Ball Python Diet: What Do Ball Python Eat?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of a ball python’s diet, discussing their natural eating habits, the best options for feeding them in captivity, and how to establish a balanced and nutritious feeding routine.

The Natural Diet of Ball Pythons in the Wild

Ball pythons (Python regius) are native to the grasslands and savannas of West and Central Africa. They thrive in a variety of environments, from dry, arid landscapes to more humid, forested areas.

As nocturnal creatures, they spend their days hiding in burrows or under rocks, emerging at night to hunt for food.

In the wild, ball pythons are opportunistic predators, relying on their keen senses and natural camouflage to ambush their prey. They typically lie in wait and strike with lightning-fast speed when a meal ventures too close.

Ball pythons primarily feed on rodents, but their diet can also include birds, lizards, and amphibians, depending on what is available in their habitat.

Rodents make up the vast majority of a ball python’s diet in the wild. These protein-rich meals provide the nutrients necessary for growth, reproduction, and overall health.

Mice and rats are the most common prey items, but other rodents like gerbils, jirds, or African soft-furred rats may also be on the menu.

As ambush predators, ball pythons use their strong, muscular bodies to constrict their prey. Once they’ve successfully captured a meal, they swallow it whole, headfirst.

Ball pythons have highly flexible jaws that can stretch and expand to accommodate even large prey items.

By examining the natural diet of ball pythons in the wild, we can make more informed decisions about their care in captivity. Feeding captive ball pythons a diet that closely resembles their wild counterparts helps ensure that they receive the proper nutrients for optimal health.

Feeding Ball Pythons in Captivity


As a ball python keeper, I’ve learned that feeding pre-killed prey is the best approach for several reasons:

Live prey, such as mice or rats, can become defensive and cause harm to your snake. Bites and scratches from live prey can lead to infections or other injuries. Pre-killed prey eliminates this risk.

Feeding pre-killed prey is considered more humane than offering live animals. Many reptile keepers find this method to be a more ethical choice, as it minimizes the stress and suffering of the prey.

Appropriate Prey Options and Selecting the Right Size

Ball pythons primarily eat mice and rats in captivity. Choosing the right prey size is essential for your snake’s health and safety:

Mice and rats: Depending on the size of your ball python, you can offer either mice or rats. Smaller snakes may start with mice, while larger, more mature ball pythons can handle rats.

Prey size in relation to the snake’s size: The prey should be roughly the same width as the widest part of your snake’s body. Offering prey that’s too large can lead to regurgitation or even injury, while too small of a meal may not provide adequate nutrition.

Ball Python Feeding Chart and Schedule

Establishing a consistent feeding schedule is crucial for your ball python’s health:

Snake AgeSnake WeightPrey SizeFrequency
Hatchling50 – 100 gHopper mouse or pinky rat (8-12 g)Every five days
3 months120 – 200 gSmall mouse or fuzzy rat (13-19 g)Once week
6 months300 – 370 gAdult mouse or rat pup (20-30g)Every 7 – 10 days
1 year500 – 900 g1-3 adult mice or 1 small rat (45-80 g)Every 10 – 14 days
1.5 years700 – 1500 g3-5 adult mice, 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats (80-150 g)Every 10 – 14 days
3 years1200 – 1800 g4-5 adult mice, 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats (90-150 g)Every 14 – 21 days
5 years+1800 – 2300 g4-5 adult mice, 1 medium rat, or 2 small rats (90-150 g)Every 21 – 50 days

Young ball pythons (hatchlings and juveniles) require more frequent meals due to their rapid growth.

As your snake matures, you will need to decrease feeding frequency. Adults have slower metabolisms and require fewer meals.

Keep an eye on your ball python’s weight to ensure it maintains a healthy body condition. Adjust the feeding frequency as needed to prevent underfeeding or overfeeding.

Hatchlings (Baby)

Baby ball pythons, also known as hatchlings, need frequent and small meals to support their rapid growth. Offer them a fuzzy or hopper mouse once every 5-7 days. Ensure that the prey is no wider than the widest part of your hatchling’s body to prevent stress and regurgitation.

3 Months Old

At three months old, your ball python will still be growing rapidly. Continue to offer a hopper or small adult mouse every 7 days to support their development.

6 Months Old

As your ball python reaches six months of age, you can begin to offer small adult mice or weanling rats. Maintain a feeding schedule of once every 7 days to ensure proper growth.

1 Year Old

By the time your ball python is one year old, they will have significantly slowed in growth. Offer them a small adult mouse or weanling rat every 10-14 days.

3 Years Old

At three years old, your ball python will have reached maturity. Offer medium-sized rats or large adult mice every 14-21 days to maintain their health and weight.

5 Years Old

Five-year-old ball pythons will have a stable feeding schedule. Continue offering medium-sized rats or large adult mice every 14-21 days.

Breeding Females

Breeding females require additional energy and nutrients to support egg production. Offer them larger prey, such as large rats, more frequently, every 7-10 days during the breeding season. Ensure they have proper calcium supplementation as well.

Breeding Males

Breeding males may lose interest in food during the breeding season. If this occurs, offer smaller prey items every 10-14 days, but do not be alarmed if they refuse food. Their appetite should return after the breeding season.

Tips for Feeding Ball Pythons


Creating a stress-free environment for your ball python during feeding time is essential. Make sure their enclosure is well-lit and maintained at the appropriate temperature and humidity levels.

Providing a separate feeding area can also help reduce the risk of substrate ingestion and create a positive association with mealtime.

Feeding Frozen-Thawed Prey

  1. Thaw the frozen prey item by placing it in a sealed plastic bag and submerging it in warm water until it reaches room temperature.
  2. Gently warm the prey item using a heat lamp or by placing it near the enclosure’s heat source, making sure it doesn’t become too hot.
  3. Using tongs or forceps, offer the prey item to your ball python, mimicking the movement of live prey to stimulate their feeding response.
  4. After your snake has successfully consumed the prey, give them time to rest and digest in their enclosure.

Feeding Live Prey

Feeding live prey comes with risks, such as injury to your snake from a defensive rodent. It’s important to monitor the feeding process closely and intervene if necessary. Be aware of the ethical concerns surrounding live feeding and consider using pre-killed or frozen-thawed prey whenever possible.

Encouraging Reluctant Eaters

Ball pythons can sometimes be picky eaters. To encourage them to eat, try the following:

  1. Offer different prey types: Sometimes ball pythons may prefer a specific type of prey, like rats over mice, or even a particular color. Try offering different options to entice your snake to eat.
  2. Adjust prey size: A prey item that is too large or too small may be unappealing to your ball python. Make sure to provide appropriately-sized prey based on your snake’s age and size.
  3. Warm the prey: Ball pythons rely on heat sensors to locate their prey. Ensure the thawed prey is slightly warmer than room temperature to make it more attractive to your snake.
  4. Scent the prey: For particularly fussy eaters, try scenting the prey with a different animal’s scent, like a gerbil or a bird, to make it more appealing to your ball python.
  5. Offer food at night: Ball pythons are more active during the evening and nighttime hours. Offering food during this time may increase the likelihood of your snake eating.

In my experience, dimming the lights and leaving the room for a while has also helped some of my more hesitant snakes feel comfortable enough to eat.

If your ball python consistently refuses to eat or shows signs of distress, it’s important to consult a reptile veterinarian. They can help identify any underlying health issues and provide professional guidance on how to address feeding problems.

Common Feeding Mistakes

1: Overfeeding: Overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health issues. Monitor your snake’s weight and adjust feeding frequency and prey size as needed.

2: Malnutrition: Conversely, underfeeding your ball python or providing a low-quality diet can lead to malnutrition, which weakens their immune system, stunts growth, and makes them more susceptible to illness. Ensuring a proper diet will help prevent these issues.

3: Feeding Inside the Enclosure: Feeding your ball python in a separate area reduces the risk of substrate ingestion and establishes a positive feeding routine.

4: Handling After Feeding: Avoid handling your snake for at least 24 hours after feeding to prevent regurgitation and ensure proper digestion.

5: Power Feeding: Rapidly increasing the size or frequency of feedings can lead to health problems. Consult a veterinarian for guidance on proper feeding schedules for your ball python’s age and size.

6: Stress-Related Issues: Stress can also result from improper feeding practices, such as handling your snake too soon after feeding or providing live prey that may injure them. Stress can negatively impact their immune system, making them more susceptible to disease.

Nutritional Supplements and Treats

In general, ball pythons receive most of their required nutrients from a diet of rodents. However, certain situations may call for the use of nutritional supplements:

Health issues: If your ball python is experiencing health issues related to their diet or has specific nutritional deficiencies, your veterinarian may recommend supplements to address these concerns.

Breeding females: Female ball pythons preparing to lay eggs might benefit from calcium supplements to support eggshell formation and overall reproductive health.

When and Why Supplements May Be Necessary

As mentioned earlier, supplements are generally not required for ball pythons that are fed a proper diet. However, it’s crucial to monitor your pet’s health and consult with a reptile veterinarian if you suspect any dietary or health issues. They can guide you on the appropriate use of supplements, if necessary, and help you create a tailored plan for your ball python’s needs.

Occasional Treats for Enrichment and Variety

While rodents make up the primary diet of ball pythons, offering occasional treats can provide enrichment and variety to their feeding routine. Remember that these should be given sparingly and should not replace the primary diet of rodents.

Quail chicks: Feeding quail chicks occasionally can add variety to your ball python’s diet. Be sure to choose appropriately-sized chicks to avoid causing digestive issues.

Gerbils or hamsters: Some ball python owners offer gerbils or hamsters as an occasional treat. However, make sure to source these animals from a reputable breeder to ensure they are free of diseases and parasites.

Where to Get Ball Python Food

Frozen rodents can be purchased in many different ways, including:

  • On the internet (Perfect Prey and Layne Labs are my favorites)
  • At your local small pet store (avoid Petco/Petsmart/etc. because their rodents are typical of poor quality).
  • From the reptile expos
  • sourced from a local breeder

Most snake keepers prefer to buy their rodents in bulk because shipping costs are high (they must be shipped overnight because they are frozen) and buying one rat a week can be inconvenient. Save even more money by combining orders and splitting shipping costs with a friend.

Can You Feed them Multiple Mice in One Go?

Some people feed their ball pythons multiple feeders in a row but it’s just something I’ve never done or had any reason to do.

Any ball python I’ve bred or kept has always been of a healthy weight when they were transferred to their permanent keepers or pet shops. It all comes down to proper feeder sizing for your snake.

For the most part, many people use the multi feeding’ option without any problem. However, with a newbie keeper, this “could” lead to serious weight problems. As well as any potential health complications.

How Many Days Can a Ball Python Go Without Eating?

In general, a healthy ball python can go without eating for several weeks, sometimes even months, without any adverse health effects.

It’s not uncommon for adult ball pythons to fast for 30-45 days, while juveniles may start showing signs of stress if they go without food for more than 3-4 weeks. However, each snake is unique, and their fasting duration can vary depending on factors such as age, health, and environmental conditions.


Ensuring that your ball python has a healthy and balanced diet is essential to their health. By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can make informed decisions about what to feed your ball python, how often to feed them, and how to prepare their food.

When it comes to ball python diets, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each ball python is unique and may require slightly different nutritional needs based on factors such as age, size, and overall health. By keeping a close eye on your ball python’s behavior and body condition, you can adjust their diet accordingly to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need.

Whether you are a seasoned reptile keeper or just starting out, feeding your ball python can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. As you explore the different types of prey available and experiment with different feeding schedules, you may find yourself discovering new things about your ball python and their unique personality.

Filled under: Snakes

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