Ball pythons make fantastic pets, as they are relatively small, easy to maintain and typically have docile temperaments. They’re also attractive animals, who are available in a number of beautiful color variations.
But to ensure your ball python enjoys a high quality of life, you must provide him with the proper care. This means, among other things, providing a suitable habitat or enclosure for your pet.
Below, we’ll try to help you do exactly this. We’ll explain the most important things to keep in mind when selecting and preparing your ball python’s enclosure. We’ll also discuss the proper humidity, temperature, bedding, and lighting for the habitat too.
But we’ll begin by looking at the natural habitat of the ball python, as this will inform some of our choices and decisions moving forward.
> Further Reading: The Complete Ball Python Care Sheet
What Is the Ball Python’s Natural Habitat Like?
Ball pythons are native to a band of habitat stretching from the West African coast to central Africa. Most imported ball pythons hail from the countries of Ghana, Benin or Togo.
They primarily inhabit grasslands, scrublands, savannas and open forests. Ball pythons may also live in disturbed areas, around human habitations or farms. They do not typically inhabit rainforests (or other dense forests), nor do they live in deserts or extremely arid places. Ball pythons spend most of their time in rodent burrows, which provide them with shelter and moderate temperatures.
The Ball Python Enclosure: What Type of Enclosure Is Best and What Size Should It Be?
The first thing you’ll need to provide your ball python with is a suitable enclosure. There are several different types of enclosure from which you can choose, and each presents different benefits and drawbacks.
The most commonly used enclosure types include:
Glass aquaria are readily available and typically quite affordable. They also offer unparalleled visibility, which will make it easy to see your pet. However, aquaria are quite fragile, and they can be difficult to move around. Additionally, glass aquariums do not retain heat very well.
Commercially manufactured cages
Commercially manufactured reptile cages are usually the best option for ball python keepers. Commercial cages are typically made from lightweight plastic, feature front-opening doors and are designed to accommodate heating devices. They aren’t as widely available as aquaria, so you may need to purchase one online.
Plastic storage boxes
Plastic storage boxes can make suitable ball python habitats, and they are both affordable and lightweight. They’re also easy to find at big-box retailers and hardware stores. However, they don’t provide a good view of your pet, as they’re typically translucent (as opposed to transparent). You’ll also need to modify them by drilling air holes and making them escape-proof.
Custom-built enclosures are a great option for keepers who have the skill and desire to build them. However, they are usually best designed by keepers with a bit of experience, rather than beginners.
No matter what type of enclosure you select, you must ensure that it provides your pet with enough room. Habitat size is a hotly debated topic among keepers, but generally speaking, adult ball pythons will require a habitat that provides between 3 and 6 square feet of space. Young ball pythons require only a fraction of this space.
Ball pythons don’t climb very frequently, so enclosure height isn’t terribly important. Habitats that provide 12 to 18 inches of height are sufficient.
Ball Python Enclosure: Providing the Proper Lighting and Temperatures
Now that you’ve selected an enclosure for your ball python, you must provide proper temperatures and lighting for the habitat. Generally speaking, it is quite easy to provide lighting for a ball python, but you may need to make repeated adjustments to establish the correct temperature range for your pet.
Ball pythons – like most other snakes – will remain healthy and happy without any specialized lighting. The ambient light entering their enclosure will provide all the light they need. In fact, ball pythons are primarily nocturnal, so extremely bright lighting will often cause them to hide.
However, you can help your snake look his best by incorporating a full-spectrum fluorescent fixture over the habitat. You needn’t use a light that provides UV radiation; simply choose a light that provides a well-balanced color spectrum and a moderate light intensity.
Be sure to plug the lights into a timer so you don’t have to worry about turning the lights on and off every day. This will also provide the snake with a consistent light-dark cycle, which is important for your pet’s health. A 12-hour cycle (12 hours of light, followed by 12 hours of darkness) works well, given the species’ equatorial distribution.
Ball pythons prefer relatively high temperatures, like those in their natural range. However, you should always provide snakes (and other reptiles) with a thermal gradient. This will allow them to access a range of temperatures at any given point in time.
To create a thermal gradient, you’ll need to place all of the heating devices for the habitat at one end of the enclosure. This will create a basking spot, which provides the warmest temperatures in the habitat. Ideally, the temperatures at the basking spot should be about 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
The opposite end of the habitat should provide somewhat cooler temperatures. Temperatures in the low- to mid-70s Fahrenheit are ideal. Just be sure that they are below 80 degrees so that your snake can cool off if necessary. The temperatures between the basking spot and the cool side of the enclosure will decrease with increasing distance from the heat source.
You can use heat lamps, heat tape, heat pads or radiant heat panels to supply the heat for your pet.
Personally, I’ve always preferred overhead heat sources, such as lamps and radiant heat panels. Overhead sources reduce the likelihood that your snake will suffer burns, and they’re probably better from a fire-safety perspective.
However, other keepers prefer the convenience heat pads or heat tape provide. Just be sure to monitor the temperatures provided by these types of heat sources. It’s also important to follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions during installation.
Unless the temperatures in the habitat fall below about 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night, you can simply turn off the heat sources overnight. If you need to provide supplemental heat at night, do so with heat sources that do not produce light.
Suitable Humidity for a Ball Python Enclosure
Snakes need suitable humidity levels to remain healthy. If kept too dry, they’ll have difficulty shedding properly and they may become dehydrated. On the other hand, snakes kept in excessively humid environments may develop potentially fatal skin diseases. Improper humidity in either direction may also cause the development of respiratory infections.
Ball pythons typically prefer a relative humidity of 50% to 60%. That’s a bit damper than the air in most homes, so you’ll likely find it necessary to mist your pet’s habitat lightly with room-temperature water each day. You can also add water to the substrate or increase the size of the water dish to raise the humidity.
It’s also a good practice to provide your ball python with a moist hide box (in addition to his normal hide box discussed below). This will help prevent dehydration and give him a good place to sleep when he is entering a shed cycle. This will help promote full, problem-free sheds.
You can make a humid hide box by adding a bit of damp (not wet) moss or mulch to a small container. Just cut a small door in the side of the container to provide your snake with access to the retreat.
If your ball python’s habitat is too damp, you’ll need to try to reduce the humidity and dry the cage out a bit. The best way to accomplish this is by increasing the amount of ventilation provided. You can also try decreasing the size of the water dish.
> Further Reading: The Ball Python Behavior & Health
Bedding: What Is the Best Substrate for a Ball Python Enclosure?
There are a variety of different substrates you can use to maintain a ball python. No single substrate is ideal for all situations, so you’ll need to compare the options available and select the best choice for you and your pet.
Some of the most common substrates that can be used for ball python maintenance include:
Newspaper is probably the simplest, most hygienic and most affordable substrate you can use. It is easy to replace when soiled, and your snake can even crawl under the newspaper to hide if he wishes. Generally speaking, newspaper is the best choice for novice snake keepers.
Paper towels provide most of the same benefits that newspaper does, and it is also a good choice for beginners. It can be difficult to use paper towels in adult-sized enclosures, but it works very well in the relatively small habitats used for hatchling and juvenile snakes.
Aspen shavings are relatively affordable, and they absorb moisture rapidly, which will help reduce odors coming from the enclosure. They also allow snakes to burrow. However, aspen shavings can be a bit messy, and they must be replaced quickly if they become wet, as they’ll rot.
Cypress mulch is another great choice, and it is the author’s favorite substrate for ball python maintenance. This mulch is very affordable (although the price varies by geographic region), permits burrowing and retains moisture well, which can make it easier to maintain the proper enclosure humidity. Cypress mulch also smells nice.
Orchid bark is somewhat similar to cypress mulch in that it is helpful for maintaining a high humidity level. It also looks great and allows snakes to burrow. However, orchid bark is often relatively expensive, so it isn’t commonly used in large enclosures.
Just be sure to weigh the pros and cons of these substrates before making your choice. However, you can always decide to make a change later, if you determine that your first choice isn’t working well.
Additional Accessories and Supplies for Your Ball Python Enclosure
In addition to heating and lighting devices and an appropriate substrate, you’ll need a few more things to turn your ball python’s enclosure into a suitable habitat.
- All ball python enclosures must include at least one hide box, and it is preferable to include several. Failing to provide your snake with a good place to hide will cause him a great deal of stress. It is also likely to suppress his desire to feed. An inverted plastic tub with a door cut into the side is ideal, but there are also commercial options available.
- You’ll also need to add a water dish to the enclosure and keep it filled with clean water at all times. You can use a plastic water dish, but glass, ceramic or stainless-steel dishes are preferable. The dish needn’t be large enough to permit your snake to soak, but you can provide a dish large enough to accommodate your snake’s entire body if you like.
- You can add plastic or real plants to the enclosure if you like, but they aren’t necessary. Plastic plants are safer and won’t require any care, but some keepers prefer the look of live plants. Just be sure to avoid toxic species or those that are armed with thorns or spines.
- You must also obtain a high-quality digital thermometer to monitor the ambient temperatures in the habitat. In fact, it is also wise to purchase a non-contact infrared thermometer, so you can also monitor surface temperatures in the habitat.
> Further Reading: The Ball Python Diet
Now It’s Your Turn
As you can see, it isn’t terribly difficult to provide a ball python with a proper habitat. Just be sure to start with a suitably sized enclosure, heat the habitat appropriately and choose a good substrate. Add a few hiding boxes, a water dish, and a digital thermometer and you’ll have a habitat that’ll keep your ball python healthy and happy for years to come.
I’d also offer a bit of personal advice to new keepers:
Although many new keepers are eager to create a beautiful, intricately decorated habitat for their pet, it’s probably wise to start with a very simple enclosure. Don’t get me wrong – I love setting up complicated and elaborate vivaria for ball pythons (and other snakes), but I see a lot of new keepers make mistakes when doing so.
Instead, I recommend that first-time snake keepers maintain a simple and straightforward habitat for six months to a year before setting up a natural-looking vivarium. This will give you the chance to learn the basics of habitat design and maintenance, which will help you avoid a number of common problems.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful and would love for you to share it with your snake-keeping friends if you enjoyed it.