Ball pythons eat rodents and birds. They also make meals out of lizards, amphibians, and small mammals.
However, they are opportunistic eaters, meaning that they feed on whatever is available, provided it has nutritional value and is easy to swallow and digest.
Since male ball pythons spend more time on trees, their diet is primarily made up of birds. On the other hand, their female counterparts eat more rodents than anything else because they spend a lot of time on the ground.
What do Ball Pythons Eat?
Ball pythons are versatile feeders and have a wide range of animals they can eat. The food they eat will depend on their habitat, food availability, and the age of the snake. Juvenile ball pythons eat smaller animals compared to adult snakes.
Ball pythons like to feed on the following animals.
Not only are rodents easily available, but they are also easy to swallow. Ball pythons are particularly fond of rats and mice, which have high nutritional value, besides being the perfect size for preying on.
The snakes also feed on gerbils, which are smaller in size than an adult mouse in full maturity. Ball pythons mainly feed on gerbils because of their availability in the wild. Due to their minor nature, ball pythons in captivity have been noted to have a preference for gerbils, which offer the same nutritional value as rats and mice.
Juvenile ball pythons tend to feed on pinkies and rat pups because they are small enough for the young snakes to catch and swallow. A pinky is a newborn mouse with a weight range of about one to three grams.
At this stage, they are furless and are pink in color, for which they are considered fatty.
Pinkies have high protein content, and the milk in their belly is a good source of calcium for ball pythons. Rat pups are slightly bigger than the pinky mouse and weigh around five grams. They are mostly preferred by python owners because of their nutritional value and small size. Just like pinkies, rat pups do not have fur on their bodies.
Other rodents that ball pythons feed on include hamsters and hoppers. Hamsters are particularly preferred by snake breeders because they are nutritious and leave less odor than rats when fed to snakes. However, hamsters have sharp teeth, which may injure the snakes.
Hoppers have fully formed bone structures, making it easy for the ball pythons to digest them without causing any injury to their gut.
As they are ambush hunters, ball pythons locate rodents in their holes and burrows and lie in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. The snakes rely on their heightened sense of smell, as well as their thermo-receptive pits to detect rodents.
Apart from having rodents as their main diet, ball pythons also consume bird hatchlings and other small birds.
Male ball pythons in the wild are notorious for climbing high in the trees and foraging for birds in their nests. While birds offer nutritional value to the snakes, they are not very popular with female snakes.
3. Amphibians (Frogs and Toads)
Ball pythons live in wetlands, where frogs and toads are in abundance.
The snakes hunt the amphibians when they get out of the water to bask. While basking, frogs, and toads usually put their guard down, giving the python a golden opportunity to close in and strike.
Lizards are mostly preferred by juvenile ball pythons because they are small and readily available.
Juvenile ball pythons hunt for lizards in rocky areas where they would be basking in the sun or in places with lots of insects. The young ball pythons depend on their acute sense of smell to locate lizards, follow them and ambush them.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do Ball Pythons Catch their Prey?
Like many other snake species, ball pythons are ambush-hunters. This means that they stalk their prey and hide in a strategic position for the prey to come close before they strike. Ball pythons use their acute sense of smell and good sight to locate their prey. They also have temperature-sensitive pits on their faces to detect the heat of nearby warm-blooded animals even when it is dark.
Since they are non-venomous, ball pythons use constriction to subdue their prey before swallowing the prey whole. Once it catches an animal using its teeth, the ball python quickly coils its body around the prey and squeezes it until it suffocates.
Do Ball Pythons eat Crickets?
Ball pythons are obligate carnivores, and their dietary needs adapt them specifically to rodent consumption. Therefore, the royal pythons do not feed on crickets since the insects lack the proper nourishment for these snakes.
The small size of the crickets would force the snake to consume a large quantity of them as opposed to having just one rodent to sustain it for a few days.
Furthermore, crickets pose potential harm to the ball python. The insects are known for nibbling the tails and toes of lizards if put in the same cage due to their ability to dry reptile skin. Hence, when placed in the same cage as a ball python snake, they might start scarring the skin, causing irritation and possible bacterial infection in the long run.
Related: Do Snakes Eat Crickets?
How Long Can Ball Pythons Go Without Eating?
These snakes can go for months without having a single meal. This behavior has earned ball pythons the reputation of being poor feeders. However, their fasting usually coincides with the dry season, or winter, when there is a scarcity of food.
Before the fast, it is believed that the snakes prepare by having a big meal that will sustain them during the fast. Male ball pythons, just like the males of other snake species, refrain from feeding during the breeding season, which could be several months.
Do Ball Pythons Eat Fish?
Ball pythons are opportunistic animals and will feed whenever the need arises as a form of survival. Therefore, they can feed on fish in their wild environment, especially if they live near water bodies.
However, fish is not a recommended meal for ball pythons since evolution has adapted their gut to accommodate rodents as their perfect meal fully. Also, due to the small bones from the fish, ball pythons face discomfort once they start digesting the fish. It is challenging for the small bones to decompose entirely and are very sharp, causing bruises that sometimes bleed inside the royal snake’s digestive system.
The preference for rodents over the fish is attributed to the big and more round bones that are easy to digest. Also, there will be minor discomfort caused by eating the rodents, making it the best choice to feed the royal python.
See also: Four Snakes that can Eat Humans
Do Ball Pythons Eat Eggs?
Ball pythons in the wild have been spotted helping themselves to eggs of different bird species. Due to their survival tactics, when there is a scarcity of the regular diet, royal pythons will prey on bird nests for eggs, or if available, ostrich eggs, chicken eggs, and duck eggs.
However, note that the initial intention is to search for hatchlings and little birds in the nests, but if they miss them and are in absolute desperation, they consume the eggs.
If you are keeping a ball python as a pet, do not form the habit of feeding it with eggs. Note that while in the wild, eggs are meals of the last resort for these serpents. Therefore, provide them with more rodents and small mammals than eggs.
Ball pythons eat rodents as their primary food source since it consists of all their dietary needs. Rodents are also easy to prey on and swallow. However, if there is a lack of rodents in their natural environment or scarcity when in captivity, they can also be fed certain fish species and birds.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.