The Ball python is a nonvenomous python species found in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the smallest of the African pythons. The name "ball python" refers to the animal's tendency to curl into a ball when stressed or frightened. A common belief is that another name "royal python" comes from the legend that rulers in Africa, especially Cleopatra, would wear the python as jewelry. Ball pythons are stocky, with a relatively small head. The scales are smooth and both sexes have anal spurs on either side of the vent. 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. However, those in the pet industries have, through selective breeding, developed many morphs (genetic mutations) with altered colors and patterns.
Ball pythons are found in west Sub Saharan Africa from Senegal, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin, and Nigeria through Cameroon, Chad, and the Central African Republic to Sudan and Uganda. They prefer grasslands, savannas, and sparsely wooded areas, but may adapt to all types of environments.
Ball pythons are nocturnal and solitary creatures. Males tend to display more semi-arboreal behaviors, whilst females tend towards terrestrial behaviors. In dry months when it gets hot they hide in mammal burrows and other underground hiding places, where they can aestivate. Ball pythons are known for their defense strategy that involves coiling into a tight ball when threatened, with their head and neck tucked away in the middle. In this state, they can literally be rolled around. In captivity, Ball pythons are considered good pets, with their relatively small size and placid nature making them easy to handle.
Ball pythons are carnivores. In the wild, their diet consists mostly of small mammals, such as African soft-furred rats, shrews, gerbils, and striped mice and birds. In captivity, they will accept common rats and mice, and some will eat chicks.
Ball pythons are polygynandrous (promiscuous) which means that both males and females mate with multiple partners. They usually breed from mid-September through mid-November. Females lay 3 to 11 large, leathery eggs (4 to 6 are most common). Eggs are incubated by the female under the ground (via a shivering motion), and hatch after 55 to 60 days. Parental care of the eggs ends once they hatch, and the female leaves the offspring to fend for themselves. Reproductive maturity is reached at 11-18 months for males, and 20-36 months for females. Age is only one factor in determining reproductive maturity and ability to breed; weight is the second factor. Males breed at 600 g or more, but in captivity are often not bred until they are 800 g (1.7 lb), although, in captivity, some males have been known to begin breeding at 300–400 g. Females breed in the wild at weights as low as 800 g though 1200 g or more in weight is most common; in captivity, breeders generally wait until they are no less than 1500 g (3.3 lb).
The biggest threat to Ball pythons is pet rade. These snakes are captured in thousands and exported to other countries. This may lead to local extirpation of the species. Ball pythons are also hunted for food and leather.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Ball python total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Ball pythons help to control populations of small mammals they prey on.
Ball pythons are one of the most common reptiles bred in captivity, largely due to their small size and typically docile temperament. In captivity, these snakes are often bred for specific patterns or morphs. Some of the most common are pastel, albino, Mojave, and lesser. Breeders are continuously creating new designer morphs, and over 6,500 different morphs currently exist.