Why Does My Ball Python Burrow?

ball python about to borrow in substrate

Ball pythons are one of the most popular pet snakes.  If you already have one, you know why!  These snakes are calm, easy to handle, and low maintenance.  Plus, they have beautiful scale patterns and adorable faces!  Even though ball pythons are such popular pets, we can’t always explain why they do the things they do.  Do you ever find yourself wondering why they bury themselves in their substrate? You might ask;

Why does my ball python burrow?

In the wild, ball pythons spend most of their days in a burrow.  This behavior is normal and natural but if your pet is constantly burrowing, it could mean something is up.  Ball Pythons might burrow because of an unbalanced temperature or humidity, because they don’t have an appropriate hide, or because they are sick. 

Burrowing is a normal behavior, but let’s find out more about it and determine whether or not you should be worried about your snake.

What Is Burrowing?

Before we deep dive into this topic, let’s make sure we’re clear on the definition of “burrow.”  According to thefreedictionary.com, burrowing is the act of digging, creating, hiding, or living in a tunnel in the ground.  A burrow is defined as a tunnel or hole dug into the ground by an animal.  When we talk about ball pythons burrowing, we’ll usually be talking about them living in a hole in the ground.  We’ll explain why next!

Do Ball Pythons Burrow In The Wild?

One of the best ways to understand a pet is to learn about its natural history!

Ball pythons are terrestrial snakes that can be found throughout west and central Africa.  These snakes are nocturnal.  They spend the long hot desert days seeking shelter and are most active in the evening. Ball pythons often rest in underground burrows during the day to stay protected from the sun and from predators.  Ball pythons have great vision and special heat tracking abilities.

Ball pythons are extremely defensive animals.  They actually get thier name from the shape they form when they are protecting themselves.  Instead of biting, ball pythons are more likely to curl up into a super small tight ball that protects their head and their internal organs from harm.  Curling up in a burrow or out of a burrow is a very normal position for a ball python!

To find shelter during the day, ball pythons will often find a burrow to hunker down into!

Do Ball Pythons Dig Their Own Burrows?

Interestingly, ball pythons do not dig their own burrows.

Ball pythons have pretty soft squishy faces that aren’t great for digging down into hard dirt.  They aren’t diggers and so have to use burrows from other animals!  Ball pythons will often burrow into termite mounds.  It sounds uncomfortable, but termites won’t bother ball pythons.  In fact, termites actually help deter other predators from reaching the resting ball python throughout the day.

This video shows a ball python in the wild and also what a termite mound can look like!

You can see why a ball python would hide away in a termite mound during the day!

So, what about in captivity?  Do pet ball pythons burrow for the same reasons as thier wild counterparts?

5 Reasons Why Your Pet Ball Python Might Burrow

Wild animals and domesticated animals are not the same, but they do have many similarities.  You probably won’t be able to handle a wild python the same way that you handle your pet snake.  That being said, these snakes will still have similar instincts, behaviors, and environmental needs.

Let’s discuss some of the reasons why or why not your ball python might be burrowing!

1. It’s Natural and Normal

We can’t stress enough that burrowing is a natural instinct for a ball python.  If you see your ball python burrowing into the substrate of their enclosure, it’s possible that there isn’t actually anything wrong.  While ball pythons aren’t able to dig their own burrows in the wild, with a soft enough substrate, they can tunnel in and get cozy all on their own.

As long as your ball python is still active and doesn’t spend every moment buried in the substrate, this could be totally normal.

But, if your ball python seems to spend an excessive amount of time burrowing or if you observe other signs that they are uncomfortable (like excessive hissing), keep reading!

2. They Are Trying To Regulate Their Temperature

One of the most obvious reasons that a ball python could be burrowing is the need to regulate its temperature.

Because of their habitat range, ball pythons need to be kept in a fairly warm environment.  A ball python tank should provide a temperature gradient with a cool and a warm side.  The cool side should be around 70F – 75F and the warm side should be around 90F-95F.  There should be a range of temperatures in between these extremes for your ball python to choose from as they please.

Your ball python might be burrowing because they aren’t warm enough.

If you use a heating pad underneath your ball python’s enclosure and they are burrowing above it, you can assume the rest of the enclosure is not warm enough for your pet snake.  While you don’t want to cook your scaly friend, you do want to make sure that they are comfortable at every spot in their enclosure.

Make sure to place thermometers in multiple locations in your tank so you can be sure that you are in the correct temperature range.

3. They Might Need a Better Hide

Hiding places are super important for ball pythons!

As we know, ball pythons are nocturnal, and won’t be out much during the day.  The ideal resting place for a ball pythons is within a provided hide.

A hide is basically a small house or hut that the ball python can enter and curl up in for the rest of the day.  Hides come in many shapes, sizes, and materials.  You might need to get a few before you find your pet’s preferred hide.  Our recommendation is to provide your ball python with two hides, one on the pool side of the enclosure and one on the warm side.  Since your ball python doesn’t need too much else in its environment, this shouldn’t cause a spatial problem.

If your ball python doesn’t have a good hide where they feel safe and comfortable, it will usually resort to burrowing.  Although burrowing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s better for your ball python to spend the majority of its days resting in a hide!

4. Their Enclosure Might Not Be Humid Enough

Humidity is another essential element in a ball python’s environment.

Ball pythons need 50% – 60% humidity at all times in their enclosures, and if they’re shedding they need an even higher level.  If your enclosure isn’t humid enough, your ball python’s skin might become dry and uncomfortable.  This could force them to burrow into the substrate and try to retain moisture.

Another sign of inadequate humidity is a ball python that is soaking itself a lot.   In order to maintain moisture levels,  your ball python might lie in its water dish and then burrow, which wouldn’t be great for it!  You can read more about why ball pythons soak themselves here.

Regardless, if you think the humidity is an issue in your enclosure, make sure to monitor levels, provide your pet with a water dish, and mist your tank as much as needed.

5. They Could Be Sick

The last reason your snake might be burrowing often is that they are feeling sick.

A sick or stressed snake is less likely to explore and more likely to stay put.  Instinctively, this behavior keeps them safe from predators.  If they hide for a few days, it’s possible that the stress or illness will subside and they can return to a normal schedule.

If a pet snake is burrowed away and hiding for days, make sure that they aren’t stressed or injured.  The best way to do this is to provide them with an appropriate environment and give them regular health checks with a veterinarian.

Hopefully, now you can make a better guess as to why your ball python might be burrowing and if it’s something they are doing instinctively or something they are doing to make up for a lack in an area of their care.

Should You Be Worried If Your Ball Python Burrows?

If your ball python is a borrower, you don’t need to worry right off of the bat.

However, it is important to note that there can be risks of spending so much time in the substrate.

In the wild, burrowing ball pythons will still emerge at night to wander, hunt, and get fresh air.  The burrows that they find are formed in hard dirt and have adequate airflow.  In captivity, that’s not always the case.

Depending on the type of substrate you have chosen for your ball python there are issues that could arise.

Certain substrates might not get enough airflow through them and could allow mold and bacteria to grow.  This could lead to fungal or bacterial infections in your pet’s airways that could be difficult to treat.  If you hear any signs of gurgly breathing, and your pet has been burrowing a lot, make sure to take them to your veterinarian ASAP!

How To Pick The Right Substrate For Your Ball Python

If your ball python is a burrower, you have a few options!

When picking a substrate you should make sure that is is comfortable to rest on, easy to clean, non-toxic, and maintains appropriate humidity!  For these reasons, many keepers like to recommend coconut chips or simple newspapers.

Coconut Chips vs. Newspaper

If you want to provide your pet with a cushy substrate that they can still burrow in, coconut chips are a great choice.  They are non-toxic and hold moisture.  However, if the humidity is too high in an enclosure with coconut chips, they can become a breeding ground for harmful mold growth.  Coconut chips cannot be cleaned and will need to be changed out every few months.

Newspaper seems like an uncomfortable alternative, and it definitely won’t allow your snake to burrow.  But, if you want to teach your snake to use hides, newspaper is a great option.  Newspaper is also incredibly useful as a substrate when treating infections because it can be changed daily, keeping the enclosure extra clean. Newspaper is non-toxic and accessible, and is a widely accepted substrate for snake owners!

Final Thoughts

Ball pythons are terrestrial snakes that burrow in the wild as a way to stay warm and safe.  They can’t dig their own burrows but will borrow burrows from other animals or insects.

As pets, ball pythons will also burrow throughout the day because they are nocturnal.  Burrowing is a normal behavior but could also be a sign of some issues.  The temperature or humidity in your pet’s enclosure might not be correct.  Your ball python could be feeling sick or stressed.  You may also need to provide your ball python with a better place to hide during the day.  If you’re not sure what could be causing your ball python to burrow, make sure to correct anything you think could be off in their environment.

We hope you have a better understanding of why your pet ball python is burrowing and how to deal with any possible issues!