Do Ball Pythons Need UVB Light?

Ball pythons don’t need UV-B light to survive. After all, they are crepuscular snakes.

They prefer to curl up in a burrow during the day and only come out to hunt at night.

Scientists have confirmed that ball pythons don’t need UV-B light to make vitamin D to keep their bones healthy.

But that doesn’t mean that you should keep your ball python in the dark. UVB light isn’t important for your ball python’s bone health, but it is important for your ball python’s skin health.

UV-Light Kills Mites

Mites are tiny eight-legged parasites. They are arachnids, like spiders, crabs, scorpions, and ticks.

Mites get their nourishment by attaching to the skin or scales of an animal and sucking its blood.

They puncture the soft skin between the scales of a snake with their crab-like mouth parts known as chelicerae. The saliva of the mite triggers an allergic reaction in the snake.

One of the first things owners will notice when their snake is infested by mites is redness and swelling on the sides of its head.

Mites burrow into the pit organs that give ball pythons the ability to detect infrared radiation and heat signatures. The mites and their excrement accumulate inside the pit organ, and the mites later spread to the rest of the snake’s body.

Mites can trigger allergic reactions everywhere they bite the snake. They also transmit disease.

Mites can inject parasites they pick up by feeding on other animals into a snake.

One of the most common parasitic infections transmitted in this way is filariasis. This parasite travels to the lymph glands and causes extreme swelling.

These tiny parasites can also transmit the virus that causes inclusion body disease (IBD).

There is no cure for IBD. It causes stomatitis, and extreme inflammation in and around the mouth, making eating and drinking impossible.

The IBD virus can cause pneumonia, leukemia, and damage to the snake’s central nervous system. Snakes in the later stages of IBD sometimes lose their ability to strike at food and sink their teeth into themselves instead of their prey animal at feeding time.

The only way to free a ball python from its own bite is to break its teeth.

Every female mite can lay thousands of eggs. A legion of snake mites can drain your ball python’s blood, causing severe anemia.

Your snake can get a bacterial infection of the blood known as sepsis, and die a lingering, painful death.

How Can You Know Your Ball Python Has Mites?

Sometimes, you will find tiny specks on your snake or in its water bowl. Different kinds of mites have slightly different appearances:

  • Ophionyssus acertinus mites are red or orange specks. These mites can hop off the snake and infest you.
  • Ophionyssus natricis mites are red or black specks. These mites can also infest lizards. Human infestation with this species has been recorded in the medical literature.
  • Trombiculidae mites are chiggers, also known as berry bugs. Your ball python can pick up an infestation of these red mites if you let it out for exercise on your lawn.

You won’t always see these mites, but there are other signs that tell you your pet ball python has been infested with mites:

  • Your ball python seems irritated and restless.
  • Your ball python seems to have lost its appetite.
  • Your ball python spends more time soaking in its water bowl than it does in its hide.
  • Your ball python’s head twitches.
  • Your ball python rubs the sides of its head against any rough object in its enclosure, such as an ornamental branch or its hide.
  • Your ball python digs into the substrate at the bottom of its cage as deep as it can.
  • Your ball python weaves its head from side to side.

If your ball python has mites, you may see tiny red or black dots moving under its chin or around its nose, mouth, and eyes.

You may find specks on your hands after handling your pet snake or anything in its cage. Your ball python may have swelling around the eyes, or be unable to shed.

It’s best to let your vet take a look at your ball python for a definitive diagnosis when any of these symptoms appear.

Your vet can give you advice on the best way to deal with any infections that the mites may have given your snake. And your vet can give you advice on how to get rid of the infestation.

Prevention Is Easier Than Cure

It’s not easy to treat mites in snakes.

The best way to kill the mites is to give them a betadine (povidone-iodine) bath. Mix water with betadine until the mixture has the color of a cola drink.

Use it to fill your snake’s water bowl.

Then have your snake soak in the betadine mixture for at least an hour. When it gets out, put mineral oil inside the pits on the side of its head to suffocate any mites that may have survived treatment with betadine.

This gets the mites off your snake, but it doesn’t get them out of your snake’s enclosure. You will need to replace substrate and sanitize hides and decorations with a mixture of water and vinegar.

Rinse everything you cleaned with vinegar and water before you put it back in your ball python’s cage. Don’t use bleach. Bleach can be irritating to your snake.

If you let your snake out inside your house, you will need to sanitize everything it touched. Steam cleaning is best.

You can kill mites on the carpet with pyrethroids, such as permethrin, metofluthrin, and tetramethrin, but after the mites are dead, you will need to steam clean the carpet to get the poisons out.

If your ball python picked up chiggers when you took it outside, you can treat your lawn with carbaryl (Sevin).

But there is an easier way.

Killing Mites with UV Lamps

UV light kills eggs, nymphs, larvae, and adult mites. You will need a UV-C light, and you will need to irradiate infested surfaces for at least an hour three times, with a day between treatments.

Use other treatments to get the mites directly infesting your snake. UV light only disinfects the items with which they come in contact.

Don’t give your ball python a UV light treatment. Place it in a second cage or vivarium while you are using UV to disinfect its home.

Each UV-light treatment only kills about 55 percent of mite eggs and 70 percent of adults.

You will need to make several passes to get rid of them all. But UV light leaves no toxic chemicals behind and costs almost nothing after you buy the UV lamp.

If you combine UV light treatment with cleaning out your ball python’s enclosure with hot, soapy water and a rise, you will get them all.

Ball pythons caught in Africa for sale in North America sometimes carry ticks. They are easier to control.

Just physically remove them from your snake’s skin with tweezers, making sure you do not leave its mouth parts behind.

Lighting to Display Your Ball Python

Although ball pythons don’t need UV light for health, every ball python owner wants a lighting system so everyone can appreciate their beautiful colors.

Here are some tips for choosing the right lighting system for your ball python’s enclosure.

  • Consider using a fluorescent bulb instead of a ceramic heating coil or a heat lamp to keep your ball python warm. The fluorescent bulb emits full-spectrum light that can illuminate all of the colors in your ball python’s scales.
  • Ball pythons come from equatorial Africa, where days and nights are about 12 hours long all year round. They need a regular cycle of dark and light to keep up their appetite. Get a timer for your lighting system to make sure your pet gets daytime rest and nighttime active time.
  • If you decide to add a UV light source to your ball python’s enclosure, keep this in mind: UV-B and UV-C are different parts of the ultraviolet spectrum. UV-B light is visible to snakes. They can use it for seeing things in their cage. But they should have hides where they will be in the shadows when they want to rest. UV-C light can cause sunburns in snakes and people, and is for disinfection only.
  • LED lights are OK, as long as they are on a timer so your snake can tell night from day, so consider giving your ball python two different lighting systems. Fluorescent or LED lights can light up the cage 12 hours a day so you can enjoy your ball python’s colors. Then you can use an infrared (IR) lamp as a heat source 24 hours a day, if necessary. Ball pythons can sense IR light at night. It does not disturb them during the day. And they can use IR to find objects in their enclosure and to sense when you are coming to visit them.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lighting for Ball Pythons

Q, What is the least expensive way to give my ball python the lighting it needs?

A. Your ball python will be fine with normal overhead room lights, if you remember to turn them off at night.

You will enjoy your ball python more with full-spectrum fluorescent lights. If you have trouble remembering to turn them off at night, put them on a timer.

Q. What kind of light can I use at night if I want to watch my ball python?

A. Use an IR light or an LED light with a red filter. You will get a different perspective on your pet’s color scheme, and the disturbance to your snake will be minimal.

However, turn off any light not used for heating at night when you aren’t viewing your snake.

Q. Should I play with a ball python during the day or at night?

A. Ball pythons are more relaxed during the day and more alert at night. Your ball python will be disturbed less if you handle it during the day, than if you handle it at night.

You will have a happier relationship with your ball python if you leave it alone at night.

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