Ball python: characteristics, behavior and habitat

Related Articles

The ball python (Python regius) is also known as the royal python, it gets its name from its method of defense; which consists of coiling in on itself and hiding its head and neck between its body, in the shape of a “ball”.

It is a beautiful reptile native to the African continent and is quite famous for being one of the most common domestic snakes, mainly due to its shyness and tranquility.

In this article, we will reveal some incredible facts about this fascinating snake, such as its food, habitat, and reproduction.

What are ball pythons?

ball python

Pythons like the ball python are not venomous snakes; they are a family of constrictor snakes. That is, they kill their prey by coiling their rings around their rib cage.

There are at least 40 species of pythons in the world, which are grouped as follows: Antaresia, Aspidites, Botchrochilus, Liasis, Malayopython, Morelia, Python and Simalia.


Origin of the name ball python

In Europe, the ball python is known as the royal python. In the United States, they were given the name ball python because they are known to curl into a ball when they feel threatened.

This method prioritizes protection of the head and neck over other parts of the body.

Habitat and distribution of the ball python

They can be found from the sub-saharan africa to the center of the continent. Their territory covers about 18 African countries among which are: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Togo, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

In fact, for some cultures in southeastern Nigeria, the python is the symbol of the earth, so they never hurt these animals, and protect them with dedication.

They usually inhabit dry grasslands, with some opting for open woodlands and agricultural land. They like to spend a lot of time on the ground, in abandoned burrows and among dry leaves.

These pythons require a secure captive environment, such as an aquarium with a lid from which they cannot escape. A cage at least 36 inches long, such as a 30-gallon aquarium, is required for an adult ball python.

Characteristics of the ball python


Its beautiful appearance is marked by different patterns of attractive colors; it can be black or dark brown, with light spots on the back and sides. Its belly is a cream or white color and is dotted with some dark colored spots.

Although this is their common color and pattern, Its appearance can vary, thanks to selective breeding by the pet industry.

In fact, there are 62 genetic variations that allow you to find the ball python in different shapes and colors such as normal, albino, platinum, genetic striped, caramel, peep horse, clown, ghost or jungle.


These snakes are not as large as others, they are considered small to medium sized.

This is the smallest python species in Africa. Its body is robust and strong, its head is relatively small and its body is soft to the touch.

As adults, females reach a length of 4 to 5 feet while males have a length of 3 to 3.5 feet approximately and in the case of hatchlings, they vary from 10 to 17 inches.

To distinguish females from males you cannot only look at their size, but also at the fact that males have more developed pre-anal dewclaws and a higher number of tail scales than females.

Life expectancy

The ball python has a long life expectancy, living between 20 and 30 years, however, there are specimens that can live up to 40 years. In captivity, with good care, they can live up to 50 years.

Ball python behavior

They are solitary snakes and mostly active during twilight hours. Males spend their time both on the ground and in the trees, while females spend most of their lives on the ground.

In summer, the royal python seeks refuge in abandoned mammal burrows, where it is sheltered from the high temperatures.

This species has an important ecological role in its habitat as it balances rodent populations, which are known to reproduce very quickly and frequently.

Another characteristic of the ball python that we find quite fascinating in its behavior is that it is a shy species with a harmless and non-aggressive character.

Thanks to this behavior and the fact that they are not venomous, they have become one of the most common and desired snakes as pets.

Ball python skin change

Ball pythons shed their skin periodically, once their eyes begin to look cloudy, shedding will begin very soon. During skin shedding, which lasts one to two weeks, the ball python’s appearance alters.

Its eyes become duller and its skin takes on a duller appearance. It will not regain its normal appearance and appetite until the process is complete.

Feeding, what do ball pythons eat?

Ball pythons feed mainly on birds and small mammals such as rodents and shrews.

The adult ball python eats mainly small mice, as these animals do not exceed the snake’s width, while juveniles and males hunt mainly birds.

One prey per week will be enough to cover its needs since it usually goes for several days after that without food.

After feeding, it can take four to five days for the snake to completely digest the prey, and then it stays in a warm, dark place where it can hide which will help the snake to have a good digestion.

However, some ball pythons avoid certain birds because of their excessive feathers and hamsters because they have too much hair.

Hunting method of the ball python

Their hunting method is ambush hunting. They wait motionless in a place where there are animals, and to capture their prey, they use chemical and visual signals.

They can detect the heat emanating from the animals, thanks to the thermal pits in their mouth, 4 or 5 slits that act as heat detectors, this allows snakes such as pythons to detect infrared light.

That’s why, they can see their prey even in complete darkness thanks to the heat they give off. Not all snakes can do this, but the royal python is one of those that have this ability.

For this reason, it has no problem hunting at night or in totally dark places.

It first observes them from afar and then ambushes them, then immobilizes them by attacking at high speed, clinging with its jaws and immediately wrapping its body around them, and then, engulfs them.

In fact, at times, the prey is still alive while the snake is still feeding it into its mouth.

These snakes play an important role in pest control because they hunt rats and mice. They tend to reproduce at high speed and sometimes even eat many crops or spoil them.

Ball python reproduction

Female pythons reach sexual maturity at 4 to 5 years of age and reproduce approximately every 2-3 years.

After mating, they lay between 4 and 12 eggs 3 or 4 months after copulation with the male, and then place them inside a burrow or in a place sufficiently sheltered to prevent other animals from stealing and eating them.

The females surround the eggs with their bodies and remain with them for almost the entire time, aware of their needs and alert for intruders.

Such as, the environmental temperature if it is very cold or dry, which can produce body heat or humidity, since the color of their bodies depends on this and whether their offspring live, die or have congenital defects.

It only comes out of the burrow if necessary, and in the process will eat very little or nothing. After incubation for 60-90 days in a humid place, hatching occurs.

Once the hatchlings emerge from the eggs, the mother moves away and lets them survive on their own, using their senses and survival instinct.

Generally, many of her offspring make it to adulthood.

Ball python predators

In the wild, these snakes have a variety of predators, with the youngest and smallest being the most vulnerable. Among their main predators are:

  • Other larger snakes
  • Birds
  • Carnivorous mammals
  • Spiders
  • Insects
  • Large frogs

Threats to the ball python

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the royal python as a species of “Least Concern”.

However, these predators also suffer from other dangers such as the meat and skin trade for the international exotic pet market, which are mainly responsible for the frequent losses of royal pythons in Africa.

Captive Life of Ball python

Compared to other snakes, the generally docile temperament of ball pythons are bred in captivity and are quite popular as pets.

Captured pythons in the wild have big difficulty adapting to the captive environment and can sometimes stop eating and die; they can also carry parasites that are dangerous to humans.

While the younger ones are usually more aggressive at the beginning, they tend to calm down with constant human contact.

Ball python breeding is becoming more frequent and increasing, and even though it is more expensive, many traders continue to buy wild individuals.

Every year, thousands of pythons are exported from West Africa, which damages the balance in the environment.

Due to controlled breeding in captivity, they can live longer, one specimen managed to live for 48 years and there are many color variations in the species (more than 6,000).

Also, they are fed with mice, rats, chickens and quails, already dead because giving them live prey could hurt the snake and cause its death.

The terrarium for the ball python

Ball pythons require a warm habitat, so a light and heat lamp should be included in the cage to mimic desert temperatures and keep the snake comfortable.

The temperature should be between 26º and 32º during the day, and 24º at night. For best results, use ceramic heating plates, light or infrared lights.

Terrarium size

The size of the terrarium will depend on the age of the snake. If we buy a small one, we will have to change it several times during its life.

The terrarium does not need to be large, a size of 120 gallons (48′′ x 24′′ x 24′′) or larger for adults will suffice. For hatchlings, 10 gallons measuring 20′′ x 11′′ x 11′′ x 13′′ will be necessary and a 40-gallon cage measuring 36′′ x 18′′ x 18′ can accommodate juveniles under 3′.

If you go with a different size, make sure there is about 8 square feet of floor space and at least 2 feet of vertical climbing space.

Habitat Recreation

A semi-tropical terrarium is the ideal to simulate the climate of their home location, with humidity between 60-90% to avoid problems with molting, to do this spray with water 2 or 3 times a week.

Also, outdoors, these snakes usually spend a lot of time hiding in abandoned burrows and among dry leaves.

So, it will be great to set your terrarium with objects that serve to hide, such as dry leaves, branches and trunks and small hiding places that besides giving a more attractive visual appearance, the ball python will feel that it is in a natural environment.


Will help to keep the terrarium clean and free of urine or you can use different materials as substrates, for example, coconut fiber, cypress chips or orchid bark.

The substrate should never contain cedar, sand, shavings or peat, as they could cause diseases and even death to our pet.


So that your ball python at home does not run the risk of suffocation, the terrarium must have an adequate ventilation system.

For this purpose, there are different models that have small holes in the roof so that air can enter and leave the terrarium.

Do your research

We hope that with this article you have learned more about the interesting world of the ball python, as you can see they are wonderful snakes, striking and with good characteristics to have at home as long as it is under the right conditions.

If you are interested in keeping a ball python as a pet, visit your local pet store or look for a local reptile club to find a breeder and find out about the laws and what documentation or permits you need.

More on this topic


Popular stories