Ball Python (Python regius)
Published: July 22, 2017
Last Updated: January 8, 2023
Ball pythons (also known as royal pythons) are a terrestrial species of constricting snake native to regions of western and central Africa. In the wild, they are most often found in semi-arid grasslands, forests, and near agricultural areas. Although frequently found in burrows, they can arguably be considered semi-arboreal, as scientific accounts have documented them hunting frequently in trees.
These snakes are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at night, but especially active around dawn and dusk. As ambush hunters, they actively track down and then wait for prey such as rodents, birds, and lizards to scurry past before striking, using powerful constricting muscles to squeeze the prey until it passes out (which is humane and occurs within seconds, according to this study).
Ball pythons are sexually dimorphic, which means there is a noteworthy difference in size between males and females, but not as large in some other snake species. According to an extensive survey by Aubret et al., males typically grow 3.6-4.3′ (109-131 cm) long, while females grow to be 3.8-4.5″ (114-136 cm) long. However, larger individuals have been recorded in captivity, likely due to more plentiful food.
Ball pythons reach sexual maturity in 3-5 years and have a 15-30 year lifespan in captivity. However, older individuals have been reported.
This species is well known for its incredible genetic diversity; part of their current popularity is due to a fad for producing “morphs”: variations in color and pattern. Many experienced hobbyists take on ball python breeding as a study in snake genetics. Because of this trend, the market is currently saturated with snakes who didn’t make the cut for the next generation, and so breeding should be attempted with extreme caution.
They are very popular in the pet trade and are often sold as beginner pets due to their docile temperaments and manageable size. Although ball python care isn’t necessarily “easy”, their hardiness still makes them a good fit for new reptile keepers.
- Unlike many other reptile species, ball pythons are highly adaptable, and have been significantly less affected by human encroachment on their natural habitat than others. Although they generally prefer a forested habitat, they have adapted very well to farmland by taking over existing animal burrows.
- Although generally considered “terrestrial,” ball pythons are actually both terrestrial and semi-arboreal! Females generally tend to prefer the ground while males (and some juveniles) tend to prefer hunting in trees, although climbing has been recorded as a regular behavior in both sexes.