If you’re planning on getting a pet ball python, then the first thing you need to do is set up an appropriate terrarium for it to live in. Ball pythons aren’t like other types of pets that you may be more familiar with, such as dogs or cats. They can’t simply live free-range with you in your home; instead, they need a terrarium that has the right equipment in the right arrangement to create a usable environment that replicates the conditions of their native habitat.
If you haven’t read our Ball Python Care Sheet yet, read that first! Once you have a basic understanding of what your new pet needs from its habitat, you’re ready to start setting up a ball python terrarium.
It may seem expensive to buy all of these supplies for an animal that can cost as little as $25, but they are essential to your pet’s survival. Without an appropriate terrarium to live in, your new pet is likely to get sick and die. Here’s our step-by-step guide to successfully setting up a ball python terrarium so you and your beloved pet can enjoy many years together!
Step 1: Choose the Right Terrarium
Ball pythons are terrestrial and generally grow to 3-5’ long, and need a terrarium that is appropriate for that size of snake. 4’L x 2’W x 2’H is the minimum acceptable size for housing this species, although larger is better.
This terrarium can be made from wood, PVC, or even glass, but it should be front-opening and have plenty of ventilation for healthy airflow, whether in the form of a mesh top or side vents. We prefer enclosures with a mesh top design, as they make it much easier to safely install heat and UVB lamps.
If your terrarium doesn’t have opaque sides, you will need to cover them with something to help your ball python be comfortable in its environment. This can be as simple as construction paper or as elaborate as a 3D textured background.
Products we recommend:
Step 2: Arrange Your Lighting and Heating Equipment
To heat and light your ball python’s terrarium appropriately, you will need the following equipment:
- Heat lamps (at least 2)
- UVB lamp
- Hide box/cave
- Heat mat
- On/off thermostat
Both heat lamps should be placed on the right or left side of the terrarium, close together. The UVB lamp should be placed on the same side so it fully overlaps with the beams from the heat lamps.
Ball pythons are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night. This also means that it’s best practice to provide a warm hide for them to use when they want to be warm but don’t feel like basking in the open. Simply place a hide directly underneath the heat lamps, and if the heat lamps don’t get it to 88-90°F, even though the basking temperature is within range, add a heat mat connected to a thermostat under the hide, hidden under a 1-2” layer of substrate. To be effective, the thermostat probe must be placed inside the warm hide.
Products we recommend:
- Fluker's Mini Sun Dome Lamp, 5.5"
- Zoo Med Repti Tuff Splashproof Halogen Lamp, 75w
- Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6% UVB bulb, 22”
- Arcadia ProT5 Lamp Fixture, 24”
- Exo Terra Reptile Cave
- Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater (U.T.H.)
- Exo Terra Thermostat, 100w
Step 3: Start Minimalist
With any new pet reptile, it is best practice to quarantine them for 3-6 months after bringing them home, especially if you have other pet reptiles. When you first set up your ball python terrarium, it’s best to start simple so you can quarantine them efficiently.
Here’s what you need at minimum:
- blue shop towels for substrate
- sphagnum moss
- hide box or cave (at least 2)
- large water dish
- pressure sprayer
- artificial foliage
- climbing branch
- digital thermometer/hygrometer device (x2)
Choose a climbing branch sturdy enough to support the ball python’s body, but it shouldn’t be so tall that it brings the snake dangerously close to the UVB lamp — UVB wavelength intensity increases the closer the snake gets to the lamp. If at all possible, buy or borrow a Solarmeter 6.5 to check that the maximum UVI is no higher than 4.0. Generally speaking, this means that the snake should not be able to get closer than 6” under the bulb if the lamp is mounted over mesh.
Place the thermometer probes so one is in the warm hide and one is on the cool side of the terrarium. Your temperature gradient should look like this:
- Warm hide temperature — 88-90°F
- Cool hide temperature — 72-80°F
- Nighttime — 70-78°F
If temperatures are too high, use a plug-in lamp dimmer, thermostat, or a lower bulb wattage. If the temperatures are too low, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.
For humidity, you will need an average of 45-75%, with higher in the cool (humid) hide. To create a humid hide, place a hide box on the cool side of the enclosure, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Increase humidity by misting the enclosure with water 1-2x daily.
Products we recommend:
- Galapagos Blond Sphagnum Moss, 150 in³
- Exo Terra Mister
- Zoo Med Repti Rock Corner Bowl, Large
- Exo Terra Ficus Silk Plant, Large (x2)
- Galapagos Walking Wood Grapevine Branch Brown 19 In - 24 in
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge (x2)
Step 4: Quarantine for at Least 3 Months
The purpose of using a minimalist setup for quarantine is to make it easy to keep clean. During this time, monitor your ball python for signs of parasites or illness, and get it tested for nidovirus and IBD.
Substrate should be changed out whenever it gets soiled, and the enclosure and all accessories should be disinfected at least 1x/month. Use a bleach solution (¾ cup bleach per gallon of water) or veterinary-grade disinfectants like F10SC and Clean Break.
Step 5: Add Substrate
Once quarantine is over, you can work on giving your ball python’s terrarium a fully-enriched, long-term layout. It won’t need to be cleaned quite as often — only once every 3-6 months, depending on how good you are about spot-cleaning.
The first step of setting up a long-term terrarium design is adding a naturalistic substrate. For a ball python, it’s best to use something that resembles tropical soil, such as coconut fiber or a reptile soil mix. You will need at least 4” of substrate to help maintain humidity, so for a 4’x2’ terrarium, count on at least 80 quarts or 2.7 cubic feet of substrate.
If your terrarium has different dimensions, you can estimate the amount of substrate you’ll need by multiplying the length x width to get the number of cubic inches of substrate it will take for 1” deep of substrate. Then multiply that number by the desired depth of substrate, then convert the resulting number to quarts or cubic feet.
Products we recommend:
Step 6: Add Environmental Enrichment
Environmental enrichment is the process of strategically adding items to your snake’s terrarium that make it more functional for the occupant. Now it’s time to get creative! The best way to get inspiration for your terrarium’s appearance is by looking at pictures of ball python habitat on sites like iNaturalist.
Place the water bowl, hides, and main climbing branch first, and build around those. Make sure the water bowl is accessible and easy to remove, but minimize open space, as ball pythons are most comfortable when they have plenty of hiding opportunities available.
Magnetic ledges offer great lookout points for ball pythons to survey their surroundings, and encourage climbing. Hammocks also offer a similar function.
Wood makes a great material for your ball python to climb on or hide under, encouraging muscle tone or helping reinforce their sense of security. Mopani wood, cork bark, and manzanita wood are less prone to mold in humid conditions and tend to work best. Whichever you choose, make sure the branches are large and stable enough to support your snake’s size and weight.
Whether real or fake, plants perform the very important role of providing visual obstruction, and also do a lot to make a terrarium more attractive. Live plants help with maintaining humidity, but artificial plants are much more durable.
Live plants should be kept in pots to help keep the water close to the roots, unless the enclosure is bioactive (which this article is not covering). Use tropical plants tolerant of low light conditions, sturdy enough to withstand occasional trampling, and moderate to high amounts of water. They should also be nontoxic if accidentally ingested. Some suitable options include:
- Wandering Jew
For more safe plant ideas, visit The Tortoise Table.
Even after you’ve set up your ball python’s long-term terrarium arrangement, it’s okay to rearrange it every so often as you come to understand ball python husbandry better. It also helps keep your pet’s environment “fresh” and stimulates them to explore and exercise!