How Can You Determine Your Ball Python’s Age?
Do you want to know how old is your ball python? Is it because you forgot when it hatched? Or have you recently bought one with no record from a pet store? Regardless, knowing the age of a ball python is important for breeding—but is it a big deal for their care?
A ball python’s age is mainly determined based on its hatching date. Other than this, there are no other ways to accurately determine the exact age of a ball python. However, owners can estimate the age of a ball python based on its size, weight, color, and behavior.
A ball python’s age is one of the most important details to know when buying one. What are the features to observe to know their age? How old can they get and what are their stages of life? Read until the end to find the answers to these questions!
Owners can estimate the age of their ball python by checking their size. Hatchlings are approximately 10-14 inches long while full-grown adults can range from 48-72 inches. Older ball pythons also have bigger heads in comparison to their neck.
Based on the size of a ball python, it can be estimated whether its age is within the hatchling or adult range. But juveniles and sub-adults are hard to differentiate due to variations in growth rates.
On average, a newborn ball python is about 10–14 inches in length so if that is the size of your newly-bought ball python, it might be 1 month old or less.
Adult ball pythons, however, start to max out at 4 ft for males and 5 ft for females. Anything shorter than that can be either a juvenile or a sub-adult. So if your ball python is in this length range, then it’s likely 3 years of age or more.
If your ball python’s length is in the juvenile to the sub-adult range, estimating its age accurately is almost impossible. There are many cases of ball pythons doubling the size of their clutch mate with the same gender.
In addition to length, there is a difference in the head size between a young and an adult ball python. Adult ones have bigger and wider heads in comparison to its body while younger ones have thinner necks and bodies in comparison to its head.
Though not an accurate standard, a ball python’s age can be estimated based on its weight. Hatchlings weigh 50-100 grams while adults weigh 1400-5000 grams.
In most cases, the weight of the ball python does not indicate its age. But at both ends of its life cycle, from hatchling to adult), its age can be estimated if compared to the average weight of each life stage.
If a ball python weighs less than 100 grams then it is most likely a hatchling. But if it weighs 1000 as a male or 1500 grams as a female, then there is a good chance that it is an adult.
It is almost impossible to estimate the age of a juvenile ball python through weight because some 1-year-olds can weigh 200 grams while their sibling will weigh almost 1000 grams.
This drastic difference in weight is normal in most cases due to the difference in their innate metabolism and appetite.
The color of a ball python typically changes in intensity and pattern as they grow. However, keep in mind that some ball python morphs look the same from a hatchling until adulthood.
The most common color difference in an aging ball python is in its hue. There are many ball python morphs that seem to be fading or darkening in color as the snake grows.
For example, a pastel ball python is almost yellow when it is young but its color becomes brownish-yellow as it grows.
In my experience, a normal ball python becomes darker in color as it grows which I observed from my 6-year-old male, Choco.
Another example is an adult banana ball python which has more and bigger spots when compared to a hatchling of the same morph.
So if your ball python’s morph has a faded color in comparison to a hatchling, then it might be around the sub-adult to adult age range(1–3 yrs old).
Based on anecdotal evidence, many observed that younger ball pythons tend to be more shy and defensive than older pythons. In addition to this, older ball pythons can exhibit slow and lethargic movements due to old age.
Ball pythons can have the same movements as they have in their younger years. Most keepers have observed that their ball python still moves the same way and eats the same way as it has when it is young.
Then again, some keepers have observed general differences in the behavior of a young and adult ball python.
Younger ball pythons are said to be more shy, defensive, and less tolerant of handling.
Bigger ball pythons can be more confident due to their experience in being handled and fed by their owner. However, this is not always true as older and bigger ball pythons can also be defensive and shy due to their temperament and experience.
In rare cases, ball pythons can show signs of old age through slow movements, grey eyes, and wrinkly bodies. But keep in mind that this is generally a sign that a snake is about to pass away due to old age.
The Life Cycle of Ball Pythons
Ball pythons go through 5 different stages of growth in their lives. In order, these stages are called hatchling, baby, juvenile, sub-adult, and adult.
Below is the table of the average age, weight, and length of each stage:
|Stage||Age||Weight (Grams)||Length (Inches)|
|Hatchling||From birth–1st month||50-100||10–14|
|Adult||36 months and above||1400-5000||48-72|
Please take note that the weight and length indicated on the table above are just averages taken from records of fellow ball python keepers.
There are some scenarios where a 5-month-old ball python can be heavier than a 14-month one. Or even a 2-year-old female weighing more than a 4-year-old one.
The length and weight are also not completely correlated with each other. There are long ball pythons that weigh much less than shorter ones.
4 Factors Affecting the Growth Rate of a Ball Python
Growth rates of ball pythons vary due to the following factors: 1) innate metabolism, 2) feeding frequency, 3) temperature, and 4) roaming space.
You should not worry too much about the growth rate of your ball python. A slow growth rate does not immediately mean an unhealthy snake.
As long as your ball python shows no signs of diseases, malnutrition, and food refusal, then there is nothing to worry about!
The main indicator of growth in a ball python is shedding. If a ball python sheds, this means that it has grown to some degree that it needs to replace its skin.
1. Innate Metabolism
Ball pythons have different metabolic rates, with some faster than others. This is the reason why some snakes grow quicker than others of the same age.
Metabolism greatly affects the growth rate of a ball python because it also greatly predicts how frequently they need to eat.
With faster digestion, ball pythons can consume larger amounts of food which results in faster growth as well.
Fun Fact: Ball pythons can get 90% of their energy from their prey. However, they also use so much energy to digest their food which is why they are seen hiding after feeding.
2. Feeding Frequency
In general, ball pythons will grow faster if they are fed more often. Ball pythons convert the nutritional contents of their meals into muscle mass and fat which results in their growth.
Ball pythons that are fed in quicker succession or larger meals can grow faster than those fed rarely or with smaller prey.
Just be careful as more frequent feeding can cause risks to your ball python! They can have a shorter lifespan due to organ failures and impacted feces.
>>Learn more about overfeeding and proper feeding in our article can ball pythons be overfed?
Higher temperatures can help a ball python digest its meal quicker, which also results in faster growth. But there should be a temperature gradient in an enclosure, from a warm to a cool side, to give the snake a choice for its thermal needs.
Providing a heating device like an under-tank heater or a heat lamp can improve a ball python’s digestion rate.
Heat mats and heat tapes can be used for under-tank heating while halogen bulbs and deep heat projectors are an optimal option for overhead heating and/or lighting.
4. Roaming Space
Providing a ball python with ample roaming space can help it improve its digestion thus improving its growth rate. In addition to this, climbing spaces can also enrich a ball python and encourage it to explore.
If a ball python roams in its enclosure, it can be considered a “mini workout.” This can improve digestion, mental stimulation, and overall health of the snake which is important for their growth and overall well-being.
You can even take out a ball python once in a while to let it roam inside a room or outdoors. But, of course, this should always be supervised.
>>Learn more about taking your ball python outside in our article can you take your ball python outdoors?
How Old Do Ball Pythons Get?
On average, ball pythons kept in captivity can live for about 10–30 years. The oldest recorded ball python, which is currently in a zoo, is 64 years old.
A ball python’s lifespan is relatively long compared to other pets like cats and dogs. Even amongst reptiles pythons, in general, are animals that have a long lifespan.
Though ball pythons can live long, their lifespan will still vary depending on their overall quality of life—be it in the wild or captivity.
One study has shown that ball pythons kept in bad environments have a shorter lifespan . This is due to the lack of enrichment, unsanitary environment, cramped enclosure, and other bad husbandry practices.
Female ball pythons are normally larger than males, but their lifespans are generally the same.
Some breeders also share that overbred ball pythons can have a pretty short lifespan of only about 5–7 years.
Then again, there are also reports of 30-year-old females still looking healthy while consistently producing good eggs. So, again, it may all boil down to the quality of life they receive in our care.
How can you weigh a ball python?
Ball pythons can be weighed using a scale, specifically for grams. Ball pythons cannot weigh more than 10kgs and can easily be weighed on a large gram scale.
Until what age can ball pythons breed?
There is no specific age for a ball python to stop breeding. It can vary depending on how healthy they are and the condition of their reproductive organs. There are reports of ball pythons being able to produce at 30 years of age.
How big is a full-grown ball python?
Adult male ball pythons typically weigh 1000–1500 grams and are 4–4.5 feet in length. As for females, they can grow as long as 5–6 ft while weighing more or less 2,000–5,000 grams.
Summary of Determining a Ball Python’s Age
A ball python’s age can be determined through its date of the hatch. Other than this, estimates are the only option that can be based on their features like size, weight, color, and behavior.
Ball pythons first start as hatchlings, grow into babies, juveniles, sub-adults, and finally adults. Their growth rates can vary due to factors like innate metabolism, feeding frequency, temperature, and roaming space.
On average, ball pythons can live around 20–30 years in captivity. However, there are reports of much older pythons with the oldest being a 64-year-old female currently in a zoo.