If you’re thinking of adopting a python, or any kind of pet snake, it’s good to know how long they might live. In captivity, without exposure to their natural predators, snakes can live for decades! That’s a big commitment.
Today, we’ll look at the lifespan of the ball python, the most popular kind of pet python due to their docile nature.
We’ll also look at their life cycle and what you can expect from a python at different stages, and at the most common issues that might cut your python’s potential lifespan short.
We will also take a more general look at how long popular pet snake breeds live in the wild versus in captivity, so you’ll know what to expect when you become a reptile parent.
Why Are Ball Pythons So Popular?
Chances are that if you know someone who has a python for a pet, they have a ball python, also called a royal python. These exotic serpents are native to the grasslands of central and western Africa, but they make popular pets because of their docile nature.
Unlike most animals, ball pythons do not have a fight or flight response, so they’re much less likely to attack than other animals.
Of course, if sufficiently provoked, they will defend themselves. But when they strike, they tend to bite and release, meaning they leave superficial lacerations rather than causing serious damage.
Read our complete guide to everything you need to know about reptiles as pets here.
How Long Do Ball Pythons Live?
The oldest recorded ball python lived at the Philadelphia Zoo to the ripe old age of 47 years! Of course, they were receiving expert care from specialist zoologists, which gave the elder python an advantage.
But ball pythons do generally have long lifespans and commonly live between 20-30 years in captivity.
This is much longer than the two to eight years they can be expected to live in the wild. This is because, in your home, they do not have to deal with predators, have regular access to food, and might even get a trip to the vet if they seem under the weather.
This is a long life even when compared to that of other snake species that are commonly kept as pets. Only the predatory boa constrictor has a longer lifespan, and this is a reptile better left to experts.
The table below shows the average lifespan for the most popular pet snake species both in the wild and in captivity. As you can see, it’s not uncommon for snakes to live twice as long in captivity when they’re protected from natural predators.
|Species||Average Lifespan Wild||Average Lifespan Captivity|
|Ball Python||2-8 years||30 years|
|Boa Constrictor||20 years||40 years|
|Rattlesnake||5-10 years||20 years|
|Rat Snake||10-20 years||10-20 years|
|Hognose Snake||5 years||20 years|
|Corn Snake||7 years||12-18 years|
Ball Python Life Cycle
What can you expect from the life cycle of a ball python if you have one from a hatchling?
Ball pythons are surprisingly large when they’re born, emerging from their eggs at least 10 inches long.
They then go through a period of rapid growth, doubling in size within the first nine months. While males and females are more or less the same size when born, females quickly outpace their male counterparts to be noticeably larger.
By one year of age, you can expect your ball python to have reached two feet long, and by the age of three, they will be at least three feet.
This is when they are considered an adult, but they can still grow a considerable amount over the following years in the right conditions, with males reaching up to 3.5 feet and females up to six feet.
If size is a concern for you, then it’s a good idea to adopt a ball python based on gender to get the smaller or larger reptile that you want.
The table below outlines how large you can expect a ball python to get, in terms of both length and weight, based on their age. As you can see, within the first few months of life, females overtake males and are significantly larger.
|Age||Size Male||Size Female|
|Hatchling (0-6 months)||10-17 inches / 50-80 grams||10-17 inches / 50-80 grams|
|Juvenile (6-9 months)||20-25 inches / 275-360 grams||25-30 inches / 300-360 grams|
|One Year||1.5-2 feet / 500-800 grams||2 feet / 650-800 grams|
|Two Years||2-3 feet / 800-1100 grams||2.5-3 feet / 1200-1800 grams|
|Three Years||2.5-3.5 feet / 900-1500 grams||3-5 feet / 1200-2000 grams|
|Four Years +||3-3.5 feet / 900-1500 grams||4-6 feet / 2000-3000 grams|
What Affects Ball Python Health?
While ball pythons can live up to 30 years in captivity, many die within the first year or two of being brought home. This is usually because their habitat conditions are not quite right, leading to weak snakes that cannot survive.
While hatchlings and juvenile pythons can live in relatively small 10- to 20-gallon tanks, by the time they are two years old, they generally need a full-size adult tank that is at least 30 gallons.
If their tank is too small they can easily become stressed. The limited size can also stunt their growth. While this may result in a smaller python, it can also wreak havoc with their system and impact their overall health.
Tanks also need to be set up to provide a habitat that imitates ideal conditions in the wild. This means a UV light during the day and a tank with the right heat and humidity levels.
Ball pythons need hot and humid conditions, so 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and a basking area heated to 90 to 95 degrees, plus shady places to retreat when necessary.
Humidity levels should be around 50% but need to be raised to around 80% when they are shedding, which happens every four to six weeks.
A ball python’s diet also needs to be similar to what they eat in the wild, which means small mammals. Mice, rats, and gerbils are ideal and should be fed to your python live.
Sometimes younger pythons can’t take live food and instead can be fed frozen mice or rats for a period.
Adult ball pythons only need to eat every 7-10 days, while juveniles should eat at least once a week. They also need a calcium supplement, which can either be sprinkled on their prey, or fed to prey about 24 hours prior to being offered to your python.
Pythons can go up to a month without eating and may refuse food for a variety of reasons. But it is important to offer them regular meals. Never handle your ball python when they’re refusing food.
In general, ball pythons should not be handled for more than 15 minutes per week or they can become highly stressed.
It’s not recommended to keep more than one ball python together in a terrarium as they tend to be antisocial. It can cause stress, fighting, feeding issues, and even cannibalism.
Most Common Ball Python Medical Problems
There are a few common medical problems that your ball python could develop if they are not cared for properly. This can lower their life expectancy and certainly lower their quality of life.
Ball pythons can develop respiratory infections if their habitat is not properly set up. Excessive humidity and inadequate cleaning allow for bacteria to grow and then enter the snake’s lungs. The condition is usually treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms associated with respiratory infections include lethargy, loss of appetite, mucus in the mouth, nasal discharge, open mouth breathing, wheezing, and gurgling sounds. It can also lead to grit in the mouth that can damage the jaw and teeth.
A thermal burn is another condition usually caused by poor tank conditions with lights or heated stones in the enclosure that can damage your ball python’s skin.
It’s similar to sunburn and has many of the same symptoms including scale loss, raw spots on the body, and blisters.
A vet will clean the affected skin and provide soothing creams as well as watch out for secondary infections.
If your ball python’s tank is not at the right temperature, they can have trouble shedding their skin. This can cause major discomfort and cut off circulation to parts of the body where the skin remains attached.
Symptoms to look out for include a dull color to the snake’s opaque blue eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, wrinkled skin, and defensive behavior.
Increase the humidity in their tank and place a warm, shallow bath in the habitat that they cannot drown in.
These warm and wet conditions may allow your python to shed on its own. If not, never try and remove the skin yourself as you can damage their skin. It’s time for a trip to the vet!
If you’re feeding your python live prey, there’s a chance they can be bitten by their prey, and these areas can become infected.
To avoid this, give your python their prey, but if they have not eaten it within about 30 minutes, remove the prey and offer it to them again the next day.
Inclusions Body Disease
IBD is a viral disease that pythons catch from other snakes.
They are likely to come home with this when adopted, which is why it’s important to keep new snakes separate from any others that you might be raising for a few months to ensure they’re not carrying the disease.
The disease attacks the nervous system and there is no treatment. While you can provide supportive care, it tends to be fatal.
Common signs of IBD include head tremors, differently sized pupils, muscle spasms, lethargy, constipation, lack of appetite, vomiting, poor body and skin condition, stargazing, and impaired righting reflex.
Python Lifespan FAQs
What age is a ball python fully grown?
Ball pythons are considered fully grown adults at around the age of three, and they should be at least three feet long by this time when living in captivity.
But your python can continue to grow in the following years, and females may eventually get as long as six feet.
How long does it take a ball python to get to breeding size?
Female ball pythons should weigh at least 1200 grams before they start breeding. They will usually reach this size between the ages of two and three years.
Males only need to weigh around 700 grams to complete their part of the breeding process, and they will already be this size at around eight months.
How Long Will Your Ball Python Live?
Properly cared for, you can expect a ball python in captivity to live between 15 and 30 years.
If they only make it to 15, don’t worry, you haven’t done anything wrong—they are already living more than twice as long as they would in the wild and it’s unclear what lifespan is “natural” for your pet snake.
That said, while pythons generally live longer in captivity, many can die within just a few years. This is usually because they are not properly cared for, and this undermines their health.
The main concern is tank conditions. Terrariums should be set up to imitate their natural habitat as closely as possible to give them the best chance for a long life.
If you take the time to get things right, you can expect your baby ball python to be your companion for many years to come.
Read our guide to why ball pythons make excellent reptile pets for beginners and other great reptile pets.