Are Ball Pythons Supposed to Feel Cold?

 photo provided by AceMackin Photography

While a typical pet like a cat or dog is cozy to cuddle up with, snakes are a little different. You probably know that your ball python is cold-blooded, but should it still feel warm due to the heat source in its vivarium?

So are ball pythons supposed to feel cold? Although your pet may feel warm after basking, ball pythons normally feel cool to the touch. 

In this article, we’ll explain how cold-blooded animals regulate their temperature and go over the absolute lowest temperature a ball python can survive. We’ll also give you a guide to the ideal temperatures for ball python enclosures, as well as the different types of heat sources you can use. Finally, you’ll be able to learn about the importance of humidity in your ball python’s enclosure. 

What It Means to Be Cold-Blooded

The reason it’s normal for your ball python to feel a bit cold is because it’s ectothermic, or cold-blooded. This means that it can’t create its own body heat and must rely on its environment to regulate its temperature. Ball pythons find heat by curling up on warm surfaces or basking in the sun or a heat lamp. 

Since the warmest part of your pet’s vivarium is only around 88 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit at its warmest point, it makes sense that your ball python might feel slightly cold in your hands, since humans’ temperatures are typically around 98.6 degrees. 

The Lowest Temperature Ball Pythons Can Handle

It’s very dangerous for ball pythons to not have a good, consistent source of heat. Your pet needs to keep its body warm enough for its regular bodily functions, like breathing and digestion, to continue. 

When temperatures drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, your ball python will begin to struggle to function normally. If temperatures don’t rise quickly, there’s a good chance your pet will freeze to death. 

One sign that it may not be warm enough in your ball python’s enclosure is if your pet regurgitates or vomits its food. This is an indication that their digestive system isn’t working, and it means that you should double-check your thermometers and heat source to make sure temperatures are where they should be. 

Ideal Temperatures for Ball Pythons

It’s essential to provide a temperature gradient (or thermal gradient) for your ball python. This means that the temperature at one end of its vivarium is cooler, while the other is warmer and has a heat source for basking.

The temperature gradually increases between the cool and warm sides. An easy way to create a temperature gradient is to purchase a heat source and simply place it on one end of the vivarium.

The reason your cold-blooded ball python needs a temperature gradient in its environment is so that it can effectively thermoregulate, or regular its body temperature. With a temperature gradient, your pet can move towards the heat when it needs to warm up, or away from the heat to cool down. 

Without a temperature gradient, ball pythons can become very stressed. In nature, ball pythons are able to use their environment to adjust their temperature as needed. It’s very important to replicate that capability in captivity as well.

Generally, the ambient temperature in your ball python’s enclosure shouldn’t dip below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature should range from 78 to 80 degrees on the cool end and 88 to 96 degrees in the basking area. 

Make sure to invest in some high-quality digital thermometers so you can easily monitor the temperature in your ball python’s vivarium. Analog thermometers are known to be off by several degrees, so they’re simply not reliable enough for this purpose.

Your best choice is an indoor/outdoor model that has a probe. This allows you to quickly and easily check temperatures. You can also place one thermometer on either end of your ball python’s enclosure. 

Types of Heat Sources

Your main options for heat sources are heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, heat pads, and heat tape. All of these choices have various pros and cons, so make sure to weigh your decision carefully and figure out which is the best for you and your pet.

Remember that overall, the type of heat source you choose doesn’t matter as much as being able to maintain the correct temperatures. 

Additionally, regardless of the heat source you choose, make sure that your ball python cannot come into contact with it! Burns can cause serious damage and take time and multiple shedding cycles to heal. 

Heat Lamps

Heat lamps are domed lamps with a white (incandescent) or red (infrared) light bulb. The white light is meant to be used during the day to mimic sunlight, while the red lightbulb is used at night.  

Heat lamps mimic the way the sun shines from above and radiates heat downward, so they are placed on top of your ball python’s vivarium. For heat lamps to be effective, the enclosure must have a screen lid or another type of partially clear top.

Although some reptiles require a source of UVB rays, ball pythons do not. While they don’t need UVB light, some studies have shown that ball pythons’ colors became brighter and they engaged in more activity when they were regularly exposed to UVB rays.

However, this does not mean it’s necessary to purchase any kind of special light source for your pet. In fact, if you do provide a light source aside from any lights in the room where the vivarium is, you’ll need to create a day and night cycle. You can do this by leaving the lights on for 12 hours and then turning them off for 12 hours. 

It’s very important to be consistent with this cycle, so you may want to consider purchasing a light that you can program to turn on and off by itself on a set schedule. In their natural environment, ball pythons typically come out at night after the sun has set, so the lighting in their enclosure needs to mimic the typical day and night. 

Ceramic Heat Emitters

These are very similar to heat lamps, but they only give off heat without providing any light. The benefit of a ceramic heat emitter is that you don’t have to take the effort to create a day and night cycle. You can leave the heater on all the time and rest assured that it’s maintaining proper temperatures. 

Heat Pads

Heat pads spread heat through the bottom of your ball python’s vivarium, and usually cover about a third to half of the surface area. One thing to keep in mind is that in nature, heat comes from overhead rather than from the ground. If you’re looking to imitate your pet’s natural environment, a heat lamp or ceramic heat emitter is a better choice. 

Heat Tape

Heat tape and heat pads are very similar, but heat tape comes in strips that you stick to the bottom of your ball python’s vivarium. It can be difficult to monitor temperatures while using this type of heat source.

The Heat Source to Avoid

Avoid using heat rocks at all costs! Even though some are sold in pet stores and marketed as being safe for reptiles, the reality is that they can cause severe and even fatal burns to your pet.

Rather than heating the environment around it, the heat rock itself becomes warm and can be a huge hazard to your ball python. The bottom line is that heat rocks are not only dangerous, but they don’t effectively heat up your pet’s vivarium.

The Importance of Humidity

It’s impossible to mention ideal temperatures for ball pythons without adding in a note about the correct level of humidity! Humidity is just as important as the right temperatures when it comes to your ball python’s health and wellbeing. It helps with hydration and aids in successful sheds. Ball pythons need a consistent humidity level of 50 to 60%. 

Conclusion

Since your ball python is cold-blooded and the temperature in its vivarium is cooler than your own body temperature, it’s absolutely normal for your pet to feel cool to the touch. It may also feel a little warm after basking.

Ball pythons need temperatures of 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool end of their tank, and 88 to 96 degrees in their basking area. Temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit can be fatal for ball pythons.

As for the types of heat sources you can use, your options include heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, heat pads, and heat tape. Never use heat rocks, even if they’re advertised as being safe! Finally, you’ll need to ensure that humidity stays around 50 to 60%. Keeping temperature and humidity at the proper levels will help to maintain your pet’s good health!

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