Thursday, October 4, 2012

Proper Ball Python Enclosures

So you own a Ball Python, now what?  You need somewhere for him/her to live.  I hope that you will accept my recommendations as a collective.  If you do, I can conclusively say that your snake will live a happy, healthy life.

My Exo Terra Sri Lanka.  The Ball is hiding.
Buy a terrarium that opens from the front.  This picture depicts one of my Exo Terra enclosures, namely the Sri Lanka.  Exo produces some cool "complete kits" that you can have set up at home in short order.  There are others, but I like this one best.  The main reason for selecting an enclosure that opens from the front is to reduce stress in your Ball Python.

Ball Pythons are so named for their primary natural defense mechanism, which is balling up.  They arguably "ball" in an effort to make their body too large to be easily constricted or eaten.  Ball Pythons are very sensitive to being approached from above, and will readily "ball" due to someone leaning over an aquarium to look at them or pick them up.  You likely appear as a predator when you do this to a Ball Python.  Approaching your new pet via a front-opening door induces much less stress, and even better facilitates your snake coming to you when you open the door.  Most of my snakes are very social and readily come to the door when I open it.

Assuming you do not purchase a "ready-made kit", the next concern is substrate, or "bedding".  I prefer shredded Aspen, which is readily available in most decent shops.  Coconut shell, be it bark, fiber or a coarsely-ground product also works well.  Cypress is also fantastic.  I tend to shy away from finely-ground substrate to prevent my snakes from ingesting too much and becoming impacted.

A soak bowl is necessary.  This will double as a water bowl, and should be large enough to allow your Ball Python to "coil" his/her entire body in.  This will also help to maintain the humidity in the enclosure.

If you do not plan to use bottled/purified water, a product like ZooMed's Repti-Safe is necessary.  This will condition tap/well water so that it is safe for your snake to drink.  Remember-water in their natural habitat is neither chlorinated or too hard/soft.  Make certain that you at least purchase a water conditioner.  I prefer to buy purified water by the gallon.

Vines, plants and a hide box are very necessary components to creating a healthy habitat for your Ball Python.  In the wild, Ball Pythons spend a large amount of time in hiding.  Your new pet should have a place that he/she can completely hide it.  Avoid the "Reptile Den" product by Exo.  It is dangerous for Ball Pythons.  I like their "Snake Cave" much better.  Use locale-specific synthetic plants in their enclosure.  Exo and ZooMed have outstanding offerings when it comes to plants.  I like to use a few vines that are "shapeable" in my enclosures.  Some of my Ball Pythons are climbing "bone-heads" with not much balance, but they continue to roam about, seeming very happy.

Thermometers and Hygrometers are essential.  Both ZooMed and Exo Terra offer combo units.  Keep the temperature at 88 degrees F, and the humidity at around 65%.

Purchase a substrate heater, or "heat mat".  This is not a heating pad from the local drug is a purpose-built sheet that adheres to the bottom of your enclosure, on the outside.  It should be no larger than 1/3 the overall size of the bottom of the enclosure, and should be placed in a corner.  Follow the directions concerning mounting the mat.

Lighting is mainly necessary for viewing, or for supplemental heat as needed.  Ball Pythons do not need nor benefit from UVB.  Most front-opening terrariums out there come with a screen top.  I would recommend purchasing the hood designated for your terrarium, as "clamp lamps" or an ill-fitting hood or lighting fixture generally lead to the plastic pieces on top of your enclosure melting.  Rather than having a snake escape, I would suggest coughing up the extra coin for the proper hood or lighting fixture.

Terrarium locks keep aspiring "Jungle Jack Hannahs" from becoming a sad story.  Spend the $3-$5 on these.

There are more things to consider, although most are decorative or for automation, such as waterfalls.  There is one item to leave on the shelf, or if you currently have one, unplug and throw into the road.

HEAT ROCKS.  If Bobby Bouche's mom were standing beside me, she would tell you that heat rocks are "Of the Debil".  After consulting with the few capable reptile veterinarians in the US, I can say beyond any doubt that heat rocks have no place in a Ball Python enclosure.  You will burn your snake, cause unnecessary and frequent sheds, and could ultimately kill your snake.  That just isn't fair to your animal.  I know, I know..."cousin Billy has one in his Ball Python aquarium, and his snake is ok."  I seriously doubt it.  His snake isn't "okay" just can't speak for itself to tell you how much his belly hurts.  I don't mean to beat this point into the ground, but leave the heat rock alone.

One last item, here.  Buy a spray bottle.  Don't recycle one of your glass cleaner or other cleaner bottles from home.  Spring for the couple of bucks and purchase a new bottle.  You will need to mist your snake's enclosure as needed to maintain humidity.

That's it for housing needs...stay tuned!  Feel free to ask questions, I will more than happily answer below.



  1. Do you think a large exo terra terrarium is big enough for a large ball python?

  2. good article! The only detail i would add is you want your thermometer/hygrometer to be taking the temperature as far away from the heat source as possible and as close to the ground level of the tank as possible. this insures you maintain a variance of temperatures for the snake to regulat. Basking area should be slightly higher than 88 for at least a portion of the day. also be careful what kind of heating pad you buy. there are some sketch brands out there that have been known to malfunction and burn your snake. flexwatt is preferred by breeders, but you have to do a little assembly. there are other good alternatives out there just do your homework a little usually local pet stores that aren't connected to chains have better advice.