Monday, January 10, 2011

Ball Python Care - Heating The Ball Python Enclosure

By: Ricky Melamed from Ricky’s Reptile Enclosures

This week on Ball Python care we were going to talk about feeding your Ball Python, but I've decided to change this up a bit and talk about heating the enclosure instead. The reason I changed my mind is because heating your enclosure will actually play a large roll in the feeding process. You see, Ball Pythons rely on heat. No heat means no eating.

Walk into any store, or log onto any website and you will see a recommendation to use a heat lamp. If you have been given this information, I recommend finding a new store, or website to find reliable information. Ball Pythons require belly heat and not basking heat. It is important to know what is required to heat your Ball Python enclosure. The major difference between the two types of heat is that one source of heat comes from the top, and the other from the bottom. Unlike many exotic reptiles and dessert snakes, Ball Pythons actually spend more than half the day hiding. Ball Pythons feel safest under a log or rock, hidden from the light of day and any predators. In the wild, Ball Pythons never see the light of day, and in captivity the same should apply. A heat lamp mimics the sun and can provide a great source of heat for animals that are out and about during the day, absorbing the heat from overhead. However, for a snake that hides all day, the overhead heat provides little warmth. The key ingredient for Ball Python heat is that the ground be warm, so your Ball Python can warm itself while it hides. These under tank heaters (UTH) come in several forms, with the most popular and accessible option being the heating pad. Heating pads are available at nearly any pet store and are available in various sizes.

We recommend using a heat pad that is 11" x 17", as this will allow your Ball Python a good size heating spot to lie over. The heating pad simply adheres to the bottom of the enclosure and allows heat to rise through the floor of the enclosure. This method heats the ground and the air as well, so long as your Ball Python is in a Ball Python enclosure, and not a fishtank. People commonly keep Ball Pythons in fishtanks, however, it is not the correct type of enclosure. Previously we had discussed how humidity is not retained within a fishtank. The same rules would apply to heat. It is essential for the heat rising through the enclosure from your UTH to remain in the enclosure, so that it is heating the ambient air and humidity. This allows the environment inside the enclosure to remain warm and humid, rather than cold and dry. So why is a heat lamp so bad? A heat lamp does a fantastic job of heating the ambientair in the room, since the heat rises, but it also makes the inside of the enclosure very hot and dry. Imagine broiling your holiday turkey instead of baking it - what would the result be? I'll tell you - burnt turkey.

Another common error preached by novice Ball Python owners is to vary the day and night temperatures in the Ball Python enclosure. This is not required, or even advised. Varying the temperatures in a Ball Python enclosure should only be done by a professional breeder. The reason breeders vary the temperatures in the enclosure is to trick the females into thinking that it is winter. Ball Pythons, like many other animals, have a breeding season that starts in the winter and goes until the spring when the eggs are laid in clutches of four-twelve (or sometimes more). The common Ball Python owner shouldn't attempt to fluctuate the temperatures in the enclosure as this will only promote bad digestion and a cold snake. It is very important to maintain the correct temperatures in the Ball Python enclosure.

Regardless of the type of under tank heater used, it should be regulated using a thermostat. Thermostats use a probe, which is inserted into the enclosure and attached to the floor. The probe measures the floor temperature and turns on and off the heater= to maintain a preset temperature. There are many thermostats on the market, all performing the same function. What’s the difference between all the thermostats? The accuracy! A thirty dollar thermostat will offer a much lower accuracy then a three hundred dollar thermostat. We recommend purchasing a fairly accurate thermostat for your Ball Python enclosure, but there is no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a thermostat if you can find a fairly accurate thermostat for less. Ball Pythons are animals that require a range of heat and they will move around from the warm to the cool side of the enclosure to raise or lower their body heat as needed. It is important for the snake’s owner to provide the proper heat so that the snake will have the correct range of heats required.

In the enclosure there should be a hot portion controlled by the thermostat. This portion of the enclosure should remain between 88 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature rises to 93 degrees your snake will be fine, but it shouldn't exceed 94 degrees or you risk burning your snake. The enclosure should also have cooler side that should remain between 77 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as the hot side is available your snake will move around on it's own between the two temperatures and regulate its own body temperature.

So after all this talking about what to use and how to use it, let’s talk about why. Why do Ball Pythons require belly heat? Why do Ball Pythons require heat at all? The answer is brief and simple. Ball Pythons require heat in order to live. Since Ball Pythons cannot maintain heat on their own as cold blooded animals they require an outside heat source to keep their bodies at the correct temperatures. If the heat is too low your Ball Python will not be able to digest its food, and will become ill and possibly die. Without food your Ball Python will not be able to have access to the required proteins, energy and essential building blocks for growth and life in general. Now the reason we spoke about heat before feeding is because Ball Pythons must be stress free in order to eat. If your Ball Python is cold, it stresses out and doesn't eat. Imagine that you are in debt and cannot pay your bills - you would be stressed, correct? Your Ball Python doesn't have bills, but it does have requirements. It is aware of what it needs, and if it doesn't get it, it will become stressed. A Ball Python will refuse to eat when the temperatures are too low and have been known to refuse food for months at a time in inadequate conditions. Eventually, Ball Pythons will eat, but in low temperature conditions they will have a very difficult time digesting food. The snake can fall ill, become constipated, and even die if the proper belly heat isn’t provided.

Providing heat for your Ball Python is very important and often overlooked in Ball Python care. If you are one of the millions of owners who have a ceramic heat bulb or red light bulb providing heat for your snake, you need to make a change. As with humidity, heat should be provided in the correct way in order to keep your Ball Python healthy. If your ball python is not hiding during the day there is a reason for that, and it’s not because your snake is trying to be friends with you. Remember that captive Ball Pythons should act the same way as wild Ball Pythons. Any variation from the norm means your snake is not being provided with the essentials, and most often the reason is incorrect heat or the incorrect enclosure.

As with all animals it is the owners who control the environment that their pets will live in. Ball Pythons do not bark or meow when they are stressed, instead they show us their discomfort by refusing to eat, by looking for heat during the day, or having poor sheds. Rather then discounting these signs of stress it is important as a Ball Python owner to take action and move your Ball Python into the correct enclosure with the proper type of heat and correct levels of humidity. Do the right thing and give your snake what it needs.

Next week we'll talk about feeding your Ball Python. We'll cover the types of food that Ball Pythons require and don't require. We'll go over digestion and what is required for proper digestion. Also we'll talk about some problems and solutions that are common in the feeding of these exotic snakes. For more information about the proper enclosure for your Ball Python, please visit us at and if you have a question you want answered? Just email us at [email protected] You wouldn't keep your reptile in a birdcage, so why would you keep it in a fishtank?™

By: Ricky Melamed
Ricky’s Reptile Enclosures
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  1. Great article! I love all the great information here and it really makes me glad that there are people out there looking out for the well being of these amazing snakes