How to Set Up a Plastic Tub for Ball Pythons - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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How to Set Up a Plastic Tub for Ball Pythons

Felecia has been an online writer for over four years. Her articles often focus taking care of pet snakes.

An adorable closeup of a pinstripe ball python!

An adorable closeup of a pinstripe ball python!

Tub setups are all the rage with ball python breeders, collectors, and serious enthusiasts! Even I use a plastic tub setup for my ball python, and always have. They have so many advantages over glass, but that's for another article. Here, I will tell you how to set up a plastic tub enclosure for a ball python and what you'll need to get started.

Supplies for Setting Up a Plastic Tub for Ball Pythons

  • digital temp gun
  • digital thermometer(s) with probe
  • hygrometer (digital works best)
  • thermostat or rheostat to control heat
  • THG or Flexwatt heat tape (or appropriate UTH)
  • newspaper, aspen, carefresh, or paper towels
  • plastic tub, such as an underbed Sterilite
  • soldering gun
  • water bowl
  • hides (such as: overturned bowls, shoe boxes, or professional reptile hides)
  • duct tape or foil tape
  • strong, large binder clips
A 41 qt underbed tub,

A 41 qt underbed tub,

Steps for Setting a Tub for Pythons

  1. Obtain a tub of appropriate size, depending on your snake. Always go for flatter and longer rather than wider or taller, although a tub should not be so short that you cannot fit a water bowl inside. A good tub for a subadult to adult male would be a 41 quart tub. Basic rule of thumb: make sure that the tub side length is at least equal to the snake's length. For a hatchling to juvenile, something the equivalent of a ten gallon tank will do. You can get these tubs for around $10 online or in stores like Big Lots or Walmart easily.
  2. Fire up that soldering gun! You can use a drill, but these tend to crack and make irregular holes. Simple use the gun to sort of melt holes in the sides (and lid, possibly), one every three inches or so. If the humidity is too high, add more holes. You can also use this to melt the plastic around any wheels, jamming them shut so they can't move.
  3. Install the thermostat/rheostat. This consists of plugging it into the wall and attaching the probe either on the physical heating element on the outside of the tub, or at the bottom of the tub underneath the substrate, touching the hottest spot.
  4. Install the undertank heater. For heat tape, you can tape the heating element directly on to the tub (provided that there is at least 1/4" inch separating the tub from the carpet/floor), but most breeders simply attach the heat tape to their shelving unit, with the tub sitting atop it. For heat pads, simply adhere the pad directly to the bottom of the tub, on the warm side. The UTH should cover about 1/3rd of the total tub, or an area about the width x length of the snake curled up.
  5. Immediately connect to your thermostat/rheostat! Do not allow heat tape to be in contact with the tub for any amount of time without regulation from a stat. This can easily burn the tub and the snake. Although heat pads may be lower power, they are just as or even more unrealiable, so always connect these to a stat as well.
  6. Install thermometers/hygrometers. A good idea is to feed the digital temperature probe fed underneath the newspaper/other substrate, over the hottest spot, and to install another thermometer on the "cold" spot. Hygrometers should not be placed directly near the water bowl and shouldn't be put on the hottest spot, either.
  7. Add a water bowl to the cool side. It should ideally be big enough for the snake to soak in, but if that takes up too much space, use something smaller. Short, heavy-ish bowls are best, since snakes love tipping their bowls over and spilling them!
  8. Add appropriately-sized hides (just large enough for the snake to fit in comfortably). These can be practically anything safe for snakes, although something that can be cleaned (or discarded) immediately after a poop is best. Put one hide on the warm side, and one on the cool side.
  9. Optional: add decorations like fake plants, fake rock formations, etc to enhance the cage's overall look. You might want to do this if the enclosure is incredibly large, to get rid of excess space and make your ball python more comfortable.
The beautiful normal ball python.

The beautiful normal ball python.

Five Quick Tips

  1. Any time you set up a reptile enclosure, make sure to provide an appropriate heat gradient. This means that the tub has a hot end, a warmish middle, and a cool end (where the water bowl will be).
  2. Digital temperature guns provide accurate, easy-to-read, instantaneous temperature temperature readings for a specific spot in your enclosure. This helps monitor your temperatures more directly and check to make sure your digital thermometers, placed on the hottest spot and one on the coolest spot, are working properly.
  3. A thermostat, or at least a rheostat (essentially, a heat dimmer) is absolutely vital for any reptile setup to prevent heating malfunctions and burns, and to establish an overall stable temperature gradient.
  4. I personally recommend non-loose substrates, such as newspaper or paper towels.

Why I Recommend Non-Loose Substrates

  • easy to clean
  • not at all dangerous (no danger of ingestion)
  • safe
  • cheap
  • and easy to obtain.

Proper Ball Python Temperatures

Side*F*C

Hot side:

82-85

27-30

Cold side:

75-81

24-27

Snakes

Note that these are only some of the most popular pet snakes out there. If your favorite snake is omitted, please share it below!

Three Important Warnings!

  • Never use a heat rock. They cannot be regulated via stat and can and probably will cause serious burns; no, snakes do not instinctively avoid something if it feels too hot, especially since they are not always capable of doing so in restricted spaces.
  • Always use a thermostat. I know I've already said this. I can't say it enough! If all you can afford is a crummy rheostat that will not keep the temperatures accurate, get that. It'll get the job done until you can save up enough money for a better thermostat.
  • Never never never ever use sand! This includes "safe" calcium sand. Do not even use sand for "sand" boas or reptiles that are from deserts! Just because a reptile is from an arid climate, such as a desert, does not mean that they spend most of their time in loose sand. Even so, in captivity, sand is much too dry, and very commonly causes impaction; no matter how careful you are, an animal on sand will be ingesting it or at the very least be in physical contact with it. Impaction can be deadly! Other substrates not to use include: pine and cedar which, despite their labels, are proven toxic to most small animals; crushed walnut shells, as they are incredibly dry and don't retain humidity; and etc.

Rack System

Another great housing option: racks!  Tubs fixed in a shelving unit with proper heating and heat regulation attached.  Most ball python breeders use these.

Another great housing option: racks! Tubs fixed in a shelving unit with proper heating and heat regulation attached. Most ball python breeders use these.

Are You Ready For a Pet Snake?

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. How Much Experience Do You Have?
    • I've had one snake, or know someone closely who has had snakes.
    • I've had a couple of snakes.
    • I've owned herps, but not snakes.
    • I'm a seasoned pro.
    • I've never owned a snake.
  2. How Much Space Do You Have?
    • A whole room.
    • A few square feet.
    • A large portion of a room.
  3. How Much Money Can You Spend?
    • As much as it needs.
    • I'm on a tight budget but will save for vet bills.
    • I'm on a tight budget and can't afford a vet, but will buy rats.
    • I'm not sure.
  4. Willing to Do the Research?
    • No. I know everything.
    • Yes. I'm always open to new opinions and results.
    • Yes, but I am wary of myths.
    • My parents/family/friends/etc taught me all I need to know and I'm set in my ways.
    • I am currently researching.
  5. Are You Willing to Thaw Out and Feed Dead Rats/Mice?
    • No. I want to feed live because it's more natural.
    • No. I am afraid of rodents/ No. I don't want rodents to die.
    • Yes, but I won't like it.
    • Yes, whatever it takes.
    • not sure
    • yes
    • no

Scoring

Use the scoring guide below to add up your total points based on your answers.

  1. How Much Experience Do You Have?
    • I've had one snake, or know someone closely who has had snakes.: +2 points
    • I've had a couple of snakes.: +3 points
    • I've owned herps, but not snakes.: +4 points
    • I'm a seasoned pro.: +5 points
    • I've never owned a snake.: +1 point
  2. How Much Space Do You Have?
    • A whole room.: +4 points
    • A few square feet.: +0 points
    • A large portion of a room.: +3 points
  3. How Much Money Can You Spend?
    • As much as it needs.: +5 points
    • I'm on a tight budget but will save for vet bills.: +4 points
    • I'm on a tight budget and can't afford a vet, but will buy rats.: -1 point
    • I'm not sure.: +0 points
  4. Willing to Do the Research?
    • No. I know everything.: -5 points
    • Yes. I'm always open to new opinions and results.: +3 points
    • Yes, but I am wary of myths.: +2 points
    • My parents/family/friends/etc taught me all I need to know and I'm set in my ways.: -1 point
    • I am currently researching.: +0 points
  5. Are You Willing to Thaw Out and Feed Dead Rats/Mice?
    • No. I want to feed live because it's more natural.: -5 points
    • No. I am afraid of rodents/ No. I don't want rodents to die.: -4 points
    • Yes, but I won't like it.: +3 points
    • Yes, whatever it takes.: +5 points
    • not sure: +0 points
    • yes: +4 points
    • no: -5 points

Interpreting Your Score

A score between -10 and -1 means: Ummmmmmm no. Sorry babe, you are not ready.

A score between 0 and 9 means: Hi! You need to do some work before you're ready to embark on the amazing journey of snake ownership. Save up the money, get over your fears, and talk to some experts (one with differing viewpoints, maybe?) and absorb all the knowledge out there.

A score between 10 and 15 means: You're preeettttty close to being ready for your very own snoot boot. Save up money, get over any fears, and absorb some more, new knowledge -- then stare at pictures of hoggies while you save up more money.

A score between 16 and 18 means: You're close! Go back, do your research a little bit more or save up the money and you'll be ready to get your very first pet noodle!

A score between 19 and 22 means: Yes. Go buy a snek. Buy all the sneks. You are ready, my child. Snek.

You're on your way to becoming a great ball python owner!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Felecia Burgett

Leave a comment below!

Dante on May 08, 2020:

I've actually heard that aspen bedding is not good for ball pythons.

Christine on July 13, 2019:

My favorite snake species is reticulated pythons.

Russell kitsmiller on May 26, 2018:

Im geting three young ballpythons and im looking for the right cage set up for them its us for two females and one male can you help me

Anna on March 19, 2018:

Can you post a picture of your setup so that I can have an idea of what the end product should look like?

totallyNotTheOP on January 03, 2016:

this hub is wack!!!!!!!!