Snakes are a diverse group of reptiles, each with their own needs. If you’re a new snake owner, you might be struggling to decipher which snake-care advice is relevant to ball pythons. Thankfully, once you’ve learned how much space, humidity, heat, and privacy they need to survive, ball pythons are one of the easiest snakes to care for.
Your ball python could grow up to 48 inches long, so it will need to be a relatively large enclosure. What’s more, it will need plenty of hide boxes because ball pythons are a timid and nocturnal species. Although ball pythons are shy, they adjust well to regular handling so choose a vivarium that offers easy access.
Because they’re native to Western and Central Africa, this species enjoys hot and humid temperatures. Maintaining humidity in your enclosure should be your top priority because low-humidity can cause respiratory illnesses and incomplete skin sheds. In this article, we’ll show you how to create a vivarium that’s warm, humid, and private enough for your ball python to thrive.
Types of Vivarium for a Ball Python
When it comes to choosing an enclosure for your ball python (Python regius), you have several options. Let’s briefly review the pros and cons of each:
- Repurposing an Aquarium – You could add a snake-proof lid (with ventilation holes) to the top of an old aquarium. This is not recommended for your snake’s primary enclosure but might be OK for a holding or feeding enclosure. Aquariums are rarely deep enough to house a 48” snake. Also, there is no front-opening access with this type of vivarium.
- A Wooden Vivarium (with a glass front panel)– Wooden enclosures are less popular these days because they can be difficult to keep clean and can be heavy. Nonetheless, they are easy to modify (when adding electrics). They also retain heat very effectively, and because 3 out of 4 walls are wooden, they offer more privacy for a shy ball python.
- Plastic/PVC Vivarium –These are easy to keep clean, very lightweight, and good at holding humidity and heat. Like the wooden vivarium, 3 sides are usually opaque with a viewing panel at the front, so this can help your snake feel hidden. However, plastic enclosures can be difficult to source in larger sizes and are sometimes difficult to modify.
- Glass Vivarium/ Glass Reptile Tank – Glass reptile tanks are easy to source, affordable, and are available in a variety of sizes. A glass construction will help to keep temperatures consistent within the enclosure. Glass tanks offer high visibility, and they can be cleaned easily – though they can be heavy and more prone to breakage.
On balance, plastic or glass enclosures are better options because they are easier to keep clean. Plastic cages are slightly better at maintaining humidity, though glass enclosures are generally easier to source and help keep temperatures at a consistent level.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Snake Enclosure
- Choose a vivarium that opens from the front as well as the top. This not only allows you to stack your enclosures, but also offers easy access for cleaning, handling, and changing the water bowl. Snakes (particularly ball pythons) would be afraid of a hand swooping in from the top, so front-opening enclosures are perfect.
- Many glass (and some plastic) tanks have a mesh screen top which may allow humidity to escape. This is not an issue, as long as you monitor humidity levels and take additional steps to enhance moisture levels (see below).
- Check for potential escape routes if you are repurposing a plastic tub or an old aquarium. There should be adequate ventilation but make sure the holes aren’t big enough for your snake to escape through. Also, make sure there are no sharp edges.
- Look for enclosures that have built-in features, such as a raised bottom for a reptile heat pad or wiring inlets for lighting. This will make things a lot easier when you set up the vivarium.
What Size Tank Does a Ball Python Need?
Ball pythons are a shy-and-retiring species, so you wouldn’t want them to feel over-exposed. However, this doesn’t mean you should squash them into a small enclosure. Instead, provide a reasonably sized vivarium with plenty of places to hide. Let’s look at the size requirements based on age:
|Age of Ball Python||Tank Size and Dimensions|
|Hatchlings:||10” – 10-gallon tank (typically: 20” x 11” x 13”)|
|1-3 Years Juvenile:||10-24” – 15-gallon tank (typically 24” x 13” x 13”)|
|3 Years+ Male:||24-36” – 20 gallons (typically: 30” x 12” x 12”)|
|3 Years+ Female:||36-48” – 30-40 gallon (typically: 36” x 18” x 18” or 48” x 13” x 17”)|
As a rule of thumb: the perimeter of the base of the tank should be at least double the length of your ball python. So, a tank that is 36” x 18” x 18” has a perimeter of 108” and can house a ball python up to 54”.
In an ideal world, you’d house your juvenile snake in a 10-15-gallon tank and then upgrade to a 20- or 30-gallon tank as your snake grows. Strictly speaking, this is not necessary – as long as you “fill out” a larger vivarium with landscaping and hide boxes so that your juvenile snake doesn’t feel exposed.
Ball pythons cannot be co-habited safely so keep one-to-a-cage. If you want to keep multiple snakes, choose front-opening enclosures because you’ll be able to stack these on top of each other.
3 Recommended Enclosures for Ball Pythons
The following vivariums are easy to source and would make great enclosures for a ball python. They are made from glass, so they are sanitary and will keep temperatures consistent. These glass cages all measure 36” x 18” x 18” – making them suitable for all but the very largest of ball pythons.
1) Exo Terra All Glass Terrarium
The “large wide” model is 36” x 18” x 18” – making it suitable for most ball pythons. If you want to start your juvenile snake in a cozier enclosure, one of their smaller models will make a great starter home.
- Made from durable glass
- Dual Doors – two front doors that can be opened independently
- Lockable screen top – there is also access from the top via a lockable screen top. The lid allows for UVB penetration in case you want to put a reptile basking light above the cage (not strictly necessary for a ball python)
- Looks very smart and offers great visibility
- Raised bottom frame to fit a heat pad safely
- Ball pythons need about 60% humidity, and the mesh top may encourage too much humidity to escape. This won’t be too much of an issue if you work on increasing humidity in your enclosure – and monitor it regularly. For example, you can place a dampened towel over half the enclosure to stop humidity from escaping (see more suggestions below).
You can find out the price of the Exo Terra Allglass Terrarium on Amazon by clicking this link.
2) Reptizoo Reptile Glass Terrarium
This great vivarium is particularly suited to beginners as it’s easy to assemble and modify.
- Raised bottom frame so you can easily add a reptile heat mat
- Dual doors – front-opening doors that can be opened separately – great for handling your snake
- Closable inlets for wiring and tubing, so it’s very easy to modify to your requirements
- Easy to build and take down
- Durable glass and tough screen top
- Again, the screen top could potentially allow humidity to escape, but this can be prevented.
You can find out the price of the Reptizoo Reptile Glass Terrarium on Amazon by clicking this link.
3) Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium (36 x 18 x 18)
This is another very popular snake enclosure, and it would be suitable for your ball python.
- Sleek design – it would look great on display
- Key-lock security for peace of mind
- Hinged front-opening doors
- It can be modified (has holes for wiring)
- Metal screen top so ceramic heat lamp can be used on the outside of the cage
- The doors are a little fiddly compared to the other models
Any of these enclosures would be a great choice for your ball python. If you want a product that is more lightweight, you could opt for a plastic/PVC cage instead.
You can find out the price of the Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium on Amazon by clicking this link.
What Temperature Should I Keep My Ball Python’s Cage?
Ball pythons require more heat than many other snakes. If you don’t provide them with enough heat, they’ll be unable to digest their food and could become very ill. As with all snakes, it’s important to provide a thermal gradient (a range of temperatures your snake can access according to their needs).
You should aim for an ambient temperature of around 82°F (28°C) and not let this dip below 75°F (24°C). The hotter part of the enclosure should be between 88-92°F (31-33°C), and no warmer than 96°F (36°C). You can achieve this by placing a reptile heat mat or under-tank heater (UTH) underneath one-third of your enclosure. This must be controlled by a thermostat. The cooler side should be between 75-80°F (24-27°C).
It’s a good idea to purchase two thermometers so that you can measure the temperature at each side of your enclosure. The most cost-effective and accurate thermostat for heat pads and heat lamps is a pulse proportional thermostat (PPT) such as iPower Digital Heat Mat Thermostat. Whereas regular thermostats turn the device on/off when a particular temperature has been reached, PPT’s send small pulses of activity to maintain the correct temperature.
Do Ball Pythons Need a Heat Lamp?
If the room is cold, you may struggle to provide an ambient temperature of 82°F (28°C) and a basking temperature of 88-92°F (31-33°C) with a heat mat alone. What’s more, if you have a glass vivarium that hasn’t been adapted to take a heat mat safely, there’s a chance the glass will crack. If this is the case, a heat lamp might be a beneficial piece of equipment.
So, which heat lamp should you go for? Some heat lamps emit light and heat, whereas ceramic systems emit heat only. Ball pythons do not require lighting (UVB rays) to thrive in the same way that other reptiles do. As such, a ceramic heat lamp will suffice. Added to which, ceramic systems are much more cost-effective than light-emitting bulbs.
Ceramic heat lamps can be suspended slightly above a mesh-screened top, so they don’t make direct contact with the top of the cage. Always follow manufacturers instructions as any heat source can be a fire hazard.
Ceramic heat lamps are best used in conjunction with a pulse proportional thermostat. If you use a regular thermostat, you’ll probably find your lamp continually turning on and off as these lamps heat the terrarium very quickly, but then the air cools down very quickly once they’ve been turned off. Pulse proportional thermostats cannot be used with light-emitting lamps.
One of the problems with heat emitters is that they suck humidity out of the enclosure. As such, try to raise the temperature through the use of central heating and a well-installed under-tank heater. If this is not sufficient, then consider an overhead heat lamp.
Ball pythons need 50-60% humidity to thrive. Try not to let the humidity dip below 50% – especially if you have a juvenile ball python, or your ball python is due to shed its skin. No snake handler should be without a hygrometer (a device for measuring humidity).
This great hygrometer from Zoo med Labs measures humidity and temperature. There are two probes with this device, allowing you to measure humidity at both the warmer and cooler side of the cage. This hygrometer is particularly good for larger snakes such as ball pythons because the probe wires are each 36 inches long. This hygrometer can also withstand water splashes – unlike many other models.
How Do I Raise the Humidity in My Snake Tank?
But what if humidity dips below 50%? If it stays that way for several days, your snake may find it difficult to breathe and shed its skin. As such, it’s important to intervene as soon as you notice the humidity dipping. Here are some handy tips:
- Mist the enclosure with water.
- Provide a larger water dish – though make sure it’s a heavy dish that your snake cannot knock over. If your ball python is curling up in its water bowl, this is a sign that it needs more humidity.
- Use a substrate that promotes humidity (see below) and lay the substrate 3” deep.
- Add dampened sphagnum moss to one of the hide boxes (ideally, the box should be in the middle of the enclosure).
- Move the tank away from any windows or air vents– circulating air can decrease humidity.
- If you have a mesh roof on your enclosure, this could lower ambient humidity because there will be too much air circulating. To prevent this, dampen a towel and place it over half of the mesh top – ideally, this should be the half of the enclosure that has the water bowl. Do not cover the entire enclosure as this could create far too much humidity. Besides dampened towels, some snake handlers lay a panel of plexiglass or treated wood across half the enclosure.
Ball Python Substrate (Bedding)
As you’ve probably gathered, ball pythons need a fair amount of humidity to stay healthy, so substrates that retain moisture are most suitable. Here are some great options:
- Kaytee Aspen Bedding Bag – Aspen shavings are ideal for ball pythons because they retain moisture, encourage burrowing, and they do not have a strong scent. There’s a very small chance of aspen shavings becoming moldy if the water bowl is spilled, so check under the water bowl periodically. This 8 cubic feet bag would fill a 36” x 18” x 18” tank twice – so it would last 2-4 months.
- Reptichip Premium Coconut Substrate – Genuine coconut substrate is a little pricier than other substrates, but it is fantastic for retaining moisture and keeping humidity levels up.
- Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding – This natural cypress mulch bedding is also ideal for a ball python. It would be particularly good for a humid hide box. As with the other two products, it is also great for burrowing.
You should avoid sand as a substrate because it can be very messy, and your snake may ingest it. Carpet, paper towels, or terrarium liners would be sufficient for juvenile snakes, but lots of snake handlers avoid these substrates because they don’t allow the snake to burrow.
Decorations and Cage Accessories
Once you’ve chosen a suitable vivarium, there are a few things you’ll need to place inside the enclosure. The most important “accessories” are 1) hide boxes and 2) a water bowl. Additional landscaping is optional.
Don’t be surprised if your snake spends most of its days hidden away; this is the sign of a healthy and happy ball python. So, to make it feel at home, provide your snake with at least 2 hide boxes.
Place one on the warmer side and one on the cooler side of its enclosure. If you place a third hide box in the middle of the vivarium, try raising the humidity in this box. This will give your ball python plenty of options.
Make sure the water bowl is heavy enough that it won’t get knocked over. It doesn’t need to be very large, but a decent sized bowl can help to encourage humidity in your enclosure. This Exo Terra Water Dish is a great size for ball pythons. Be sure to change the water every 3-4 days.
You could add depth and texture to your vivarium with low-level branches, a re-purposed plant pot, or live plants. However, bear in mind that these things cannot easily be sanitized.
Ball pythons are a terrestrial (ground-dwelling) species, so they do not need lots of additional things to climb on. Nonetheless, they do explore their surroundings at nighttime. Some snakes may appreciate a small, low-level branch in their enclosure.
Cleaning Your Ball Python’s Tank
Cleaning your cage regularly will help keep your snake’s skin healthy and prevent any infections from developing.
Spot-clean the cage every couple of days, checking for any signs of moldy or dirty substrate. Ball pythons are not messy snakes, so you can wait 1-2 months before deep-cleaning their cage. When disinfecting your snake’s vivarium, be sure to use a fragrance-free product.
Ball Python Enclosure Checklist (Quick Reference)
As you can see, ball pythons are pretty easy pets to look after once you’ve got their vivarium sorted. Humidity, heat, and privacy are important requirements for a ball python so try your best to make sure these needs are met. The following products and tools will help you achieve this:
- A 20-40-gallon terrarium (depending on the size and sex of your snake)
- 2-3 hide boxes
- A moisture-retaining substrate laid 3” deep (i.e., aspen shavings, coconut, or cypress mulch)
- A thermal gradient – using a reptile heat mat or under-tank heater
- A pulse proportional thermostat – to use with a heat mat or ceramic heat lamp (not a light)
- A hygrometer – to check humidity doesn’t dip below 50%
- A heavy water bowl – changed every 3-4 days
If you remember all these points, your ball python could live for up to 40 years.