Have you decided a ball python is the right pet for you, but aren’t sure what the animal needs to live happily?
Are you worried about setting up a cage for a ball python?
When you first decide to bring a ball python into your home, one of your main concerns might be how to set up a ball python cage.
Having the proper cage set up will help keep your new pet from getting sick and give them a good, happy life.
Ball pythons are popular and good-tempered pets, and giving them a good home is not difficult.
For details on setting up the ideal cage for your new ball python, keep reading this post.
How To Set Up A Ball Python Cage
Type Of The Tank
The first step in setting up a home for your new pet is figuring out which kind of tank fits your needs.
When you are first getting ready to set up the enclosure for your new ball python, you will notice there are several options when it comes to the type of cage.
Here we will dive into the most popular options for types of enclosures.
Glass aquariums are some of the most common and readily available options for cages.
They are commonly sold in pet stores, come in a variety of sizes, and as a bonus, allow for complete visibility.
As a downside, they are fragile, sometimes heavy, difficult for you to move, and do not retain heat very well.
As an alternative to heavy and fragile glass cages, plastic cages are available to house your ball python.
We like plastic cages because they can hold heat and humidity better than the glass options.
You might also find some plastic cages already have heating elements and lights built-in, but others offer spaces to add those much-needed accessories.
Plastic Storage Containers
Plastic storage boxes are commonly used for ball python habitats, as they are affordable and lightweight, but you will have to make some modifications.
Holes will have to be drilled for ventilation, and you will also have to make sure they are escape-proof.
As a general rule, ball pythons are crafty and will take advantage of any opportunity to try to escape.
These are found at big-box retailers and hardware stores, but they offer limited visibility as they are translucent rather than transparent.
Custom Built Enclosures
If you are feeling ambitious, a custom-built enclosure is another great option.
This does require some research and a little experience.
We recommend only building a custom-built enclosure when you have a bit more experience with ball pythons, what they need, and how to keep them healthy.
Once you learn how to care for the animal, and what exactly it needs, then take the time to look at building a custom enclosure.
Custom-built enclosures are often costly and do not last for the 20 or more years you might get out of a professionally built option.
They will also take a significant amount of time and know-how to provide a safe and quality environment.
Give it time and experiment with some of the other options before you pursue this route.
Size Of The Tank
Ball pythons are very docile creatures and make good pets, in part because they do not grow to the great lengths other snakes do.
With their smaller sizes, you will be able to have a smaller tank than other larger snakes might need.
An enclosure should be large enough to allow the snake to stretch.
Adult male ball pythons reach a size of 2′ to 3′ feet long, with females growing to longer lengths of 4′ to 6′ feet.
As a general rule of thumb, an adult ball python will do best in a habitat where they have between three and six square feet of space to move and stretch.
Even if they don’t use the whole space each day, they will use it as needed, like when they are stretching out to bask.
Younger ball pythons will not require as large of space so you could start smaller, but you will need to upgrade as the animal grows.
Heat And Temperature Of The Enclosure
Reptiles, like the ball python, will need supplemental heat to regulate their body temperature.
Once you have settled on a type of tank and size, you will need to look into setting up the supplemental heating element.
As you do this, keep in mind, the ideal temperature for a ball python enclosure is a gradient, meaning the tank will have warmer and cooler areas and areas in between.
In the cooler area of the tank, the average temperature should be between 78° and 80° degrees Fahrenheit (25° – 27° C) and in the warmer or basking portion, make sure temperatures fall between 88° and 92° degrees Fahrenheit (31° – 33° C).
It is a good idea to have thermometers placed throughout the enclosure to make sure you are hitting those ranges.
As mentioned above, some plastic cages will have supplemental heat sources built-in, but others will not, so you might have to do some research to find the best option for you.
There is a bit of trial and error when it comes to heat sources, and you need to find what works best for you.
A heat lamp or heat emitter is a great way to provide warmth to your snake, but make sure you are placing them a proper distance to avoid burning or overheating the animal.
Or use an under the tank heating pad, allowing the heat to come from below, but this is generally not recommended.
This is a good way to provide the proper temperatures, but as your ball python will spend most of their time on the ground, you will need to make sure it doesn’t get too hot.
Again, the snake could sustain burns if the floor is too hot for them.
You will also need to be watchful as some heat mats or pads are dangerous if they are in the tank as they sit under the substrate with little airflow.
They do get hot, so it is important to watch for melting if you are using a plastic tank or overheating of the substrate.
We lean towards the overhead heating option as you will have more control over the position and the temperature it provides.
Additionally, it seems to be a safer option for your home and the snake.
Ultimately, what you use as a supplemental heat source is an important aspect of set up, just not as important as maintaining the proper temperatures and gradients.
When it comes to special lighting for your cage, there’s a bit of flexibility.
Unlike many other reptiles, ball pythons do not need any type of special lighting to maintain their health or to aid in any natural functions.
While they don’t need special lighting, they do still need to have a light source to give them a day and night cycle.
Add a basic fluorescent light to give them this cycle.
A timer is a great way to ensure the day and night cycle remains in effect, even if you get busy and forget or are away for the day.
Choosing And Setting Up The Substrate
When you are setting up the cage for your ball python, another consideration will be the substrate you use.
The substrate is the material you use to line the bottom of the enclosure, and whatever you choose will have a direct effect on the health of your pet and the ease of cleaning, not to mention other aspects of the habitat.
There are some very common options to choose from, including the cheapest option, newspaper, to more expensive specialty bedding found in pet stores and online.
Or opt for aspen shavings or cypress mulch.
Some of these options, like the aspen shavings or cypress mulch, have the benefit of being more attractive in the tank, but they are present a challenge when it is time to clean.
A newspaper is not just going to be the most inexpensive option; it is also easy to find and easiest to clean because you just toss it out and replace it each time.
Of course, it doesn’t look as nice in the tank.
You will want to avoid pine and cedar shavings as the oils in these two options are harmful to all snakes if they are exposed to them in the long-term.
Regular cleaning of the substrate is required as the ball python will be leaving waste behind and just general wear and tear.
Line the bottom of the tank with whichever substrate you decide.
Try one out and if you decide it isn’t working for you, simply remove and try another option.
Providing A Hide Box
Giving your snake a hide box is an absolute must when you are setting up the cage.
In the wild, a ball python spends much of its time hiding, and this trait lives on even for these animals who spend their whole lives in captivity.
Because of this natural desire to hide, you will need to place at least one hide in the cage, but it is a good idea to include several hide options if possible.
Without a space to hide, the snake will become stressed and could stop eating.
Hides are as simple as an overturned plastic tub with a door cut out.
There are other commercial options available online or in pet stores.
These options might be more visually attractive.
Some people might use something made of cardboard, like an old shoebox, but unless you are up for replacing the hide continually, we advise against this option.
Cardboard will absorb feces and urine, making it impossible to clean.
Make sure the hide box is secure and doesn’t slide around whenever the snake enters or exists, as they will be nervous and feel insecure if the hide is constantly moving.
Also, avoid using anything clear or transparent as a hide should give the snake a sense of security.
In addition to what we have discussed so far, there are a few last details to add to the enclosure to make the habitat ideal for the ball python.
A water dish is very important to have in the cage, as your ball python will need access to water daily.
Be sure to keep the water dish filled with clean water, so your ball python has a healthy supply.
Plastic water dishes are ok, but glass, ceramic, or stainless steel are among the best options.
It is up to you to decide on the size of the dish.
The water bowl does not need to be large enough to accommodate the full length of your snake, but it’s good to provide one allowing your snake to soak when it wants to.
Plants, plastic or real, are optional when it comes to setting up your ball python’s cage.
Plastic plants will require less work and attention, and they are safer for your snake.
Some ball python owners prefer live plants, and if you are up to the challenge, they are an attractive option.
Live plants do require extra maintenance, but you will need to avoid plants with thorns or spines as they can cause injury to your ball python.
Also, be sure you do some research on any plant you might want to add to your snake’s habitat as some plants will be toxic to your animal.
Setting up a proper habitat for your new ball python is crucial for the health and well being of the animal.
With the proper information, research, and a bit of trial and error, you are sure to see the benefits of giving your snake a good home.
We hope this article has provided you with some helpful tips and information to set up your very own ball python enclosure.