Why Is My Ball Python Burrowing?

Ball pythons, in the wild, often spend most of their time in termite mounds. Termites build shafts of dirt that reach up over the landscape, keeping the insects dry during the rainy season.

The ball python sharing their mound stays dry and warm during cooler, rainy weather, and cool and moist during summer drought.

Living inside the termite mound also keeps the snake safe from predators.

It’s natural for ball pythons to want to live inside a burrow, but the substrate in the bottom of their cages is not deep enough.

When a ball python tries to build a burrow anyway, chances are that it senses something wrong with its enclosure.

It may be anxious about some potential predator it can sense from inside its enclosure, or suffering from low humidity, or too hot, or may be sick.

Ball Pythons Burrow When They Don’t Have Hides

Every snake needs a place to hide. Snake hides are important for snake health.

A hide is just a place for your pet snake to spend its time where it won’t be seen.

The same way other snakes spend most of their time under rocks or logs and ball pythons spend most of their time inside termite mounds, it is only natural for a snake to expose itself to potential predators as seldom as possible.

A snake hide gives your ball python that same sense of security in its terrarium.

Any material you can’t see through that you have cut in a half-circle and laid open side down makes a snake hide.

Many beginner ball python owners realize their snakes need a hide, so they cut the ends out of a shoebox or use a cardboard cylinder.

Cardboard snake hides don’t work very well. They soak up moisture from the substrate you place on the bottom of your snake’s cage.

They fall apart in just a few days and have to be replaced.

Half of a short piece of a hollow log turned open side down makes a durable snake hide. Durable, washable materials like ceramics, plastics, and metal are better still.

You can find a good selection of plastic snake hides that look like wood online or at the pet supply store.

Every snake needs at least one hide, but ball pythons need two. That is because their enclosures should have a warm side and a cool side.

Place one hide on the warm side of the cage and the other hide on the cool side. That way, your ball python will have the privacy it wants at the temperature it needs.

Your Snake’s Enclosure May Be Too Small

If you have given your snake a place to hide, or two places to hide, and it still wants to burrow, there can be another problem. Its enclosure may be too small.

An adult ball python needs a space at least 2 feet (60 cm) long, 3 inches (75 mm) wide, and 3 inches (75 mm) deep to curl up and hide.

Anything smaller leaves it feeling out in the open. If your snake’s home is not large enough to give it at least one secluded spot of this size, then it needs a larger terrarium or vivarium.

Ball pythons can spend their entire lives in small plastic bowls, but you want to enjoy your ball python, too.

Plan on giving your ball python an enclosure that is at least 36 inches by 18 inches by 12 inches (91 cm by 46 cm by 31 cm) , length, width, and depth.

It is less expensive to give your ball python a home it can grow into than to buy a succession of larger enclosures as it reaches its adult size.

Your Ball Python May Be Getting Used to Its New Home

Another reason that your pet ball python may be burrowing is that it is still getting used to its new home.

When you get a ball python at a pet shop, it has already had several traumatic experiences. It has been moved from the clutch of eggs where it hatched to its own container at the snake breeder’s farm.

Then it made a trip to the pet shop, where it was on display for 14 or more hours a day.

Then you have taken it to its new home, or maybe two new homes, if you didn’t have its terrarium set up when you bought it.

By the time you get your new pet ball python in its forever home, it will probably be very stressed out. It may want to burrow and hide itself until its first feeding time.

If you are trying to house several snakes together, newcomers are almost guaranteed to be stressed out.

If possible, always keep newly acquired snakes in quarantine for six weeks to make sure they don’t have any transmissible diseases and so they don’t fight with your other pet snakes.

Your Ball Python’s Enclosure Is Too Dry

Screened, glass terrariums are a great way to display a beautiful rare ball python morph.

They make accessing your ball python easy, and they make your pet instantly visible when you enter the room.

Unless you live in a warm, humid climate like Florida or the Southeastern US, however, a screened enclosure can easily become too dry for your ball python.

If you live in a desert area, or if your home has forced heat in the winter, you need a sturdy cover to keep humidity inside your ball python’s enclosure.

How humid should you keep your ball python’s home?

In the parts of Africa where ball pythons are native, humidity can hover around 80 percent even in the dry season.

However, the termites that build homes for ball pythons create mounds with just the right amount of ventilation to keep moisture from accumulating inside.

Your ball python needs a moist atmosphere, but not so moist that drops of water accumulate inside the cage.

Condensation can breed disease. Your snake can get blister disease, and mold can grow inside the enclosure.

Measure the humidity inside your snake’s enclosure with a gauge called a hygrometer.

You can find this kind of humidity meter at almost any pet shop. Keep the humidity inside your ball python’s enclosure at 50 to 70 percent.

Mist the cage once a day if the humidity falls below 50 percent.

Make sure your snake always has water to drink, but reduce other sources of water inside the cage if the humidity starts getting over 70 percent.

You may need to replace the substrate if it gets soggy.

Your Ball Python Is Too Hot

Adequate warmth is very important for ball pythons. Like other reptiles, ball pythons cannot generate their own body heat.

It is especially important for them to be warm while they are digesting their food, so their digestive enzymes will work before the animal they ate starts to decay inside their bodies.

Ball pythons need to be kept warm, neither hot nor cold. Hatchlings need a “hot spot” of between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 29 degrees Fahrenheit), and older snakes need a slightly warmer hot spot between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29 and 32 degrees Celsius).

The air inside the cage does not have to be as hot as the hot spot. Air temperatures as low as 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) are OK for ball pythons.

Your snake’s behavior will tell you whether its hot spot is too hot. If your snake is always soaking in its water dish, or always trying to burrow, its home may be overheated.

On the other hand, if your snake spends all of its time on the warm side of its tank and rarely ventures over to its cool spot, its cage may be too cold.

Don’t try to keep tabs on the temperature inside your snake’s enclosure with thermometer strips.

These strips measure the temperature of the glass that you stick them on, not the air inside the cage.

An infrared thermometer gun is the most accurate tool for measuring the temperature inside your ball python’s enclosure.

You can avoid overheating your ball python’s enclosure by using heat ropes, heat cable, or heat panels that come with a thermostat.

Most thermostats come with a single probe, but multiple problems will help you make sure your snake has the temperature gradient it needs to stay comfortable in its cage.

Don’t use hot rocks or heating lamps. They can burn your snake.

Your Ball Python Is Sick

When a ball python hides or attempts to burrow for a week or more, and you have checked the temperature in the cage and provided it with normal hiding places, the problem may be that it is sick.

If your ball python is lethargic for a week, call your vet to ask for advice.

How Do You Keep Your Ball Python from Burrowing?

Here are the steps to go through to keep your ball python from burrowing:

  • Make sure the temperature inside your ball python’s cage is neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Measure humidity with a hygrometer, and mist the enclosure daily if it is below 50 percent. Adding live plants to your snake’s terrarium will also help regulate humidity.
  • Make sure your ball python’s enclosure is large enough, and provide at least one hide.
  • Take your snake to the vet if it is lethargic or stays in its burrow for a full week. Make sure your snake does not have a physical ailment.

Above all, be patient. Your snake will stop burrowing when it is comfortable in its cage.

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