In the wild, Ball Pythons will usually burrow to hide from predators or to avoid extreme temperatures during the day. In fact, they are known to be burrow thieves, and will hide out in termite mounds and rodent nests!
However, as pets, Ball Pythons happily trade burrows for secure hides.
This means that it is very rare to see a pet Ball Python burrowing. Over the years, I have only seen my pet Ball Python burrowing a handful of times. It was due to mites, stress, or high temperatures. If it is a new behavior for your snake, it can mean that there is an issue with either their husbandry or their care.
In this article I will share with you the five most common reasons for burrowing and what to do about them.
- Burrowing is a natural behavior in wild Ball Pythons, but is extremely unusual in captivity.
- New burrowing behaviors in pet Ball Pythons usually mean there is an issue with their husbandry or care.
- Temperatures over 90℉ outside the basking zone can cause heat stress, leading to burrowing.
- Low humidity can make your snake seek shelter in a damp substrate.
- Illnesses or parasites, like infections, fungi, or mites can also cause them to burrow.
Why Is My Ball Python Burrowing?
Captive Ball Pythons typically burrow as a response to a negative change in their tank setup. Burrowing can be triggered by a wide variety of issues such as extreme tank temperatures, low humidity, parasites or respiratory infections.
Temperature is a major contributor to sudden burrowing.
Tank temperatures over 90℉ outside of the basking spot can lead to Ball Pythons overheating, causing them to seek cooler shelter. Hypothermia due to low temperatures can also lead them to burrow as a part of brumating behaviors they normally practice during African winters.
Low humidity can also cause Ball Pythons to burrow, as it prevents normal shedding. Snakes will be found coiled underneath water dishes, where the cool container creates the most condensation.
Skin parasites, respiratory infections, and skin fungi or scale rot can lead to abnormal behaviors due to discomfort.
Finally, chronic stress from handling, the environment, or improper hides can make your snake feel insecure and they will look for buried hiding places.
Author Tip: Sudden burrowing behavior is really what raises concerns. Some Ball Pythons do just prefer to burrow, rather than use a normal hide, but it is rare and will usually be a consistent behavior throughout their lifetime. If this behavior suddenly starts, it is important to fully review your husbandry.
My Ball Python almost always chooses to burrow under her water dish in response to stressors. In the winter, she burrows if I haven’t adjusted my misting routine to the lowered humidity, sometimes even dumping her water dish to lay in it. In my busy childhood home, she burrowed to find peace and quiet in the daytime. Once I even contaminated my collection with mites and after soaking herself for a week, she began to bury herself under the water dish.
1. Low Humidity
If you notice your Ball Python is burrowing in areas with retained moisture (e.g. under a water dish), especially if it is paired with poor shedding, humidity is likely the issue. If you keep 60-80% humidity, they will usually stop burrowing within 2-3 days.
Moisture from high humidity helps them shed properly and stay hydrated.
If humidity is the problem, your snake will typically be found coiling in dugout burrows in the corners of the enclosure, or trying to coil underneath the water bowl.
With my snake, I have noticed she will sometimes dump out her water bowl if it gets too dry in the winter and then snuggle down in the substrate under the dish. This is so she can directly touch any moisture to help her skin.
Ball Pythons are native to subtropical regions of Africa that are prone to heavy rains, high temperature, and humidity above 60% every day in the summers. It is important to mimic that 60-80% humidity in captivity.
Typically, misting the enclosure with a filtered or distilled water daily and occasionally adding water directly to the substrate helps to create the perfect environment for them.
Changing seasons or improper upkeep can lead to lower humidity and cause discomfort.
Author Tip: Temperature and humidity go hand-in-hand and are usually the biggest reasons for sudden changes in behavior.
2. Incorrect Temperature Range
If your tank temperature is too high, meaning ambient temperatures are above 90℉ outside the basking zone, your Ball Python will experience heat stress. Heat stress will cause them to seek cooler shelter, under objects or dig into the substrate away from the basking spot.
High temperatures may lead to your Ball Python burrowing, making escape attempts, rubbing their nose on the glass, or sitting in the water dish.
On the flip side, if your ambient temperatures are at or below 70℉, your Ball Python may burrow to attempt to stabilize their temperature. Typically, burrowing in cold temperatures occurs in advanced stages of hypothermia or onset of brumation.
For cool temperatures, you may notice hiding, lethargy, prey refusal, or regurgitation.
A proper temperature gradient should have a basking spot between 88-95℉, an ambient temperature on the warm side of around 85℉, and a cool-side temperature of 75℉. Temperatures outside this zone can cause them to burrow. This temperature gradient allows your snake to move between areas to thermoregulate.
Incorrect temperatures can be stressful and even deadly. Always check temperature and humidity if you notice this behavior starting suddenly.
3. Wrong Enclosure
A Ball Python may burrow if their enclosure is too simple (e.g. doesn’t have hides) or too small.
Ball Pythons are slow, thick snakes that are not very good at quick escapes from predators. Being small constrictors, their only defense mechanism is striking or balling up, so burrows and hides provide a sense of security and protection.
In captivity, they usually choose a hide or well-cluttered area to rest in. They prefer hides that are just large enough for them to coil in. Large hides can make them feel insecure and they may burrow to feel safer. With my Ball Python, I’ve noticed that she doesn’t mind tall hides, as long as the entrance is small and she touches the sides of it when coiled inside.
You can also use plants and sticks to build a habitat which makes them feel safe during the day.
If you don’t provide camouflage and hiding opportunities, they will often hide under the substrate.
Another issue is having an enclosure that is too small. If your enclosure is too small, your Ball Python may choose to occasionally burrow. I noticed that as my Ball Python grew out of her old enclosure, she began moving around her hides and dishes to create new crevices to hide in.
Author Tip: You should provide 10 gallons of space for every foot of Ball Python. This generally provides enough space for 2 hides and cluttered decor.
4. Chronic Stress
Ball Pythons use burrows for protection in the wild and will usually burrow in captivity to battle stress.
Sources of stress other than poor husbandry include:
- Busy environment
- Improper light cycle
If you are handling your snake too often, they will burrow to hide from you. I have noticed this type of burrowing, especially with rescue Ball Pythons. They were kept on newspaper during initial isolation and hiding inside the folds of the newspaper rather than in the provided hide.
When I first brought my Ball Python home, I had her in a glass tank in our living room. As a family of five with several dogs, cats, and friends always running around, she would stay underneath her water dish during the day. Moving her into a quieter room with more hides solved this problem completely.
Improper Light Cycle
Finally, incorrect light cycles can also be stressful. Ball Pythons are nocturnal and require a 12hr day/night cycle. If your enclosure is too bright for too many hours, your snake will feel stressed and burrow in dark crevices.
5. Disease or Parasites
The last and most concerning reason your Ball Python may be burrowing is a health issue.
Mites can cause severe discomfort and shedding problems, so Ball Pythons will try to get relief by burrowing in damp substrate.
I once accidentally contaminated my reptile collection with mites from a new snake. At first, my Ball Python was laying in her water dish almost constantly. After a week of this behavior, she started burrowing into the substrate and under the water dish. It took nearly four weeks to get rid of the mites, but this behavior quickly stopped when she began to feel comfortable again.
Though unusual, ticks are another parasite that can lead to burrowing. Sometimes, ticks can sneak their way into your Ball Python’s enclosure and feed on their blood supply, causing discomfort and even weakness.
Other illnesses can also cause burrowing:
- Respiratory infections
- Internal diseases
- Scale rot
- Mouth rot
Ball Pythons will burrow to try to stay safe from predators until the illness passes. Often, these health issues require veterinary intervention and should be addressed quickly. The longer your snake battles these illnesses, the more difficult treatment will be.
Burrowing is a completely normal behavior for wild Ball Pythons, but it is extremely rare to see a pet Ball Python burrow.
If you notice your Ball Python suddenly starts showing this behavior, it could have been triggered by a wide variety of issues, such as:
- Extreme tank temperatures
- Low humidity
- Simple enclosure setup that doesn’t have enough hides
- Small enclosure
- Busy environment
- Improper light cycle
- Parasites or respiratory infections
If your snake is suddenly burrowing, and all aspects of husbandry and potential stressors have been checked, it is a good idea to contact a veterinarian. Always pay attention to any new behaviors your snake develops, as it is their only way to let you know something is wrong.