13 Common Mistakes Made by Ball Python Owners

There are a lot of simple errors people make with their ball pythons. I hope this can help ball python owners to prevent injury and sickness in their snakes.

1. Heating with a bulb.

What’s so bad about this? First of all, these snakes need belly heat, and secondly, bulbs dry out the enclosure too much. Ball Pythons require 60% humidity, and up to 80% while in shed. Too high humidity can cause respiratory infection. The only heat sources used for these snakes, are heat mats, heat tape, or heat cable. If you use any sort of bulb at all, it should be the secondary heat source only, and if you do, be sure to watch your humidity, and sheds extra carefully.

Hatchling pastel ball python

2. Not using a thermostat.

This is a common, serious mistake which can lead to serious burns. Ball Pythons require warm-side temps of 90-95 deg F.

3. Using a Screen Lid or Screen Cage.

While BP’s do need ventilation, a screen cage or screen aquarium top can cause too much humidity to escape. Never use a screen cage to house a Ball Python. If you have a tank with a screen top, cover part of the screen and monitor your humidity, changing the percent of the area covered until the desired percent is reached. You can cover your lid a number of ways, such as bristol board, cardboard, towel, etc., to change your humidity level.

4. Underfeeding/Overfeeding.

Remember this rule of thumb: feed a prey item that, at its widest part, is the same width as the widest part of the snake’s body. Do not go over 1.5X the width of your BP’s body, up to about 1000 grams of the ball python. At that point do not continue to increase the rats size at the same rate as that of the snake.

Never should a BP need to be fed mouse pinkies, unless force or assist feeding a hatchling, because pinkies are too small of a food item, and for early eaters, they don’t move enough to catch their attention. If you have alternatives, don’t feed with mice at all. You do not want your ball python to imprint on them, and refuse anything else.  However, hopper mouse moves around a lot more than a pinky rat, and can better entice a hatchling snake.

If you feed mice you will have to switch them to rats one day, and balls aren’t big fans of making changes. They will likely resist, it will likely be a huge headache. If all you have in your area is Petco/PetSmart to buy feeders from, you can try getting rodents at expos or by going on Craigslist to the pet section and looking for someone advertising feeder rats/advertise looking for someone selling feeder rats/ advertise looking for someone to split the cost of an online order. Depending on the level of rodent love in your area you may get flagged and removed.

Unless a snake has refused it’s last meal(s), you should be offering no less often than every two weeks. Starving your snake can make it very aggravated, and nippy. AKA: hangry.

Bad Advice

You might find people suggesting scenting and braining,(don’t do this AT ALL) you will find this disguising, and if you’re really unlucky your snake may not reliably eat for years after that.

5. Improper use of glass terrarium.

While the ideal enclosure would be a plastic tub, it is possible to keep them successfully in a glass tank. Ball Pythons in the wild live in holes. Whether you notice it or not, a completely open, glass tank can be very stressful to them. This can be rectified by making a couple simple modifications: provide plenty of hiding places, and blank out the back and sides of the tank to ensure the snake feels less exposed.

6. Feeding live prey unsupervised.

This can lead to serious injury or death. Rats can easily kill an adult Ball Python. We’re not saying you must watch them eat, because this can also stress be stressful, but don’t just toss a rat in, and go to bed.

7. Not providing a “cool area”.

All reptiles require a “cool side” to their enclosure. They cannot regulate their temperature, if there is no place to cool down. This “cool side” should be 80-85F.

8. Housing non-breeding pairs together.

This can lead to stress, cannibalism, health issues, feeding issues, etc. Breeding pairs should be put together for only 2-3 days at a time.

9. Using “Heat Rocks”.

Pet stores still sell and promote these dangerous pieces of equipment, because they heard it somewhere and are just passing along misinformation. Heat rocks heat unevenly and can have spikes in temperature, they can cause serious burns and injury. Too low of an ambient temp, and a snake will, huddle tightly on a source too hot even if they are getting burned.

10. Not properly securing the cage.

Not securing a lid leads to the eventual escape of the animal. A pile of books or rocks or bricks will work until the day it doesn’t. Ball pythons are amazing little escape artists and what may work for years will one day fail and you’ll be left snakeless and amazed. If your animal does escape don’t give up looking for it too easy. They turn up sometimes months later, so don’t go out later that day and buy the replacement, give yourself some time. Remember, with missing snakes start by looking everywhere that you think the snake could possibly be, then look everywhere that you know it can’t possibly be. If it’s not the heat of summer, check for warm places.

11. Using hides that are too big/too small.

In order for a snake to feel secure, hides are a must. Ideally, you should have two hides, each large enough that your snake can fit its whole body inside, but small enough that the snake will feel safe and protected. Place one hide on the cool end and one on the warm end, over the under-tank-heater. A hide that takes up most of the enclosure is too big.

12. Not knowing exactly what your temps are.

You should know what the temperature is down to the degree, whether it changes at night or when the door opens, and know what it is on the warm side and the cool side, don’t put your thermometer in the upper corner of the cage. The snake doesn’t spend any time there, your thermometers should be measuring the temperature at ground level. Or better yet, invest in a heat gun. I like wireless thermometers. I can place one in a zip-lock bag, and put it anywhere I want, then see the temp from several feet away, or even my desk

13. Too much handling.

Snakes are not social animals, and don’t like to be picked up and played with, for hours at a time, or hours in a single day. They do like to explore, but sometimes this just means they are looking for a way to escape.

You can get them used to more handling if you’re gentle, but take it easy! Start small and work up, always being careful not to overdo it and develop negative associations.

Keeping these things in mind, will help your ball python, have a long and happy life.

13 Common Mistakes Made by Ball Python Owners was last modified: January 30th, 2020 by Tom
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53 Responses to 13 Common Mistakes Made by Ball Python Owners

  1. Kris says:

    Good day!

    I recently rescued a Ball Python and he is starting his first shed with me. My general humidity is right around 60, and I know when they shed they need up to 80… But… With the risk of respiratory infection looming, what’s the real sweet spot for humidity during shed?

    He’s had bad sheds before, he had some of his last shed on him when he came to me. I want to be sure he’s able to get a good shed but don’t want to make him sick trying to do so.

    Because most people ask: He is currently in a glass enclosure (there’s a new bioactive vivarium in the works but since he’s a rescue everything isn’t perfect just yet) however his heat mat is thermostatically controlled to top out at 92° with a 1° differential. The screen top is insulated from the outside with styrofoam to help keep heat and humidity in. The back and sides of his tank are covered to keep him comfy and I currently use an overhead ceramic heat bulb as a secondary heat source.

    Thanks for your time!

  2. Adriana GOMEZ says:

    Hi my BP is more active when the light is off. When its on he is just inside his rock…. Any suggestion as to why this is?

    • Tom says:

      In the wild, they live in holes in the ground, and only come out to look for food, and move into a new home.

      They do not use lights for basking, like many other species.

    • Kris says:

      BP’ are also a nocturnal animals so that’s when they are most active naturally.

  3. Michael says:

    Hi, my local pet shop (the closest that does deliveries during this crisis) sell Vivexotic repti-home wood, glass fronted vivariums. Would these be good for keeping the humidity uo for a BP? Also I’m hoping to set up a bioactive enclosure for better enrichment do you have any advice on the sort of substratw, custodians, plants etc to use?

  4. Joanna Juarez says:

    Hello I’m currently taking care of my friend’s ball python snake. I just want to make sure I understand their correct temperature and humidity. His heating mat is 90• highest 94-95•
    His humidity is about 70-75
    Is that’s it’s correct temperature I just wan to make sure he’s in good temperature. Thank you

    • sam cobb says:

      your humidity is way too high unless its sheding. needs to be 50-60. i set my heat pad at 90 and it stay 88-91 in that area. some people say up to 95 but i dont chance it. sool side should be around 80s. its may now i know but i replied anyway. too high humidity can cause respitory infection!!

  5. Hanna says:

    I’ve read that ball pythons (esp females) might stop eating during the breeding season (Nov-May). My ballie stopped eating after October (ate twice at Dec), but ever since it’s hasn’t been interested in food.

    It has eaten ideally before this, no problems with sheds and nothing hasn’t changed inside the terrarium since I got it; humidity, temperatures and decor are the same.

    It is ~900g and 1,5 years old. I have no idea it is female or male.

    • Tom says:

      Yes, it’s very common. I had one refuse for 10 months once, and another for 6. Do not be alarmed, and offer food less and less often as the refusals continue.

  6. Alex says:

    Please help me!!! I love my ball pythons and there having problems. First off the temps. I have a heat mat under my glass tank that reads 90°on the hot side and 78 on cold side. The temp in the air is around 75 to 78, is that bad ambient air temp cuz we have tryed everything and ends up making the ground to hot when using a lame to assist heat. Second, they have gotten ri from the second snake that had it that we bought unknowingly ofcourse. We took them to the vet and got antibiotics and have been on them for more than 8 days and there getting wrose. Please help before my babys go too down hill, there bith under a years age

    • Tom says:

      There is a common theme to the comments we get on this post. “I’m using a glass tank, and cant get the heat and/or humidity right”. I never recommend heat bulbs, but in your case, you have an emergency situation and MUST get that ambient temp up or your animals will surely die. If you do use a lamp for the time being, make sure you mist your animals and substrate multiple times a day.

      You say the heat mat gets too hot, but still won’t raise your ambient temps up. Is your heat mat large enough? It should cover at least 1 full end of the tank, so the heat is evenly dispersed, and not just in one little spot. Also too much heat is probably escaping the top. Cover the top, at least on the warm end. About 80% cover, 20% open.

      Get a rack as soon as possible. We are not affiliated with these guys, but they have a 3 tub rack system, that might work, depending on the size of your snakes. 3 tub rack

      A rack will better disperse your heat, while holding in the heat and humidity.

      Lastly, you have 1 tank and two snakes? This will stress them out to no end, and is a good reason they are BOTH sick. Get them separated, so they’ll stop sharing germs. Also, the less stress the faster they can heal.

  7. Chuck Matheson says:

    We have a BP that’s about a year old in a 40 gal exo Terra tank. We have gone through 3 tanks now because of using heating pads in addition to basking lamps. Heat pads get to hot and crack the glass. Have abandoned the heat pads now and just using lamps. Hot side temps 87.6 degrees, cold side 81°. Now we cannot keep humidity up. Very afraid to use heat mat again. Tanks are becoming very expensive. She hasn’t eaten in several weeks and hasn’t shed in several weeks either. Please help. Any info much appreciated.

    • Tom says:

      If your heat mat is cracking your glass it must be very hot. You only want about 90 degrees, and if I didn’t have A/C, my house could get warmer than that in the summer. Use a LARGE mat that covers about half the area, and a thermostat to regulate it. It should never get hot enough to crack glass. If it does, it can also bake your animal.

      In nature, ball pythons do not bask in the sun. They hide underground, moving from hole to hole as they soil the old hole, and search for new ones containing food.

      • Autumn B says:

        The thermostat probe was moved in my ball python’s enclosure and led ground temps to reach 105. The ambient air temp was still 78, but the floor on the warm side was very hot. I believe it was like that for an entire day. However while fixing the prob, my snake bit me. She never struck out at me before. I read online that high temps can cause neurological issues, is aggression a sign? Or is she just stressed?

        • Tom says:

          She may have been stressed or even terrified. I know if the temps here reach to 105, I can get pretty grumpy.

          Give her a few days, then take her out and look her over for any physical burns. If you are concerned about picking her up next time, drop a small towel over her before you reach in.

          High temps can cause neurological issues, but I’ve never experienced it myself, and don’t know what signs to look for. Hopefully she ran to the other side of the tank, and was able to protect herself for the most part.

  8. Preston says:

    Why is my ball python in the corner of her cage its been 4 days and its January

  9. Luna Durante says:

    I just got a bp as a surprise because i’ve been wanting one, but what my mom told me about the previous owners worries me a little and goes against a lot of what I know about keeping a bp. They provided us with a glass tank, but they used a lamp for heating and had a mesh lid. I’m going to the store to see if I can find a different lid, but i’m not sure if I should get a mat to replace the lamp. My bp is already 4 years old, but seems pretty small to be a female. The last owners did not know the gender though, and i’m hoping to go to the vet and find out.

    • Tom says:

      Glass tanks are hard to regulate. They are hard to evenly heat, and hard to keep humidity. With a heat lamp it’s even more difficult.
      You might also want to look at our article Ball Python Care 101

    • Skylyn Barton says:

      I recommend going to Lowe’s and buying some Plexy glass for the top. I would just get a full sheet and have your measurements and then have them cut it up into 4 sections in conjunction with the screen too. That way you can add another section for more humidity or take some away if you have to much humidity.

  10. Anthony says:

    I too have my bp in a glass terrarium, I am sure its a 40 long, I am using multch bedding as well. I keep my digital thermostat at the center of the tank about half way from the top, I keep my humidity hydrometer on the side of his hide, He’s about a good 2 1/2 foot long about 800g. I had buried his hide under the mulch with an entrance to make him feel like he’s under ground where he spends most of his time. I am using an 100w heating bulb for day time and I have a night time moon light heating bulb as well. I have tried the heating pads and they seem to spike at high temperature as well is the reason I stopped using it. He would not lay on it and I thought it would be a healthy risk. It is now winter time and my snake seems to be on a hunger strike, for some odd reason he hasnt wanted to eat for the last 7 weeks…. I try to feed him every other day! I am begin to get worried. He’s currently in shed, I’ve tried soaking him for a 1/2 hour in luke warm water and he hasnt shed yet. I keep the humidity in my tank at a 60?. I mist his tank quite frequently. The last time he even attempted to eat, he made one strike at the adult mouse and missed… Then no longer attempted to take the mouse. The mice I have I breed myself, they stay clean as to I change the bedding once a week. I’m afraid bro say I think he’s looking weak but hasn’t lost any weight. He hasn’t pooped in a few weeks so I know its not constipated. The last time I held him last week I was holding my hand still and for some odd reason he thought my hand was a meal. I watched him open his mouth and advance towards trying to digest,so I put him back. He gets handled about once a month and put on my bed once a week so I can put about a cup of water into his bedding and stir it so his hide stays moiste and cool inside. I would like someones opinion on what may be going on. I’ve done a lot of research and he does not star gaze, he does not have mouth rot. I’m curious as to what could be the problem of the hunger strike he’s taken. I’ve tried feeding during the night and day. If you have any opinion I’d love to hear it. Thank you! My buddy means a lot to me!

    • Tom says:

      The hardest thing to read here is: “he hasnt wanted to eat for the last 7 weeks…. I try to feed him every other day!”.. This is training him to refuse. Similar to muscle memory, the more you do something, the easier it is. The more he refuses, the easier it’ll be to refuse next time. If he doesn’t eat, leave him alone for a week. If he doesn’t eat then, leave him alone for 2 weeks or 3, or even more.

      Next if he refuses to be on the heat pads, they are probably too warm. What is the surface temperature?

      You may also want to look at the article: Ball Python Psychology – The Problem Feeder

  11. Mike says:

    Hello, I just came across this article and I myself have been struggling with regulating temperature and humidity after purchasing a 40gal. with my BP. What I’ve done, and it seems to work great so far, is purchase a folding glass top to replace the screen. I was misting 4-5 times a day and also using a heat lamp which was counterproductive to my humidity. But since I’ve got this new top, it traps the heat from the heating pad and humidity to where I’m not constantly misting. I still have the heat lamp Hanging above and on a timer that kicks on and off every 12 hours just to replicate a regular day/night cycle. I one day hope to get a fogger set up on a digital hydrometer so I no longer have to mist and monitor the humidity so adamantly. If you do get a glass top, make sure that you fabricate some type of locking mechanism for it. Me, I used hooks that stick to the glass with little bungee bands. Whatever works for you. Also if your glass top is like mine, it will have a vinyl strip along the back so don’t forget to drill some small holes in it just to assure ventilation. I purchased Aqueon brand which was great quality and made in the USA! Only $35.

  12. Jack Simon says:

    Hi just checking my new python’s cage is good. It has a little hot with an entrance, 1st hide, but the second hide is a bunch of fake leaves on vines that takes up about half the tank and is right next to the hut, do I need to move it? And is it to big? The floor is mulch with no heat pad but I do have a heat lamp. Can you tell me if this is a good setup? Thanks.

    • Tom says:

      I hope you are using the term “cage” figuratively, and not literally.

      Are you willing to risk your animals health/life on it? Or hundreds of $ in vet bills? You never stated the temps or humidity of this enclosure.

      As stated in this article, a large heat pad should always be used, and unless you are extremely careful of humidity, a heat lamp should NOT be used.

  13. Ryan says:

    Hey, I’m having trouble getting my ambient temperature up. I have a heat pad that covers a little more than 1/3 of the enclosure. I have the probe to my thermostat on top of the heat mat (which is under the glass). So heat mat, probe, glass. I set the temp to 104, because it never seems to get hot enough. That barely makes it up to 90 degrees F on the hot spot. The ambient temperature is 71 degrees on the cool side and 75 degrees in the middle. I know the ambient is supposed to be 80-85. Also the humidity is kinda all over the place right now (keep in mind this is my first day putting substrate). I used a little bit of Coco Husk (the one you soak in water) and the rest Loose Coconut Fibers and then misted it. The humidity is like 70-80% and I’m trying to get it down. How can I fix these problems?

    • Tom says:

      We cannot diagnose all problems just hearing about them, but I’d recommend two main things to start, and that would be to cover up most of the screen lid, and get a bigger heat pad to cover about 1/2 the enclosure. Lastly, we never recommend glass tanks for ball pythons. While it is often possible, to get temps right, it’s a lot more work than if you had a rack style enclosure.

  14. Lindsi Lambert says:

    I have a glass tank. Che lamp, heat mat on 1 side, temps stay between 85/91. 2 hides, substrate is reptile prime coconut fiber. Screen top folied completely except sheer the che lamp is I have a circle cut for it, I’ve tried misting and still my humidity wont go up.

    • Tom says:

      If you can keep the heat up without the heat lamp, ditch it.

    • Kenzi says:

      The more surface area of the water bowl the higher the humidity goes up. Also you can put it under the lamp as well I have 2 water bowls on my cage

      • Tom says:

        That is true. Humidity can be increased with more surface area, and by putting it in a warmer part of the setup, but that does have it’s caveats too. Your water will dissipate faster, so you need to fill more often, and bacteria breeds more in warmer water than cool water, so you should sterilize more often too. I recommend chlorhexidine (shameless plug)

  15. Fran says:

    Hi! I’ve just got a banana cinnamon BP and to get the heat up to the required 32 c I am having to use a lamp in addition to a heat mat. as the temp doesn’t get past 24 with only the mat. I have noticed that the humidity lowers when I have the lamp on, but have dampened the bark. Is this ok? also I have a mesh screen lid but have covered half of it with plastic and a t shirt. She is a baby and is exploring a lot, but has plenty of hides – although hasn’t seemed to find them yet!

    • Tom says:

      There could be other reasons, but if your heat pad is not producing enough heat, it’s probably too small. It should cover at least 1/3 or up to 1/2 of the surface area of the bottom of the tank. even if it’s producing enough heat, too small is always a problem, because they can huddle over a small spot for the heat, and often burn themselves.

  16. Chauncey says:

    Hi I currently have a glass enclosure with a mesh top and I am looking into getting a wooden enclosure with a glass front, my question is how would I heat the wooden enclosure with the heating pad or what would I need?

  17. buse says:

    Hi, I really need some help. I bought a ball python a week ago. I have a glass tank with a mesh lid and a basking light. I was having such a hard time with the humidity and just came across your article. the heating pad wasn’t heating above 75 degrees and because of that I bought the basking light. it dries the cage really fast and I have to mist 4-5 times a day ( im pretty sure thats not good). im still not sure what I should do. what would you suggest?

    • Tom says:

      Without seeing your setup it’s hard to be sure, but my guess is your heating pad is too small. If using a glass tank, your heating pad cover 1/3 to 1/2 of the bottom.

      Glass tanks are not impossible to regulate, but are difficult. If that raises up your temps enough, you should be able to get rid of your heat lamp. Then I would seal up much of the screen lid (leaving it open the furthest end from your heat.) This can help hold in heat and humidity.

  18. Aya says:

    Well I just got a normal ball python for my birthday I’ve been wanting to have one since I was 9 years old and now I just turned 14.
    I do have a problem with my snake,it seems like it’s having difficulty on shedding, what should I do?

    • Tom says:

      That’s pretty vague. What kind of difficulty? Coming off in many pieces? Typically you just need to raise the humidity. Misting is good, or a humid hide can help.

  19. Julian miller says:

    I think my BP is going in to shed, when I touched her she immediately ran into her hide and she never does that, and I didn’t get a good look but her eyes looked a little blue, I didn’t get a good look but I did look and I know they need higher humidity during shed so I bumped it up the humidity to 75 with a damp towel over the lid so it wont go down but even if she isnt going into shed am I doing everything right cause this is her first shed.

    • Tom says:

      It sounds like you are doing fine. Do also keep in mind, the blue eyes will often turn back to normal color just before the actual shed. It’s nothing to worry about.

  20. Keely says:

    My snakes eye caps are still on from her last shed, I’ve been keeping the humid up but it’s at 74, is that too high for her if she’s not shedding???

    • Tom says:

      I would back down on the humidity a bit (50-60) because you don’t want it that high for too long at a time. When she is getting close to her next shed, then turn it back up, and maybe a little higher to be sure.

      After her next shed, pick thorough all the shed pieces (assuming multiple pieces) and look for the face mask. That is the absolute best way to be sure if the eye caps came off or not.

      It’s not ideal to leave her be if she has eye caps, but it’s better than thinking they didn’t come off, and being wrong.

      You might even feed her extra well, the next few feedings to rush the next shed. Also ask in some facebook groups, people may have other ideas for you. I’ve not had to deal with eye caps often.

  21. Sage says:

    Can my BP get too hot outside if she’s out there for too long? I take her outside but she is always with me.

  22. chasity says:

    My snake temp 76 degrees ambient and the humidity is a little over 80%. its like this all the time, other than theres hot and cold terrarium surface heat from heat mats… Does this sound good? we have 3 mats and its not heating up more than that.. the humidity is great, i think?

    • Tom says:

      3 heat mats? If you are using a glass tank, your heat mat should cover about 1/2 of the tank. If you have room for 3 of them, they are way too small.

  23. Izabella says:

    Can I keep my ball phyton outside I like in Florida and the temp go up to 90 and the lowest is 75 am I making and mistakes I love him so much I don’t want to make him unhappy or uncomfortable or end up hurting him??????

    • Tom says:

      I would not. You could take him outside, but I would not keep him outside. You really need to keep good control of both the humidity and temps. Always keeping an area around 88-90, and an area a little lower.

  24. Robert McDaniels says:

    Thanks for the information,You have taught me a lot and showed me what I was doing wrong!

  25. Fina says:

    This can help me a lot when I’m ready to get my first ball python!!! :) ^^
    Thank you for this page^^

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