The ball python (Python regius), also known as the royal python, is a python species found in sub-Saharan Africa. Like all other pythons, it is a non-venomous constrictor. This is the smallest of the African pythons and is popular in the pet trade, largely due to its small size and typically docile temperament. No subspecies are currently recognized. They can live quite long, with the oldest on record living more than 47 years. To achieve something near this age in captivity they require proper care (clean tank, clean water, etc.). The name "ball python" refers to the animal's tendency to curl into a ball when stressed or frightened. The name "royal python"(from the Latin regius) comes from the fact that rulers in Africa would wear the python as jewelry.
Adults generally do not grow to more than 152–182 cm (5.0–6.0 ft). Females tend to be slightly bigger than males, maturing at an average of 122–137 cm (4.0–4.5 ft). Males usually average around 90–107 cm (3.0–3.5 ft). The build is stocky while the head is relatively small. The scales are smooth and both sexes have anal spurs on either side of the vent. Although males tend to have larger spurs, this is not definitive, and sex is best determined via manual eversion of the male hemipenes or inserting a probe into the cloaca to check the presence of an inverted hemipenis (if male). When probing to determine sex, males typically measure eight to 10 subcaudal scales, and females typically measure two to four subcaudal scales.
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.
They are found in west 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. No type locality was given in the original description.
This terrestrial species is known for its defense strategy that involves coiling into a tight ball when threatened, with its head and neck tucked away in the middle. In this state, it can literally be rolled around. Favored retreats include mammal burrows and other underground hiding places, where they also aestivate. In captivity, they are considered good pets, with their relatively small size and placid nature making them easy to handle. Captive-bred adults rarely bite unless severely threatened.
In the wild, their diet consists mostly of small mammals, such as African soft-furred rats, shrews, and striped mice. Younger individuals have also been known to feed on birds. Pythons imported from the wild tend to be picky eaters and may not respond to food as well as captive-bred pythons, which usually do well on domestic rats and mice, either live, killed, or frozen-thawed.
Females are oviparous, with three to 11 rather large, leathery eggs being laid (four to six are most common). These are incubated by the female under the ground (via a shivering motion), and hatch after 55 to 60 days. Sexual maturity is reached at 11–18 months for males, and 20–36 months for females. Age is only one factor in determining sexual 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). Parental care of the eggs ends once they hatch, and the female leaves the offspring to fend for themselves.
These snakes are bred in captivity and are popular as pets, because of their small size (compared to other pythons) and their docile temperament. Wild-caught specimens have greater difficulty adapting to a captive environment, which can result in refusal to feed, and they generally carry internal or external parasites which must be eliminated by administering antiparasitic drugs. Specimens have survived for over 40 years in captivity, with the oldest recorded ball python being kept in captivity 47 years and 6 months until its death in 1992 at the Philadelphia Zoo. To live this long, captive ball pythons require proper care. This care includes proper feeding, a clean tank, handling, and overall quality of life. Hundreds of different color patterns are available in captive snakes. Some of the most common morphs found are Spider, Pastel, Albino, Mojave, and Lesser. The single-gene ball python traits can be bred together to produce more complicated double-gene traits. Examples include using a Pastel and a Black Pastel, creating a Black Pewter, which when bred will show both genes in its offspring. Breeders are continuously creating new designer morphs, and over 3,800 different morphs currently exist.
Beliefs and folklore
This species is particularly revered in the traditional religion of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. It is considered symbolic of the earth, being an animal that travels so close to the ground. Even among many Christian Igbos, these pythons are treated with great care whenever they happen to wander into a village or onto someone's property; they are allowed to roam freely or are very gently picked up and placed out in a forest or field away from any homes. If one is accidentally killed, many communities in Igboland still build a coffin for the snake's remains and give it a short funeral.
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