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 ten 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.
Ball Python breeders have, through selective breeding, developed many morphs (genetic mutations) with altered colors and patterns. There are hundreds of different color patterns that can be made while in captivity. 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.
Ball Pythons 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. Ball pythons prefer grasslands, savannas and sparsely wooded areas. Termite mounds and empty mammal burrows are important habitats for this species. In the wild, the Ball Python's 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.
Ball Pythons are bred in captivity and are popular as pets, because of their small size (compared to other pythons) and their docile temperament. 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. Some large females may require cages up to the 50 US gallons (190 L) long tank. Also, at least two hiding places should be provided at different ends of the tank, with one having a thermostat-controlled heating pad under it to allow the animal to regulate its temperature. Since most snakes are adept at escaping captivity, the tank should have a locking lid. Juveniles in particular may be stressed by overly large cages that do not have sufficient small hiding spaces. For this reason, baby ball pythons do well in a 10 US gallons (38 L) or 15 US gallons (57 L) cage at first. You may also keep ball pythons in Sterlite or Rubbermaid plastic tubs. Plastic tubs make controlling heat and humidity much easier than glass tanks. Size of tubs change with the size of the Ball Python, you can use as small as a 6 quart for hatchlings, and up to 41 quarts for adult females. Controlled temperatures of 80 °F (27 °C) - 85 °F (29 °C) with a 90 °F (32 °C) - 93 °F (34 °C) basking area on one end of the cage are necessary for proper health. Humidity should be maintained at 50% to 60% with dry substrate.
Female Ball Pyhons are oviparous, with anywhere from 3 to 11 rather large, leathery eggs being laid (4-6 most common). In the wild, the eggs are incubated by the female under the ground (via a shivering motion), and hatch after 55 to 60 days. In captivity, breeders typically collect the eggs as soon as they are laid and they are placed in an incubator. 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 will breed at 600 grams or more, but in captivity are often not bred until they are 800 grams (1.7lb), although in captivity some males have been known to begin breeding at 300-400 grams. Females will breed in the wild at weights as low as 800 grams, though 1200 grams or more is most common. In captivity, breeders generally wait until they are no less than 1500 g (3.3 lb). In the wild, parental care of the eggs ends once they hatch, and the female leaves the offspring to fend for themselves.