Arguably the biggest mistake Ball Python owners make…
Anyone who’s spent any time perusing the reptile department of any pet store has seen something like this:
Unfortunately, even the employees at pet stores might tell you that this type of enclosure is suitable for your shiny new ball python. In fact, I know at least two pet store employees that keep their ball pythons in glass terrariums.
Why does this matter?
Ball pythons (Python regius) are naturally found in West Africa. They are most commonly found in abandoned termite mounds and rodent burrows. They are naturally shy animals, and tend to prefer their solitude and darkness most of the time. There’s a saying in the world of BP ownership, “A hiding ball python is a happy ball python.” Generally, if your BP is highly active in its tank very often, it’s either hungry or distressed (or both).
The humidity requirement for BPs is between 50-60% (adjusted slightly higher during sheds). The temperature gradient required for BPs is 88-96 degrees in the “hot spot” and an ambient temperature of 78-80 degrees. The temperature should NEVER fall below 75 degrees, as this could lead to significant health issues.
Glass enclosures with screen tops do NOT allow these parameters to occur for snakes without extreme modification of the tank by the keeper. The glass itself is problematic for reasons of conductivity and security. It is very difficult to consistently and accurate regulate temperature in a glass tank. Additionally, as stated previously, BPs like hiding and being very secure.
Yes you can provide hides within a glass tank, but they still don’t provide optimum security for your snake. The screen top of this type of enclosure is the worst offender. We’ve all learned that heat rises. That means the warmth you’re trying to provide your cold-blooded critter is escaping through the lid. Additionally, almost every bit of humidity that your snake needs is being allowed to escape as well. This is especially true if you’re using a heat lamp, as they will sap all the humidity out of your snake’s air.
I have a glass tank! What do I do??
Never fear. I was in this situation when I got my first BP. It’s a tough thing to come to terms with when you realize you just dropped a wad of cash on things the pet store said was correct, only to find out they were wrong and you have to start over. You will have to purchase a new enclosure eventually. Hard plastic enclosures like those from Animal Plastics are great for BPs (I have the T8). Unfortunately that’s a lot of money to spend, especially if you’ve recently spent a ton on your glass tank.
What you can do in the meantime is…
- Cover 80% of the screen top of the tank with something non-permeable. I personally used a layer of aluminum foil covered with black duct tape (for aesthetic purposes). This will keep the heat and humidity where it’s supposed to be.
- Use bedding that will retain humidity. Aspen shavings will NOT. Use reptibark or coconut bark. Both are widely available at pet stores.
- Keep the water bowl full, and sitting on top of the under tank heater or under the heat lamp.
- Use construction paper on the back wall of the tank as well as the sides. This will give your snake a sense of security that the glass doesn’t provide.
- Follow proper husbandry guidelines to a T. Make sure there are two identical hides, one on each side of the tank (hot/cold). Make sure you’re feeding rats and not mice, etc…
Having the incorrect tank isn’t the end of the world. It can be rigged to function temporarily. Eventually, you’re going to have to switch to a tub/plastic enclosure, so be saving up for that now.
Because you’re here, you’re obviously taking the initiative! Best of luck with your snake(s) and feel free to comment with any questions.