The ball python, known scientifically as Python regius, is highly revered in some parts of Africa. It’s a python species that’s endemic to sub-Saharan Africa that thrives in warm, tropical regions.
Ball pythons are non-venomous constrictor snakes that are the smallest of the African pythons. They have bold, blotchy patterning that helps to camouflage their bodies and reduce the risk of predation in the wild.
The royal python is America’s most popular pet snake. There are currently 5300+ ball python color morphs. Captive-born ball pythons are free of parasites and healthier than wild-caught snakes.
Cool Ball Python Facts
Ball pythons make good pets due to their small size, placid nature, and beautiful colors. They are easy to take care of for both beginners and experienced herpetologists alike.
Named Due To Their Defensive Behavior
Ball pythons derive their name from their unique natural adaptation. When they’re threatened or become stressed, it will curl up into a ball and tuck its head and neck away in the center. When a ball python is all coiled up, it can be rolled around like a ball.
This behavior is also exhibited by female ball pythons with their eggs. When disturbed, they adopt a defensive position where they coil tightly around their clutches of eggs.
Worn by Cleopatra As Jewelry
Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, is believed to have worn living ball pythons around her wrists as bracelets. This is how the snake got its name: the royal python.
The Egyptian pharaoh is infamous for taking her life through the bite of a poisonous asp in preference to the humiliation of being led through Rome’s streets in chains.
Can Find Their Prey in Total Darkness
Ball pythons have heat-sensing pits on each side of their mouth. These detect small changes in temperature via infrared rays, thus helping them catch warm-blooded prey such as mice. This allows ball pythons to create a “thermal image” that allows them to see animals in the dark, without relying on their vision.
These infrared-detecting pits are remarkably sensitive, allowing ball pythons to locate prey that is meters away. Snakes detect changes in temperatures between two chambers that are so accurate that they can notice temperature changes as low as 0.002 degrees C.
The system’s function mimics that of a pinhole camera where light passes through a tiny hole from an image. Snakes have pit organs with aperture sizes of about 1mm, which generate thermal images of any moving prey.
These thermal and visual images are superimposed in a ball python’s brain, allowing it to detect its prey quickly. According to the journal Nature, a snake’s infrared-detecting ability comes from a protein called TRPA1, which is a cellular pathway that senses inflammatory pain.
Ball Pythons Can Live for 40+ Years
Ball pythons can live up to 20 to 30 years in captivity. In the wild, the average lifespan of a ball python is only 10 years due to the high risk of being hunted down by predators or being wiped out as a result of habitat loss. The highest recorded age of a ball python is 47 years.
Can Survive Without Food for Months
Ball pythons often go without food in dry seasons when food is infrequent. Also, it is common for males to stop eating during the breeding season.
While their diet may seem varied, ball pythons are very selective when it comes to their meals. They will avoid eating for months if they don’t come across prey that they want to eat.
If you are the owner of a ball python that is refusing to eat, there’s no need to panic. According to Zoology, snakes can drop their metabolism by up to 72%, allowing them to without food for long periods of time. As long as your snake appears healthy, it will be fine for many weeks.
Their Bites Aren’t Venomous
All snakes can bite humans. A ball python bite is rarely painful, and it’s unlikely to cause any harm. In some cases, a bite may break the skin, but this can be easily treated. If you notice any prolonged swelling and redness, you may have a bacterial infection that needs to be treated.
Ball pythons are non-venomous snakes that kill their prey using constriction. They coil around their prey or press the animal against burrow walls, constricting their prey’s body and diminishing its blood and oxygen supply.
Ball pythons can sense their prey’s heartbeat, allowing them to gauge the level of constricting power required to swiftly kill their prey and stop when the animal is dead.
Ball pythons and other constrictor snakes do not kill their prey via asphyxiation or suffocation, which involves the cessation of breathing. Instead, they apply pressure to the prey’s body, restricting its oxygen supply to vital organs, including the brain and the heart.
Lays Eggs in Abandoned Mammal Burrows
Female ball pythons set up nests in humid, mammal burrows, tucked away from potential predators. They coil themselves around their clutches during incubation and as a defensive behavior.
Females Don’t Eat While Gravid
Pregnant female ball pythons eat very little or nothing at all from the time they carry eggs until their eggs have hatched.
This is normal because the snake’s follicles or eggs take up so much room inside her body, that it limits her from eating. She’s also focusing the energy she will use for digestion toward producing and holding her eggs.
Shed Every 4 to 6 Weeks
Ball pythons shed their skin to accommodate weight gain and growth. A healthy snake will shed its skin every 2-3 months.
The snake will shed its skin entirely in one piece. As a ball python gets ready to shed, you’ll notice its scales loosening and its eyes turning opaque and bluish. The following are some signs of a ball python shedding:
- Scales become duller
- Eyes become opaque-blue
- Loss of appetite
- Increased defensiveness
- Skin appears wrinkled, almost as if your snake is dehydrated
If your ball python is preparing to shed, provide it with a large water bowl for soaking. If not already prepared, you should include a warm, moist hide with sphagnum moss. A moist hide will help facilitate your ball python’s shedding process and allow its skin to slide off in one piece.
Hide in Burrows to Aestivate
Ball pythons hide in animal burrows and underground spots to brumate. Brumation is like hibernation, where the animal is in a state of dormancy.
When a snake brumates, its metabolic rate reduces, resulting in inactivity. This is often in response to heat and dryness during hot summer months.
Ball pythons brumate to avoid exposure to harsh, dry conditions, and to conserve energy and retain water inside their bodies. It stabilizes body organs and cells and takes care of the nitrogenous end products.
Food Is Based On Snake Size
Meals are dependent on the size of the snake. The following is a brief guideline for feeding ball pythons based on their size and age:
|Ball Python Age And Size||Meal Size Recommendation|
|Under 4 months (70 to 200 grams):||Feed a mouse hopper every 5 to 7 days|
|4 to 12 months (200 to 700 grams):||Feed a rat fuzzy or small adult mouse every 5 to 7 days|
|1 to 2 years (700 grams to 2.5 pounds):||Feed a rat hopper or large adult mouse every 7 days|
|2 to 4 years (2.2 pounds to 4.4 pounds):||Feed a small rat every 7 to 10 days|
|Above 4 years (More than 4.4 pounds):||Feed a small-to-medium-sized rat every 7 to 10 days|
In addition to size, a ball python’s gender will also influence the type of prey it approaches. Males are more arboreal than female ball pythons.
Therefore, males tend to prey on birds more actively than females do, and females will primarily prey on rodents. In captivity, mice and rats are the primary components of a ball python’s diet.
Lays Up to 11 Eggs Per Clutch
Female ball pythons are oviparous, which means they lay eggs to produce their offspring. They lay 3 to 11 large, leathery eggs at a time, with 4 to 6 eggs being the average.
The mother python will take care of her eggs until they hatch, after which she will leave her offspring to look out for themselves.
Size Determines Sexual Maturity
Females reach sexual maturity at 20 to 36 months of age, and males at 11 to 18 months of age. However, in addition to age, size also determines the ability to breed in ball pythons.
Wild female ball pythons often breed at 800 to 1200 grams or more, whereas in captivity, they are usually bred when they reach 1500 grams. Male ball pythons breed at 300 to 600 grams in the wild but, they are not bred until they are 800 grams in captivity.
Smaller Than Other Pythons
Ball pythons grow up to an average length of 3 to 5 feet, which is much smaller than some other species of pythons.
Compare this with a reticulated python that can reach up to 22 feet, and Burmese pythons that can grow up to 23 feet.
Females are Bigger than Males
Female ball pythons tend to grow slightly longer than males, averaging 4 to 4.5 feet when they reach maturity. Males reach 2 to 3.5 feet. 5-foot snakes are considered big for their species, but ones that are 6 feet or more have very occasionally been reported.
Ball python breeders are continually creating new designer morphs. There are over 5,300 ball python morphs. The most common are the Albino, Pastel, Spider, Pinstripe, and Mojave.
Unfortunately, spider ball pythons are known to have a neurological condition that causes a head wobble.
Hatchlings Reach Up to 17 Inches
Ball pythons produce hatchlings that are often between 14 to 17 inches in length. They are left to fend for themselves from birth.
Colors Fade with Age
Baby ball python hatchlings often have bright colors and attractive patterns on their skin. However, the vibrancy of their colors fade with age.
The pale markings in juveniles or hatchlings are usually yellow, yellowish-brown or gold. In adults, these pale markings are a medium brown. The dark markings in ball pythons are black-brown, chocolate brown or black.
Some ball pythons, especially wild-caught ones, can be very particular about the type of prey they consume. This can cause some snakes to refuse to eat mice and rats.
Any snake is vulnerable to respiratory infections. However, snakes from tropical regions, such as ball pythons, are often more prone to them.
According to the journal Virology, ball pythons are particularly susceptible to a virus called the ball python nidovirus (BPNV), which can result in respiratory symptoms.
Snakes are unable to cough, so they may have difficulty expelling accumulated fluid from their respiratory tracts. Therefore, just a chest cold can prove to be detrimental to snakes.
Contact your herp vet if you suspect your snake has a respiratory infection. Most snakes will require medication to recover from an infection. Signs and symptoms of respiratory problems in ball pythons include:
- Unusual breathing sounds
- Labored breathing
- Bubbles from the mouth or nostrils
- Refusing to eat
- Staying close to a heat source more frequently than normal
Overfeeding or power feeding is common as it increases the size of the snake rapidly. However, you must keep your snake within its proper weight limits to prevent obesity.
Ball pythons store fat at the sides of their tail base and the rear region of their head. The ribs and spine are often good indicators of whether your snake is within its healthy weight limits. For example, a healthy ball python should not show its ribs, but you should be able to feel them.
100 to 150 Sharp Teeth
Ball pythons don’t have fangs. Instead, they have 100 to 150 sharp, triangular-shaped teeth. Their teeth are backward-curving which allows them to hook their teeth onto their prey easily.
After grabbing the prey with its teeth, a ball python will begin constricting, overwhelming its circulatory system and cutting off blood supply to the brain. Once the prey is dead, the ball python will gradually open its jaws and swallows the animal whole.
Valued by Traditional Nigerian Groups
In the ethnic group called the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria, the ball python is particularly valued. They are considered symbolic of the earth as it is a highly terrestrial species.
They are allowed to roam freely in their villages and are treated with great care. If one wants to remove a ball python, they may pick it up and place it in a field away from the village’s homes.
If one is killed, the Igbo people create a coffin for the dead snake and give it a brief funeral.
Ball pythons are sometimes consumed by tribal groups within their range. They are also hunted for their skin, which is used for the manufacture of luxury bags, shoes, and belts. Habitat loss from deforestation is another important cause of death in ball pythons.
The capture of ball pythons for pets has also resulted in a population decline in the wild. When captured, the sudden change in temperature and environment can quickly result in the death of a snake. Poor conditions during importation can also lead to stress, disease, and premature death.
Permits are required for the exportation of ball pythons. This has helped remove ball pythons from the Threatened List of Endangered Species.
Although they are not endangered, their numbers are declining in the wild due to habitat destruction and over-exploitation in the snake pet trade.
Ball pythons are patient, ambush hunters. They use a “sit and wait” approach to hunting their prey. They have large, robust bodies and move by scooting forward in a straight line. Every time the snake scoots, it stiffens its ribcage, lifting its belly to propel forward.
Ball pythons are slow-moving snakes, moving up to only 1 mile per hour.
They Look Like Burmese Pythons
Ball pythons and Burmese pythons have striking patterns with dark brown and golden-brown rosettes. Their busy patterning helps camouflage them in the wild. However, ball pythons are much smaller than Burmese pythons in size, the latter averaging a length of 12.1 feet.
Although ball pythons have sharp teeth, they don’t use them for chewing. Their teeth are designed to grip, not slice like in the case of mammals.
No subspecies of ball pythons are currently recognized. The different coloring and patterning among the species are due to the vast array of morphs designed my different ball python breeders.
Ball pythons are small and respond well to being held. But, it is common for hatchlings to be jumpy, especially during their first encounter with a new owner. A stressed ball python may bite, but its bites are harmless.