Does My Ball Python Need Light at Night?

When you first set up your ball python’s tank, all the specifications for its habitat can seem a bit overwhelming. Temperature, humidity, lighting–there’s a lot to remember! You may be wondering if you need to provide your ball python with light during the night time, or if it will be perfectly happy in the dark. 

So does my ball python need light at night? Not at all! You should actually try to mimic the natural day and night cycle that your pet would encounter in its natural environment. Ball pythons are nocturnal and feel most comfortable emerging from their hides during the night time.  

Read on to learn about ball python activity in the wild and how their day and night cycle works. You’ll also get a detailed guide on how to create an environment for your snake that mimics the conditions it would encounter in its natural environment. We give plenty of details about lighting and types of light, temperature and heat sources, humidity, and tank accessories.

Day and Night Activities

Ball pythons are native to Africa, and in the wild they rarely come out during the daytime. Instead, they spend most of their time hiding away in burrows that have been built and abandoned by other animals. Very occasionally they’ll come out during the day to soak up some heat from the sun, but otherwise they stay safe underground.

Although we usually think of snakes as predators, it’s important to remember that they’re part of a much larger food chain! While they are predatory towards small mammals in their habitat, they’re also the prey of large birds and other animals.

Therefore ball pythons have a need for safety and security at all times. This is why it’s recommended to have at least two hides in your snake’s tank; to prevent stress, your pet always needs to have a place to get away.

Ball pythons come out to hunt at night in the dark. They use their superior sense of smell and ability to sense heat to locate and attack their prey. In nature, ball pythons can go months without a meal, especially during the wintertime.

How Can I Mimic Nature’s Conditions?

The best way to maintain a happy and healthy ball python is to create a habitat for it that mimics the way it would live in nature. The most important components of this natural environment are lighting, temperature, humidity, and tank accessories.

Lighting

It’s not necessary to light the enclosure more than simply using the lighting in the room, but you should definitely try to stick to a day-night cycle. This means keeping the light on for 12 hours during the daytime and off for 12 hours during the night time. You can buy a light timer that automatically switches the lights on and off so you don’t have to remember to do so!

If you do want to light your ball python’s tank, you could use a low-wattage fluorescent bulb during the day. Another option is to use a UVB light, making sure to replace it every six months. UV rays aren’t necessary for ball pythons to stay healthy, but they can have benefits such as supporting the immune system.

Incandescent heat bulbs can be used both as a light source and a heat source. You can learn more about the various available heat sources below, where we talk about the ideal temperatures for your ball python’s tank.

But if you’re more interested in seeing what your snake gets up to at night, you can use a night-vision camera to record it; your pet is more likely to act natural if it feels that no one is watching it. 

You could also purchase an infrared reptile lamp. These lamps have a red coating that minimizes the amount of light that reaches your ball python while still illuminating the area enough for you to see what’s going on. This way, you can keep an eye on your pet without disrupting its day and night cycle. 

Temperature

Since ball pythons are cold-blooded, they use their environment to maintain their body temperature (also referred to as thermoregulation). Therefore, it’s essential to provide a range of temperatures to allow your snake to adjust as needed.

It’s important to remember that the temperature shouldn’t be the same throughout the entire tank. Instead, you’ll want to create a temperature gradient. One side should be cooler, around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The other side should be warmer, 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll also need to provide a basking area at an even higher temperature of 88 to 92 degrees. 

It’s very important to invest in at least one, but preferably two, good thermometers and regularly check the temperatures in your ball python’s tank. Digital and infrared thermometers are recommended over analog thermometers, which can be off by as much as 20 degrees. You can also purchase a temperature gun, which makes checking temperatures very quick and easy.

Heat Source Options

There are several options for heat sources, so make sure to read through the descriptions and pick the one that is right for you and your pet! Regardless of the heat source you choose, always make sure to keep track of the temperatures in your ball python’s tank.

  • Heat Lamps: These are highly recommended because the heat comes from above, just like it does in nature from the sun. It’s very important that your snake is prevented from coming into contact with the heat lamp so it doesn’t suffer any burns. White or clear bulbs are ideal. 
  • Radiant Heat Panels: Also frequently recommended, radiant heat panels aren’t as strong as heat lamps, but they excel at spreading heat over a larger area. If you have an especially large ball python and tank, a radiant heat panel should do the trick. 
  • Heat Tape: Unlike heat lamps and radiant heat panels, heat tape is placed under the tank floor and warms it from below. It does come with a risk of overheating or shorting out, so keep that in mind as you make your decision.
  • Heat Pads: These are very commonly used by ball python owners. They go underneath the tank, covering about one-third to one-half of the tank floor. They do have a tendency to overheat that you’ll need to watch out for.
  • Heat Rocks: Do not use heat rocks under any circumstances! Even the ones that are marketed as “reptile-safe” can cause dangerous burns that can become infected. Additionally, heat rocks only heat the rock’s surface rather than the entire environment.

Humidity

You’ll want to shoot for humidity of about 60 to 75 percent. Without the proper humidity level, your ball python will struggle to shed successfully and will take on a wrinkled, dehydrated appearance. Your snake could also lose its appetite or develop a dangerous respiratory infection.

Tank Accessories

When setting up your ball python’s tank, you’ll need two hides and a water bowl at the very least. Hides provide a sense of security for your snake; they’re a place that it can escape to anytime it feels threatened or wants to hide away. It’s wise to place one on either end of the tank so that your pet doesn’t have to choose between its ideal temperature and a secure hiding spot.

Select a water bowl that is large enough for soaking and heavy enough that it won’t tip over easily. You’ll also want a bowl that is durable and easy to clean, because it should be washed and refilled with fresh water on a daily basis. 

Other accessories that are optional but recommended include a branch for climbing and mental stimulation and fake greenery or shrubbery to create even more of a sense of security for your ball python. By creating an environment with the proper lighting, temperature, humidity, and accessories, you’ll prevent stress and make your pet feel completely comfortable in its habitat. 

Conclusion

When questioning whether or not your ball python needs to be provided with light during the night time, remember the environment it encounters in the wild. Ball pythons are nocturnal creatures that hunt at night, and the best way to keep your ball python healthy and happy is to create an environment for your pet that mimics nature!

You can choose between simply using the room’s lighting or purchasing a UVB light, incandescent heat bulb, low-wattage fluorescent bulb, or infrared reptile lamp. As far as temperature goes, you have plenty of choices for your heat source: heat lamps, radiant heat panels, heat tape, and heat pads.

Don’t forget to monitor humidity levels and provide your ball python with two hides! By following this guide, you’re sure to have a stress-free snake that loves its habitat. 

Sources:

http://www.reptileknowledge.com/news/ball-python-hiding-136/#:~:text=Ball%20pythons%20are%20mostly%20nocturnal,night%20to%20hunt%20for%20prey

https://www.quora.com/Should-a-light-be-left-on-for-pet-snakes-at-night#:~:text=In%20reality%2C%20they’re%20totally,figure%20out%20when%20to%20sleep