Ball Python

Python regius

Class: Reptilia; Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes; Family: Pythonidae
Other names: Royal Python

Brandywine Zoo Ball Python
Scrappy - 1.0 H: 1999-2000. Acq. 5/3/2002
Scrappy was a relinquished pet.

Least Concern; CITES Appendix II [1]

Geographic Region
Sub-Saharan central Africa. Ball pythons are found in the grasslands of the Sudanese sub province, which is west of the Nile, Southern Sudan in the Bahrel Ghazal, Nuba Mountains (Southern Kordofan), and in West Africa from Senegal to Sierra Africa.

Grasslands, savannas and sparsely wooded areas. Termite mounds and empty mammal burrows are important habitats for this species. [2]

Size: 5-6' max, but 3.5-4.5' is more average [2]
Weight: Scrappy weighs ~4lb
Longevity: Wild - 10 years [3], Captivity - more than 20-30 years, but some estimates list up to 50 [4]

Physical Description
  • The color pattern is typically black or dark brown with light brown or gold sides and dorsal blotches. The belly is a white or cream that may include scattered black markings. [2]
  • Ball pythons vary considerably in their color and pattern. Some snakes are tan, brown or reddish. Others may be pale yellow or orange yellow.
  • The patterns of these snakes also vary greatly. Some are spotted, some have stripes and others are spotted and striped.
  • Boas and pythons, which are more primitive snakes, possess tail/anal spurs, located next to their cloaca.
There is no obvious secondary sexual characteristic that allow for instant determination of sex, as sizes of individuals can vary greatly. But, in general:
  • Males: usually average around 90-107 cm (3.0-3.5 ft). Both sexes have anal spurs on either side of the vent, and although males tend to have larger spurs, this is not definitive [2]
  • Females: tend to be slightly bigger than males, maturing at an average of 122-137 cm (4.0-4.5 ft). [2]
Diet: Carnivore
Nonvenomous constrictor
  • Diet in the Wild: Ball pythons eat rodents almost exclusively. They feed primarily on several species of native African rodents, including rats, gerbils, shrews and gerboas. Ball pythons generally do not eat during the times of the year when night temperatures drop to the low 70's or lower.
  • Diet in the Zoo: hairless mice (Scrappy has a temperamental digestive system)
  • Nocturnal, night active
  • Ball pythons are most active at night, when they hunt for their food. Favored daytime retreats include mammal burrows and other underground hiding places, where they also aestivate.
  • When the ball python catches its prey with its sharp, backward pointing teeth, it quickly throws coils around the victim until the prey dies of asphyxiation. After the prey is dead, the python swallows its catch whole.
  • As a defense mechanism, the ball python rolls up into a tight ball. This is how it received the nickname "ball python."
  • Like most snakes, ball pythons don't chase after their prey. Instead, they are ambush hunters. They use both sight and smell to locate prey. Pythons also have an additional advantage: most have special temperature-sensitive "pits," or holes, along their jaws that can sense the heat of a nearby animal. This helps them find warm-blooded prey even in the dark or among dense foliage [5].
  • Oviparous, egg-laying
  • Clutches are typically 3-11 eggs, gestation period is about 44 to 54 days [3]. Hatching occurs 55-60 days of incubation [2].
  • Breeding occurs when temperatures drop to the low 70's or lower and pythons stop feeding. In Africa, this is usually during December and January.
  • Following laying, the female python stays with her eggs and incubates them via a shivering motion [2]. She protects them by loosening or tightening her coils around them and providing insulation from air temperatures.
  • Females do not eat during this period, which can last up to three months until the hatchlings finally emerge from their eggs. If the female is healthy, this brooding process usually does not affect her negatively, but if she is not healthy, she may become weakened and very susceptible to disease. Parental care of the eggs ends once the precocial young hatch, and the female leaves the offspring to fend for themselves. [2]
  • Use & Trade: In western Africa, this species is locally killed for meat and leather. It is also an extremely popular snake in the international pet trade. Current trends include the breeding of various color morphs, of which some can fetch 10,000 Euros. This species is successfully ranched in some West African countries. [1]
  • Threats: Locally, this species is poached for meat and leather. However, their biggest threat is the international pet trade. In West Africa, many thousands are captured annually and exported. In 1998, it was stated that in some areas of western Africa it is likely that repeated loss of clutches to the pet trade may be leading to local extirpation of the species. Captive breeding activities were thought to provide a degree of protection for this species, however, it was found that captive breeding does not confer any significant conservation benefit on the species. [1]
Did You Know?/Fun Facts
  • Snakes turn a milky-opaque (sometimes called 'blue') just prior to shedding. They will not eat when getting ready to shed.
  • Ball pythons are one of the few species of reptiles that incubate their eggs and protect their nests
  • Baby ball pythons slit their shells with their egg tooth in order to hatch out of their eggs. [3]
List of definitions of the most important recurrent technical terms used in the text.
  • Aestivate - a state of dormancy, similar to hibernation, characterized by inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate,that is entered in response to high temperatures and arid conditions. Resting is coming in desert species; may occur during hot, daytime hours, and the animal alternatively becomes active at night.
  • Cloaca - the posterior opening that serves as the only opening for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts of certain animal species (birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals). Also known as vent.
  • Dorsal - the back/backside of an animal
  • Egg tooth - the egg tooth is a small, sharp protuberance typically on the end of the snout/nose, used by offspring to break or tear through the egg's surface during hatching.
  • Oviparous - refers to animals that lay eggs, with little or no other embryonic development within the mother.
  • Precocial - term referring to the state of readiness of young; precocial young are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of birth or hatching. (Altricial young need more long-term parent protection and rearing.)
  • Spurs - The term spur is sometimes used to describe the pelvic spur, vestigial limbs found in primitive snakes, such as boas and pythons and in the striped legless lizard. The spurs primarily serve as holdfasts during mating. As these form at the terminal end of the limb, they may properly be claws rather than true spurs.
  • Vent - see cloaca
  • Vestigial - refers to genetically determined structures that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function in a given species, but have been retained through evolution
[1] IUCN, "IUCN Red List," 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/177562/0. [Accessed October 2014].
[2] Wikipedia, "Ball Python," 2014. [Online]. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Python_regius. [Accessed October 2014].
[3] ADW, "Animal Diversity Web," 2014. [Online]. Available: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Python_regius/. [Accessed October 2014].
[4] Reptiles Magazine, "Ball Python," 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Snake-Species/Ball-Python/. [Accessed October 2014].
[5] San Diego Zoo, "Pythons," San Diego Zoo, 2014. [Online]. Available: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/python. [Accessed 2014].

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