Can Ball Pythons Hold Their Breath Underwater?

If you’ve ever seen your ball python put its head underwater for more than a couple of seconds, you’ve probably wondered whether it’s possible for your pet to hold its breath. 

So can ball pythons hold their breath underwater? While you won’t often catch a ball python swimming, these snakes can hold their breath for several minutes underwater.

In this article, we’ll explain how long ball pythons can hold their breath and whether or not they can swim. We’ll also go over the main reasons why your pet may be spending extra time in the water and how to remedy the situation.

How Long Can Ball Pythons Hold Their Breath?

There’s no official research out there to let us know the exact amount of time ball pythons can hold their breath underwater, but snake owners report that they’ve observed their ball pythons holding their breath anywhere from a few minutes up to 20 minutes.

So if your ball python has its head underwater, you don’t have to worry about it drowning–your pet can hold its breath much longer than you can!

Why Is My Ball Python Putting His Head Underwater?

If you’ve noticed that your ball python puts its head underwater often, there might be something wrong with its vivarium. Double-check each of the following to ensure that your pet’s environment is set up correctly.

Incorrect Temperatures

One reason your ball python might be putting its head underwater is to try to cool off. Ball pythons are cold-blooded, so they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. A ball python’s vivarium should have a thermal gradient, where one side of the vivarium is cooler and the other has a warm basking area. 

Temperatures should range from 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool end and 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm end, with a basking area of 88-92 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures are warmer than this, there’s a chance your ball python will go into its water bowl in an attempt to cool down its body temperature.

It’s important to use a thermostat for your heat source as well as digital thermometers so that you can easily monitor temperatures in your ball python’s environment.

Wrong Level of Humidity

Another explanation as to why your ball python might be putting its head underwater is that the humidity levels in the tank are not being maintained correctly. Humidity should typically be around 50-60%, and you can increase it a bit when your ball python is about to shed to help it do so successfully.

But humidity levels lower than 50% can have a negative effect on your ball python’s health, and you could catch your pet slithering over to its water bowl to try to get the moisture it should be getting from the air. However, it’s not smart to bump up humidity levels too much, because an excess of humidity can lead to respiratory infection.

A hygrometer, which measures humidity, is a great investment if you’re a ball python owner! It makes it quick and simple to check humidity levels.

photo provided by AceMackin Photography

Dehydration

Going along with humidity and the necessary moisture a ball python needs in the air, your pet could also be dehydrated if it’s constantly hanging out in its water bowl or putting its head underwater. Signs of dehydration include trouble shedding, skin that stays in place after being pinched instead of bouncing back, dented eye caps, and wrinkled skin. 

Dehydration could be a result of incorrect humidity levels, but it could also mean that your ball python isn’t drinking enough water. In addition, it could be a result of using distilled or softened water, which sometimes contain chemicals that can be harmful to your pet’s health. 

Therefore, avoid using distilled or softened water. But always be sure to provide clean, fresh water for your ball python to drink. If your pet is dehydrated, you can give it a soak in a warm electrolyte bath. 

Simply mix three parts electrolyte supplement (Gatorade and Pedialyte are a couple of examples) to one part warm water in a plastic storage tub; it should reach a depth of about an inch. Place a heating pad with a thermostat underneath the tub, setting the temperature between 82-84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Let your ball python soak for 30 minutes to a full hour with the lid closed to really lock in the moisture.

Mites

Unfortunately, a common reason for ball pythons to spend time underwater is that they’re attempting to escape the discomfort caused by mites. Mites are tiny black parasites that live off of ball pythons’ blood.

They’re difficult to get rid of, but it’s worth the effort–they can cause horrible health problems for your ball python if left untreated. A mite infestation can even be fatal!

Signs Your Ball Python Has Mites

Here are a few symptoms of a mite infestation.

  • Rubbing on surfaces in the tank
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Soaking in the water bowl

You might also notice tiny black dots on your ball python and in the enclosure. Mites typically congregate around the eyes, ears, and cloaca. You may see them on shed skin, on your hands after handling your ball python, or even moving around on the walls of your pet’s enclosure.

In addition, you might notice what looks like ash on your ball python’s scales. This is actually waste from the mites. 

How to Treat Mites in Ball Pythons

The problem with mites is that they multiply very rapidly, so it’s difficult to get rid of them completely. That’s why many ball pythons struggle with recurring mite infestations. To avoid this, it’s necessary to treat your pet and thoroughly clean its enclosure. 

Luckily, snake mites are species-specific, which means they won’t infect you or any other household pets–but they can easily spread between ball pythons, so if you’re housing multiple snakes together, it’s a good idea to quarantine them separately until you’ve eradicated all the mites.

You can purchase Nix, which is used to kill lice in humans, or a reptile-specific mite medication from the pet store. Mix the 56ml bottle of Nix (or reptile-specific mite medication) with one gallon of distilled water and put it in a spray bottle.

Place your ball python in the bathtub or a large storage tub and spritz it generously with the mixture, making sure every inch of your pet has been covered.

Next, allow your ball python to sit with the Nix mixture on it while you clean out its enclosure. Throw away all substrate, and take all accessories out of the tank. Thoroughly clean the tank and all accessories.

Then spray the inside of the tank, accessories, and the entire surrounding area with the Nix mixture to kill off any mites that are hanging out in your ball python’s environment. 

When you return your ball python to its enclosure, be sure to use paper towels rather than its usual substrate–they make it much easier to see any little black mites that are still around.

After about three weeks with no mites, you can switch back to your substrate of choice. If you can’t seem to get rid of the mites, however, it may be necessary to take a trip to the vet for treatment and advice.

Can Ball Pythons Swim?

Ball pythons are capable of swimming, but they’re not what you would consider natural swimmers. They might swim in dire situations in nature, such as to escape a predator. But you won’t often find a ball python swimming around for entertainment purposes. They’re much more likely to soak in water in order to stay hydrated. 

Conclusion

If you’re wondering whether ball pythons can hold their breath underwater, the answer is yes! Ball pythons can hold their breath much longer than humans–anywhere from a few minutes up to 20!

However, even though ball pythons can swim, constant soaking or going underwater in their water bowl can be a sign of a deeper issue. First, double-check temperatures and humidity. 

Temperatures should range from 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool end, 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm end, and 88-92 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking area, with humidity around 50-60%. Correct temperature and humidity levels are essential for a happy and healthy ball python.

Dehydration is another reason why your ball python may be spending extra time in its water bowl, so be sure to always offer plenty of fresh water for your pet. Finally, a mite infestation can cause your ball python to hang out in its water bowl to relieve discomfort from the parasites.

Be sure to treat your pet for mites and clean its enclosure thoroughly if you notice signs of an infestation. Mites are defintely no fun to deal with but with persistence and patience, you can get rid of them altogether. 

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About Devin

I’m Devin Nunn, an average joe that just so happens to have a deep love and passion for everything to do with reptiles. Because taking care of them for the vast majority of my life wasn’t fulfilling enough, I decided to begin educating others about them through my articles.