As the owner of a ball python, you want to do everything in your power to keep them as healthy and beautiful as possible. While these creatures are fairly hardy, they do have specific needs that need to be met by their owners. Those needs include their environment, their diet, and the extra little things that you do for them throughout the day.
One of the most important aspects of a ball python’s enclosure is the climate within it. Specifically, the humidity and temperature that the ball python is kept in. Ball pythons evolved in particular climates, so their enclosure should provide them with similar environmental conditions. Knowing what humidity levels and temperatures ball pythons need is a major step in keeping them happy and healthy within your home.
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Ideal Humidity For A Ball Python
Before ball pythons became a beloved pet for thousands, they lived in the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa. This environment features a fairly consistent climate year-round with warm temperatures and decently high levels of humidity. Replicating this natural environment is a key component of keeping your ball python healthy.
Despite the fact that ball pythons come from central Africa, they aren’t native to areas that are particularly moist such as wetlands or rainforests. Instead, they prefer grasslands and sparsely-wooded areas. These regions are a bit more dry, but are still more humid than the inside of your house.
Your ball python’s enclosure should have a humidity level of between 50% and 60%, with the higher end of that range being optimal.
If the humidity level drops below 50%, quite a few different problems can occur. The problems highlighted below should be avoided at all costs in order to ensure your python’s good health.
- Upper Respiratory Infection – While these infections are usually bacterial, it’s been found that they’re sometimes viral. A URI features symptoms such as open-mouthed breathing, labored breathing, mouth or nasal discharge, and excess saliva. When left untreated, these infections often result in death in snakes.
- Shedding Problems – Humidity plays a huge part in helping a snake shed. Low humidity will result in a snake not being able to shed their skin in one piece. This will require you to help your ball python remove their old skin by hand — a process that isn’t fun for you or your python.
Additionally, the humidity levels can be too high. Enclosures that exceed 60% humidity can become wet, and this comes with its own set of issues.
- Moldy Environment – If an enclosure is kept too moist, the substrate within the enclosure can become moldy in a much faster time. This creates an unsafe environment for ball pythons and can result in a decent amount of money lost in damaged substrate.
- Scale Rot – Consistently moist environments can also cause physical problems with ball pythons. Scale rot is a bacterial infection of the scales when a snake is in a damp environment for too long. Left untreated, this condition has the potential to kill ball pythons.
Humidity’s Impact On A Shedding Ball Python
As highlighted above, there are numerous reasons why humidity is such an important aspect of a ball python’s enclosure. While all reasons are important, the influence that it has on a python’s shed is the most universal factor that all pythons and their owners will encounter at some point.
When a ball python starts to enter into its shed cycle, it’s very important that you closely monitor the humidity levels of the enclosure. Adequate humidity is essential for a snake to have a complete shed that doesn’t get stuck part-way through. There are several tell-tale signs of a ball python about to enter into shed:
- Scales appear dull or slightly discolored
- The stomach has a pink tint
- Eyes take on a milky-blue color
- Lack of appetite
- Overall reclusive, isolation-seeking behavior
As soon as you notice that your ball python is about to enter into a shed, you need to ensure that their enclosure is set to 65% to 70% humidity. While this doesn’t guarantee a successful shed, it will drastically increase the chances of everything going off without a hitch.
Measuring Humidity In A Ball Python Enclosure
In order to know how to adjust the humidity within a ball python’s enclosure, you first need to learn how to accurately measure it! You should be able to consistently achieve an accurate reading of the humidity level in the enclosure in order to adjust it accordingly. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to monitor humidity.
While it isn’t possible to accurately gauge the humidity just by observing the enclosure, it can easily be measured by a simple tool called a hygrometer. This is the moisture-measuring equivalent of a thermometer, and is an inexpensive yet essential tool for any snake owner.
In order to achieve the most accurate results with your hygrometer, purchase one that has a separate probe from the display. It’s best to position this probe about an inch above the substrate to get an accurate reading for the humidity levels around where your snake is living. Probes that are positioned too high may display a lower humidity level than your snake is actually experiencing.
The hygrometer display should be placed somewhere that can easily be read at a glance. This will allow you to read the humidity levels any time you’re walking past the enclosure. There are even combined hygrometer/thermometer products out there to consolidate the monitoring of the enclosure, such as this one by Zoo Med.
When you first set up your ball python’s enclosure, you’ll want to monitor the humidity regularly. After a few days, once things have stabilized, you can cut back your monitoring to twice daily — once in the morning and once at night.
How To Increase Humidity In An Enclosure
The humidity requirements of ball pythons are not complicated. If you were to provide quality substrate along with a water bowl in their enclosure, then humidity levels should be decently close to what they need. This is because the warm temperature of the enclosure will evaporate some of the water, creating a humid atmosphere.
However, if you ever need to raise the humidity during a shed or if the humidity drops too low for some reason, there are easy ways to do it:
- Move the water bowl to a warmer part of the enclosure with more lighting
- Add a second water bowl or provide a bigger bowl
- Reduce ventilation in the enclosure to help contain moisture
- Mist the substrate with water once a day (avoid misting the python directly!)
- Raise the humidity of the room your ball python’s enclosure is in with a humidifier
The factor that has the most influence on humidity is the ball python substrate that you use. This substrate has many different uses, with one of those being moisture retention. You’ll want to choose a substrate that retains moisture well without getting moldy or stale. A quality substrate will cost more, but it will make it a lot easier to maintain proper humidity.
How To Decrease Humidity In An Enclosure
If you’re worried that the humidity in your ball python’s enclosure is too high, don’t worry too much. High humidity is nowhere near as dangerous as low humidity for ball pythons. As long as the humidity doesn’t exceed 75%, there should be no negative effects.
However, if you notice that the substrate is excessively damp or that condensation is forming on the walls, it may indicate that you need to lower the humidity. There are several ways that you can do that:
- Add more ventilation to the enclosure — primarily in the lid
- Move the water bowl to a cooler part of the enclosure
- Move the enclosure to a less humid part of your home
- Use a substrate that doesn’t retain moisture as well, such as aspen shavings
- Stop or lessen the misting of your ball python’s enclosure with water
Only make one of these changes at a time, and closely monitor the humidity levels after doing so. If one of these changes lowers the humidity too much, then your ball python could be at risk for several problems.
Ideal Temperature For A Ball Python
Ball pythons are native to tropical Africa — an area that features high temperatures throughout the year. Therefore, proper heating of your ball python’s enclosure is just as important as keeping the humidity levels in check.
When defining an “ideal” temperature for ball pythons, there isn’t just one temperature. Ball pythons require a gradient of temperatures within their enclosure. This means that one side will be warm, and the other side will be cooler. These different temperatures allow the snake to regulate its body temperature as needed, keeping it happy and healthy.
The warm side of your ball python’s enclosure should be between 90°F and 95°F, with the cooler side measuring between 70°F and 80°F.
Only one side of the enclosure needs to have a heat source, as the heat dissipation will work to create a gradient of temperatures throughout the enclosure. The temperatures can be monitored with thermometer probes placed one inch above the substrate — just how the hygrometer probes are placed.
It should also be noted that ball pythons require two hides in their enclosure with one on the warm side and the other on the cool side. This will provide them with a place to relax, feel secure, and either warm up or cool down.
Maintaining Proper Temperatures In An Enclosure
Knowing what temperatures ball pythons require is one thing, but knowing how to maintain those temperatures is another. Unless you live in a non-air-conditioned shack in tropical Africa, you’ll need to provide supplemental heating to the enclosure.
There are two main options for providing this heat for your ball python, both coming with pros and cons. Regardless of which one you choose, thousands of ball python owners use one or the other to provide their snakes with a comfortable environment.
- Heat Pads – These are pads that are simply plugged in and start radiating heat. This is an option that provides consistent heat, doesn’t dry out the enclosure, and is very safe. While most snake owners place the heat pad underneath the enclosure, the practice of placing them on the side of the enclosure has become more possible. This works to create more of a gradient of heat throughout the enclosure and doesn’t have its heat absorbed by the substrate.
- Ceramic Heat Bulbs – These bulbs are installed at the top of an enclosure and radiate heat downwards. While they are bulbs, they don’t actually give off light — keeping your ball python’s circadian rhythm flowing naturally. Heat bulbs do have the potential to dry out the air or melt plastic that’s close to them.
Of these two options, we largely prefer heat mats. Not only are they effective at heating and don’t dry out the air or melt nearby plastic, but they can also be modified to be automated. Specifically, a reptile heat mat can be connected to a thermostat controller to get turned on and off as needed. This removes the constant requirement for monitoring and vigilance on your part.
Heat bulbs can also be automated through the use of timers, but this will require a bit more work on your part. Ultimately, though, both are effective methods of heating — it just comes down to personal preference.
Do Ball Pythons Need Heating At Night?
In a ball python’s natural environment, there is very little variation in temperature from day time to night time. Because of this, you need to keep the temperature in their enclosure consistent 24 hours per day. A consistently-warm ball python will be much happier and healthier than one that’s experiencing erratic temperature changes.
When keeping temperatures consistent, make sure that you turn off any light sources at night so as not to throw off their circadian rhythm. Fortunately, neither heat mats nor ceramic bulbs emit light, so this shouldn’t be an issue.
The only time that the temperature in a ball python’s enclosure should be lowered is when you’re trying to breed your snakes. Lower night-time temperatures promote the development of follicles, which is essential for ovulation. This is because the temperature before breeding season is a bit lower than normal.
Do Ball Pythons Require A Heat Lamp For Basking?
There are some snakes that do require light for basking, such as corn snakes. Snakes that live in a temperate climate will often bask in the sun’s rays to heat their bodies and store energy that will be used later. So, basking snake enclosures should feature an overhead light source and a basking rock.
Ball pythons, however, do not require this. Since the temperature is very consistent in their natural habitat, they don’t need to bask in the light to get energy. If a basking spot were to be provided, it would never be used.
In fact, the presence of a direct light source may dry out a ball python and cause problems with their scales. Therefore, a simple heat pad on the side of the enclosure is more than adequate for keeping a ball python warm and happy.