The Ball Python is also known as the Royal Python though this is more common in European countries. The “Royal” name was brought about in part by Cleopatra who reportedly wore these beautiful snakes as bracelets on her wrists.
The origin of the “Ball” name derives from their natural defense mechanism that when stressed, they will curl into a tight ball with their heads hidden inside and not move for long periods of time.
The Ball Python is an attractive snake with a dark, brown-black pattern and yellow-tan skin. This species of snake is a very curious and gentle in nature. These traits as well as the inexpensive price make it a popular reptile pet.
Ball Pythons make excellent pets. Their inexpensive price, good temperament, and long life spans make them one of the top-selling snakes. The short but stout size makes them very impressive in stature. The key to keeping these animals healthy is in their care.
Recent years, captive breeding projects have developed several interesting color varieties which all share the same care guidelines.
Ball Pythons are native to Central and Western Africa and are ‘crepuscular’ being most active at dusk and dawn.
Sexing a Ball Python is relatively easy. Like all pythons and boas, they have anal spurs. These claw-like structures are about 2 – 3 inches from the tip of the tail. Males have longer spurs than females. The spurs are thought to be evolutionary remnants of hind legs. Males also tend to have smaller heads than females. Mating usually requires a mild cooling or partial hibernation period. The average clutch size is 4 – 10 eggs and average incubation period is 90 days.
The female will protect the eggs from the moment they are laid until they hatch. During this time, she does not eat and can become highly irritable and stressed. For this reason, artificial incubation in captivity is usually recommended. To accomplish this, maintain a plastic container with damp sphagnum moss in the cage while the female is gravid. The female will usually lay the eggs in this container. After the eggs are laid, remove the eggs and moss and place them in moist (not wet) vermiculite for incubation. Bury the eggs with the tops showing.
It can take hours or even days for the young to fully emerge from their egg. House the hatchlings individually once the shell is broken and be patient. Young Ball Pythons usually grow about a foot a year for the first three years.
Snake Housing for Ball Python:
Ball Pythons should be housed in cages measuring 36″ x 18″ x 16″ or larger, roughly a 40 gallon aquarium size. As juveniles or hatchlings, a 10 – 20 gallon aquarium will suffice. Always make sure the cage is secure as this Ball Pythons are very powerful and cunning when it comes to escaping.
A beginning substrate should be newspaper. This will allow you to check for parasites and observe the feces for problems. After the snake is established and eating well, you can use cypress or fir bark as a substrate. Avoid using pine or cedar shavings since their oils have been associated with respiratory problems. Washable, reusable, reptile ‘carpets’ can also be used. All types of substrates must be cleaned or replaced whenever soiled to avoid fungal or bacterial growths.
As with most snakes, a hiding place is a must. You can use anything from cardboard boxes, to hollow logs, to manufactured reptile houses. The hide place should be large enough for the snake’s entire body. Snug or tight enclosures are preferred for sleeping and security senses. Don’t forget to put a climbing branch in the tank, as Ball Pythons love to climb.
Ball Python should be kept at 82ºF at the cool end and 86ºF at the hot spot. The temperature can be safely lowered to 70ºF at night. A variety of heating methods such as; under-the-tank heating pads, specialty reptile heat/light bulbs, ceramic bulbs, etc can be used. A thermometer to test the temperature and check the heating devices from time to time is recommended. This species is vulnerable to thermal burns so direct contact with the heat source should be prevented.
Always provide a fresh bowl of water that is replaced daily. Ball Pythons will occasionally soak in the bowl to help with the shedding process. This can cause overspills if the bowl is too small.
These snakes can achieve length to an average adult size of about 4ft (1.2meters) but occasional specimens have been known to reach 5ft (1.5meters)
Ball Python have a long lifespan of up to 30years, with the oldest recorded specimen having lived 48 years.
In the wild, the Ball Python will eat a variety of prey including lizards, birds, and small mammals. Wild caught specimens are often associated with difficulty in getting them to accept ‘lab mice’ in captivity. You can trick the snake by rubbing a chick on the mouse or by putting a shed lizard skin on it. Then slowly switch the python over to mice. Buy a captive bred snake to reduce the potential problems.
Ball Pythons have a reputation of going for long periods of time without food. Specimens have been known to go a year or more without feeding but this is not common or safe practice. Long fasting periods can seriously weaken the snake and open it to disease. For best results feed every 2-4 weeks, and seek veterinary advice for fast periods longer than one month to ensure internal parasites or other health issues are not involved. For best results, food should be lightly dusted in a calcium or nutritional supplement such as Tetra’s ReptoCal or ReptoLife Plus.
They tend to be found in grasslands or on the edge of the forests. Mostly ground-oriented snakes, they are known to be semi-arboreal.
Wild caught specimens can frequently have internal parasites. If you pet becomes sluggish, refuses to eat for several weeks, has discharges from the nose/mouth, or it regurgitates meals, seek a veterinarian for help. Ask you vet, but fecal samples are often helpful in properly diagnosing and treating your pet.