Ball Python "Tank Requirements"

Lately ive been absolutely bombarded for even SUGGESTING an adult ball python can thrive in a 20 long. This is happening on our favorite app, tiktok. Any professionals here to chime in on what they think? Ive kept for 4 years and never had a single issue with a 20 long. Ive had more issues with much larger tanks. But someone with more experience, please leave your thoughts. As well as your thoughts on rack systems and larger tanks.

The running argument is they have to have something they can stretch out in. However, in my experience they seldom even do that. Even in a larger tank.

Im absolutely open to new knowledge. If you have any credentials that would make your research more acceptable, leave that too.

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I wouldn’t keep an adult in a 20 gallon. It’s fine for a hatchling but as they get bigger they really do make the most of any space and enrichment given to them. In the early morning or evening mine can be seen hanging on branches or a hammock as well as leisurely scooting around. I see more issues with keeping an animal in an enclosure that’s too small than too large

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I have one male who absolutely thrived in a 20 gal. My oldest male? impossible. The difference is one male has severe scar tissue from a burn he had when I first rescued him and he’s on the small side, about 900 grams. He doesn’t come out much and he’s a bit ‘handicapped’ and moves more like an inchworm sometimes. The small space is fine.
My oldest male is larger than many adult females and if eating weekly has weighed in at 2600gr. That 20 gallon would have enough room for him and his water bowl.

Regardless of “will they stretch out” I like to make sure that any tubs I have adults housed in is double the length of the snake at least when you add together the length of all sides. IE: all sides should add up to at least 48 inches for a 24 inch snake. For me, if a snake is housed in anything smaller, it’s usually temporary like quarantine. If not, the animal gets outside time to stretch out and enrich a bit more.

There’s always going to be an ‘old’ way of thinking and the ‘new’ way. For larger scale breeders, the newer ways are not really feasible. On the other hand… some of the ‘new’ ways don’t always work. I feel like there’s more keepers now with baby snakes that don’t eat because they feel tubs are shameful or cruel. They buy these large cages for snakes that are so small they could get lost. Sometimes (like in the case of my oldest female, Jolyne) a tub is the only place they can be housed safely. They stress and slam the glass, they don’t eat, they just don’t thrive. Sometimes you get the opposite and you get a wonderfully outgoing snake. IIRC, a fairly well known breeder lost a snake in a freak accident with a PVC enclosure.

The important thing is maintaining the health of the animal. We all want to do right by them. I can’t wait to get a few PVC enclosures one day to show off a few of my babies, but if they don’t do well in the larger or more open enclosure? Back into the tub they’ll go. Or to a different setup that they’re comfortable in.

I’m in that weird between place. Old enough to know the old ways but new enough to want to keep learning on how to do better. A lot of the newer voices can mean well…but don’t always express it that way which can be a turn off to people who are just starting in the reptile communities.

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They can live in one but i would never use a 20 gal tank. I mean there’s no room for hides! but if you want to go small space, a bin is better. (it’s like one big hide, but you can then fit smaller hides inside it!)

That is, in my very little informed beginner opinion. I don’t know 50 years of BP breeding but I know a lot of animal behavior. They seem to do okay in bins with the low ceiling and darkness, feeling secure.

Clearly they can flourish this way because we end up with healthy animals who’ve been raised in bins. Bins work. Some animals insist on them in fact, and won’t eat until they feel more snug.
However, we’ve also seen successful happy animals from being given as much space as possible with lots of hides and cover. I do this approach myself because I want to display my snake, not breed him, so I prefer to give him a wide visual space for him to climb and me to enjoy.

It seems to me to come down to what your situation will prioritize:

for saving space or a snake that feeds only in a small space- then you want a rack with bins. They seem to feel secure that way

If you want to be able to see the animal a lot, you have to give it multiple secure places to go, and that requires a much bigger space with viewing front and so on. For that you need an Enclosure, and I’d go 4x2x2 if you can.

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If it is healthy and eating regular and correct size food, a smaller area will work. But, I would also let it out often to stretch out.

Personality, I would never use one except in an emergency/temp situation. As others have said, there would not be enough room for a hide and water.

One thing not mentioned, the small area is not enough space to have a hot side and cool side. This is critical as it will need to have options to help regulate it’s body temperature. That is unless you have figured out a way to make this happen.

Hope some of the information you are getting helps you figure things out.

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Not a professional, don’t keep BPs, but I wouldn’t keep any animal of that size in a 20g. You say you’ve had issues with larger tanks, but that could easily be because they weren’t set up to make the animal feel safe or they weren’t given enough time to adjust. A 20 long won’t give most BPs enough space to exhibit normal behaviors or really do any meaningful moving around/exploring. It also heavily limits the temperature gradient, basking capabilities, etc. Think about it this way, you could live in your bedroom 24/7, but would you want to?

In my personal opinion, if you’re going to go for enclosures, bigger is always better, especially in a pet home. Same with racks, which have their places, too. My main issue is the lack of enrichment opportunities, either in an enclosure or a tub/rack. As long as you’re engaging their minds it’s less of a space issue, but either way, if you can provide more space, you should.

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Here’s a little visual representation for you.
These are the two males I mentioned on a 20L gallon tank screen. Neither snake is actually being housed in the 20 gallon at the moment.

When someone says, “You can absolutely house any male ball python in a 20 gallon long”… I have to show them pictures of this boy. He would be miserable in there. Contrary to what some people believe, they can get quite large sometimes.
My handicap boy? He’d be fine. But I do have him in a larger tub for now since I had open space for him and like posted above, more space is good.

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This is fantastic! Most pet bps I see dont get past 1500g, but this is a wonderful representation.

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Beautiful snakes! I love their colors!!! :heart::+1::blush::sunglasses::snake:

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He’s my favorite. :heart:
Dilandau. Hatched in 2000. I actually bred him for the first time this year so I can keep a family lineage from him.
He was just a little baby when I moved across the US with him. My first ball python. He’s been through paper lined shoeboxes to sweater boxes. 20 to 40 gallon aquariums and CB70 tubs.

He’s doing best in a tub at the moment. I haven’t had an issue with him eating since he’s been in one. He’s a bit fussier and goes off food more when he’s in an open fronted enclosure. He’s been known to go off food for 3 or 4 months in them while only refusing for shed cycles while in the tub.

Because of his size and temperament he’s the one that I introduce to people first as a biggest and bestest.

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There’s no one right black and white answer for this, but we keepers do tend to have some strong opinions on it because while it can be done on a case by case basis as long as the animal is healthy and happy, in most situations with average adults and casual keepers, it’s below the ideal. I have personally done it for smaller individuals but only for short periods. Also, it’s really hard just to get two appropriately sized hides, let alone a water dish big enough to soak in, inside of a 20L. I usually have to downsize the water dish to make it work.

Personally, i use a minimum of a 36Lx18W. It’s not huge, but it can fit a big enough water bowl and two hides minimum no questions. Solid heat gradient available as well. As far as the snake to tank ratio, i think this one has just recently been outdated since the FBH just recently released new minimum calculation strategies over in the Euro herp society, (which i will try to add here) but my minimum standards are L+W=S. (length, width, snake)
So for instance, José lives in a 3x18. (Smaller sizes work for him) and he is 4ft long. 3+1.5=4.5. He technically has half a foot more growth to do before i would put him in something bigger. (Which at almost 8 years old is probably not going to happen any time soon.)

The Federation of British Herpetologists’ guidelines are obviously a bit more complicated to decipher and translate to ‘The Bald Eagle Measurement System’ but essentially what I got out of it is that given that the tank is properly set up for the land type of your snake, (arboreal, terrestrial, semi arboreal, etc.) Then the minimum would be the total length of the snake from nose to tail tip should be no bigger than the length of the enclosure from the bottommost corner on the front left, diagonally across the cage to the topmost corner on the back right. Essentially allowing you to consider climbing space as an alternative to excessive length (where applicable) and being in general a lot easier to apply to a wider variety of keeping styles.

Here is the website itself:

Here is a video breaking it down for easier digest:

It’s a controversial topic, and no one has the right answer. I initially agree with 'as long as your snake is healthy then you’re good, and yet i always strive to think about all that we don’t know about snakes and how they operate and how we can continuously try to improve their lives in our care. There’s so much we’ve yet to learn about their emotional capacity, the capability to develop depression, (which i think is proven?) And therefore what we can do as keepers to ensure the mental wellness of our animals and not just the physical. It’s important to challenge ourselves to try bigger and better and add stimulation, enrichment, and experiences to better meet those needs in our pets.

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Love this! Thank you

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Just wanted to circle back on this months later, I’m no expert on ball pythons, that’s for sure as a whole, but I do LOVE myself some varied enclosures. I have tub setups, glass aquarium setups, wooden vivariums, and my other homemade acrylic cages along with my sterilite bin racks. Since I have such a varied amount of enclosures I just wanted to chime in on the situation since I feel like regarding advice this is the one and only place I have space to speak on since I build and manage most of my enclosures, and the ones I don’t are generally modified to be more fit for a snake so I have a bit of experience regarding what I feel best is for at least my snakes and what materials, sizes, and formats I go with.

Personally I’d say there’s no right answer, for a 20 gallon you can squeak by with one with juveniles, in my mind it’s not the size itself of the enclosure since I’ve seen plenty of 500g adult males go fine in a 20 gallon tub or rack, but 20 gallon longs are so skinny is the problem, a wide bodied animal in a narrow area doesn’t fare well generally if it’s trying to explore or find somewhere to get comfortable. The second thing I’ll say is that I house my ( small, stunted, or juvenile) ball pythons in roughly 12 gallon racks because it’s plenty of space to move around for them… at the moment. This is where the confusing part starts, after the racks or tubs or whatever I feel necessary to start a BP off in, it’s completely depends on the size and behavior of the snake afterwards, I’ve personally NEVER had issues besides the very start of ball python keeping having a nervous animal, but this is because I follow the “rules of cluttering” that I keep in mind while putting together an enclosure, I also put them against a wall so at least 2 walls are covered for them, preferably 3.

Now you may ask “what the hell does rules of cluttering even mean, it sounds a bit unnecessary” and I’ll be honest it is but it helps me keep a little checklist in my mind all the time, and I flex it depending on the snake. The rules of cluttering are essentially 1. Have a basking spot 2. Have a good heat gradient 3. Provide some form of light for a proper circadian rhythm and proper eye management 4. Have at least 1 actual hide and 2 safe spots/hiding spots or 2 actual hides 5. ALWAYS hard scape (wood and rocks) diagonally first to provide more security and dimension 6. Plant, real or fake, by each hide and in each available corner 7. At least one rock to help with shedding 8. Water dish in the center of the cage so the water doesn’t get evaporated too quickly 9. Use enough substrate where it’s about the same thickness of the ball python’s body MINIMUM for proper humidity 10. Always while in progress, at safe steps, let the ball python explore the cage a bit to get more familiar with it over time and to ensure that it’s a setup your ball python feels comfortable in

As for actual cage sizes, I aim to go for the length of the snake with a more width to it than half the snake’s body. But sometimes I have snakes who just don’t want that! They’ll generally let me know by acting stressed or just having discomfort, and I’ll whip up a new cage for them. I’m gifted to have the resources available to do that but generally this is either clutter changes or a cage swap with somebody. Best examples I have right now for cage sizes is I have a full grown nearly four foot female in a 40 gallon because she’s comfy, but I have a 500g hardly passing 3 foot male who gets his own 6 foot long enclosure. As for stress issues regarding bigger open enclosures, either it tells me I screwed up on the enclosures insides or I screwed up on the enclosure in the first place. Overall my goal is to at least work them up to a cage that I feel is safe and healthy for them and I’ll refuse to let them stay in too small of and enclosure for health reasons, or too large of one for escape safety reasons. In a bit here I’ll attach some images of my enclosures for some of my animals as examples, currently it is renovations and cleaning day as I announced in the chat meaning today is a good day for chipping in with actual images in tow too.

Overall it’s all very variable but it boils down in my head to what size seems safest and healthiest, which includes me asking the questions “does my snake feel safe?” “Do they have enough space to exercise and stretch out fully?” “Can I provide the proper resources in that size or shape space?” And generally I should answer yes to these three questions no matter what. Could I put one of my babies into a 20 gallon long, close the lid after some lid modifications, and call it good and most likely if set up properly it would be good? Yes. Would this apply to my 1300g+ snakes? Absolutely not. It’s all up to the owner, but it’s also up to the owner to realize that there’s no true answer as to what size is best or correct besides the one that is individual specific for your snake and ensures they’re a happy, healthy, stimulated animal. I also stress stimulation since a lot of racks don’t do that and they’ve done studies that underdressed dark racks can cause developmental issues, so so much as some wood and a plant can do wonders, for my ball pythons I just decorate their cages to hell, but my garters even get toys sometimes which they’ll perch themselves on and bump around, even if it’s something like your snake smelling a new or different smell, or feeling a new or different texture, it does wonders! In a bit once I’m done with some enclosures I’ll attach pics and examples of how I do my enclosures :slightly_smiling_face:

In the end I agree with TikTok about how a 20 long is generally not suitable for an adult since it usually does not provide the proper space for tools to a ball python’s success (as in developing properly and living a good accommodated life) but I disagree with the fact you were bombarded, it’s never ok to bombarde somebody when it covers something like animal care for the better good of the owner and for the better good of the animals.

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IMO, a 20 long is too small for an adult ball python. The 12" depth isn’t wide enough for an adult, and the 30" length is also a bit tight. I think that a space roughly 36" x 18" is needed for an adult BP to thrive. That’s basically the equivalent of an FB70 tub or 40g breeder. Even that will be tight for a big female BP. Ignoring the issues with glass screen-topped enclosures, a 20g long is big enough for a ball python of up to around 800g, or a little under 30".

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@armiyana Very well said and speaks for at least the both of us! :+1:

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Update for me too!

After trying out a 40 gallon, I can say I now too believe that its a good minimum for glass tanks in adult ball pythons.

My lady now clocks in at 1600 grams and around 4ft long. She loves her new 40 and im sure shes going to love her bioactive 40 when its complete.

I do have a 450g pewter that has duck bill and is a little stunted, but I do want to move her to a 40 the moment shes large enough.

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i dont have much experience with ball pythons, as im just on my journey with two currently. but i have had hundreds of expensive exotic fish. i always considered going bigger with all of my tanks(and i did, 190 gallons), and my thought process was, “if im taking these fish from the wild, they are going from miles of river, to 6’X30"X20”. i need to make them as happy as possible, with giving them the most space i can give them and afford." i am now applying that same thought process to my BPs. my 3’6" albino is in a 3X2X2. next year im going to upsize, and give that tank to my much smaller OD pied. its all for the love of the animals, and the health of the animals.

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