Congratulations on getting your first ball python (Python regius). Before you bring your snake home, you need to set up a tank for your ball python to live in. A ball python is a tropical snake, so it needs a comfortably warm and humid enclosure. You want to give your pet snake plenty of space to move around in without leaving it feeling stressed and vulnerable.
A ball python under 3 feet long will need an enclosure that’s around 20 gallons in size, while one over 3 feet long will need 40 gallons of space. Glass, plastic, and wood are good options for your snake’s tank. Be sure to keep the warm end of the enclosure between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cool end no lower than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Furnish your ball python’s tank with a quality substrate, hides, a source of water, and plants or branches.
You want to create a home where your ball python will thrive. If this is your first time owning a ball python, there are details you need to learn to get it right. Here we lay out everything you need to know about setting up your ball python’s tank, giving you plenty of different options.
Setting Up A Ball Python Tank
It’s time to create the perfect home for your ball python. We will start by discussing the tank itself, and then we will give you some ideas for setting up an enriching environment inside.
What Tank Size?
According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, while a snake may seem a rather sedentary animal, it still uses a significant amount of space. A ball python needs room to move around and explore.
How large an enclosure your ball python needs will vary based on how big the ball python is. A ball python on average will grow to be between 3 and 4 feet long. However, it can grow to be as large as 5 feet long. A female ball python will grow to be larger than a male due to sexual dimorphism.
This snake is happiest when it has room to move around on the ground and also some room to climb upwards as well. Here is a quick overview of tank size requirements for a ball python:
|Age Group||Ball Python Size||Tank Size Requirement|
|Hatchling:||Around 1 foot long||10 gallons (about 20 x 12 x 10 inches)|
|Juvenile:||2 to 3 feet long||20 gallons (about 24 x 16 x 12 inches)|
|Adult:||3 to 5 feet long||40 gallons (about 36 x 18 x 16 inches)|
If you get your ball python when it is a hatchling, be sure to upgrade it to a larger tank as it grows in size.
What Type Of Tank?
You have many options for what type of tank to provide for your ball python. Let’s take a look at the different materials ball python enclosures can be made of, so you can make the best decision for yourself.
Many owners avoid glass enclosures because it is difficult to maintain a consistent temperature or humidity. Glass is not good at keeping in heat.
However, the ability of glass to dissipate heat makes it easy to create a comfortable gradient of temperatures for your ball python – a warm side and a cool side. It is important to give your snake a thermal gradient.
Glass enclosures also look very nice, giving you a clear view of your ball python. Glass is easy to clean and keeps itself dry inside, discouraging mold growth. Be careful when moving a glass enclosure, because it tends to be heavy and naturally is not very durable if dropped.
If you get your ball python a glass enclosure, it is a good idea to cover 2 or 3 of the tank’s walls with an opaque material, such as fabric or construction paper. This will help your ball python feel secure in its home.
Exo Terra High Glass Terrarium
As an example of a glass terrarium, check out this Exo Terra High Glass Terrarium. This terrarium comes in a variety of sizes perfect for small, medium, and large ball pythons. It has front-opening dual doors for easy access to your ball python, with a lock to prevent a snake escape.
A plastic enclosure is more durable and lightweight than a glass tank, great if you expect to have reason to move your ball python’s home around. Plastic is also relatively easy to clean and holds heat and humidity in well.
A plastic snake container opens in the front and is already opaque on all sides except for its front. These enclosures are attractive to look at and therefore very popular for people with a pet snake.
Many ball python owners choose a wooden vivarium for their snake. Wood is a good material when it comes to keeping temperature and humidity levels high.
It can be harder to see your snake inside through the opaque walls, but your ball python will feel secure with solid walls around its home. Also, many people like the way that the wooden structure looks in their house.
Whatever type of tank you choose, make sure it has a secure lid. A front-opening enclosure is easiest to keep securely closed, but many enclosures have a screen top instead.
The problem is, a ball python is a curious animal that loves to poke around, which can lead to it getting out of the enclosure. Clamps and locks can hold a lid securely in place, preventing your ball python from escaping.
What To Put Inside The Tank
Now that you have a home for your ball python, it is time to furnish it. A ball python needs substrate to crawl on top of, hides to take cover under, and other furnishings as well. Let’s go over these categories one at a time.
A ball python is most comfortable with a substrate which holds in moisture well for humidity purposes, without becoming damp or outright wet. Too much dampness against your ball python’s belly can lead to medical conditions such as scale rot.
Safe substrates for your ball python include the following:
- Paper products, such as paper towel or newspaper
- Orchid bark
- Cypress mulch
The following substrates can be harmful to your snake’s skin and lungs and should be avoided:
- Cedar shavings
Provide your ball python with enough of a layer of substrate for it to burrow around in if it so chooses.
Your ball python will not enjoy feeling like it is exposed out in the open. It is a good idea to provide your snake with a few places to hide.
2 or 3 hides in the enclosure should be enough, as long as at least 1 is on the warm side of the enclosure and 1 is on the cooler side. This will allow your ball python to feel comfortably hidden no matter what temperature it needs at the moment.
A hide can be anything that a ball python can completely hide itself under, as it would hide in a log or a cave in the wild. You can make your own hide at home by cutting some holes into an old cardboard box, plastic container, or even a ceramic flowerpot.
Exo Terra Reptile Den
You can also buy a hide pre-made for your ball python. This Exo Terra Reptile Den looks like a natural rocky cave. It is a stable structure that will provide a good hiding place for your ball python without you having to worry about the rocks falling over and hurting the snake.
Your ball python needs a source of fresh, clean water all the time. This can be a simple water bowl. Just be sure that the bowl is big enough for your ball python to completely soak itself in if it so chooses. At the same time, do not put in a bowl so deep that the python will get trapped inside.
Replace the water with fresh water every day. Tap water should be fine, but if you are concerned about the safety of your local tap water, bottled water will work as well. Be careful not to give your snake distilled water.
Clean and disinfect the water bowl at a minimum of once per week. If your ball python urinates or defecates in its water, clean out the bowl right away.
You can create a naturalistic environment for your ball python. If you put living plants into the enclosure, you will create a truly wild snake home.
An article in Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice explains that a naturalistic vivarium setup has two purposes. It recreates the essential elements of the ball python’s natural habitat. It also creates an aesthetically appealing display.
The live plants not only provide a lot of hiding spots for your snake to feel secure in, but they also help maintain humidity levels for your snake. You should only need to mist the plants each day to keep them healthy.
Living Environment Conditions
There’s more to setting up a ball python’s enclosure than what you put inside it. You are creating a healthy environment for your snake, and that includes making sure it has the right kind of atmosphere.
Your ball python is a nocturnal animal, so it will be most active at night. In order to help your snake maintain its natural rhythms, it needs a proper day/night cycle of lighting.
A ball python needs about 12 hours of daytime lighting and 12 hours of darkness. This may come from the natural lighting in your house. If not, you can set up a lamp on a timer.
Many such lamps double as basking lights to keep your ball python’s enclosure at the right temperature. If you are using a lamp for both heat and light, get a lamp with a red light setting so that it will not bother your ball python at night.
The ball python species comes from the African grasslands. It gets very warm there. Your job is to mimic that African warmth in your snake’s enclosure. Be sure to attach a thermometer to each side of the enclosure to keep track of the warm and cool temperature gradients.
- Warm Side: 85 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cool Side: 75 degrees Fahrenheit
Be careful not to let the temperature of the enclosure fall below 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night. You can control the temperature in your snake’s tank with a heating mat under the tank, a ceramic heat emitter, heat tape, or a basking light.
iPower 2-Pack Reptile Heating Pad
For a heating mat underneath the tank, check out this iPower Reptile Heating Pad. 2 heating mats come in this set, so you can set two different temperatures for the two sides of the enclosure. The mats also have an adhesive side for a strong grip to the bottom of the tank, so they will not slide around.
Whatever heat source you choose, make sure that it is well out of your snake’s reach. A ball python can accidentally burn itself by touching a hot lamp, rock, or mat.
A ball python is built to survive in a humid tropical environment. A useful tool here is a hygrometer – a tool for measuring humidity. Attach the hygrometer to the side of your ball python’s tank and use it to check the humidity levels.
- Enclosure Humidity: 50% to 60%
If the tank’s humidity is too low, you can raise it by adding a larger water dish or misting the inside of the enclosure each day. If the humidity is too high, there may be standing water in the bottom of the substrate.
We hope that these ideas for setting up your ball python tank have made you even more excited to create the perfect home for your new snake. Remember, taking good care of a snake is a big responsibility, but you are in for a lot of fun as well.