Rack v Viv size query

So the query is, why are ball pythons ok to live in racks their whole life (which I know is perfectly suited to them) but it’s recommended that when keeping in a Viv a minimum size of 4x2x2 feet is required? The point to this is with racks being lot smaller than vivs, balls are perfectly content In those small confined spaces so why can’t I keep an adult ball in a Viv that’s bigger than a rack but a lot smaller than a 4x2x2? I genuinely can’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be ok, to me it seems pretty contradictory. If someone could shed some light that would be appreciated, maybe I’m missing something?

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What you’re encountering is the difference between pet keeping and breeding keeping attitudes. You are absolutely correct, in pet and naturalistic keeping circles it is recommended they have much more space to move around - racks are a “minimalist” type of keeping and the pet keeper belief is that while balls (or any animals really) can survive in racks, they do not thrive in them and push for larger sizes. Breeders, on the other hand, are more concerned about maximizing space so rack systems with much smaller enclosures are accepted. It’s a very nuanced topic, and basically comes down to the general idea that the animal should get plenty of space to move around, explore, etc. but that breeders believe themselves exempt from the space rule just because of the ease of care and space with rack keeping.

So long story short, it’s a very complicated and nuanced topic, but generally speaking, rack keeping is enouraged in breeding culture and larger viv keeping is encouraged instead of racks with pet keepers. The implication is that breeders take advantage of the animals by keeping as many as possible in small spaces and pet keepers care more about welfare and ethics (which is a whole nother conversation, and one I do often agree with in many regards). Essentially, breeders generally maintain the status quo (“we’ve been keeping in racks for decades, they’re fine”) while pet keeper culture often revolves around continually improving husbandry and enrichment for the animals. So you’ll get very different “minimum” enclosure requirements based on what particular individual you’re talking to.

And then some of us take the middle ground. I keep my snakes in racks due to space (I hope to upgrade my balls to boa-sized bins with windows), but at my house each bin has hides, fake plants, substrate, etc. (things that are not often provided by breeders keeping in rack systems but are very regularly provided in pet keeping circles). Generally speaking, bigger is always better - there is no detriment whatsoever to providing a larger space, so it’s a good thing to shoot for rather than “settling” for minimalist rack keeping. Ultimately you can keep your snake in whatever you would like to, just know that some people will likely be upset about it no matter which way you go.


Because the people recommending them have never kept more than 10-15 ball pythons at one time or have enough money that they could go out and buy a new car whenever they feel like it. Large (even small) scale breeders are not able to afford 4x2x2s for every single animal. For $2500 you could either buy
a) five-six 4x2x2s plus heating and decor
b) a FB Proline 70 that can hold 30 adult plus substrate, feeders, etc. with the leftover money from the rack.

Yes, I think most ball pythons would use and enjoy the extra space. Yes I keep all my animals over 18 inches for lizards and 4-4 1/2 feet for snakes in 4x2x2s. What to know how I do that? I only have a blue tongue skink and a Texas rat snake that fall into that size. Yes, I think people should provide more than the absolute minimum for their pets. While more space is definitely better, it isn’t necessary or even feasible for 99.99% of snake breeders.
We all care for these animals and different care doesn’t always mean something is good or bad, it is just that- Different.

So what should you get out of this?

Do your own research and find what is best for you and your animals, not what some dude with a single ball python or a guy with 5,000 snakes say


You can keep your snake in whatever you want technically, it’s all just recommendations based on different factors, it’s up to you to decide which matters to you. I think care can be put on a scale from bad to great, where small racks with nothing in them falls under bad, and big naturalistic tanks fall into great. Everything else is inbetween. You can mix different factors like a smaller than recommended viv, but with plenty of clutter, overhead heating, and UVB, and it would probably be better than a larger viv with basically nothing in it and only undertank heating. It’s also about opinion; based on my research into royals, I don’t believe racks are generally suitable due to their lack of height, but also not all racks are equal. A rack with a nice footprint is probably better than a tiny 20gal, even if the latter is taller. Basically it’s very nuanced, and it’s up to the individual to do proper research and figure it out for themselves.


I’m in the middle ground on the topic. I definitely agree with most of what was said above.
There are some VERY opinionated people on either end of the topic and those are the ones you need to kind of tone down a bit.

And I am also in the camp of doing what is right by the individual animal as well. For example, I have a girl I would love to put in a beautiful Viv setup. The problem is she is EXTREMELY defensive. I’ve tried a Viv setup with her and she was just on full strike mode for a month. Multiple hides, dense fake foliage…Even with a blanket over the front for 2 weeks, any time we took it away she’d go for the glass. She is much happier in a tub where she can’t see anyone. Sometimes it just happens. The import part is making sure your animals are safe, comfortable and cared for.
I also have a rescue male who I keep in a tub because he has a lot of anxiety and pain from a severe burn injury. He can’t have a big beautiful Viv because he physically cannot use it. He is content in a tub that he can inch along in. Especially now that I sized him to one he can use the low height to help maneuver himself around. He inches around like a worm because he can’t use his belly as effectively.

I do keep my ball pythons in racks at the moment. I have a small breeding colony and a couple of pets.
The two new SD Retics I purchased, though they can easily be housed in a rack as well, I picked up a second 4x2x2 since they came with one already. And I thankfully just cleared up some space in my office.
If I could (renting a place with friends ATM) I would have a wonderful setup with vivs for more than a handful of my BPs. At least for the ones that do tolerate the more open front. I’m also planning on upgrading more than a couple of my rack sizes for my biggest girls when I have the space.

When you have an owner looking to have a single BP as a pet, I definitely would recommend a large sized clear tub setup or a nice Viv setup and take the size and temperament of the animal into consideration. It would definitely be a shame for someone to have a beautiful animal and just cram them into a small dark tub just because. But still… Making sure the animal is comfortable and eating/acting well is always my first priority.


There’s a lot to be said about this idea that “big” and “naturalistic” being inherently better for all snakes and “racks” being worse. People need to get over the idea that just because it slides out of a drawer it’s somehow completely different from the same thing opening from the side.

There is a very loud and vicious mob led by a handful of influencers that promote this idea. So typically I don’t even bother discussing the pro’s and con’s rationally anymore because it’s a short hop from these people piling on that you’re an animal abuser because your enclosure slides out of a shelf instead of opening from the side or top.

Personally I think the absolute best you can do for a BP is to have a full tub setup (complete with hides/water) with a hole that allows the snake to go up into a viv (also complete with hides/water). You’ll find a Ball Python will spend the vast majority of its time in the refugium tub provided you are always on top of keeping it spotless. This setup is also really difficult to maintain though so it’s harder to keep on top of the stuff that makes the biggest differences to quality of life for the ball python.

Given that a BP would spend eg 90% of its awake time in the tub portion it is logical that if you need to simplify the setup for success, it’s best to keep the most desirable half (the tub) and get rid of the portion that is rarely used. But instead there’s people sending death threats that the opposite trade is the only ethical one.

I did the viv thing with my BPs for the first 3 years and after seeing how they changed for the better in tubs I will never go back unless it is the tub/viv combo.

Enclosure form factor is only a tool to achieve a healthy environment for a snake. Whether it is healthy for a snake depends on the synthesis of many different factors working together. There are countless ways of setting up an enclosure that result in healthy thriving Ball Pythons regardless of enclosure “type.” On the flip side you can make an unhealthy environment in countless ways both in a viv and a tub. If someone tells you that you have to only use one or the other, period, no other factors matter, or you’re an animal abuser: run as far as you can from that person.


At least from what I have seen, a lot of the influencers that spread this idea did so unintentionally. One big one that I can think of is Wickens wicked reptiles. He said some stuff that very easily could have been misinterpreted and in a lot of recent videos from the past year, it seems he had made an effort to show that racks aren’t inherently bad.

Can’t say the same about a very popular influencer who got out of reptiles a year or two ago…


I don’t participate here very much anymore for various reasons but I didn’t want to pass up this post without saying that I could not agree more with everything you have said. Bravo and thank you. The same goes for bio active, imo. Just because an animal is not living on a bio active substrate, it does not mean that said animal is not well cared for or cared about.


Definitely good people out there that like keeping in vivs better but are level headed about it. Wickens is a good one, Animals at Home is another one who’s well intentioned but I disagree with some of his opinions about what improves a BP’s wellbeing (he doesn’t even keep any BP’s afaik.)


You’ve received some great perspectives here. Basically what it comes down to is that you need to figure out what works best for you and your animal(s). So long as you’re meeting their basic needs (proper temps and humidity, water, security, cleanliness), do what works for you. So long as your animal is healthy and thriving, you can tune out a lot of the noise on this topic and do what works for you, your lifestyle, and your animal.


I’m going to be a bit blunt so sorry if I make some blood boil.
I’ve gone back and forth for a while but then heard of some studies and saw some pretty good points.
Here are the points I’ve gathered and so far agree with: The reason why ball pythons seem so much happier in a rack and eat better is because in a rack they have no enrichment. This sensory deprivation means that when they see a rat all their senses come to life. They seem to fear light because all they know is the dark racks. It has also been found that confining them in the small space actually stops things in their brains (could have been brain development that was mentioned). There is a lot more studies being pushed and found and more information being found, yet people still keep in racks ( I’m talking about not even for breeding purposes) because they are convinced it is better for the snake. I agree that breeders can’t do much else because of all those snakes, it is more convenient! But I am not going to be recommending racks for someone with a snake meant for pet keeping. There is some “proof” and just because a keeper with hundreds of snakes keeps them alive for a long time in a rack doesn’t mean it’s the best living situation or that the snake is happy. If you can then you should keep your snake in the actual best living condition. Even a human can live for a while in a dark room with no windows and no room to exercise if provided with food and water. The excuse that they can’t be happy or don’t care because they don’t feel emotion is well, an excuse. Something that is now being heavily debated but from what I’ve seen science is now pointing to yes they can. They don’t seem to care because how in the world are they supposed to tell you? Sometimes a rack is all they know because of the breeder they came from.

I’m not here to start an argument I’m here to put what I know and if anyone wants some more details I can link some videos I have saved that discuss this kind of stuff. Otherwise just check out Animals At Home podcast (some things are iffy), Reptiles and research, and HerpHQ (who has a great video explaining the whole reptiles and emotions thing). There are other sources but those are the mains that I go to now.
I’m honestly tired of seeing people refuse to even look into this new age of reptile keeping just because their old strategies are keeping something alive (don’t take that the wrong way, I’m just saying that information changes). Start making them thrive if you have the chance. Take a chance to find a new way to keep your animal healthy and happy. Our snakes deserve it. I become shocked when people don’t even want to take a chance with learning something new. I got Beans when he was a year old, not yet too used to the rack, and at the time I thought he needed to be kept in a tub and he hated it so much.
Please don’t come at me with “but you’ve only had one snake” because that doesn’t mean I can’t do research (just like anyone else can and should). You’ve never been burnt in lava but you know it will burn you. You aren’t told that you can’t say that because you’ve never even seen lava in person and/or been burnt by it. Experience is important but you still do research before you get an animal, you don’t just jump into it. Trying to make a point here, if you disagree then that’s not my problem. Please do your own research too!!!

Note: enriched racks/tubs can totally work in theory but ball pythons and other snakes need the chance to stretch out. In the wild they climb trees! There are so many videos and pictures of climbing ball pythons, and basking ones! Ever since I added a heat lamp and UVB light my ball python now basks and seems healthier.
Also I keep on editing this because I find new/better wording and better ways to organize what I’m saying.


I appreciate how much research and time you put into it, I see you post on this matter quite a bit on here and BP.net.
I will say the only thing that might miff me, but not make my blood boil, is just that individual snakes are not always the ideal case study. But the blunt posting seems to paint it as the end all be all. Thankfully not to the point that extremists on reddit or certain YTubers though. lol.
Edit: Don’t get me wrong though I totally appreciate the work to be less blunt and more understanding of individuals as well! Heck even I get kinda standoffish and such when things get worded a certain way and that is why I sometimes react a bit strongly as well. yay neurodivergence @_@;

I seem to always end up with the weird outliers though too. Like my dog who’s bloodwork came back spotless… but because the vet was one I worked with in the past, was willing to ultrasound her for me. Turns out she needed her gallbladder removed. So my 2 odd BPs just probably ended up with the right weirdo of an owner. lol.


Thanks for the reply! See I am somewhere in the middle, I love animals and snakes in particular as we all do of course and would love to display them (or atleast some) when I have the space. Personally 4x2x2 for me would just take up far too much space at the moment unfortunately. But I take great pride in creating naturalistic enclosures and it would be nice to display some royals to admire they’re beauty from a distance without having to open the containers all the time and without having to allocate a large space to put them. So for now are kept on containers equivalent to racks, I just wondered if there could be some sort of middle ground between the two which would suit myself and the snakes alike.


Thanks for your reply!

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You will have the extream on both sides. Research is great and recommend. But it also has to be talked with a grain of salt. You can find research on both sides and both can be very convincing. The true fact is that keeping, research, self testing, and time put into it is the only way to get true data. This can not be done with just one snake as your data is very limited to the behavior of one animal.

Starting out with just one pet in a glass enclosure many years ago, then expanding, I had a lot of time and setups along with research to know what works best for me and how my snakes react. I personally have found that there is no difference between a tank, bin, rack or whatever you use as long as it is setup correctly. The behavior of me snakes did not change depending on what they were in. And yes, I have had the same ones in different setups to experiment with.
When I had just one, I thought the setup was perfect and the best way to go, along with the research I did. Then as I expanded and had more years into it, I found out that it was not the best way or the only way. I could not have found this out if I just kept one snake. Every one knows that glass is the hardest thing to get setup and tuned in. But once you do, it can work. This is no difference then any other setup, other then they are easier to get and keep tuned in.

If given more space and options, they can roam more, but their attitude, behavior, health never change. (it is no different then living in a studio or 5 bedroom house. You will still find that you do the same things in both. You will wonder around more in a bigger place, but that is just because it is there.) And yes, people are not snakes, but a comparison of how living things behave. A horse that has a 1/4 acr or 5 acr is still just going to be seen wondering around the same way.


I totally get that, I agree that individual snakes are different and studies should be done with multiple subjects. I mentioned my own experiences just to kind of help back up my point.

I’m the same way! It’s why I strive to be as nice as I can muster with things. Yay neurodivergence indeed… :blush:


I like the point made above that as both approaches appear to yield healthy snakes, it’s down to you and your feelings on what’s best for your animals, but i particularly liked the point of
paying attention to what suits your individual animals.

A BP who was always cruising his bin might do better in a bigger drawer or a 2x4 enclosure, while a BP who nearly never leaves his hides no matter how the husbandry is tweaked… might just prefer small dark spaces at all times.

I also like the approach of one youtuber I follow- he breeds snakes, so his BPs live in good sized bins, while his more active SD retics have bigger enclosures, but this is the clever bit:
He takes them all out on a rotation for enrichment!
He’s got a “playpen” of various objects and things they can explore and interact with, or they get observed roaming time in snake-safe areas of his home. I think this is very clever as it allows the snakes to encounter interesting things but doesn’t take up as much space to keep them this way since he’s still getting the benefits of bins.

So if you wanted/needed to do bins, but were of the school of providing extra enrichment, not just introducing them to novel things like TP tubes or packing paper crinkles in their bins, you could set up a similar playground in a portable “puppy tent”.

I’m making something like this out of a little net butterfly enclosure
“tent”. I can pack it away when I am not using it.


Enrichment is definitely a fantastic addition to any keeping situation. I prefer bigger enclosures and would prefer to provide my animals with more space than the racks. I got the biggest bins I could manage and added hides and fake plants already, but to make up for the lesser space, I also take all of mine out regularly for enrichment - handling, exploration, I have a little pen that I set up for them with some things to climb on and smell.


That’s a great idea. I’ve been considering doing something like that myself. I have this little canvas playpen thing that I use for my chinchilla, and I’m thinking about getting a second one to use with my snakes. It has a canvas floor and a mesh top you can zip on it to make it completely enclosed, so it would allow the snakes to roam and explore while keeping them out of places they shouldn’t go (though obviously I’d supervise them just to be safe). I could do it up with various hides and climbing structures and tunnels and all kinds of fun stuff. I could even put it outside to let them get some sun.

I think stuff like that is beneficial even if you have a fairly large enclosure. Just getting to explore a new environment and new objects is good for their little brains, especially for snakes that are fairly confident and curious.


I just got a viv thats a teeny bit smaller than 4x2x2. Its 42inches, by 20 inches by 20 inches. But im putting it on an old coffee table and its on the only clear wall i can put him on, next to my attic door so i can’t block it.

But rn hes in the biggest clear sterilite tub i could find and doing great. He’ll get his viv soon as the local guy finishes building it.

Nanners will get a nice custom enclosure with a pro heat panel and color changing lights! I’m already collecting stuff to deck it out for him!