Ball pythons come from areas that are rather warm-hot, so you must take extra care when setting up their heating and lighting. In this post, you will find a full guide on ball python heating setup and lighting setup, as well as best heating options, ideal temperatures, wattage, light schedules and more.
Ball python heating setup
To setup heating for a ball python, you will need to create a hot basking and a cool side. There are few options for a heating setup – heat lamps and heating pads/strips.
You will also need some other accessories to control and monitor temperatures and possibly light.
Ideal temperatures for ball pythons
- Ambient tank temperature – 80-85 Fahrenheit (26.7-29.4 Celsius)
- Basking area (1/4-1/3 of the tank) temperature – 87-94 Fahrenheit (30.5-34.4 Celsius)
- Cool side temperature – 76-82 Fahrenheit (24.4-27.7 Celsius)
- Night temperature – 80-83 Fahrenheit (26.7-28.3 Celsius)
- Winter temperatures (only if conditioning for breeding) – 70-75 Fahrenheit (21.1-23.9 Celsius), otherwise same
Please remember that ball pythons are cold blooded, so they can’t keep themselves warm without external heat. Make sure to create a warm end on a left or right side of the tank, so that there is a cool side too. Temperatures in the hides will be lower, and temperatures on higher surfaces – higher.
Your ball python will move from a hot to cool side when it feels the need to. Provide adults with slightly higher temperatures (in the higher range) than hatchlings and very young ball pythons.
Please note that temperatures must not drop at night, and you need to keep ambient tank temperatures at 80-83 F (26.7-28.3 C). If required, you can keep a ceramic heater bulb/heating pad on at night.
Any sudden temperature drops are very bad for ball pythons. That’s especially true when it’s digesting food. Anything over 95F/35 C or below 75F/23.8C is too high/low and will cause health issues.
Ball python heating options
Many ball python owners ask, ‘Should I use a heating pad or lamp’? Well, ball pythons don’t really require very bright lighting, so you should avoid using incandescent or similar heat bulbs. Your choice will depend on a type of your tank. If you wish to use a heating bulb, can you accommodate that?
Please do not use heat rocks for heating your ball python’s tank. Hot rocks can get hot too quickly and easily burn your pet ball python.
Option 1 – Under tank heater (UTH), or heat pad
A heating pad like this is one of the most common heating options for your ball python. It is easy to use, and goes underneath your tank to project heat.
When choosing a heating pad, make sure to note the size like this. The pad should only cover 25-33% of the tank’s size. This is important, so that you can have a warm basking and a cool spot.
However, if your house temperatures are very low, especially in winter, you can place a small heat pad under the cool side too, and use a bigger heat pad or a lamp on the warm side.
When setting up a heating pad, you must pair it with a thermostat like this. A thermostat will control your heating pad temperature, and keep/turn it on/off when temperatures get too low/high.
You will need to get a thermostat and plug your heating pad to it. On a thermostat, choose maximum basking temperature (up to 92-94 F), and minimum – 87-88 F for your heating pad. A thermostat will make sure that your heating pad works within this temperature range.
Please remember, that a heat pad must only go under the tank itself, and never inside! Otherwise, it will burn your ball python. A great tip is to slightly lift your tank from a table/surface, to prevent heat buildup under it.
That’s especially true if it’s a glass tank, as it can crack if heat cannot escape. You can use ‘rubber feet’ on each outside side of the tank to lift it up.
Heating pads will heat your ball python’s tank well if your room is not too cool. In cooler rooms, raising the tank temperature by few degrees might not be sufficient, so you will need to use another source of heat as well.
When measuring floor temperatures, make sure to place a probe under the substrate, as your ball python is likely to burrow. Temperatures under the substrate are going to be higher when using a heat pad under the tank. This will help prevent any burns in your ball python.
Option 2 – Heat cables
Another option that is similar to heating pads are heating cables like this, which come in various lengths. This thin cable can be laid under the tank in loops, and will give off heat.
Heat cables often radiate less heat and pads, but longer length can allow to cover a greater area. If using heat cables, you must connect it to a thermostat too. Heat cables can be a bit harder to setup than a simple heating, pad, though.
Option 3 – Ceramic heat emitting bulb (CHE) or a deep heat projector bulb (DHP)
Another heating option for your ball python is a ceramic heat emitting bulb like this. Ceramic heat emitting bulbs don’t produce any light, just heat. This is great for heating during the day and even night, when there must be no light. Deep heat projector bulb is also a bulb that emits also no light, and emits heat.
Both CHE and DHP are great for enclosures with a screen top (for example glass tank). If your enclosure has a screen top, you can house your ceramic heat emitter in a light dome like this. Always choose ceramic base holders/brackets. You would need to rest a dome on top of the air screen or clamp it a bit higher.
Moving it up and down will allow you to regulate temperatures. Don’t use a CHE bulb if you have a small and low tank – it needs to be on top to prevent your snake from touching it.
If your enclosure doesn’t have a screened lid (plastic/PVC/wooden), you can get a separate ceramic base bracket and screw it inside. Then, protect the bulb with a light guard like this. Light guard covers the bulb and prevents your ball python from touching it and burning itself.
If you choose to use a ceramic heat emitting bulb or DHP, also make sure to connect it to a thermostat like this. Take your thermostat’s probe and place it in the basking spot, so it can measure and control temperatures there.
Option 4 – Low wattage light bulb
As you will see in the next section, ball pythons don’t require too much light to stay happy and healthy. However, if your room or tank is generally dark, you can use a light bulb for both heat and light.
The best choices of bulbs would be flood lights or other lower wattage incandescent bulbs (50-60 watt or similar, depending on a cage and ball python size). Avoid using intense basking spotlights, as they get too hot and dry out the tank.
The best choice can be a heating pad + a 25-50 watt light bulb. But if the pad heats your ball python’s tank to desired temperatures, you can have a table lamp (in the room) or similar, to light up your ball python’s tank. Light shining in the tank will be sufficient.
Light fixture must also be connected to a timer like this and a thermostat. However, a simple turn on/off thermostat is not recommended for light bulbs. That’s because it will turn the lights on and off or cause flickering when temperatures get low/high. It can also cause a light bulb to burn out. A dimming thermostat would be necessary in this case.
Option 5 – Radiant heat panel
Radiant heat panels are also used for heating ball python enclosures. They are screwed on top of the enclosure ceiling and emit heat. Radiant heat panels are mostly used inside PVC and wooden enclosures.
Most radiant heat panels are better to be used in enclosures that are lower, up to 20″ high. If your enclosure is larger/higher, you might need to get a panel that is over 100 watts.
However, that will also depend on a full size of your enclosure, and most manufacturers have size recommendations. Sometimes you will have to use another source of heat with a radiant heat panel to keep stable temperatures. Radiant heat panel must also be connected to a thermostat.
Ball python lighting setup
Do ball pythons require a lighting photoperiod? Well, ball pythons are crepuscular/nocturnal so they don’t require any UVB or special light bulbs. But if you really believe UVB is necessary for your ball python, you can choose a low UVB (5.0) bulb that will project both visible light and UVB.
Your ball python must be given enough light to know when it’s day and night. If your room is well-lit, it might be enough to light your ball python’s cage.
But if not, you have a general lamp or similar near its tank. If using a normal bulb, make sure it’s fitted with a dimming tool. Too much light can cause stress in your ball python.
Inside, you can use low wattage incandescent, LED or other low heat emitting bulb. If it emits more heat, make sure to check that temperatures don’t get too high. If using a light bulb, make sure it’s connected to an outlet timer like this.
However, if you are planning to breed your ball pythons, it’s believed that providing lighting is beneficial. That will mimic times of the year, helping to induce breeding behavior.
In spring to summer, you can leave lights on for around 12 hours a day in a ball python’s enclosure. Then, in late fall, gradually reduce it to 10-11 hours. This will help your ball pythons get a sense of seasons, to promote breeding.
You can use fluorescent or general household bulbs with a dimming tool for lighting your ball python’s tank.
Don’t forget that bulbs can also emit heat, so choose low wattage and low heat bulbs, and make sure to monitor temperatures.
Controlling temperatures and lighting in a ball python tank
Apart from getting a light bulb and a heating element for your ball python’s tank, you will also need to control and monitor them.
As discussed above, you will need to use a thermostat like this to control temperatures in the tank. Connect your heating element to it – and once temperatures get too high, your thermostat will control the device.
If using a heating pad, place a thermostat probe on the bottom of the cage (you can use hot glue to stick it on the surface). For heating bulbs and heat panels, your probe can be dangled in the air, but make sure it’s not covered by decorations.
What is more, you will need to place at least 2 thermometers in your ball python’s tank. Place one on a basking side and cool side, and preferably – middle to read ambient temperatures.
Choose digital thermometers, preferably with a probe for better accuracy like this. Avoid stick-on or even analog thermometers, which tend to be very inaccurate.
On top of that, an infrared handheld thermometer like this will be very useful to check temperatures in various spots of the tank. Using a digital infrared thermometer, you can measure temperatures in various spots where your ball python spends most of its time.
Timers will be needed to control light bulbs any other electrical devices that you want to automatically turn on and off at specific times.
Ball python heating and lighting setup supplies
- Heating source
- Lighting source (if necessary)
- Thermometers – x2-3
- Handheld infrared thermometer
- Dimmer/rheostat (if necessary)
- Light bracket and light guard (if necessary to fix bulbs inside the cage)
Ball python heating and lighting setup summary
To summarize, you will find most common heating and lighting setup options for your ball python tank below.
- Heating pad only on warm side and outside source of light (if room is naturally well-lit and warm)
- Heating pad + low wattage ceramic bulb (if room is cool, but well-lit and doesn’t require extra light)
- Large heating pad on warm side and a smaller one on a cool side (if room is cool but well-lit)
- Light and heat producing bulb (flood/incandescent etc.) – required wattage can often range from 50-100 watt or similar (both light and heat). If overnight heat is needed, you can add a ceramic heat emitter or a heating pad
- Heating cables
- Radiant heat panel
- Ceramic heat emitter – if room is well-lit, no light is emitted
- Deep heat projector – if room is well-lit, almost no light is emitted
The most important thing is to setup lighting and heating for your ball python before you bring it home. Spend 1-2 weeks testing temperatures and controls to make sure everything is ideal. Add or remove heating options as needed, or increase/decrease wattages.
Thank you for reading this post on heating and lighting setup for ball pythons. To read more guides on ball pythons, see this resource page.