One of most amusing things I’ve found online in the past few months has been the “snek” meme. Following the trend of “lolcats” and “doggos,” “sneks” have slithered their way into internet culture with a playful “blelele” and, to their foes, a sassy “heck off!” After so many centuries of fear and misunderstanding, snakes are finally becoming the lovable pets that we’ve known them to be.
Of course, this change in psyche has translated swimmingly over to the pet trade where varieties of snakes have been on the uptick as pets. And sitting atop the snake sales charts is the adorable curled-up ball python. With a loving temperament and ease of care, the ball python should sit among your staple options for reptile sales. Plus, with ball python breeding season in swing just as this issue is hot off the press, there’s no better time than the present to include ball pythons within your reptile displays.
The ball python (Python regius) is the smallest form of African python, originally hailing from sub-Saharan Africa. Even in ancient times, ball pythons were held in high regard, worn as jewelry by ancient Egyptian royalty and given reverent funerals by aboriginal Nigerian tribesmen. Ball pythons rarely grow longer than 6 feet in length, with males reaching maturity at around 3½ feet and females growing to around a foot longer. When properly cared for, ball pythons can live for over 20 years, with some ball pythons living for over 40 years!
In terms of care, ball pythons are prized for their ease and simplicity of care. Ball pythons are noted for their docility and their relative friendliness, in terms of being handled. A ball python will often be at its happiest simply coiled around your arm or draped across your shoulders. Ball pythons also tend to prefer a smaller enclosure, making them ideal snakes for apartment-dwelling pet owners or for those with smaller homes. An adult ball python will be more than comfortable in a 36-inch x 18-inch x 12-inch enclosure, ideally with two hides, each in a different temperature zone of the enclosure.
A ball python enclosure should always be at least 78°F, with a basking location approaching 90°F. Humidity within such an enclosure should be kept around 50-60 percent; be sure that the substrate used within a ball python enclosure does not adversely affect the enclosure’s humidity levels. Consider stocking cypress mulch or orchid bark to handle this issue, as they can help regulate the humidity in the tank.
Another of the key reasons for the popularity of ball pythons is undoubtedly their myriad morphs, patterns and colorations. While most “basic” ball pythons have brown and black markings with a cream colored belly, breeders have created seemingly countless patterns and morphs all across the spectrum. Current counts estimate over 5,200 individual and replicable morphs of ball pythons, creating a huge variety for even the most discerning reptile owner.
Of these morphs, the albino—a white/yellow colored snake with pink or even red eyes—has become increasingly popular, particularly as they become more widely available within the market at large. However, devoted fans of the ball python often seek out the rarer, more esoteric morphs of snake. Among these include pastel morphs (which can sell for more than $3,000) and even the patternless ball python, which can fetch prices in excess of $10,000!
The sheer variety of morphs and colorations provide a two-fisted advantage to retailers: new owners can pick out a snake that interests them without fear of great expenditure, while experienced reptile fans can choose from a massive variety of colorations and patterns.
However, the true advantage of ball pythons—as with most reptiles—comes in terms of their food. Ball pythons are constrictor snakes, feeding exclusively on mice, rats and other small rodents. While some python owners, particularly veteran snake owners or breeders, tend to prefer live food for their reptiles, most pet owners instead opt for frozen mice and rats. Ball pythons typically need to be fed weekly, with feedings dropping to near bi-weekly during the winter months, in which the python would typically be in hibernation. Pythons, like most snakes, do not eat while they are in shed, so save their feeding for after they’ve shed their skin.
It’s in those rodents—live or frozen—that canny store owners can truly show an increase in their store’s profits. Big box stores simply do not carry feeder mice or rats in their pet stock, meaning that, if you can keep a regular stock of feeder animals, every animal you sell can potentially represent years upon years of continued revenue.
When stocking these feeder animals, always be sure to provide as many sizes and varieties as possible. Snakes of various sizes and ages require different sized food, ranging from extra-small pinkies all the way up to adult-sized mice. Be sure that your staff is educated on which sizes are best for a given animal’s size and that they can effectively communicate this information to your customers. A happy animal, of course, is one that’s well-fed!
With the ease of care necessary for a newbie reptile owner and the variety necessary to please a veteran, ball pythons should hold a place of honor within your stores. Provide your customers some options and they’ll be sure to enjoy these wonderful animals!