Scientific Name: Python regius
Size: 5 feet long
Maturity: 3-5 years
Mating: December & January, once every 2-3 years
Gestation: 3 months
No. of young: 4-10 eggs are laid; encircled and tended continually by the mother until hatching
Lifestyle: crepuscular (active dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active at night)
Diet: small mammals, lizards, birds, other snakes, and amphibians
Lifespan: 20-30 years in captivity (48 is recorded longest)
Range: parts of Central Africa and Western Equatorial Africa forest edges, savannas, and sparsely wooded plains, on the ground as well as in trees
Status: Special concern
Ball pythons get their name from the defensive posture of coiling bodies into tight balls with the head and tail tucked into the center. They are called Royal Pythons in Europe because the pattern looks like a crown when the same is coiled. Pythons and Boas are the only snakes to exhibit spurs, or vestigial legs in the form of small claws. These are remnants of their lizard ancestry.
Both boas and pythons are constrictors, referring to the method of subduing prey. A clenching bite to their victim holds it in place while the snake coils its body around, killing with a suffocating and fatal hug. Poisonous snakes use venom to subdue their prey – a different strategy altogether.
Pythons have some interesting sensory organs. Labial heat pits along their upper lip can detect and pinpoint heat sources – often a warm-blooded meal. A forked tongue can pick up chemical information from the air as it flicks about. Those chemical cues are then interpreted by the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of the mouth enabling the snake to determine what the smell is.
The wild ball python population is suffering from impacts on many fronts. Because of its small size and docile demeanor, it is a popular snake in the pet industry. Some reports indicate more than 60,000 are imported annually into the United States. In Africa, ball pythons are killed for food and their skin is used to make leather products. Continued forest fragmentation is also diminishing their habitat.