Status: Least Concern
Ball Pythons are a non-venomous constrictor species. They are typically light brown-green and black in color, with a tan-yellow underbelly. However, Ball pythons come in many morphs, which are genetic mutations that alter the colors and patterns of the scales. Adults can range from 3 to over 6 feet in length, with the average female reaching 3 to 5 feet and the average male reaching 2 to 3 feet. A mature female will commonly grow distinctly larger than the male. They have a heavy, thick body with a smallish head.
They are very adept hunters and have the ability to sense even the slightest temperature change (as little as 3/1000ths of a degree change), which makes them hypersensitive to any warm blooded creatures close by. They have special pits above their mouth that detect the heat. And like other snakes they have the Jacobson’s organ in their mouth for smelling. These adaptations help to make them very successful nocturnal hunters even though they have poor eyesight.
Ball pythons are known for their gentle disposition. When feeling threatened, they will become frightened and curl into a ball, thus the name ball python.
Habitat/Range: Southern Sudan, parts of Central Africa, and Western Equatorial Africa, Sierra Leone, Senegal. Found on savannah and sparsely wooded plains, and rain forest regions. Primarily found in Benin, Ghana, and Togo. They are mainly terrestrial
Diet in the Wild: They are primarily rodent hunters, but will also hunt birds, amphibians and other smaller reptiles
Diet in the Zoo: Frozen mice. No animals are fed live food to help prevent disease spread and for the safety of the animal.
Predators: In the wild they often fall prey to leopards, and birds of prey.
Life Cycle and Social Structure: Ball pythons reach sexual maturity from 18 months to 4 years, and live more than 20-40 years,
Pythons and Boas, including Ball pythons, have anal spurs, appearing on each side of the vent. These spurs are important for the mating process, aiding the snakes in clasping onto their mate. The spurs on males are generally longer than those on females.
Ball Pythons usually lay about 4 to 10 eggs which they arrange in a pile. They coil around the pile until all eggs have hatched. Since pythons cannot regulate their internal body temperature, they cannot incubate their eggs per se; instead, they raise the temperature of their eggs by small movements of their body—essentially, they “shiver”. This is one of only a few documented cases of parental behavior in snakes. The hatchlings emerge from their eggs after 75 – 80 days are about 9 to 17 inches. The mother will stay to warm and protect her young until they hatch and will not eat for this whole time period. Once they hatch she leaves them to go feed.
Ball Pythons like to burrow. The name Ball derives from its tendency, that when stressed, to curl into a tight “ball” with their heads hidden inside, often for long periods of time. They are solitary animals that only seek each other out for breeding. They are also primarily nocturnal and are considered fairly docile, which is why they are one of the most common snakes found in the pet trade.
They are primarily ground dwelling but occasionally do climb trees.
Life Span: can easily live 20-40 years
- The oldest recorded Ball Python reached 48 years of age in captivity.
- Ball Pythons are also called Royal Pythons because it is believed that Cleopatra used to keep them coiled around her wrists.
- The Ball Python (like other snakes) do not have moveable eyelids. It has a special clear scale that covers the eyes so that it always appears to be awake. Not having eyelids allows the Ball Python to refrain from blinking. Not blinking helps the snake keeps its cover when it is camouflaged.
Conservation Messages: Wild Ball Pythons are hunted for their skin, for food and for the pet trade. Since 1998 Ghana, Togo, and Benin have exported approximately 1.5 million ball pythons to the international pet trade, with 85% of them destined to the USA alone. However at this time they are not listed as endangered or threatened and have no special protections. They also seem to adapt well to different habitats so deforestation does not seem to have a negative impact on them.
What You Can Do: Do your research before buying any pet to ensure that you can provide the care that it needs, research pet suppliers before buying from them, research any company that you may buy animal skins from.
deVosjoli,Philippe. 1990. The Care and Maintenance of Ball Pythons, Advanced Vivarium Systems, Lakeside, CA, pp. 2-6.
Mehrtens, John. 1987. Living Snakes of the World, Sterling Pub., NY, p. 62.
Stidworthy, John. 1971. Snakes of the World, Glosset & Dunlap, NY, p.58.