Although they can grow to be quite large, the ball snake is toward the end marked “lazy” on the spectrum of snake activity. This means that it does not need a large home. A medium-sized vivarium, or even a large fish tank with a tightly fitted top, will suffice. In fact, a smaller home helps it feel more secure. An average-sized adult ball python, perhaps four feet in length, will prefer a home three to four feet long, two to three feet wide, and a couple of feet high.
Note that the comment about the tightly fitted top is especially important. The snakes are very strong, and will push off tops that are not clamped down ifthe mood takes them.
Inside the tank or vivarium is firstly the substrate. This can be one of the following:
- Beech chippings – These look smart in the tank and can be purchased in different sizes, so you can choose the best for your snake. It is great for cleaning, but if your python proves to be a burrower, then it isn’t the best option.
- Aspen bedding – This is great for most pythons, but it does come with some problems. The animal cannot be fed in that environment, as it may consume the shavings along with its prey. Also, unlike beech chippings, it cannot be cleaned. Urine and feces can quickly coat the bedding and may pose health risks to your snake. When this is the case, the aspen affected needs to be replaced. There should be a full change every month or so in any case.
- Coco or orchid bark – Sometimes, shops will recommend this for your snake, although it is more appropriate for snakes that require the highest of humidity levels. It poses no threat to the python, though, so it will work.
- Artificial grass, or AstroTurf – This is perfect, as it is easily cleaned and there is no need to look beyond the cheapest version available. Note that you will be able to buy it more cheaply online or at a garden center than in a specialty reptile shop.
- Paper towels – These work, and are great if the animal is in quarantine or healing injuries.
- Newspaper – This is often used, although the ink can be harmful to some animals. It is a cheap option, and can be used for very short periods, but it is not an ideal solution.
A little warning: sometimes redwood or cedar chippings are recommended.
These are toxic, and for predatory animals, such as snakes, present a significant risk. Avoid these at all costs.
In order to avoid your pet becoming stressed (or in case it does get stressed), a couple of hiding places are recommended. Specially built reptile hides can be purchased, and these are cleanable. However, your pet doesn’t care what the decorations look like, so if you aren’t overly concerned with appearances and want to take the less expensive route, a couple of cardboard boxes work just as well. Don’t pick something that is too large. The animal will feel far more secure in a space just large enough for it to curl up in.
Keep one hiding place at the warm end of the tank and one at the cooler end (we’ll discuss why the tank needs two different temperatures in a moment) to give your pet python a choice of where to hide. Keeping hides at either end of the temperature range is very important. The instinct for the snake to hide is stronger than its instinct to keep its body temperature correctly regulated.
This means that it can lose control of this, leading to digestive problems and even more serious illnesses and complaints. Making sure it has options to hide in whatever space is best for its body temperature regulation is important.
As well as aiding the snake the shed its skin, plastic plants and branches can provide the snake with places to climb and rest. These can be natural, but must be debugged if from the local woods or your garden. To do this, soak the plant or branch in a chlorine and water solution, then dry in the sun. It is best not to use live plants, but if you do, they should be purchased from a specialist, as many can be harmful to the sensitive python.
As we said earlier, the ball python is an intelligent animal. It likes a change of scenery. Therefore, periodically change the inside of its vivarium. It will be interested in exploring its new surroundings.
Ball pythons are cold blooded, and get heat from their environment. In the wild, they bask in the sun, moving to a shady spot if they overheat. In the vivarium, the best range of heat is from 26 to 33 degrees Celsius, or 80 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit. You will want to make sure that one side is warmer than the other, to mimic the snake’s natural environment. Your snake may feel too warm on one side and need to cool down, or it may get too cool in one area and want to heat up.
The best way to heat your pet’s tank is with ceramic heater with a bulb guard.
The bulb guard is important, because while you or I would know very quickly if we touched a red-hot bulb, the snake does not, and severe burning can occur. Either an infra-red or normal bulb can be used, as long as it is fitted with a dimming tool. The dimming tool is crucial, because the animal will become stressed if it has too much light, although it needs a constant source of heat. It is best, just as with humans, to run the light on a normal night/day schedule. Keep an eye on the heat inside the vivarium, with a couple of thermometers placed near the two hiding places, as these are where the python will spend the majority of its time.
A hydrometer is also a must. The snake will thrive at a humidity level of 50 to 60%, and the hydrometer will monitor this. Damp moss, such as in a humidity box described in the shedding section, can increase humidity, and extra vents can reduce it as needed.
You now know about the ball python’s diet—mice or rats, about once a week—and some reasons why your snake might refuse a meal.
You have learned about proper housing for your snake, including the importance of cleanliness, temperature, and humidity.