If you have a ball python as a pet, you’ll need to know how to provide the optimal environment for it. Ball pythons make good first snakes and are relatively easy to look after. But, as they are native to the tropics, they have quite specific needs in terms of heating and humidity.
We’re going to look closely at the humidity and heating requirements of ball pythons. You’ll find out what range you should aim for, and how to make adjustments should you need to. You’ll also discover what equipment is required for monitoring and regulating conditions inside the vivarium.
- 1 What Is the Ideal Humidity for a Ball Python Vivarium?
- 2 Humidity for Shedding Ball Pythons
- 3 How to Increase Humidity in a Snake Enclosure
- 4 How to Decrease Humidity in a Snake Tank
- 5 How Do You Measure Humidity in a Snake Tank?
- 6 What is the Ideal Temperature for a Ball Python Vivarium?
- 7 How Can I Tell If My Ball Python Is Happy?
What Is the Ideal Humidity for a Ball Python Vivarium?
Ball pythons are native to the tropics of sub-Saharan Africa. They are used to consistently warm temperatures and medium to high humidity levels, year-round. To keep your captive ball python healthy and happy, you should replicate its natural environment as closely as possible.
Let’s start with humidity. Although ball pythons come from central Africa, they do not usually inhabit rainforests, wetlands or anywhere particularly moist. They prefer grasslands and sparsely wooded areas, such as savannahs, where the overhead canopy does not close.
The humidity that you should aim for inside your ball python’s enclosure is between 50% and 60%. 55% is a good initial target to work towards.
If the humidity drops below 50%, you will start to notice that something is wrong.
This could include:
- Infections of the upper respiratory system. These are usually bacterial in origin, but according to a study in the journal Virology, they can also be viral. You’ll notice symptoms such as labored breathing, excessive saliva, discharge from the mouth or nostrils, and open-mouthed breathing.
- Problems with the shed. Your ball python should shed its skin in one complete piece. If any parts of the shed tear off or get stuck, this is a sign the humidity is too low.
If the humidity is too high, the environment may become “wet.” This will result in a moist substrate, and condensation forming on the walls of the tank. This could result in problems such as scale rot, a bacterial infection of the scales.
Humidity for Shedding Ball Pythons
When your ball python is starting to enter its shed cycle, you should keep a close eye on the vivarium’s humidity levels. It is particularly important during this time to ensure that humidity is sufficient, to prevent problems with stuck or incomplete shed.
Signs that your ball python is going into shed include:
- The scales appearing dull or discolored
- A pink tinge to the belly
- Eyes appearing milky-blue in color
- Reclusive behavior and lack of appetite
At the first sign that your ball python may be starting to shed, we advise increasing the humidity to around 65-70%. This will give your ball python the best chance at shedding successfully.
How to Increase Humidity in a Snake Enclosure
Ball pythons don’t require any special considerations regarding humidity. Including a water bowl in your ball python’s vivarium (which, of course, is necessary) should be sufficient to maintain the correct moisture levels. As the environment will be quite warm, this will cause some of the water to evaporate, helping to humidify the air.
However, if you need to raise the enclosure’s humidity (for example, during shed) there are various techniques to try:
- Move the water bowl to the warmer end of the enclosure.
- Add a second (or larger) water bowl.
- Reduce the amount of ventilation out of your snake’s tank. If the enclosure has a screen top, humidity is probably escaping from it, so consider covering it half up with plexiglass.
- Mist the enclosure with water from a spray bottle once or twice a day. Be sure not to spray the snake directly, as they don’t enjoy it.
- Use a humidifier in the room which you keep your vivarium in.
You can also get substrate which retains humidity, such as cypress mulch and orchid bark. However, a humid substrate for ball pythons increases the risk of scale rot.
How to Decrease Humidity in a Snake Tank
Are you worried that the humidity in your enclosure might be too high? As a general rule, high humidity is nowhere near as much of a problem for ball pythons as low humidity. If the humidity is under 75%, your snake is probably just fine.
However, damp substrate or condensation forming on the walls of the enclosure could indicate that the humidity is too high.
To reduce humidity, try the following steps:
- Stop misting your ball python’s enclosure, if you are currently doing so.
- Switch to a non-moisture-retaining substrate, such as aspen or newspaper.
- Add more ventilation holes, particularly to the top of the tank.
- Move the water bowl to the cool end of the vivarium.
- Use a smaller water bowl (though ensure it’s still big enough for your snake to bathe in).
- Move the vivarium to a less humid part of your home, if possible.
How Do You Measure Humidity in a Snake Tank?
By now, you should be aware of what humidity level to aim for, and how to increase and reduce humidity when necessary. But how do you monitor it?
Sadly, it’s impossible to get an idea of the humidity just by looking at the tank. You’re going to need a piece of equipment called a hygrometer. This is essentially like a thermometer, but instead of measuring heat, it measures moisture.
For best results, select one with a probe which is separate to the display. Position the probe about an inch above the substrate, where your snake will be spending its time, and set the display somewhere that you’ll be able to see it easily. You can even purchase thermo-hygrometers, which measure both heat and humidity, like the Exo Terra Combometer.
Check your hygrometer twice a day, in the morning and evening, to ensure that humidity does not vary too much.
What is the Ideal Temperature for a Ball Python Vivarium?
Ball pythons hail from tropical Africa, where the temperatures throughout the year are high. Heating your ball python’s enclosure correctly just as vital as humidifying it, to prevent health problems.
You should provide your ball python with a temperature gradient in its vivarium. This involves using a heat source to keep one end of the vivarium much warmer than the other. This will allow your snake to thermoregulate (keep its body temperature at the right level).
The warm end of your ball python’s enclosure should be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool end should range between 70 and 80 Fahrenheit.
There shouldn’t be a need to use a heat source at the cool end, as the residual heat from the warm end should keep it at the right level.
Ensure that your snake has access to two hide boxes, one at either end of the enclosure. Make sure to monitor each end of the vivarium with a thermometer, about an inch above the substrate.
Do Ball Pythons Need Heat at Night?
In the wild savannas of Africa, there is not much temperature variation between night and day. For this reason, you should try to ensure that your snake’s vivarium remains at a constant temperature at all times. Ball pythons fare better when they are nice and warm, 24 hours a day.
Just be sure to switch off any light sources at night. Otherwise, the constant brightness will cause confusion and stress for your snake.
The only time that you might benefit from lowering the temperature in your ball python’s vivarium is if you are trying to breed your snakes.
According to PLOS One, the development of follicles (which is necessary for ovulation) can be induced by lowering night-time temperatures for a short period. This mimics the temperature during the pre-breeding season in Africa.
How to Maintain the Correct Temperature for Ball Pythons
So, now that you know what temperatures you should be aiming for in your vivarium, you need to think about how you’re going to heat it. Unless you have an unnaturally warm house, you will need to make use of a heat source of some kind.
There are two main options available, each of which has its pros and cons:
- Ceramic heat bulbs. These are designed to be installed above the vivarium, and they radiate heat down into it. They do not give off light, so won’t disrupt your snake’s circadian rhythm. However, they aren’t suitable for use above vivariums with plastic lids, as they can melt the plastic. Also, they tend to dry the air out, so it can be more challenging to attain humidity.
- Heat pads. These sit underneath the vivarium and radiate heat upwards into it. They provide the most consistent heat, do not dry out the air, and are safe to use with plastic tubs. The only danger is if they malfunction and become too hot. However, this is extremely rare.
We’d always recommend using a heat pad for a ball python vivarium. The main benefit is that you can easily hook it up to a thermostat, such as the Jump Start Digital Controller Thermostat.
This gives you the ability to set the desired temperature that you’d like in your vivarium. If you don’t use a thermostat, you will need to constantly check the temperature, and switch the heat source on and off whenever necessary.
If you use a heat bulb, you can purchase a timer so that it switches on and off at certain points during the day.
However, you will still need to monitor the temperature so that you can program the timer correctly. A thermostat is by far the easiest way of maintaining a consistent temperature in your vivarium.
Although fine for most other reptiles, we don’t recommend using heat rocks as they can burn your snake’s stomach. They look decorative, but this is an obvious drawback.
Do Ball Pythons Need a Heat Lamp for Basking?
Snakes that live in temperate climates, such as corn snakes, enjoy “basking” in the sun. This means lying on a big flat rock or a log and soaking up the sun’s rays.
It helps them to heat their bodies, to store energy for hunting later on. For this reason, keepers of basking snakes should ensure that they provide an overhead heat lamp and a basking spot.
Ball pythons, however, are not basking snakes. In the wild, their habitats would constantly remain at adequate temperatures, so they do not need to bask.
Even if you did provide them with a basking spot, they wouldn’t use it, and it would likely dry them out too much. We recommend sticking with under-tank heating as a general rule.
How Can I Tell If My Ball Python Is Happy?
If you ensure that your vivarium remains at the right temperature and humidity, you have nothing to worry about. Of course, there is far more to taking care of a ball python than heating and moisture, so be sure to check out our beginner’s ball python care guide for tips.
As a general rule, though, you’ll be able to tell that your ball python is happy if:
- It is eating, drinking, defecating and urinating regularly
- It sleeps in her hide box most of the time, coming out occasionally to explore (usually at night)
- Your snake is not regurgitating its food or showing signs of illness, such as visible sores
- Its shed skin comes off in one complete piece, with eye caps and tail tip
- It is calm when being held, and not showing signs of distress or aggression.
If all of the above apply to your ball python, it is probably satisfied. If it is showing any signs of strange behavior or illness, you should take your snake to a veterinarian.