Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes in the world.
They are generally low maintenance, hardy, and have a wonderful temperament, all of which make them the perfect snake for beginners. If you’re a new ball python owner, the first step is to learn how to set up their enclosure.
Ball python temperature gradients are one of the most important elements of their habitat, closely followed by lighting and humidity.
The correct ball python temperature is between 75-95 F with a humidity level of around 60%. Ball pythons thrive in an environment with just the right amount of moisture, lighting, and warmth. Ready to give your ball python the best habitat possible?
If you have no clue where to start, don’t panic, you’re in the right place. We’ve pulled together the ultimate guide to ball python temperature, humidity, and lighting down below.
Let’s dive right in.
Ball Python Temperature–Everything You Should Know
The appropriate temperature gradient for ball pythons is as follows:
Temperature Gradient for Ball Pythons
In the chart above, you’ll notice three main parts to the heat gradient for ball pythons: Basking, Ambient, and Cooling Spots. Ball pythons love having multiple temperature gradients because it simulates their natural habitat.
Your snake can freely warm up or cool down as necessary if you follow the chart above.
Start with the basking spot, this spot in their enclosure allows your snake to bask under a warming lamp. It should be kept between 88 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be the only heated part of your pet snake’s enclosure and should never be warmer than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next, work on your ambient temperature spot. It should be located in the middle of their enclosure. It should be in between the basking and cooling spots. The temperature should hit around 82 degrees Fahrenheit but be no cooler than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
To wrap it up, the cooling spot should be on the opposite side of the enclosure from the basking spot. It should be between 76 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, don’t let the temperature drop below 75 degrees Fahrenheit at any time.
You’ll follow this basic format to create a relaxing ball python habitat. Next, we’ll take a look at acceptable heat sources to supply the temperatures.
Acceptable Heat Sources
To achieve the right ball python temperature gradient, you need the right equipment, starting with heat sources. Start by heating only one-third of the enclosure, namely, the basking spot. The most common heating systems for beginners are under-tank heating pads and ceramic bulbs.
- Ceramic Bulbs— Ceramic bulbs heat the ground of the enclosure and the air inside. They become somewhat hazardous due to the possibility of tank overheating. Anything 20 gallons and smaller is at risk of overheating; the smaller the tank, the greater the risk of overheating it.
If you opt for ceramic bulbs, use an overhead fixture to hang them over the tank. Never put it directly inside the tank as this can cause the snake to burn itself.
- Under Tank Heating Pads– Also known as heating mats, should be slid under one-third of the tank. The heated air naturally cools as it moves to the cooler side of the tank, allowing the temperature gradient to flourish.
Keep in mind to only place the heating pad on the bottom and never within the tank. To prevent your snake from getting burned, the substrate must have a barrier over it. Check your snake’s belly throughout the first week or so while you apply heat pads to make sure it isn’t abnormally red.
- Radiant Heat Panels— This is another great option for heating ball python enclosures. You can attach them to the top of the tank ceiling and produce heat. They are typically used inside wooden or PVC enclosures. Lower enclosures, reaching a max of 20″ high, are the best fit for heat panels. Larger tanks require a higher watt panel of 100 or more watts. It’s not uncommon to support the heat from the panels with other heating sources to create stable temperatures. Again, attach the panels to a thermostat for safety’s sake.
Regardless of the heating source, you should always connect it to a thermostat to avoid overheating your snake. Specific thermostats automatically shut off if and when malfunctions occur or the temperature rises above safe levels.
How to Choose The Right Heating Source
Whether you choose a heating pad or a ceramic bulb, it’s important to consider how the heating source fits in your enclosure.
A special note: never use heat rocks for your ball python’s tank. They can easily get too hot for your snake leading to burns.
Under-tank heaters, or heating pads are popular heating options because they are quick and easy to use. If you opt to use them, a good rule of thumb is to choose one that is about 25-33% the size of your tank. This allows your snake to bask and cool down appropriately (following the chart above).
During the winter months, you can add a small heat pad on the cool side to ensure your ball python stays happy all year long. Grab a thermostat to go with it so you can regulate the heat of the heating pad. You can now provide your ball python temperature source by setting the thermostat to the previously indicated temperature. To avoid heat buildup, you can also lift the tank off the table or surface.
Alternatively, ceramic heat bulbs also make a good heating option. If you choose to use them, remember that they aren’t designed to provide light–just warmth. Some people also use deep heat projector bulbs, which are equally great for enclosures with a screen top.
To secure ceramic heat or deep heat bulbs, you’ll need to use ceramic base holders and brackets. By moving the bulb up and down, you can regulate the tank’s temperature. A word of caution, don’t use ceramic heat bulbs if you have a low-sitting or small tank. It’s important that your python cannot touch the bulb.
If your tank lacks a screened lid, you can use a ceramic base basket and screw it inside to separate it from the tank and add a light guard to protect your snake from burning itself.
Like a heating pad, connect your bulbs to a thermostat to measure and control basking temperatures.
Alternative Option–Low Wattage Light Bulbs & Heating Pads
Another option is low-wattage light bulbs. If the room you keep your ball python in is particularly dark, it’s not a bad idea to use this type of light bulb for both lighting and warmth. Incandescent bulbs of 50-60 watts are the best option. Don’t use spotlights for this purpose, as there is a risk of drying out and overheating your tank.
For the best results, try using a heating pad and a 25-50 watt light bulb. If you decide to use a light fixture, it must be attached to a timer and a thermostat to be safe.
Remember, your ball python doesn’t require tons of light–they just need the right temperature gradient!
Important Points to Remember About Heat Sources
- Your heat source should only warm 35% of the tank.
- Heating Pads & Mats are the most commonly used ball python heat source.
- Ceramic Bulbs are a great option but must be closely watched.
- Radiant Heat Panels produce a good amount of heat but can deplete humidity inside the tank.
- Low Wattage Bulbs offer heat and light but can overheat your snake and lead to burns.
- Sizing is important; whatever heating source you choose, should fit the tank size.
Now that we’ve covered the best ways to heat your ball python enclosure, the next step is to manage humidity levels.
Ball Python Humidity Levels
If humidity levels are unbalanced, your snake’s health is at risk. For example, if the humidity levels are too low, it can lead to dehydration and problems with shedding. Temperature and humidity levels go hand-in-hand.
Let’s discuss the lowest and highest safest ball python enclosure humidity levels.
Low Humidity Levels
Ball pythons thrive in no lower than 45% humidity, even when nighttime comes and temperatures drop. Part of this is because of their natural habitat. They are found in western to central Africa, right near the equator. You’ll likely find them near open water where they can cool down.
In captivity, humidity levels are crucial to your ball python’s health. Humidity below 45% for extended periods leads to shedding issues–also known as stuck shed. When your ball python cannot shed its skin, it can cause multiple health problems, including:
- Damaged scales–Leading to dirt and bacteria build-up and even infections.
- Stuck Shed–Eventually leading to blindness.
Adult ball pythons need balanced humidity that never goes below 40% for a few weeks. Though some snakes are undoubtedly more resilient than others, your ball python will experience low humidity given enough time.
So, what’s the general rule on ball python humidity? Don’t go below 50%.
High Humidity Levels
On the opposite side of the spectrum is high humidity. Just like low humidity, high humidity can also cause health problems. Keeping your pet too wet is not only uncomfortable but also dangerous.
60% humidity is usually not a reason for worry. However, watch out for any moisture that form inside the enclosure. This typically occurs at 80% relative humidity.
High humidity not only results in a surplus of water, but it also elevates the temperature of the tank housing your ball python. In addition to trapping heat, excessive humidity encourages the growth of bacteria and mold. Your snake may become ill after coming into touch with either mold or bacteria.
In fact, mouth rot, which is caused by bacteria, is one of the most prevalent bacterial infections that ball pythons encounter.
Some symptoms of mouth rot include:
- Loss of Appetite
- Swollen Gums
- Mouth-Open Breathing
- Bubbles of Mucus in the Mouth
Mouth Rot is fatal if you don’t treat it.
Another problem with high humidity is that it can lead to heat exhaustion in your ball python. Plastic tanks increase this risk, so opt for a glass tank if you can.
How to Balance Humidity Levels for Ball Pythons
Balancing your ball python’s temperature and humidity levels is the only way to keep them happy and healthy.
If you are having trouble getting to the right humidity level, ideally between 50-60%, consider the following tips.
Tips for Increasing Tank Humidity Levels
Use a mister–Misting is a cheap and effective way to increase humidity levels. Misting your tank every day is the best way to achieve this. Lightly mist the walls and substrate for the greatest results. Avoid saturating the tank.
Switch out the substrate–To maintain the right average humidity level for your snake, change the substrate regularly. Paper towels sound good, but they don’t retain moisture well. Use a suitable substrate like cypress mulch or aspen shavings instead.
Set up the tank correctly–Moving and changing the tank setup is also a good way to balance humidity. Avoid air vents and windows, as these can easily dry out your tank. As humidity levels drop, your snake’s enclosure begins to dry up.
Tips for Decreasing Tank Humidity Levels
Increase tank ventilation–You can decrease humidity by increasing ventilation. Do this in a couple of ways, either by changing the enclosure’s top to a screen or by poking holes in the walls of the enclosure. One of the easiest ways to do this is to swap the glass top for a screen top.
Look for drier substrate–Some substrates absorb more moisture than others. The drier it is, the more it soaks up excess humidity and keeps your snake’s tank safely humid.
Change out heating sources–If you’re using a heating pad under the ball python’s tank, it could be leading to excess moisture. Swap it out for a ceramic bulb, which dries up the tank’s air, and reduces humidity.
Appropriate Humidity Levels for Shedding
Healthy adult ball pythons shed their skin every 4-6 weeks, and young ball pythons shed even more frequently. However, they require the right humidity levels to do so.
Shedding is a healthy and important part of their lives. It is a stressful and exhausting experience for your snake, as well. They shed multiple layers of skin during the process. Your snake’s body enters a renewal stage where several layers of its skin grow out of the deepest layer, called the stratum germinativum.
The formation of the outer generation layers and the subsequent production of a hard outer layer after the development of a new inner generation enable the old outer generation layers to be completely shed. That results in the overall shedding of four layers.
Your snake needs a humidity density of at least 55% to accomplish this process. If it drops below that, the shedding process can be stopped or slowed down. This causes extreme discomfort in your ball python.
Important Points to Remember About Humidity Levels
- The lowest acceptable humidity levels for ball pythons are around 40%
- The highest acceptable humidity levels for ball pythons are 70%
- Your ball python needs a slightly higher humidity level to safely shed their skin at 55% minimum
- Unbalanced humidity can lead to dehydration, mouth rot, and problems with healthy shedding.
Ball Python Lighting Requirements
Since ball pythons are crepuscular, they don’t require additional illumination other the one you use to light the room. However, healthy snakes flourish in tanks where the lighting is similar to that found in their natural environments.
For illustration, that would be 12.5 hours of daylight in the summer and around 11.75 hours in the winter.
At night, a ball python emerges from its burrow to hunt for prey in the wild. To avoid their natural predators, such as monitor lizards, birds, and even other snakes, they hunt at night.
What’s this got to do with lighting?
It means your ball python probably doesn’t need sunlight beyond a heat source! In fact, the only time you’ll find one basking in the sun is to warm up their cold-blooded bodies. Nocturnal snakes simply do not require nor enjoy the sunlight–they tolerate it out of a desire to keep warm or when producing eggs.
How should this affect the way you set up their enclosure?
Setting Up Your Ball Python’s Lighting
The right habitat provides your snake with 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, at least. Even with this requirement, it’s still a great idea to offer your ball python hides and spots away from the light, so they can pick and choose when to bask in it.
It’s not necessary to keep the enclosure for your snake illuminated. If you have to use a lighting device, such as UVB lighting, keep it 10 to 12 inches away from the area where your ball python can climb. Additionally, it’s essential to replace the bulb every six months.
Incandescent & LED Lighting
This lighting emits the least light but adds heat to your tank. Proceed with caution if you’re insistent on using it.
Halogen and Mercury Vapor Bulbs
Here again, the greatest risk is heat. Both halogen and mercury vapor bulbs must be monitored regularly to avoid overheating your snake and overexposing them to light.
A Word About Red Lights
Red or nighttime lights are frequently attached to the enclosures of ball pythons. Reduced light exposure and constant temperature are just a couple of the benefits they provide. Although snakes can detect red light, many ball python owners have noticed that persistent red light exposure annoys snakes. This is dependent on the tolerance level of your particular snake.
Important Points to Remember About Lighting Requirements for Ball Pythons
- Snakes don’t require additional light. However, a 12-hour on and 12-hour off cycle does mimic their natural habitat.
- UVB bulbs are the best option, but always carefully choose other types of bulbs that emit heat.
- Red lights are not necessary and could annoy your snake.
Additional Tips for Your Ball Python’s Enclosure
Aside from appropriate heating, lighting, and humidity requirements, there are a few other ways you can set up your ball python for a happy life inside its enclosure. These include:
A Hide Box
Make it simple for snakes to hide by giving them access to at least one hide box inside their tank. Snakes like to hide. This is an excellent technique to guarantee that your snake maintains a regular food schedule and reduces stress. You can use anything, such as a plastic box or specially-made rock formations.
Your snake needs clean water at all times. We recommend using a glass, stainless-steel, or ceramic water dish instead of plastic. They are easier to clean and reduce the likelihood of mold or bacterial growth.
Your snake’s habitat can be decorated with either genuine or fake plants. Although most snakes don’t care which is better, some owners prefer live plants. There are no absolute criteria for which is better. Keep in mind that if your plants are inside your snake’s enclosure, you’ll also need to keep them alive and healthy. But make sure to double-verify and stay away from any plant species that ball pythons might find poisonous.
We learned just how important heat and humidity are for the health of ball pythons. For this reason, we highly recommend investing in a thermometer for all heating sources and lights. They make a variety of digital thermometers, so don’t hesitate to shop for those if you want to be extra careful with your snake’s health.
Congratulations–Now You’re Ready to Take Care Of Your Ball Python!
Armed with the information above, we’re confident you can take care of your pet python safely.
The right balance of temperature, humidity, and lighting gives you and your new snake the best foundation for your time together.
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Want more information? Explore our ball python section to learn everything you need to know about this popular pet.