Every year, ball python breeders are coming out with a new colour or pattern morph to satisfy the needs of keepers and breeders alike. Over the last few years, there has been a surge in producing various pattern or color morphs, which would be the envy of the snake world. These can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. There are still plenty of normal ball pythons being bred in captivity for the pet but there’s definite change in the market.
More and more people today are keeping reptiles; specifically snakes in general as pieces of living art. From the late eighties, there was a man who changed the thinking of reptile keepers everywhere with a book called The Art of Snake Keeping. Philippe de Vosjoli has been a source of not only reptile keeping information but also a source of inspiration for many keepers today. Philippe educated us then and now that a natural environment is the very best way to celebrate our reptiles.
Reptile collectors today are not satisfied purchasing a snake, placing it into a fish tank with a screen lid, and a heater. They see their reptiles as an investment and wish to display them, as they want a Picasso painting. We still see the usual buyers of reptiles within the pet industry but there’s a definite increasing percentage of individuals who are purchasing the higher wind or more costly morphs so as to create their personal artistic statement in there home or office.
Solving the mystery
Keepers are way more knowledgeable today as all of us are about the maintenance specifics of reptiles. Over the last three decades, many individuals have learned, with much more knowledge about their chosen reptile they could make informed decisions about which product(s) will provide them not only a better environment but also a better means of reptile keeping. Nowadays more keepers are recognizing it is not about just captive care of reptiles in general, but about the natural history of the entire genre, which is currently making a difference in the way they keep their snakes. Using the ball python for instance, many keepers thought for years that this species was just a fossorial snake. Now we know that ball pythons from some areas climb into small shrubs and spend time there off the floor. With the trend of creating a more natural environment for our snakes we are observing new behaviors; I would be willing to say, if the reptiles were bred under those conditions we would also see an increasing trend towards better breeding success.
Product manufacturers are also more aware of this increasing trend also. They now produce a better line of goods to fulfill the requirements of the discerning keeper. Together with the manufacturers understanding just as much if not more about our reptiles, we’re no longer looking through a bay window onto a large environment but a microscope into the world that makes up the microenvironment of the reptiles we keep. With this knowledge, we are able to supply a far better captive environment, one highlighting the snake, as opposed to just keeping it alive.
Many parameters enter this type of environment. In the past, all we had were fish tanks with screen lids as I had mentioned earlier. Today we have plexiglass enclosures, which are simpler to maintain. Plexiglass not only is easier to heat but in addition, it holds the humidity necessary for keeping tropical species such as the ball python.
Aside from the advent of new materials such as plexiglass for the enclosure, we now have a firmer grasp on the understanding of plants, substrates, heaters, and several other pieces of equipment that need to maintain a healthy environment for our reptiles. Manufacturers taking advantage of the, are now producing some extraordinary products which make snake ownership possible for almost anyone who has an interest. With all this knowledge available to people we still see the most frequent mistake with the new snake keeper.
They buy the snake and what they believe are the perfect materials for the environment and then place all of this into the old kind of fish tank enclosure. The significant issue with keeping most tropical creatures in this sort of enclosure is that there is a huge amount of air exchange when screen lids are used. If you live in a dry area such as myself this sort of enclosure will require misting numerous times a day. This is a very time consuming process. If you’ve made a higher end investment this is a critical component of captive care to mist the snake and then monitor its environment. Using the right enclosure such as the ones made by Ricky’ s Reptile Enclosures will save you from having to go through this issue.
Now you know which enclosure to buy, but the fun does not stop there. These are cheap and easy to clean; therefore, they make sense for the breeder trying to keep costs to a minimum. Breeders use either pine shavings or newspaper to keep their snakes. The showcase snake though won’t be display properly on these substrates.
The Right Plant
The planted vivarium isn’t as hard as it may seem, it is really an issue of plant selection, placement, and the use of the right soils. I use organic potting soil that is pearlite free and landscape the enclosure so the rear of the enclosure is slightly graded or sloped towards the front. The organic potting soil is fine on its own but to really get a nice look to the total vivarium I place a layer of orchid bark or cypress mulch on top.
Not only do plants help create oxygen inside the enclosure, they also provide a level of humidity as does the soil/mulch mixture. With the ball python being such a’heavy bodied’ snake there is certain amount of concern with using plants in the enclosure lest they be crushed with a wandering snake. Delicate ferns and other similar plants will not stand up to a wandering P. regius.
We must also be cautious of any plants which may be toxic to a reptile. Not to mention the fact that several of the plant recommendations you see online sound great. However, what they do not tell you is that their recommendations are actually bushes that can become extremely large. As an example, 1 recommendation I saw was for Callistemon, which they also had misspelled as Callistemom commonly called bottlebrush. Most websites list this as a TREE, which gets 10-12 feet in height. The other one that struck me as odd was the recommendation of Bougainvillea, which has very sharp thorns among the limbs. Why would you recommend that for a reptile or amphibian enclosure?
Here’s a list of non-toxic plants that you could use without fear of them growing into trees or stabbing a drifting snake. Pothos Epipremnum pothos aureus, Liriope Lily turf, & Aspidistra Cast Iron plant are all plants that I have used within the vivarium itself and have not had any issue. Some mosses may be used as ground cover too but I have not used them before so I cannot make any recommendations . Aside from the plants, add a sandblasted grapevine bit angled from among the bottom corners of the enclosure into the opposite top corner diagonally so the snake can decide to be either higher or lower. I have yet to find a branch be provided that was not used at some stage.
You must also offer some type of hide area within the enclosure. Personally, I like the half logs which are offered for this purpose. Buy one that the snake can enter and when coiled their body should encounter the sides. This is a critical piece as it enables the snake to feel protected.