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Troubleshooting Guide to BALL PYTHONS

Natural History | General Information | Housing Your Snake | Care and Husbandry | Feeding Strategies
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Housing Your Snake

Housing is basically something in which you can keep your snake secure and safe. Good caging means you can provide correct heat/light cycles and NOT provide a means of escape for your snake. It can be simple like a Rubbermaid or Tupperware brand sweater or shoe box with air holes in it. More popular cages are usually modified aquariums. These do not have to be expensive. Since most people only see the value of an aquarium if it holds water, you can sometimes pick them up at garage sales. Small Ball Pythons (16-28 inches) will do pretty good in a ten gallon size enclosure (20x10x12 inches). An absolute minimal cage for an adult Ball Python (30-48 inches) would be a long twenty gallon (30x12x12 inches). A long thirty gallon (36x12x18 inches) would of course be preferred.

Securing your snake in an aquarium does not have to be a challenge or too expensive. Pet stores will sell you screen lids which work fine, but I like to make my own. You will need 3/4 x 3/4 inch wood molding (for 10 gallon tanks) or 1 x 2 inch boards (for bigger tanks), some 1/4 inch hardware cloth, some screws, some wood staples, and maybe some angle brackets. Most hardware stores sell the heavy duty screen material, known as hardware cloth. An hour or so of cutting, screwing, and stapling and you can construct a strong screen top like the one in this picture. To hold it down on the tank you can either use some weight (For SMALL snakes only, I like ceramic floor tiles), or better yet you can strap it down. Straps are as easy as getting some belt material and buckles, from the fabric section of your local Wal-Mart/K-Mart type store. You will end up with something which looks similar to this.

Other options to providing safe housing for your snake would be to purchase a commercially made reptile enclosure. More and more pet stores are selling "Lizard Lounges," which are aquariums with sliding screen lids. Neodesha cages (off site) and Vision Herpetolgical (off site) are two well known and respected caging products.

Heat can be safely provided in a few different ways, either a heat mat,× and/or a clip type lamp with an aluminum reflector. AVOID "Hot Rocks!!!" Hot Rocks provide a centralized heat that will not adequately heat the enclosure, and they will burn your snake if it lays against it. It's not advisable to allow your snakes to come into direct contact with any heat source. I like to use clip lamps on a timer, to provide both a warm basking spot (~90F), and give the snake(s) a photo period (Since Ball Pythons are nocturnal, Ultra Violet light is not needed). I addition to the lamp, I use heat mats all day every day to provide belly heat of about 82-85 degrees F on the warm side of the tank. Heat pads and lamps usually don't have a way of adjusting heat output. With lamps you can use different wattages of bulb (40-60 watt is usually about right). All my heat pads, and some of my lamps, have snap on lamp dimmers which cost about $4 at the hardware store. They are not as good as thermostats, but at least give you a high/low/off adjustment. Another alternative to a clip lamp would be to use a ceramic heat element, which is basically a ceramic bulb that gives off heat and no light.

One thing which commonly gets over looked is the level of humidity in the tank. Since Ball Pythons spend a lot of time underground in burrows or in termite nests, they are more sensitive to relative humidity than one might expect. I would suggest you stop by your local K-mart or Wal-mart and get a hygrometer× from the outdoor/garden section. They are accurate enough to provide a close estimate, and allow you to monitor changes in humidity. I recommend the ambient humidity be at least 60%, and you may want to provide a hide box which has a higher percent (70-80%). Low humidity can cause incomplete shedding, dehydration, and sometimes a lack of appetite. To either add or remove humidity, you can provide bigger or smaller water bowls. You can restrict, but not stop, air flow from the tank. You can use porous substrates (i.e. mulch) that will hold some moisture and mist the cage every so often. I feel that if you provide a big water bowl with a hole cut in the lid, the snake will use it as another hide and soak/re-hydrate itself as needed.

Fresh water and at least one hide box are critical to your python's well being. Depending on the size of the snake, small butter tubs or 3 gallon rubbermaid containers can be good water dishes. I like to use a container with a lid and cut an access hole into the lid. This then allows the water bowl to act as a 'water hide' where the snake can feel secure and soak. Wild Ball Python's spend most of their day below ground. Thus when they are in your care they will need to feel secure in a dark hiding place. A hide 'box' can be anything which simulates a rodent burrow. I like to use red clay (terra cotta) plant pots and bases. Sometimes you can buy broken ones very cheap from stores that sell them. If you have to buy them intact, you can use a small hammer and lightly chip away at it to make a hole big enough for your snake. Other things that I've used as hides are cracker/cereal boxes, opaque Rubbermaid containers, dog water bowls which have hollow bases, and upside down dishpan with holes cut in the side. Whatever you choose to use, you would be well advised to have a few of them in the cage at different temperatures, so the snake can decide where it's more comfortable.

OK, What to put on the bottom of the cage, ie substrate? Well, I prefer to keep things simple, so I just use a few sheets of newspaper. It's cheap and easy to replace when soiled. Of course there are other materials you can use. I would caution to stay away, very far away, from cedar mulch. Cedar oils are toxic and can lead to deadly respiratory infections. Plant/Wood based mulches that are safe to use include: Aspen, Pine, Long Grain Sphagum Moss, and Cypress. I personally do not necessarily condone cypress mulch since whole trees are ground up to make it (Cypress is not "Environmentally Correct"). Another substrate which I've used in the past is astro-turf. Your local home supply sells it cheap, and it comes in colors which may be more pleasing to you than newspaper. I would suggest getting enough so you can switch out clean for dirty pieces. If the idea of newspaper appeals to you, but you don't like the look of the sports section, some local newspaper offices sell the ends of the unprinted paper spool.

Well besides substrate, hide boxes, and water bowls what else can go into the tank? Well it's always good to have an item which is rough, so the snake can rub against it to help with shedding. You can add things on which to climb. I have built "jungle gyms" for my snakes out of small diameter PVC plumbing pipes and elbows. Some people like to add plants. If you'd like to put in plants, I would suggest getting plastic ones. Live plants tend to get crushed. I would be a little cautious concerning some plastics. If it has a strong plastic smell to it, I would not put it into a cage.

A good example of what these preceding paragraphs are talking about can be seen in this photograph. What you are seeing is about half of a long twenty gallon tank that I keep snakes in. You may notice that I've got the tank up on 3/4 x 3/4 inch wood molding, so the tank is not sitting directly on the heat mat.

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