As the proud owner of a ball python, you may feel guilty that your much adored snake spends so many hours of their day cooped up in their tank. Perhaps you’ve considered turning them loose in your room, or even giving them free reign of your entire home, while you’re at work or puttering around on a weekend. But is this really a good idea?
Can I let my ball python roam around my room? No, do not let your ball python roam around your room. Even though this seems like the perfect opportunity for giving your snake some exercise and enrichment, it isn’t safe. There are better ways to entertain your pet and keep them secure and healthy.
This answer may be a bit disappointing, but snakes are simply not the type of animal you want roaming around your home, especially unsupervised. Allowing them to be free-range animals poses some serious dangers to a snake, especially a ball python. Read on to find out why.
Your Ball Python Could Get Lost
Providing your ball python with a wide open space in which they can freely roam may seem like a gift to them, but in fact, it more likely to stress out your snake.
In the wild, snakes such as ball pythons spend most of their time hiding in tight spots. They feel safest wedged under rocks or logs, or in the narrow burrows of other animals. They avoid open spaces as much as possible because these areas leave them vulnerable to natural predators, such as hawks.
Many snakes will only leave the security of their hiding places to look for food. Even in captivity, your ball python will spend most of their day wedged into the hides you’ve (hopefully) provided to them.
Ball pythons are also nocturnal by nature, as well as crepuscular, meaning that they are particularly active at dawn and dusk. This is another reason they hide so much during the day: It’s when they’re getting most of their sleep.
Removing your ball python from the safety and security of their hide during the day and placing them on the floor of your room is going to be quite a stressful experience.
What does a ball python do when they are stressed, you ask? They attempt to hide, of course. A ball python who is out in the open, without constant supervision, will seek out and cram itself into the tightest of spaces.
Ball pythons love to feel all the sides (including the top) of their chosen hiding spot hugging their body. This tightness means there’s no room for a predator to sneak in and makes your snake feel extremely secure.
You may be surprised where your snake ends up and how quickly they can disappear. Many a ball python parent has turned their back for just a minute or two, and lost track of their pet.
Pythons can quickly and easily wedge themselves into couches, between mattresses and box springs, under bookcases, or into holes in the wall or floor that you didn’t even know existed. It is best not to allow them this opportunity at all.
If you do lose your snake, you’ll need to make your best attempt to find them as soon as possible. If you’re diligent and conduct a thorough search, including tight spots you’re almost certain your snake could never fit into, chances are you will find your pet. If you cannot locate them during the day, perform a second search at night, when they are more likely to be active.
Your Ball Python Could Get Hurt
Young children, as well as other pets in your home, pose serious threats to your ball python. Even if you plan to keep your ball python confined to one room for their romp in the open, you still have to accept the possibility that your snake could escape from the room, or that your dog, cat, or child could find a way in.
First, cats have been known to eat snakes. A baby or young ball python could easily become a snack if your feline is in the mood. Even if your cat isn’t interested in eating your python, your snake’s quick, wriggling movements could entice your cat to play with them. A playful cat can easily scratch, bite, stun, or otherwise injure an unsuspecting ball python.
Dogs can also be dangerous to pet snakes. A playful canine might also see your ball python as a plaything, or even as a threat. If your dog bites your snake, he could fatally injure him at worst, and at best, leave your snake wounded and prone to an infection.
Ball pythons are docile in nature and don’t pose much of a threat to children, other than the possibility of spreading Salmonella bacteria to them. However, a small child can definitely harm your snake. A young child who simply does not know any better may drop a ball python, handle them too roughly, or step on them.
Although it is extremely rare, captive ball pythons have been known to find their way into the cribs of sleeping infants, and in some cases, wrap themselves around the appendages or bodies of those infants in an attempt to seek warmth. If you have an infant in your household, it is best to keep your snake confined to their tank with no chance of escape.
Lastly, although it might not quite fall within the realm of “getting hurt”, the temperature in your home may negatively affect the health of your python. You should be keeping the ambient (air) temperature of your snake’s habitat between 82-89°F.
The warm or basking side of your python’s enclosure should be between 88-92°F, and the cool side should be 76-80°F. The temperature of a basking surface can go up to 104°F, but the air temperature should never be that high.
In contrast, the most popular average indoor temperature year round is 70-75°F1. The temperature down on the floor of your home will be even lower than that. A snake who is allowed to roam the floor for extended periods of time will be exposed to sustained temperatures of 75°F or less, which can compromise their immune system.
Environment and Enrichment for Ball Pythons
There are lots of other things you can do to keep your ball python occupied, entertained, and exercised, that do not involve allowing them to traverse the open areas of your home.
First and foremost, be sure you are providing your python with an adequate enclosure. Housing should be escape-proof and appropriate for the size of your snake. The absolute minimum length of your ball python’s habitat should equal to the length of their body, when fully outstretched.
For example, if you have a ball python who is 35 inches long, technically their enclosure should be at least 35 inches long. The depth of the enclosure should be at least 12 inches, in order to accommodate hides, water dishes, and tank decor. Remember, bigger is always better.
Second, you should provide at least two hides for your snake, if not more. Place one hide at the warm/basking area of your python’s enclosure, and one on the cool side. A ball python should never be forced to choose between warmth and security.
A ball python will thrive in an enriched habitat. This means providing them with an enclosure that is filled with wood and rock ledges, branches, python-safe live plants or artificial plants that provide lots of cover, logs and rocks to hide under and slide over, and the appropriate substrate (reptile soil or bedding are two great options).
Many people believe that ball pythons are strictly ground-dwellers, but this is not the case. They are capable of climbing and providing them with sturdy branches will encourage them to exercise. Exercise does fantastic things for ball pythons, like improving muscle tone and appetite.
You should also provide your ball python with a large dish of fresh water. Your snake will soak in this water as well as drink it. A heavy bowl, such as one made of ceramic, is a great option since it will be harder for your snake to knock over.
If you’re currently housing your ball python in a glass terrarium, you may also want to consider a terrarium background. These backgrounds are mostly aesthetic, but when they are used to cover three sides of your snake’s enclosure, they can also help them to feel more secure.
Sadly, it isn’t the best idea to allow your ball python to roam the open floor of your room or home. This type of activity can actually be quite stressful to your snake and can allow them to become lost or injured. Your best bet is to provide your snake with a large, enriched enclosure that will provide them with ample opportunity to climb, hide, and move around, while staying stress-free.