Click: The Natural History of the Ball Python, Python regius: Ball Pythons in the Wild – Part 1, to read the first part of this article.
Status in the Wild
This species is threatened across large areas of its range by collection for the food, leather and, in the past, pet trade. Today the vast majority of animals in the pet trade are captive bred. It is listed on Appendix II of Cites.
Grassland rodents comprise the majority of the diet. Recorded prey species include cane rats, Nile rats, gerbils, jerboas, jirds and zebra mice. They also feed upon shrews and ground-nesting birds, and hatchlings may take lizards. Wild individuals often favor particular prey species, and may be difficult to habituate to commercially available rats and mice when taken captive.
Ball pythons often inhabit areas subject to long periods of hot, dry weather, during which food is scarce. Animals in such populations may aestivate in mammal burrows or similar underground shelters for several months. It is theorized that the internal circadian rhythms of these pythons may be responsible for the long fasts that captive animals often undergo.
Females produce typically 6-7 large eggs at yearly or less frequent intervals. Eggs are typically laid in abandoned aardvark or rodent burrows, and hatch after an incubation period of 3 months. In common with other family members, female ball pythons remain coiled about the eggs during this time, providing protection and temperature/humidity modification.
Female pythons of various species have been shown to actively raise the temperature of their clutch by coiling about the eggs and “shivering”. In captive situations, I have observed incubating female blood pythons (Python curtus) and Burmese pythons (P. molurus bivittatus) to raise their eggs by 7F above the ambient air temperature. Field research conducted with ball pythons, however, indicates that incubation mainly functions to conserve egg weight by preventing water loss.
The young measure 10-17 inches upon hatching, and reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age, by which time they are approximately 3 feet in length.
Ball pythons are heavily utilized as food by people throughout much of their range, and are harvested for the leather trade as well. Until captive bred stock became widely available, huge numbers were collected for the pet trade and exported to Europe, Japan and the USA.
The common name of this snake is derived from its habit of coiling into a tight ball, with the head hidden within the center, when threatened. Once so situated, it is difficult to uncoil the snake, and it will remain so even if rolled about (not recommended!). However, some ball pythons surprise attackers (and annoying keepers!) by biting savagely when disturbed. Actually, a number of other pythons and unrelated snakes utilize a coiled defensive posture, but in none is it so well developed as the ball python.
On to captive care next time. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.
An extensive CITES-generated study of ball python populations and management in Ghana is posted at: