Ball pythons, also known as royal pythons, are native to grasslands, open woodlands, and rural areas of west and central Africa.
A ball python is one of many animals featured in The Maryland Zoo’s Animal Embassy collection. Animal Ambassadors are introduced to audiences in education programs on and off grounds.
These relatively small and stocky pythons spend daylight hours in underground burrows and become active especially at night, although also at dawn and dusk. They hunt small mammals, birds, and amphibians, and use visual and chemical cues to isolate prey. They are ambush predators. They strike with a quick non-venomous bite and then either immobilize prey by constriction or swallow prey live. Like all pythons, ball pythons are constrictors rather than venomous. They feed mostly on rodents, including several species of rat native to Africa. They make a tremendous contribution to rodent control in the rural areas where they live.
Ball pythons are strikingly patterned with dark brown interspersed with golden-brown rosettes. Some ball pythons have yellow stripes running from the nostrils through the eyes, and all have ivory bellies. They are relatively small for pythons. Adult females are larger than adult males.
Breeding season for these snakes corresponds with the rainy season, which lasts from about mid-September through mid-November. Females lay small clutches of eggs and then coil around them to protect the eggs until they hatch about 2 months later. The eggs are attached to each other until a few days before they hatch. Once the eggs separate, the baby ball pythons slit the shells with their egg tooth and work their way out. The baby snakes are immediately independent but stay near their nests for several months after birth.
Young ball pythons are more vulnerable to predation than adults. Full-grown ball pythons strategically avoid predators by remaining hidden most of the time. They rely also on camouflage, bluffing displays, and biting to escape predators. They have few known predators, but the black cobra is one, as are humans and birds of prey.
People do not regularly hunt these snakes for food, but many thousands each year are trapped and sold for the international pet trade. Many are exported each year to the United States, and most were trapped as hatchlings from wild ball pythons.
This species of snake has a high, stable population and is not considered threatened. In some parts of its range, the ball python is considered sacred and is fully protected. People from these areas are usually aware of the ball python’s contribution in controlling rodent populations.