Why Is My Ball Python Always on the Cold Side?

photo provided by AceMackin Photography

You’ve probably heard that because ball pythons are cold-blooded, they need a warm side and a cold side in their tank so that they can thermoregulate. But if your snake seems to be constantly hanging out on the cooler end of their enclosure, you might start to wonder if there’s something wrong with your pet.

So why is my ball python always on the cold side? The most likely answer is that it isn’t; it simply spends time on the warmer side when you’re not there to observe it. However, your pet could also be mimicking the way it would act in nature during the cooler months, and it is also possible that your ball python could have a respiratory infection.

Below, learn more about the reasons why your ball python may be spending a lot of time on the cooler side of its enclosure. You’ll also find out the optimal temperatures for your ball python’s tank, as well as the pros and cons of various heat sources. Finally, don’t forget to check out our recommendations for choosing the best thermometers for your snake’s enclosure!

Ball Python Behavior

Many ball python owners worry when their snake seems to be spending too much time on the cold side of their tank, especially when their pet feels cool to the touch. In this case, it’s very important to remember that your pet is cold-blooded, so it’s perfectly normal for it to feel cold in comparison to your hands, which are likely around 95 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

photo provided by AceMackin Photography

Mimicking Nature

One reason your ball python may be hanging out on the cold end of its enclosure is because it’s mimicking nature. Your snake still has its animal instincts, even though it’s being kept as a pet.

In the wild, ball pythons are used to temperatures dropping a bit during the winter months. Because of this, it makes perfect sense that your snake may spend more time on the cold end of their tank during the cooler seasons.

Nighttime Activity

There’s also a good chance that your ball python actually does spend a fair amount of time on the warm side of its enclosure. Snakes are most active at night, and your pet may go over to the warm end of its tank while you’re asleep when you’re not watching it. As long as your snake is eating normally, there’s nothing to worry about if it’s often on the cool side. Your pet will move to the warm side when it needs to.

Respiratory Infection

If your snake is spending an excessive amount of time on the cold side of its tank, there is a possibility it could have a respiratory infection. Staying in a cooler area can help to repress the discomfort caused by respiratory issues. Other symptoms of this infection include:

  • Excess mucus
  • Nasal discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Wheezing

If you notice these symptoms, take your ball python to the vet for professional care and treatment. Respiratory infections can be very serious and even fatal for snakes. 

Proper Temperatures for Your Ball Python’s Tank

If your ball python seems to be spending all of its time on the cold side of its tank, it’s usually nothing to worry about. As long as the temperatures in its enclosure are at the proper levels, your ball python will naturally do whatever it needs to do to thermoregulate and maintain its body temperature.

However, whenever you notice behavior that seems out of the ordinary for your snake, it’s a good idea to make sure the temperatures are within a suitable range. Rather than keeping the tank at one steady temperature, there should be a temperature gradient with a warm side and a cool side.

The ideal temperature range for the cool side of the enclosure is 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. For the warm side, you’ll want to keep temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, your ball python will also need a basking area on the warm side of the tank. This should be about 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

UV Light

In the basking area, it’s recommended to use a UV light. Although UVB rays aren’t necessary for the survival of ball pythons, they offer many advantages. Snakes exposed to UVB rays on a regular basis have healthier immune systems and run into less health issues overall.

photo provided by AceMackin Photography

Humidity

Humidity is another aspect of your ball python’s environment that you’ll need to monitor. In nature, ball pythons typically experience humidity between 45-75%, although humidity can occasionally drop as low as 30% and spike at around 90%.

You’ll want to mimic these conditions in your ball python’s enclosure by maintaining a humidity level of 50% on the warm side of the tank and 70-90% on the cool side. 

Types of Heat Sources

In order to maintain correct temperatures in your ball python’s tank, you’ll need to choose a heat source that works for both you and your pet. 

Heat Lamps

Heat lamps are considered to be the best heat source by many ball python owners. One reason for this is because heat lamps mimic nature, where heat comes from the sun above rather than from the ground below.

Reptiles naturally burrow underground to escape heat, so even though heating mats are commonly used to maintain tank temperatures, they do encourage ball pythons to go against their natural instincts. 

One thing to keep in mind if you choose to use a heat lamp is that you’ll need to protect your ball python from coming into contact with it. If your snake has direct contact with a heat source, it can cause severe burns that take months of treatment to fully heal. A good option is a bulb cage, which creates a barrier between the heat lamp and your pet.

There are many different kinds of heat bulbs available to purchase. You don’t necessarily have to purchase one that is marketed specifically for reptiles. Many ball python owners recommend white or clear halogen floodlight bulbs.

Heat Panels

Heat panels are similar to heat lamps, but they are generally a bit weaker. Owners of large snakes and large enclosures tend to prefer heat panels because they’re good at creating and maintaining large warm areas. Compared to heat mats and heat tape, the risk of burns and fires is much lower with heat panels. 

Heat panels are installed on the top of the enclosure, so they mimic warmth coming down from the sun similar to heat lamps. Keep in mind that if you select a heat panel for your heat source, it will need to be controlled by a dimming thermostat. This ensures that temperatures will remain at the correct levels.

Heat Tape

Similar to a heat pad, heat tape is placed under the tank and provides steady warmth throughout the enclosure. A possible issue to take into consideration is that heat tape comes with a risk of overheating or shorting out. Like heat panels, you’ll need to use a dimming thermostat with your heat tape. 

Heat Pads

Heat pads are the most common heat source used by snake owners. Heat pads typically cover up to half of the tank’s floor space. They do have a tendency to overheat that you’ll definitely need to look out for, so it’s highly recommended to use a reliable adjustable thermostat with your heat pad. 

Heat Rocks

Heat rocks are not recommended and are considered extremely dangerous for your ball python! Although some pet stores sell them and they are advertised as being safe for snakes, this is simply not the case.

They can cause severe burns and even fires. Additionally, heat rocks don’t heat the air around them, which is necessary for your ball python’s wellbeing; they simply heat the surface of the rock.

How to Choose an Accurate Thermometer

Analog thermometers aren’t recommended because their accuracy can vary by as much as 20 degrees! Instead, select a high-quality digital or infrared thermometer. Digital thermometers are safe, accurate, and provide quick results.

Infrared thermometers work just as well, but use thermal radiation to produce results. You should have at least two thermometers in your ball python’s tank: one on the cool side, and one on the warm side. 

Qualities to Look for in a Thermometer

You’ll want to look for a product with all of these attributes in order to safely and accurately maintain temperatures in your pet’s enclosure. 

  • Accuracy and reliability
  • Long battery life
  • Easy to use
  • Durable

Conclusion

The majority of the time, it’s perfectly natural for your ball python to hang out on the cold side of its tank. However, sometimes this can indicate a respiratory infection which you’ll need to get treated by a vet.

Always remember to keep temperatures between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool end of the tank and 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm end. 

As for heat sources, heat lamps, panels, tape, and pads are all good choices. Always avoid using heat rocks! Placing two accurate digital or infrared thermometers in your ball python’s tank is a great way to make sure the proper temperatures are maintained. 

Sources:

https://www.reddit.com/r/snakes/comments/7z6ktp/ball_python_always_hangs_out_in_the_hide_on_the/duloc20/

http://www.ssnakess.com/forums/python-regius/88549-she-s-stayed-cool-side-2-days.html

http://www.thecornsnake.co.uk/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=7065

https://arachnoboards.com/threads/ball-python-question.46327/

https://ball-pythons.net/forums/showthread.php?145202-why-is-he-choosing-his-cold-side-hide-over-hot-side#:~:text=They%20are%20cold%20blooded%20after,hot%2C%20then%20I%20would%20worry.

https://www.zillarules.com/care-sheets/ball-python#:~:text=Temperature%20and%20Humidity&text=Ideal%20temperatures%20for%20Ball%20Pythons,area%20on%20the%20warm%20side.

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/snakes-diseases#:~:text=Snakes%20with%20respiratory%20infections%20may,in%20conjunction%20with%20mouth%20rot.%22