Do Ball Pythons need heat lamps?

Do Ball Pythons need heat lamps? Generally, no they do fine with a heat pad. This depends on their enclosure type, however. Keep reading to learn more!

We’ve all heard this generalisation from so-called experts: “The sun heats everything so snakes need heat from above, not a heat mat.” For diurnal, heliophilic species this is absolutely true. For Ball Pythons, however, it really isn’t! In fact, a heat lamp is only necessary for them in certain enclosure types.

Do Ball Pythons like to bask?

Something that adds to the complexity of this question is the fact that Ball python basking behaviour is often wilfully misinterpreted. People say they’ve seen a Ball Python basking, so it must enjoy basking…

Using that kind of logic, you could say that you’ve seen me go to work, so I must enjoy that. Guess what: I don’t! I guess finding a way to claim that Ball Pythons like to bask is a terrific way to sell more UVB bulbs. If you read my article on vitamin supplementation for Python regius you will know that they are in fact unnecessary for nocturnal snakes like these.

Like me, Ball Pythons are pragmatic and do what they must to survive. The reality of the situation is that they are not a truly heliophilic (sun-loving) species. Instead, they simply know when they are too cool and need to warm up.

In the wild, Ball pythons will bask when incubating eggs. If they’re hiding area is too cool, they will also bask. Conversely, if their hiding area is too warm, they will lay out in front of it – again appearing to bask.

For Ball Pythons, basking is a tool. It’s not an activity that they enjoy. As a species that is commonly prey to larger birds, reptiles and mammals, Ball Pythons probably feel uneasy at best when basking. This why when provided with heat mats, they almost never appear to bask.

Moreover, in the wild it is extremely uncommon to find them outside of a burrow or hide during the day – just check out this video to see for yourself! It shows Stefan Broghammer finding Ball Pythons in the wild in Ghana.

How do I keep my Ball Python warm?

Heat lamps do work, in certain setups. In fact, ceramic heat emitters – which are basically a heat lamp that produces no light – are powerful enough to heat large enclosures such as those of Boa Constrictors.

They just have an extremely negative effect on humidity. you could expect an enclosure with a large ceramic heat emitter in it to have an ambient humidity level of 40% or lower. They also consume more electricity and have both a higher wattage and larger carbon footprint than heat pads.

Radiant heat panels/deep heat projectors work as well as heat lamps, in my opinion. They project a large area of heat and don’t generate any light. Their drawback, however, is that they are expensive and less widely available. That’s why this article is mainly focusing on heat lamps instead.

Heat pads are undoubtedly the most widely used heat source for Ball Pythons. They are low wattage, and incredibly cheap to run when used with a thermostat. Notwithstanding, they too have a drawback, namely that they work best with plastic tubs.

Tubs and mats aren’t the only option…

Overall, most long-term keepers use heat pads in conjunction with tubs. That is what I do, and what I usually recommend because of how well Ball Pythons do in them. That doesn’t mean it’s the only option, however. If you put in some work, you can make a vivarium or other large enclosure suitable for a Ball Python.

You can also make a heat pad work for this type of enclosure, but it needs to be in a special glass case to prevent burns and other issues. You can easily find these for sale online. In most cases, however, you will need a heat lamp of some description to maintain good ambient temperatures in a vivarium.

In summary: heat pads are best for tubs. Heat lamps (ceramic or not), deep heat projectors and radiant heat panels are best for vivariums. Just make sure you’re always using a thermostat and double checking temperatures with a digital or infrared thermometer. 

Infrared thermometer gun for double checking enclosure temperatures

Do Ball Pythons need a heat lamp and a heat pad?

Although I recommend using tubs for Ball Pythons, you can use vivariums and PVC enclosures successfully for adults. They just tend to be a bit overwhelming for hatchlings. Overall, it just takes more effort, and a lot more clutter.

If you fill up a vivarium with enough hiding places, branches, and fake plants, you can make it suitable for an adult Ball Python. The issue you will have, however, is that larger enclosures like these let heat escape very rapidly. It is in this scenario that I would recommend using both a heat pad and a heat lamp.

The truth is that Ball Pythons spend most of their time hiding, and directly absorb heat through their belly. During the day, and in smaller plastic enclosures, this makes heat pads more than enough.

But if they come out at night, it also needs to be warm enough for them to forage and explore without getting cold. In large enclosures, it’s very hard to achieve this with just a heat pad. All in all, I’d say that you will need a heat mat and heat lamp in any enclosure over 3ft (1m) long.

Can I take my Ball Python outside?

How do I keep my Ball Python warm at night?

The easiest, cheapest, and most obvious way to heat a Ball Python warm at night is of course a heat mat. As we’ve just seen though, this may not be enough to maintain a nice ambient temperature in a larger enclosure.

For these, you will also need some kind of lamp or radiant heat panel/deep heat projector. Because these last two options are still less common (and more expensive) we’re going to look at using lamps.

When setting up an enclosure that uses a heat lamp, it’s important to remember that animals need a break from light – especially at night. In fact, some nocturnal animals like Ball Pythons will slowly stop feeding if they have no escape from light.

If you use a lamp that emits light, make sure it is on a timer, 12 hours on, 12 hours off. During the night, you will need another heating method, preferably a heat mat.

Alternatively, some heat lamps either emit no light, as is the case with ceramic heat emitters, or only emit a less dazzling, red light. Most people call these lamps “Night-time heat bulbs and they are generally reasonably priced. 

Make sure you use the right kind of thermostat!

In either scenario, you would need to have both a heat pad and the heat bulb on their own thermostats. It’s important to remember that for bulbs that emit light, dimming thermostats work best, whereas for mats and ceramic heat emitters you need a pulse-proportional thermostat.

In some enclosures, you may notice that you get a nice, ambient temperature with just a heat lamp. Nonetheless, I still recommend using a heat mat under the hiding place located in the warm end of the enclosure.

Ball Pythons seem to enjoy having constant belly heat. Take it from someone who’s kept them for over 20 years and experimented with every single heating method and enclosure. In fact, if you set a heat mat to 88 -90f (31 -32c) most Ball Pythons will simply snooze on it most of the time – even if a lamp is available to bask under.

Table: Types of heating appliance for Ball Pythons

ApplianceProsConsCarbon footprint
Heat mats– Ball Pythons like them
– they keep them warm while hiding
– work well with tubs
– struggle to heat large enclosures
– less convenient for vivariums
very low
Basking heat lamps– better for heating large enclosures– lower humidity
– need to be turned off at night
– can be stressful for shy Ball Pythons
Nighttime heat lamps (red or blue)– better for heating large enclosures
– won’t disturb nocturnal species like Ball Pythons
– lower humidity
Ceramic heat emitters– can heat large enclosures efficiently
– produce no light
– dramatically lower humidityhigh
Radiant heat panels / deep heat projectors– can heat large enclosures
– produce no light
– can be mounted on the wall or ceiling of enclosure
– initial purchase can be expensivelow

Are LED lights OK for snakes?

If you’re using a big enclosure, and you’re happy with a night-time bulb that produces red light, or a ceramic heat emitter that produces no light – then great! Problem solved!

What if you’ve gone to a lot of effort to make the enclosure, though? What if it is intended to be the centre piece of your spare room or study, for example? I wouldn’t blame you for at least wanting to be able to see inside it.

In this case, it is totally fine to use an LED lighting strip to light the enclosure. LED lights are cheap, low wattage, and produce almost no heat. They can be set up in any type of enclosure and can often be stuck to the roof with adhesive strips. Again, you just to make sure they are on a timer, set to a 12 hour on/off cycle.

Do Ball Pythons need heat lamps?

Overall, are heat lamps bad for Ball Pythons?

Heat lamps are only bad for Ball Pythons if they are creating constant, bright light, or if they are turned off at night. They are also bad if they lower humidity too much, but this can be countered with misting and a humid hide.

In general, it is true that Ball Pythons prefer belly heat. It’s just how they are. In the wild, they spend as much time hiding as possible during the day. We can’t really blame them – I wouldn’t want to get eaten by a Baboon or Monitor Lizard either. The result is of course that they are used to getting most of their heat through their substrate.

Where things get complicated is when Ball Pythons live in large enclosures. In these situations, they need an ambient temperature of around 76 – 86f (24 – 30c) at night so that they feel comfortable coming out to stretch and explore.

In this case, a heat lamp of some description is usually the best option for your pet. Just remember that in any enclosure over 3 ft (1 m) long it’s a good idea to also include a heat mat.

Also on this topic:

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