that your juvenile female balls is growing a bit faster than your juvenile males. Like many snakes (and many other species) ball pythons are sexually dimorphic. At maturity the female will likely be around 50% longer and 100% heavier than a male from the same clutch.
If your juvenile ball has been eating mice, this is a good time to begin transitioning them to rats. You should also start feeding once a week. A prey item should be no more than 10-12% of your snake’s body weight and no thicker than the widest part of their body. Your juvenile ball’s metabolism is not so fast as a hatchling and their rate of growth is slowing down.
At this growth stage your ball will need a larger home. But don’t overdo it! Too much space and your ball will spend most of their time in their hide. Balls like a little room to move around but too much open space makes them fearful. A 20 gallon tank or a Sterilite 16598008 56QT Storage Box may be all a smaller male ball needs for the rest of his life.
How Big are Subadult Ball Pythons?
2 – 3.5 feet (males), 3 – 4.5 feet (females) | 700g (Males), 1,200g (Females)
A male ball python may be ready to breed at 8 months old. Most female balls will not be ready until they are between 2 and 3 years old. Ball pythons should not breed below a certain weight. A skinny 4-year-old female may not make eggs even if she locks up. A healthy 6-month-old male may fertilize an ovulating female.
Mating male balls may go off their feed until the season is over. A nesting female incubating her eggs will not eat until they are hatched. This is why it is important to see that both prospective partners have sufficient fat stores to make it through the mating season.
Some breeders “power feed” their balls by offering them larger items on a more frequent schedule. This may make them grow faster, but often leads to an obese and unhealthy snake. A power-fed ball may be ready to breed a few months earlier than a ball on a reasonable feeding schedule, but a reasonably fed ball will survive through more breeding seasons.
A scale like this Weighmax 2810 2Kg Scale will help you track your growing ball python’s weight and feed appropriately sized prey.
Your ball pythons will continue to grow in girth and weight, but they are near their full adult length. You will be able to increase the size of their food as they grow in weight. And you can begin shopping for their lifetime home. While you are shopping this 106 Quart Clear Latching Box will provide permanent or temporary lodgings for all but the largest female balls.
How Big are Adult Ball Pythons?
2.5 – 4 feet (males), 3.5–5 feet (females) | 1000g (Males), 2000g (Females)
Around 3 years of age your ball python will reach their full length. That length will probably be somewhere within this range. There are a few outliers who will be a bit smaller or larger. Technically, ball pythons will grow throughout their lives. But going forward their growth will be measured in millimeters, not inches.
Though they will not grow much longer, adult ball pythons can still pack on weight. At this stage of their lives ball pythons should be fed every 7-10 days. They may refuse food occasionally. If so, don’t worry about it until you see drastic weight loss, emaciation or other signs of serious illness.
Many factors may influence a ball python’s adult size. A ball who regularly refused food as a baby may grow up smaller than one who ate every rat offered. The finicky ball may make up for lost time and grow bigger. Or they may continue eating occasionally yet still grow to an above average size while the big eater ends up smaller.
Because balls reach different adult sizes and weights, you may be tempted to compare your ball with others. You may worry that your ball is too small or dangerously obese. A 1,500-gram male is uncommonly heavy and a 1,500-gram female uncommonly small. But both may be healthy animals. So long as your snakes are happy and make you happy, all is well.
Most breeders recommend females be a minimum of 3 years old and 1,700 grams. An older but smaller female may be able to conceive successfully. An obese 18-month-old might meet the official weight limit but produce slugs (infertile eggs).
Males can produce sperm plugs within a few months after hatching. That does not mean they are ready for breeding. An active mating season might see a male paired with multiple females. Typically, the male will not eat during the mating period so long as females are around. The female will eat sporadically if at all during mating season and fasts while incubating her eggs.
For good-sized balls with sufficient fat reserves, this is not a problem. Balls in the wild eat heavily before the start of the mating season. But in their rush to make more balls – and earn back some of their investment in an expensive morph – some breeders will try to push their mating stock beyond what they can handle.
If you fear that your female may be too slender to breed, give her the year off. Your stunning young male will be even better suited for months of courting next season. Consider the mating weight limits for breeding but consider other factors too. In ball python breeding as in life size matters, but size isn’t everything.
How Big are the Biggest Ball Pythons?
Giant snakes are as common as the monster fish that got away. There are stories about 7-foot-long female balls and 6-foot-long males. Many of these stories are told thirdhand. Few mention how these snakes were measured, or include photographs of these Biggest Ball Pythons Ever.
Most male balls will not get much above four feet and most female balls will not top five. Five-foot males or six-foot females are rare but not unheard of. It is likely that a very few balls grow a bit beyond those limits. It also seems safe to say that your ball python will never reach seven feet, and will probably top out at under 4 feet if male and five feet or less if female.
A few older females can reach nearly 3,000 grams. A big male may get as high as 1,500 or a bit more. If your ball pythons are reaching that mark you can be proud of your exceptional snake. But you should also check to see if your snake is being overfed.
Ball pythons are thick snakes. In the wild they are ambush predators who lie in wait then strike suddenly when their prey moves into range. They spend a great deal of time sitting still and their muscles are built for striking speed rather than extended hunting. A healthy ball feels muscular. An overweight ball feels squishy.
Instead of a rounded triangular body, an overweight ball python is circular like an overstuffed sausage. The sides bulge out and the scales are overstretched. You may see deposits of fat around its neck and the tip of its tail may look unusually small next to its bloated behind.
If your ball python is showing signs of obesity, there are two things you can do.
- Move them to a bigger cage and add a climbing branch. While ball pythons don’t care for overly large homes, an undersized cage gives them no opportunity to move around or burn off calories.
- Cut down the food supply. An adult ball python can live comfortably on a 14-day feeding schedule with a prey item weighing 5-7% of the snake’s total body weight. An obese 3,000-gram female would do fine with a 90-150g medium rat every 21 days until she got her (triangular) shape back.
Your snakes will provide you with decades of companionship. If you are lucky and put in the effort, they may even reward you with clutches of hatchling balls. Remember, the idea is to have the healthiest ball python, not the biggest.
Now you know how big ball pythons get. More importantly, you have an idea of just how big your ball python will get. Do you have stories about your very big ball python or your lovable ball python midget? Share your thoughts, comments and pictures in the comments below!