Ball pythons (Python regius) are snakes of open habitats, such as the numerous savannas and grasslands found throughout western and central Africa. They also inhabit open forests, the edges of closed-canopy forests, agricultural areas and disturbed habitats. To keep a captive ball python healthy, you must provide a cage that mimics the environmental characteristics of these habitats.
Cage Size and Home Range
In the wild, ball pythons live in expansive macrohabitats – savannas may stretch uninterrupted for miles – but in captivity, fortunately, they do not require very large cages. This is because in the wild, ball pythons spend most of their time in microhabitats, such as rodent burrows and termite mounds. Young ball pythons thrive in cages with about 1 to 2 square feet of floor space, while adults require about 4 to 6 square feet of cage space. House only one ball python in a given cage, as specimens may suffer from stress if communally caged.
Place a hiding spot inside your snake’s cage to mimic the type of place he would set up shop in the wild. Commercial hide boxes, half logs, cork bark sections, cardboard boxes and plastic storage containers are a few possible options. Your ball python does not care if the hiding space looks natural; he simply wants it to offer security. Make sure that the hiding spot is dark and that it has suitable dimensions; snakes like their backs and sides to contact the walls and ceiling of the hiding place when they curl up inside it.
You can use cages made from glass, such as aquariums, or you can opt for commercially produced plastic cages. Plastic storage boxes are also viable options if made secure and modified to allow for ventilation and heat sources.
Always ensure that snake cages are secure and will not allow your pet to escape.
Heating and Lighting
As ectothermic animals who must maintain their body temperatures via external sources, snakes have evolved to live in the typical temperatures of their homelands. Hailing from tropical Africa, ball pythons require warm temperatures to stay healthy. You will need to raise the temperature of your snake’s cage with heat lamps or heating pads unless you keep your home as warm as tropical Africa is.
Snakes use a variety of behavioral mechanisms, such as basking or moving underground, to adjust their body temperatures. This means that a ball python’s habitat must offer several different temperatures from which the snake can choose. Accomplish this by providing your pet with a range of temperatures – thermal gradient – by placing the heat source at one end of the cage. By adjusting the height of the heat lamp, the wattage of the bulbs or the settings on the heat pad, you should be able to get the warm side of the cage to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool side should be in the high 70s to low 80s. Turn the heat source off at night and let the cage temperatures drop to the low 70s.
Illuminate the cage with a fluorescent light if you are not using a heat lamp. Ball pythons live very close to the equator, so they experience very little variation in day length. This means you can keep your ball pythons at similar temperatures and photoperiods all year long. The primary seasonal changes they experience in the wild come courtesy of the shift between dry and rainy seasons.
Always monitor the temperatures in your python’s cage with a digital thermometer.
In the wild, ball pythons live on a combination of sand, topsoil, grass, dead leaves, gravel and bark, but they adapt well to most common commercial substrates. Many keepers use aspen shavings, cypress mulch or fir bark as a substrate, while others opt for the simplicity of newspaper. These approaches have different pros and cons. For example, particulate substrates are more likely to harbor bacteria and parasites, such as snake mites, but they look quite attractive. By contrast, newspaper is aesthetically unappealing, yet it promotes cage hygiene and is easy to replace when soiled.
Never use cedar products around snakes, as they may release toxic fumes.