Ball pythons are ectotherms that are native to the tropics. Not surprisingly, they have precise humidity and temperature requirements inside their enclosure. Pet ball pythons also need the right thermal gradient, with a cool spot at one end and a hot spot at the other.
Ball pythons thrive at humidity levels of 50-60%. Keep a large water bowl in the enclosure and mist it occasionally. The temperature should be 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit at the warm end and 70-80 degrees at the cool end. Use a heat mat and thermostat for regulation.
We’re going to look more closely at humidity and heating for a ball python’s enclosure. You’ll find out what range you should aim for and how to make vital adjustments. You’ll also find out what equipment is required for monitoring and regulating living conditions.
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What’s The Right Humidity Level for a Ball Python’s Enclosure?
Ball pythons (Python regius) are native to the tropics of sub-Saharan Africa. They are used to consistently warm temperatures and medium-to-high humidity. To keep your captive ball python healthy and happy, you should replicate its natural environment while in captivity.
Although ball pythons come from central Africa, they do not usually inhabit rainforests or wetlands. 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%. If the humidity drops below 50%, your snake will begin to experience health problems. This could include the following:
- Upper respiratory infections. These are usually bacterial, but according to 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.
- Shedding problems. Your ball python should shed its skin in one complete piece. If any part of the shed gets stuck, this is a sign that the humidity level has been set too low.
If the humidity is too high, the environment may become wet. This results in a moist substrate and condensation on the walls. This could result in scale rot, which is a bacterial infection of the scales.
Humidity Level for Shedding
When your ball python is starting to enter its shed cycle, you should keep a close eye on the enclosure’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, you should increase the humidity level to around 65-70%. This will give your ball python the best chance at shedding successfully.
How To Increase Humidity
Ball pythons don’t require any special considerations regarding humidity. Including a water bowl in your ball python’s enclosure, this 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, there are various techniques:
- Move the water bowl to the warmer end of the enclosure.
- Add a second (or larger) water bowl.
- Reduce the amount of ventilation in your snake’s home. If the enclosure has a screen top, cover half of it with plexiglass.
- Mist the enclosure with water from a spray bottle once or twice a day.
- Use a humidifier in the room which you keep your enclosure in.
You can also get a substrate that retains humidity, such as cypress mulch and orchid bark. However, a humid substrate increases the risk of scale rot.
How to Decrease Humidity
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 OK.
However, damp substrate or condensation forming on the walls of the enclosure could indicate that the humidity is too high. Here’s how to reduce the humidity level:
- Stop misting the enclosure.
- Use a heat mat, not a ceramic heat lamp.
- Switch to a non-moisture-retaining substrate.
- Add more ventilation holes to the enclosure.
- Move the water bowl to the cool end.
- Use a smaller water bowl, but ensure it’s still big enough for your snake to bathe in.
How To Measure Humidity
You’re going to need a hygrometer. This is like a thermometer, but instead of measuring heat, it measures moisture.
For best results, select one with a probe that is separate from 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 buy a thermo-hygrometer that measure heat and humidity. 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?
Ball pythons hail from tropical Africa, where the temperatures throughout the year are high. You should provide your ball python with a temperature gradient in its enclosure.
This involves using a heat source to keep one end of the enclosure much warmer than the other. This will allow your snake to thermoregulate (keep its body temperature at the right level).
The warm end of the 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 that you monitor each end of the enclosure 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 enclosure remains at a constant temperature at all times. Ball pythons fare better when they are 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 enclosure is if you are trying to breed your snakes.
According to PLOS One, the development of follicles (necessary for ovulation) can be induced by lowering nighttime temperatures. This mimics the temperature during the pre-breeding season in Africa.
How to Maintain The Temperature
Unless you have an unnaturally warm house, you will need to make use of a heat source of some kind. There are 2 main options available:
- Ceramic heat bulbs. These are installed above the enclosure, and they radiate heat down into it. They do not give off light, so they won’t disrupt your snake’s circadian rhythm. However, they aren’t suitable for use above enclosures with plastic lids as they can melt the plastic. They also make it harder to maintain the humidity level.
- Heat pads. These sit underneath the enclosure and radiate heat upwards. Heat pads provide the most consistent heat, do not dry out the air, and are safe to use with plastic tubs.
We’d recommend using a heating pad for a ball python enclosure. The main benefit is that you can easily hook it up to a thermostat. If you don’t use a thermostat, you will need to continually check the temperature, and switch the heat source on and off when 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 the easiest way of maintaining a consistent temperature.
Note: Although fine for most other reptiles, we don’t recommend using heat rocks as they can burn your snake’s stomach.
Heat Lamp for Basking
Snakes that live in temperate climates 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 up their bodies, to store energy for hunting later on. For this reason, owners of basking snakes should ensure that they provide an overhead heat lamp and a basking spot.
Ball pythons 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.