Setting up the right ball python habitat often makes the difference between a healthy, happy pet and one that is prone to getting sick and in some cases, dying early. Ball pythons are one of the most popular pets among first-time reptile owners because they're not only really cool-looking, they're easy to take care of and can live for quite a while if maintained properly. Even though this snake is easy to maintain, it still requires a properly-designed habitat where it can live in creature comfort.
Sizing a Ball Python Habitat
Ball pythons require a lot of room, so the cage or enclosure you choose will probably increase in size along with your pet. The general rule of thumb is that the perimeter of the cage (two times the length should be at least two times the length and two times the width of your snake's body. Most young snakes will do just fine in a 20 gallon tank, but you can expect to upgrade the tank to a minimum of 30 gallons once your snake increases in size.
One of the most important things you can have on your tank or enclosure is a close-fitting lid with a lock. Ball Pythons are notorious for getting out of their cages, so having a lockable lid will prevent your snake from escaping. In addition to the lock, the lid should have a full mesh top so the snake gets adequate ventilation.
There are a number of different substrates suitable for a ball python's terrarium. The cage can be lined with anything from cypress mulch to paper towels. Many pet stores sell terrarium carpet liners that can be easily washed and replaced when they become soiled. For a more cost-effective means, just line the terrarium floor with sheets of newspaper. As long as the flooring is not made up of shavings, the snake will fare just fine.
The two most important things your ball python habitat needs is a place where the snake can hide and elevated areas on which it can climb. While these features may not seem important, they can and do make a difference in the health and welfare of this snake.
This species of snake is mostly nocturnal, so it needs a place to sleep during the daylight hours. This can be anything from a simple cardboard box or an upside-down terra-cotta planter with an opening on its side to commercially-made hideboxes available at most pet stores. The only consideration is that the box has to be large enough to fit your snake's entire body, but not so big that the snake doesn't feel comfortable entering it.
Climbing branches provide your snake with a source of exercise, and they also allow it to curl up and bask closer to the terrarium's heat source. Branches with artificial greenery are even better since this provides the snake with the added benefit of security. You can also add rocks of various sizes for your snake to crawl over or bask on.
Food and Water
Ball Pythons require a source of water in their habitats both for drinking and for submerging, so it's important to keep a small pool of water in the terrarium where the snake can get wet whenever needed.
Food dishes are not required in a terrarium because it is more beneficial to feed the snake in a separate tub or container. Feeding the snake in a separate container also helps keep your snake's habitat cleaner.
Light, Heat and Humidity
Even though most snake owners use heat lamps as the primary source of heat for their pets, they are not the only type of lighting that should be used. Daylight or full-spectrum fluorescent lights are preferred since they promote better vitamin and mineral metabolism in reptiles.
The ideal habitat will provide the snake with 12 hours of light along with 12 hours of darkness. In the summertime, the daylight hours should be increased to 14 hours and then set back to 12 hours during the winter months to mimic the natural progression of the days.
The optimum temperature for a ball python habitat is between 77 and 85 degrees during the daytime, with one area for basking where the temperature is increased to 90 degrees with an infrared heat lamp. During the night, the temperature should be maintained between 69 and 75 degrees. For the snake's protection, all lighting should be kept outside of the cage.
You can also use other forms of heat to maintain the temperature through the night, including under-the-cage heating mats, overhead ceramic heaters or room-sized electric heaters. Never use heat rocks in a snake's terrarium because they can burn the snake.
Unlike some reptiles, Ball Pythons don't require a lot of humidity. Ideally, their habitat should have a humidity level of no more than 50 to 60 percent. If the snake is shedding its skin, increasing the humidity to 65 percent can help speed the process. This can be done by simply misting the habitat with water once a day.
Raising a healthy snake starts with maintaining a healthy environment. Daily maintenance should consist of replacing your pet's water and cleaning or replacing any soiled flooring or substrate.
The entire habitat should be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected every other week or as needed. Use a five-percent bleach solution to clean everything within the habitat, but make sure you rinse everything thoroughly. After cleaning the habitat or handling the snake, always be sure to wash your hands with soap and water.