The chief argument we hear for bigger enclosures is this one:
“They live in the wild so a large tank shouldn’t be a big issue.”
My question to you is this: You also live in the wild. Does that mean you would be 100% fine living on the streets instead of in a house? I’m willing to bet most of you are scratching your head right now wondering why I’d make such a comparison, but the simple fact is this – yes, ball pythons live in the wilds of Africa, but they spend the vast majority of their time in termite mounds and rodent burrows, which are essentially their house.
Here’s how this correlates in captive keeping.
When you use a large enclosure, you are essentially trying to imitate the wilds of Africa, and you’re trying to turn the hides in the enclosure into their burrows. Sounds simple enough, right? Complication one: ball pythons don’t “bask” as you might expect (noteworthy exception: if they are moving burrow to burrow, yes, they will bask – but ideally they basically stay in a hole). So assume you’re using a gradient, vs pure ambient. You are now FORCING your ball python to move around the tank to properly thermoregulate because you have two different hides: one on the cool side, one on the hot. Why is this an issue? Because it’s an unnatural behavior – it is not something they would be doing in the wild. Their temps are always fine in the wild so they don’t have to go find a cooler burrow sometimes, then a warmer burrow. That is more movement than they exhibit in the wild, so you’re forcing them out of their secure hiding place. Ball pythons like security, so this can be an issue for them.
The second thing is that you can’t imitate the huge variety of different hide options they would have in the wild. You cannot do it. Africa’s a diverse ecosystem – your tank is never going to perfectly mirror it, even in the most badass bioactive setup. You can come close, but you can’t imitate it perfectly.
So what exactly am I getting at here?
You will find most breeders elect to use tubs, and when we teach, we promote smaller enclosures. That’s because we’re trying to teach you to stop trying to imitate the wilds of Africa, which you’re never going to be able to do 100%, and start trying to imitate the conditions of the burrow your snake would spend the vast majority of its time in. That’s why tubs work for ball pythons; that’s why they work well; that’s why big sprawling enclosures often end in feeding problems.
“But I’m spoiling my –“
No. You’re not. If you want to “spoil” your snake, you will use a tank that is small, secure, and more strongly resembles a rodent burrow. Not some massive sprawling thing. There is literally no literature to suggest that ball pythons need to “stretch out” – that’s a human need projected onto the snake. These are snakes who like to hide, like to feel all sides of their hide touching them, and like the security. You can see this in how often you find them cramming themselves between a too-large hide and the side of their tank.
Can a 40, 50, or even 100 gal tank be made to work? Yeah, with a lot of effort, you can make them work. But that doesn’t mean your snake will always eat in them. In fact, you’re way more likely to run into feeding issues down the road – and then have to change it. That is why we teach to use smaller – because that way you don’t have to go buy a new, smaller tank to accommodate your shy, preferring-to-hide snake in the future. It’s saving you the trouble you’ve got such a strong chance of running into. Some people never do. But if the odds are 100 to 1 that you will… well, I guess a lot of you like to gamble.